STUMP » Articles » Public Pensions (and Public Policy) Enemies List: John Arnold and IPI » 11 April 2014, 13:30

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Public Pensions (and Public Policy) Enemies List: John Arnold and IPI  


11 April 2014, 13:30

I’ve mentioned before that it’s not only the Koch brothers who are being targeted by leftist groups for political activism — because I focus on public pensions, and not necessarily more broadly, I notice the particular “enemies lists” that various public employee unions and their bought politicians flog.

One person who has been recently targeted is John Arnold.

I will post some of the sniping at Arnold at the end of this post, but I feel like posting his own remarks first

In recent months, I have endured a number of intensely personal public attacks on my philanthropy—including lies (that I hid a donation to PBS when the writer found the information on our website), selective reporting (listing political contributions to Republicans as evidence that I aspire to be a “Koch brother,” without noting that I am a Democrat and hosted a fundraiser for President Obama), and juvenile insults (that I have a “jug-eared face of a Division III women’s basketball coach”).

Further, opponents seek to discredit me by mentioning the ironic but irrelevant fact that I was once a mid-level manager at a company that filed one of the most devastating corporate bankruptcies of all time. One blogger even went as far as accusing me of “fleecing” Enron investors, a vicious allegation for which she summarily issued a public apology.

In light of the level of vitriol and misinformation displayed by criticisms such as these, I feel compelled to more clearly shed light on what I do and why I do it.

My wife, Laura, and I recently retired from our careers at an early age because we wanted to dedicate our time and significant financial resources to improving our society. We decided that the best way to achieve this goal was to abandon the conventional, but nonetheless necessary and admirable, path of traditional philanthropy—namely, large donations to hospitals, universities or cultural organizations.

We founded the Laura and John Arnold Foundation with the goal of pursuing sustainable reforms to address our country’s most pressing crises. This is a far different approach from passively donating to a bricks-and-mortar project. It involves analyzing extremely complicated and endemic societal problems, collaborating with experts in the field to understand the issues in depth, rigorously testing hypotheses to arrive at the best solutions, and, finally, seeking to implement those alternatives at scale through systemic policy reforms. In short, it requires a long-term commitment to solving nuanced and complex problems—problems whose origins sometimes lie in the power of entrenched interests.

We work in a wide range of policy areas on issues of varying levels of complexity, from pension reform to education. Sometimes these areas are perceived to fall to the left of the political center. This is often the case, for example, with some of our criminal justice initiatives.

Other parts of our work, including education reform and pensions, are generally perceived to fall to the right of the political center.

But in fact, each of our initiatives originates from, and is propelled by, bipartisan support.
We pursue our policy objectives not because we have a financial stake in the outcome (we do not) or because we have any personal agenda other than improving outcomes for society as a whole. But policy work makes you no friends.

In fact, for Laura and me—and we hope for any donor interested in public policy—they confirm the need for disinterested voices to be heard more loudly, and they convince us that we are on the right track.

The organized and very well-funded apparatus that exists to protect the financial and political stakes of entrenched interest groups is what leads to public policy that is skewed in favor of special interests and bad for America. According to documents publicly filed by labor unions, organized labor spent $4.4-billion from 2005 to 2011 in political donations and activities. Combined, our foundation, advocacy organization and we personally have spent less than $10-million in 2013 on pension education and reform efforts, and we are among the largest grant makers in this area. The political pressure these special interest groups can and do place on politicians is extraordinary. If you faced an election every few years, which would draw your attention—the billions spent by organized labor in political campaigns or the thousands spent by reformers?

One might ask why Laura and I should be able to influence policy decisions just because we have money. Were government immune from lobbyists and money, I would agree on the premise of the question. However, government is deeply influenced by special interests. Government policies typically are not crafted by “policy wonks” with the goal of maximizing social welfare. They are enacted in a terribly messy process involving elected politicians, their donors, and powerful interest groups. Huge sums spent by corporations, organized labor and the business lobby skew debate and often dictate public policy. We strongly believe that the best use of our resources is to counterbalance these entrenched forces, on the right and the left, by providing policy solutions rooted in objectivity and solid analysis—from people who have zero financial interests in the outcome.

Good for him — and good for the Koch Brothers, and others who have not changed their goals because a bunch of people bitched at them.

And mind you, sometimes the bitching gets personal and in-one’s-face. Or tries to.

As an example, the Illinois Policy Institute is a group I follow with respect to Illinois goings-on. They got a little visit from a pathetically small protest group with some religious connection, protesting the IPI’s position on budgetary and taxation issues. This was their reply

Dear Revs. Sharp, Coulter and Knox:

Thank you for visiting our Springfield office earlier this week, and for your letter. Had you let us know you were coming, we would have enjoyed a chance to discuss with you our policy proposals and why we believe they help the poor and disadvantaged. Perhaps we would have learned from one another.

Unfortunately, it seemed that you came to our little office in an attempt to intimidate and silence people with whom you have a political disagreement, rather than to engage in any meaningful discussion.

Reading your letter, I was particularly drawn to the citations from Isaiah and Luke at the top. Your selective misuse of Scripture no doubt appeals to those whose politics already agree with yours and who are looking for solace in sacred literature. You are not the first to abuse the Bible in this manner, nor – sadly – will you be the last.

Scripture – all religion, for that matter – governs and places boundaries around our personal behavior. To the extent that you read the words “justice” and “mercy” and “aid to the poor” as meaning increased taxation on Illinois families … that is, I suppose, your right. But let’s at least be honest that your reading of the text is suffused with your political bias to the point that a reasonable observer finds it difficult to distinguish which informs which.

Tax policies have outcomes associated with them. One cannot raise or lower taxes in a vacuum. I don’t see anything just about treating one Illinois family differently from another (actually, Leviticus 19:15 could be seen as prohibiting it). I don’t see anything merciful about driving wealth and jobs out of Illinois. And, with billions in unpaid bills and the nation’s worst unfunded pension liabilities, the likelihood that revenue will be used to aid the poor is pretty remote.

So, if you’d like to discuss the actual ramifications of a progressive tax hike on revenue and growth in our state, we’re happy to talk to you. If you’d like to discuss why we believe our policies are better for all Illinoisans – including those most vulnerable – we’re happy to have that conversation. If you’re interested only in hearing yourselves chant, throwing out barely relevant talking-points and abusing the air of biblical scholarship and moral authority conferred upon you by your religious denominations, you can stand outside and shout about it.

Either way, we won’t be silenced and we won’t be intimidated.

Greenberg_signature (2)

Rabbi Jonathan L. Greenberg
- See more at:

I thought it was important to quote the letter in full. If you follow the link, you will find the letter Rabbi Greenberg was responding to.

Here is one of the protestors, who wanted to make sure her sign was seen, and I’m feeling charitable, so here goes:

If these people really want to affect public policy, they should stick to lobbying the politicians directly (and be sure to send them donations!)

Because it seems to me that taking your puny group of a couple dozen people to an office is not going to have much of an effect on the group you’re trying to target.

The problem is, of course, when you’re in Democrat-controlled Illinois, and the mayor of Chicago and governor of Illinois are both Democrats and aren’t listening to you… I guess you might as well try to annoy someone only currently marginally influential. Always punch up, I say.

I did mention I’d link to the bitchery directed toward John Arnold, so here goes:

Diane Ravitch, notable teachers union person, on John Arnold

Felix Salmon remarking on the WNET brou-ha-ha (not really bitchery)

Arnold’s response to Salmon

David Sirota’s response to the two above

I am not quoting any of the above.

As for John Arnold, my only comment is he should grow a beard. But then, I tell all men that.

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