Fix the Debt's Partner Groups
Learn more about Pete Peterson-funded astroturf projects at the Fix the Debt Portal.
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest incarnation of a decades-long effort by former Nixon man turned Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare under the guise of fixing the nation's "debt problem."
Fix the Debt is listed as a project of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on the CRFB website, itself a project of the New America Foundation (NAF), which is also funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
With regard to Fix the Debt and its many partner organizations, the National Journal observed, "Singlehandedly, Peterson has created a loose network of deficit hawk organizations that seem independent but that all spout the Peterson-sanctioned message of a 'grand bargain.'" This echo chamber has an impact on the debate in Washington, D.C. Peterson "has empowered those working on the issue because he has funded them," Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP), told the National Journal. "That has an effect because those voices get amplified, and it affects the atmospherics."
This article is part of the Center for Media and Democracy's investigation of Pete Peterson's Campaign to "Fix the Debt." Please visit our main SourceWatch page on Fix the Debt.
|About Fix the Debt|
The Campaign to Fix the Debt is the latest incarnation of a decades-long effort by former Nixon man turned Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson to slash earned benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare under the guise of fixing the nation's "debt problem." Through a special report and new interactive wiki resource, the Center for Media and Democracy -- in partnership with the Nation magazine -- exposes the funding, the leaders, the partner groups, and the phony state "chapters" of this astroturf supergroup. Learn more at PetersonPyramid.org and in the Nation magazine.
Fix the Debt "Partner" Groups Funded By Pete Peterson
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation funds at least six of the "partner" organizations listed on Fix the Debt's website, and has ties to many more. Fix the Debt lists the following as partners, even though CRFB/NAF are better described as "parent" organizations. The Peterson Foundation funds:
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget/New America Foundation: $2,050,000,
- The Moment of Truth Project: $300,000 (another project of CRFB),
- Comeback America Initiative: $3,100,000,
- Committee for Economic Development: $1,853,616, and
- Concord Coalition: $6,036,060 (including $1,500,000 in matching funds).
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget/New America Foundation
Fix the Debt is listed as a "project of" the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) on the organization's website as of February 2013. CRFB is itself a project of the New America Foundation (NAF). The Peter G. Peterson Foundation gave NAF $2,050,000 from 2009 to 2011. CRFB used to be an independent organization, but became associated with NAF in 2003.
New America Foundation Funded by Peterson and a Raft of Fix the Debt Firms
NAF, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), reported $16.8 million in revenue on its last publicly available federal tax filing in 2010. It is not certain how or if it will disclose the $60 million being raised for Fix the Debt. In October of 2012, three months after its launch, Fix the Debt newly incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in Delaware.
NAF is also funded by many of the top Fortune 500 companies that would benefit from the tax breaks being pushed by Fix the Debt. For instance, Microsoft's Bill Gates gave more than $1 million to NAF in 2011 through his foundation, as did Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who now chairs NAF's board. According to a 2012 report from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Microsoft would be one of the big winners if the United States switched to a territorial tax system of the type advocated by Fix the Debt, shaving some $19 billion off the taxes it pays to fund the United States government.
Many NAF donors are also on Fix the Debt's CEO Council, including: Aetna, BlackRock, Google, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, United Parcel Service, Wal-Mart, and Merck. NAF board member Steve Rattner is on the steering committee of Fix the Debt, as are CRFB board members Erskine Bowles, lobbyists Vic Fazio and Jim Nussle, and Alan Simpson.
Committee for a Responsible Budget Once Partnered With Big Tobacco
Since 1981, CRFB has kept up a steady drum beat of seminars, reports, "blue ribbon" commissions, and the like, all focusing on the nation's debt crisis and the need to reform "entitlements" such as Social Security and Medicare, which are better described as earned benefit programs that American workers pay into with each paycheck. Pete Peterson, Erskine Bowles, Alan Cranston, and Alice Rivlin all serve on its large board.
