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U.S. Senate leader targets conservative Minnesota think tank

Posted by: under Minnesota U.S. senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: August 14, 2013 - 2:04 PM
Mitch Pearlstein

Mitch Pearlstein

Fresh off the dust-up over politically-tinged IRS inquiries, the Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota’s premier conservative think tank, has been asked to tell a U.S. Senate panel whether it provided money to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative non-profit that has championed “Stand Your Ground” laws around the nation.
 
The Senate inquiry came in an Aug. 6 letter signed by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, assistant majority leader or “whip,” who is holding a hearing next month on “Stand Your Ground” laws, which many on the left have blamed for the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
 
Top officials of the tax-exempt Twin Cities think tank are calling the request a “witch hunt,” and worse.
 
“Sen. Durbin should be ashamed of himself for the naked abuse of power evidenced by his letter,” wrote Center President Mitch Pearlstein and Chief Operating Officer Kim Crockett.
 
In an email to supporters Wednesday, Pearlstein and Crockett called on Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, who serves on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that is holding the hearing, to “join us in denouncing Mr. Durbin’s thinly veiled threat and abuse of his office.”
 
A spokeswoman for Franken did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Two Durbin staffers listed as contacts in the Aug. 6 letter also were not immediately available.
 
The Durbin letter notes that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) develops model bills for state legislators, including a “Stand Your Ground” bill based on the Florida law that expanded the self-defense rights of potential crime victims.
 
Durbin noted that, like other advocacy groups registered as non-profits with the IRS, ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members and donors. The letter also cites unidentified “public documents” indicating the Center of the American Experiment as a funder.
 
“I acknowledge your organization’s right to actively participate in the debate of important political issues, regardless of your position,” Durbin wrote. “And I recognize what an organization’s involvement in ALEC does not necessarily mean that the organization endorses all positions taken by ALEC.”
 
Nevertheless, Durbin said his subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights wants to know if the Center of the American Experiment provided funding to ALEC this year, and whether the Minnesota think tank supports “Stand Your Ground” legislation that ALEC put forth as a national model. And he wants the answers, on the record, by Sept. 1.
 
To which Pearlstein and Crockett replied, in essence, none of your business. “The answers to those questions are irrelevant to the senator’s hearing,” they wrote, “which in turn is irrelevant to the business of the United States Senate.”
 
Durbin, they allege, “has evidently decided to use the power of his office to join the left’s campaign to defund ALEC… using [official] power to intimidate people who express views with which those officials disagree.”

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