Pennsylvania’s Snake Oil Salesmen

Apr 17, 2017 | Stories

We’ve all heard the term “snake oil salesmen.” It was popularized in Western movies often portrayed by some less than honest salesman trying to get one over on an unsuspecting public. In their pitch, snake oil salesmen would often use outright lies, dubious credentials, and unscientific research to bolster their product. They would also secretly plant some shill in the crowd to speak up at just the right moment during the pitch touting the ‘benefits’ of their product.

It’s why we couldn’t help but laugh when the Commonwealth Foundation’s Jessica Barnett started off a recent editorial published across the state with a metaphor discussing the properties of oil. Of course, no one has more expertise in selling snake oil then the Commonwealth Foundation.

You see, the Commonwealth Foundation are very, very concerned about how workers fund their unions. In fact, they are sooo concerned that they are sending out mail pieces, appearing in press conferences, and as mentioned, authoring misleading pieces on “government union leaders” across Pennsylvania labeling anti-union policies as somehow an end to a “special interest loophole.” Outright lies? Check.

Of course, every employer’s computer system uses payroll deductions in one form or another and there is no such thing as a “government union leader.” There are, however, public sector union presidents who are democratically elected by vote of the union’s membership. Actually, one of Pennsylvania’s public sector union presidents responded to this editorial highlighting some important information about the Commonwealth Foundation. From the response:

“The Commonwealth Foundation is a mouthpiece for the wealthy and corporations in their fight against working people…(the Commonwealth Foundation) wants to dismantle unions by instituting a targeted rule, just for unions, that bars them from collecting dues from members. It is so hellbent on silencing the voices of workers that it promotes these bills despite the fact that the same proposals have been found unconstitutional in other states. There are virtually no barriers for the wealthy and for industry PACs to contributing massive sums of money in the political process; it would be unfair and unconstitutional for Pennsylvania to enact laws that make it harder for union employees.”

The Commonwealth Foundation are an extremist pressure group affiliated with the State Policy Network and funded by the DonorsTrust. The State Policy Network is a shadowy national organization. They are comprised of almost identical state-based pressure groups operating in 49 states. For example, there’s the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, the Illinois Policy Institute in Illinois, and other groups across the country that exist as front groups for the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement,” the DonorsTrust. Dubious credentials? Check.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise the Commonwealth Foundation have continually lied about the anti-union policies they promote to mislead from their true intentions. They promise that if we just get rid of unions, all sorts of benefits will befall on Pennsylvanians ignoring statistics from actual scientific studies that conclude union members make more money and have better benefits than workers without a union. In fact, one of their favorite statistics they peddle on this anti-union bill has been called out for being wrong. Unscientific research? Check.

Another individual also spoke out about the Commonwealth Foundation. He recently wrote in to The Morning Call after seeing the same editorial highlighting what this is all about for the Commonwealth Foundation. From the letter to the editor:

“The Commonwealth Foundation is an organization set on silencing working people’s voices and maximizing its wealthy benefactors’ political advantage — not the interests of working people.”

As much as they like to bill themselves otherwise, the Commonwealth Foundation operate more like political organization than any serious policy organization. They outright lie about what unions do dubiously labeling themselves a policy organization by using unscientific research to maximize their billion dollar funders political advantage. In fact, they were investigated by the IRS potentially for questions around their designated tax status which expressly forbids direct candidate advocacy because it allows their rich funders to write off their donations to them.

That’s why, in one of their most recent press releases on this anti-union policy, their highlighting of only Senator Scott Wagner’s sponsorship of this legislation, an announced candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, is questionable.

Then again, any run of the mill snake oil salesman has some secretly planted shill in the crowd ready and willing to attest to the benefits of snake oil.

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