In the 1990s, CRFB formed a "Cost Containment Coalition" that objected to the Clinton Health Care reform proposals and any new taxes to pay for health care for Americans. CRFB's opposition was portrayed as a tough, principled stand, but years later, documents were revealed that showed that the Tobacco Institute, a now defunct industry lobbying group, funded the coalition while Philip Morris funded CRFB President Carol Cox Wait. Internal Philip Morris memos found in the Tobacco Library describe how the firm worked with CRFB to set up the coalition to help the company achieve its "overriding objective" of avoiding tobacco excise taxes as part of any health care reform package, even though tobacco-related illness contribute to the national cost of health care.
Cox Wait, who is reportedly married to Philip Morris vice president Bob Wait, was doing double duty as a federal budget consultant to the tobacco giant. An internal Philip Morris document explains why this is helpful to them: "Because of her bipartisan Board, 'Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,' and given her 'neutral' status, Carol is able to access many people who would be inaccessible to us given our issues."
More recently, CRFB and its Fix the Debt project have come under fire for fronting for firms pushing for a territorial tax system, a tax break for profits earned offshore (see IPS' "The CEO Campaign to 'Fix' the Debt: A Trojan Horse for Massive Corporate Tax Breaks") and for fronting for defense industry firms anxious to avoid budget cuts (see Public Accountability Initiative's "Operation Fiscal Bluff").
The Moment of Truth Project
The Moment of Truth Project (Twitter handle @bowlessimpson) is listed as a project of CRFB on its website. It was funded by a $300,000 Peterson Foundation grant in 2011 after the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (better known as the "Simpson-Bowles Commission") failed to garner enough votes to pass a final deficit reduction package. It is named for the chairmen's report released by Simpson and Bowles in December 2010 called "The Moment of Truth: Report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform." The Peterson funded project gave Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson staff support and a PR platform to continue their advocacy for cuts to the federal budget after the commission ended.
The Concord Coalition, which was founded in 1992, lists Peter Peterson as its co-founder. It specializes in taking the fiscal austerity message outside the beltway with costly tours and town hall meetings. On January 28, 2013, the Concord Coalition announced that it is partnering with Fix the Debt on a series of public forums. According to the Concord Coalition's website, "This joint project will focus its efforts on ten programs in six states: Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida and Tennessee." All of the states the programs are featured in, with the exception of Tennessee, were swing states in the 2012 presidential election. This tracks with what Fortune characterized as the "next stage" for Fix the Debt and its partner organizations: "Up to this point, Fix the Debt's ad campaigns have been largely Washington-focused, combined with a heavy dose of CEO-lobbying. The next phase, Romano says, is national outreach. The campaign increasingly resembles a presidential race, with grassroots-style organizing and offices in places like New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida and Michigan."
Similarly in 2010, the organization engaged in a "Fiscal Solutions Tour," which was launched on September 28, 2010 prior to the conclusion of the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Had the commission succeeded in advancing a bill to Congress, the tour could have been the deficit scolds' main vehicle for rallying grassroots support to a Simpson-Bowles austerity bill. Economist James K. Galbraith called the tour "the latest Peter G. Peterson Foundation effort to rouse the public against deficits and the national debt -- and in particular (though they manage to avoid saying so) to win support for measures that would impose drastic cuts on Social Security and Medicare."
The tour was conducted with support from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and included the following primary speakers: Robert Brixby of the Concord Coalition, Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the CRFB, William Novelli (the Republican former CEO of the AARP), Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institute, and former Peterson Foundation Director and founder of the Comeback America Initiative David M. Walker. The tour visited Iowa three times, as well as California, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Texas and Georgia.
