For a state whose voters don’t like outsiders telling them what to do, Wyoming has given dangerously little attention to a Texan with deep pockets who wants to alter the social and political landscape.
Perhaps that’s because of the misleading name she gave her organization. Who is the Wyoming Liberty Group (WLG). Why has it targeted public employee retirement benefits?
WLG is a front-organization for the Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and others determined to lower their personal taxes even if senior citizens lose.
ALEC is a collection of large corporations that establishes ties with legislators by funding their trips to exotic resorts, paying for their meals, booze, and entertainment. Between the merrymaking, corporate lobbyists fill legislators full of their version of the “facts.” When the party’s over, legislators return packing so-called “Model Legislation” to introduce in the Wyoming legislature.
One of those “model” bills is called “pension reform.” It’s a pension disaster for public employees. It begins, “The Legislature finds that the defined-benefit model of retirement benefits for state and municipal employees is not fiscally sustainable. It is the intent of the Legislature, therefore, to direct the [state retirement board] to create and maintain a defined-contribution program in which all state and municipal employees hired on or after [date], 2011 will automatically enroll after [X] months of employment to become eligible to accrue retirement benefits.”
ALEC wrote the bill, legislators fill in the blanks and toss the bill into the hopper, and WLG does the lobbying.
WLG cares little about Wyoming. Texan Susan Gore, heiress of the Gore-Tex fortune, created the organization. Her interest in our state is using it as a laboratory to prove that millions of out-of-state dollars can buy public policy victories supported by her rightwing friends.
Who are those “friends”? Sourcewatch.org reports WLG is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). The Center for Media and Democracy conducted an in-depth investigation. "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.”
SPN and ALEC direct members like WLG to conduct assaults on public pension plans. Enter the “Reason Foundation.” They’re funded by Koch Family Foundations. David Koch is one of their trustees. Reason Foundation has ties to ALEC.
Reason Foundation published a guidebook for WLG’s use in attacking state pension funds. The “Pension Reform Handbook” tells local hayseeds how to identify key leaders, framing the issue so that even some state employees might find “pension reform” attractive. They warn supporters to be prepared for “all kinds of union chicanery and intimidation tactics.”
WLG uses “Wyoming” in its name. That’s where their understanding of Wyoming ends. In addition to the Texan who funds them, their spokespersons attacking Wyoming’s pension program are Canadian Maureen Bader and Texan Jason Gay. He’s written an article entitled, “State Pensions: Will Wyoming Wait Until It’s Too Late.”
The basis of the “Model” bill is a so-called “finding” that “the defined-benefit model of retirement benefits for state and municipal employees is not fiscally sustainable.” That “finding” may have a factual basis somewhere but it doesn’t in Wyoming. Gay and Bader use horror stories that have no application to Wyoming.
WLG has marching orders from national partners but no facts justifying use of the ALEC-SPN-WLG cookie cutter approach in Wyoming. Wyoming’s retirement system is actuarially targeted to be funded at a rate above 114% of the benefits obligations in the near future.
Additionally, benefits earned by retirees over their careers are a significant part of the Wyoming economy. The National Institute on Retirement Security, documents that 28,500 Wyoming pensioners received 510 million benefit dollars in 2012. Retiree spending supports 4300 Wyoming jobs.
Legislators need to think about who elected them. It wasn’t a group of wealthy, selfish outsiders.