Conservatives to Durbin: Have you no sense of decency?

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MADISON, Wis. – The Goldwater Institute on Friday joined a growing chorus of conservative organizations blasting U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin for what they see as the Illinois Democrat’s Joe McCarthy-style interrogation.

34914143369338990620-read Conservatives to Durbin: Have you no sense of decency?

“Have you no sense of decency?” the Goldwater Institute asks Durbin in a response to the senator’s letter to the institute and hundreds of other companies and organizations, sniffing about for their possible affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The decency question, of course, was famously posed by attorney Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Wisconsin Republicans’ 1950s witch hunt for “Un-American activities.”

“It is the same question we pose to your office today in response to your effort to intimidate us for daring to associate with the free market, limited government organization known as the American Legislative Exchange Council,” writes Darcy Olsen, president of the Phoenix-based conservative think tank that draws its name from the late U.S. senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater.

“Simply put, especially in the wake of IRS intimidation and harassment of conservative organizations, your inquisition is an outrage,” Olsen continues in the letter to Durbin.

The libertarian think tank Cato Institute also called out Durbin for using what Cato President John Allison called a “subtle but powerful form of government coercion.”

“Your letter … is an obvious effort to intimidate those organizations and individuals who may have been involved in any way with” ALEC, Allison wrote in a letter Wednesday to the senator.

Cato once was  funded by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire businessmen who also  fund ALEC.

While Allison said the think tank won’t be intimidated by Durbin’s line of questioning, he said he believes business leaders will now “hesitate to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of regulatory retribution.”

“Your letter thus represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” the Cate executive asserts in his letter.

Who are the businesses and nonprofits possibly associating with ALEC? Here are just a few on Durbin’s list:

Cracker Barrel

Deere & Co.


State Farm Insurance

Pepsi’s media parent, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, also received Durbin’s letter.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year announced it would withdraw financial support for ALEC after an activist campaign to separate ALEC from its funders.

The senator asks the entities whether they have given money to or have representatives affiliated with ALEC, and how they feel about a particular gun law.

Durbin spokesman Max Gleischman told Watchdog earlier this week that Durbin’s questions seek answers to “stand your ground” legislation – measures giving legal protections to individuals who shoot home intruders or “meet force with force.” Durbin plans to convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights next month to examine the issue.

“We sent identical letters to anyone who appears to have been a financial supporter of ALEC following the 2005 adoption of ALEC’s model “stand your ground law,” the spokesman said in the email. “The senator’s hearing is designed to examine so-called stand your ground laws and the constitutional, civil and human rights those laws raise.”

Like the Franklin Center and others, the Goldwater Institute refuses to answer Durbin’s questions, which feel like more government intrusion.

“We refuse to answer not because we disavow ALEC – far from it. We refuse to answer because as free Americans, that is our right,” Olsen writes. “Your attempt to silence your fellow Americans through threats and intimidation because they don’t share identical political beliefs is disgraceful and not worthy of the title you hold.”