Comeback America Initiative
In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Fix the Debt partner the Comeback America Initiative (CAI) launched the "$10 Million A Minute Bus Tour," featuring former Comptroller General of the United States and former head of the Peter G. Peterson foundation, David M. Walker. Although the Peterson Foundation bankrolls CAI to the tune of $3 million, Walker took umbrage when U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders accused him of carrying water for Pete Peterson and other millionaires and billionaires. Walker claimed that the Peterson Foundation did not provide any direct funding associated with the tour, and the sources of funding are not disclosed, although Peterson has funded other operations himself outside of the Peterson Foundation. The tour hit over 23 cities in 17 states, with 33 events in the 33 days leading up to the election
Campaign for America's Future writer Richard Eskow dubbed the bus tour a "Magical Misery Tour": "Somehow the Peterson crowd thought that it would electrify the nation to see Walker, a former Comptroller General, ride around on a converted Greyhound (or whatever vehicle they've purchased) with other aging anti-government types."
Eskow was wrong, however. The thrifty budget scold did not use a Greyhound. CAI chartered and "wrapped" a bus with their slogan (see image above), a much more pricey endeavor and one of the Center for Media and Democracy's (publisher of SourceWatch) top ten signs of an astroturf organization.
When launching the tour, Walker partnered with Ross Perot in a USA Today op-ed warning that the debt was rising by $10 million a minute, with "serious sustainability challenges that threaten our future position in the world" and even "the future domestic tranquility in our streets." The op-ed touted ideas like "no budget, no pay," "which would stipulate that if Congress fails to pass a budget and required spending bills by the end of a fiscal year, the members would not get paid until they fulfilled this responsibility." In January 2013, the House passed a bill that postponed the "debt ceiling" debate and included "no budget, no pay" language. Multiple media outlets ridiculed the House for failing to read the Constitution, which does not allow Members of Congress to adjust their pay during session.
Committee for Economic Development
The Committee for Economic Development (CED) has received $1,853,616 from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation since 2009. In the lead up to the 2012 elections, the CED hosted four forums as a part of its Fiscal Health Initiative, the specific project the Peter G. Peterson Foundation funded through its 2012 grant. These forums implored legislators to enact fiscal austerity measures, including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
The so-called "premium support" model of Medicare "reform" advocated by CED, involving vouchers for private insurance plans, would "end Medicare as we know it," according to economist Dean Baker: "Under the Republican plan there is absolutely no guarantee that beneficiaries would be able to purchase plans that cover the services that IPAB [Independent Payment Advisory Board] might exclude from Medicare coverage. . . . Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), based on extensive experience with private sector insurers who already operate in the Medicare system through Medicare Advantage, projects that private insurers will hugely increase the cost of getting Medicare-equivalent policies. This is both due to the fact that private insurers have much higher administrative expenses than the public Medicare system and also that they are less effective in containing costs."
"The Can Kicks Back"
The Can Kicks Back is not listed on the Peter G. Peterson Foundation website as a current project, but it appears to be a project of the Peterson-funded Fix the Debt campaign.
The Washington Post calls The Can Kicks Back a "group of young deficit hawks making it their mission to warn the Millennial Generation about the dangers of an out-of-control deficit." The group is the champion of stunts and videos, like handing out bags of empty tin cans to reporters and teaching Alan Simpson to dance Gangnam style (see video). It has Simpson and Bowles on its board and has the same goal as Fix the Debt (a "grand bargain" by July 4). It even shares office space with NAF/CRFB, but Fix the Debt references it as an independent group, as can be seen from this Facebook post:
The group has been treated uncritically by the press, as puff pieces in the LA Times and the Washington Post show. These pieces fail to reveal the group's funders, although the Fix the Debt logo now appears on most Can Kicks Back films.
Articles and Resources
Featured SourceWatch Articles on Fix the Debt
- Fix the Debt Portal Page
- Nancy Cook, Billionaire Peterson Sounds Alarm on Deficit, National Journal, November 26, 2012.
- Paul Blumenthal and Christina Wilkie, Fix The Debt Campaign's Bipartisan Veneer Masks Conservative Backing, Huffington Post, December 3, 2012.
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, CRFB, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Nancy Cook, Billionaire Peterson Sounds Alarm on Deficit, National Journal, November 26, 2012. NB: CAP received half a million dollars from the Peterson Foundation in 2011.
- Peter G. Peterson Foundation, New America Foundation/Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Comeback America Initiative, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Committee for Economic Development, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Concord Coalition Corporation, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, MacGuineas To Lead Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, organizational press release, August 7, 2003.
- New America Foundation, 2010 Form 990, organizational IRS tax filing, October 26, 2011.
- Delaware Department of State Division of Corporations, Fix the Debt Coalition Delaware Incorporation Record, state governmental website, incorporated October 9, 2012, accessed January 2013.
- New America Foundation, Our Funding, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger, Institute for Policy Studies, The CEO Campaign to 'Fix' the Debt: A Trojan Horse for Massive Corporate Tax Breaks, organizational report, November 13, 2012, p. 3.
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Board, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Invoice to The Tobacco Institute, organizational invoice to tobacco industry lobbying group, November 16, 1993, p. 2.
- Philip Morris Corporate Affairs, Corporate Cost Review, corporate affairs summary, July 20, 1993, p. 5.
- Philip Morris Companies Inc., Memo RE: PM Participation in Health Care Coalitions, internal corporate memo, June 1, 1992.
- Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim, CRFB Corporate Ties: Budget Watchdog Funded By Big Tobacco In 1990s Health Care Fight, Huffington Post, January 24, 2013.
- The Moment of Truth Project, Statement on the First Anniversary of The Moment of Truth Project, organizational statement, December 1, 2011.
- Concord Coalition, [www.concordcoalition.org/board-directors Board of Directors], organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Concord Coalition, Concord Is Partnering With Fix the Debt on Public Forums, organizational statement, January 28, 2013.
- 2012 Swing States, Politico, update December 24, 2012, accessed January 2013.
- Anne VanderMey, Fix the Debt isn't going anywhere, Fortune, January 30, 2013.
- Enact the Plan, Executive Summary, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- James K. Galbraith, What I learned from hanging out with deficit hawks, Salon, February 11, 2011.
- Concord Coalition, Bob Brixby, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- CRFB, Douglas Holtz-Eakin Joins the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, organizational statement, January 4, 2006.
- Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, William D. Novelli, university faculty profile, accessed January 2013.
- Brookings Institute, Isabel Sawhill, organizational personnel profile, accessed January 2013.
- Comeback America Initiative, Our Staff, organizational website, accessed January 2013.
- Richard Eskow, Six Degrees of Social Security: The President, the Senator and the Billionaire, Huffington Post, September 7, 2012.
- Senator Bernie Sanders, Roundup: Skip gimmicks, focus on richest paying fair share, USA Today, August 28, 2012.
- David M. Walker, Roundup: Bus tour a joint effort for non-partisan reform, USA Today, September 5, 2012.
- David M. Walker, The official count: 23 cities, 17 states and 33 events in 33 days. #10million, tweet, Twitter.com, September 11, 2012.
- H. Ross Perot Sr. and David M. Walker, Column: The national debt, our $10 million-a-minute problem, USA Today, August 22, 2012.
- Dale McFeatters, Hold Senators' paychecks? It's unconstitutional, Desert News, January 27, 2013.
- Committee for Economic Development, Issues: Federal Budget: Events, organizational website, accessed January 21, 2013.
- Joseph Minarik, Committee for Economic Development, What is the "Medicare Guarantee"?, Back in the Black, organizational publication, June 25, 2012.
- Dean Baker, Medicare Costs Too Much and They Better Not Cut It, Huffington Post, March 19, 2012.
- Suzy Khimm, Meet the millennial deficit hawks, Washington Post, November 12, 2012.
- Jeremy Duda, Just got a bag of empty soda cans from Fix The Debt delivered to me at work to urge feds to "stop kicking the can down the road." Cute., tweet, Twitter.com, January 15, 2013.
- Paul Blumenthal and Christina Wilkie, Fix The Debt Campaign's Bipartisan Veneer Masks Conservative Backing, Huffington Post, December 3, 2012.
- Jim Puzzanghera, Group mobilizes young people to push for fiscal-cliff solution, LA Times, November 12, 2012.