The Pelican Institute: Louisiana’s First “Astroturf” Think Tank

A few days ago, The Pelican Institute for Public Policy published a report titled Why Louisiana Should Not Build High-Speed Rail by Randal O’Toole of the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. (Apparently, the days of high speed rail have already come and gone, even though we have never had a national high-speed commuter rail network, and besides, no one is going to want to ride a train, even though most of us have never had the option. Oddly enough, Mr. O’Toole’s report does not include the words “hurricane,” “evacuation,” “New Orleans,” or “Baton Rouge;” it’s almost as if this is a boilerplate, fill-in-the-blanks diatribe against rail in general).

The Pelican Institute is a Louisiana-based think tank founded last year by native New Yorker and Tulane grad Kevin Kane. Jeb Bruneau, son of former State Representative Peppi Bruneau, is its Vice President. (Peppi, as some may recall, was accused of timing his retirement announcement to maximally benefit Jeb’s campaign for the seat. Jeb lost anyway). Though it labels itself as “non-partisan,” the Pelican Institute is undeniably bent toward conservative and libertarian political philosophies, with a concentration on limiting government. Last year, in an article in The Wall Street Journal, the Pelican Institute was described as a group of up-and-comers confronting the entrenched corruption of Louisiana through serious policy research. Quoting:

“Having a think tank under Edwin Edwards would have been meaningless,” says Stephen Gele, a member of the Pelican Institute’s Board of Directors. “You could have done a 50-page paper, but who would have read it? Edwards would have made up his mind over a game of Bourré” — a Cajun gamblers’ pastime, similar to Spades — “and that would have been the end of it.”

Fighting words, to be sure.

Earlier this year, the Pelican Institute, along with Citizens Against Waste in Government, published the 2009 Louisiana Pork Report, a 36-page report that reads more like snarky opposition to government than serious policy analysis.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for calling out wasteful government spending, but there are numerous problems with the Pork Report.

It’s not even worth the time or energy nitpicking through everything in this ridiculous report. To me, its credibility is immediately undermined by its criticism of the Alexandria Zoo:

The Alexandria Zoological Park was built in 1926, near its present location. It started with discarded pets such as rabbits, goats, and deer. In the late 1960s, the US Department of Agriculture threatened to close it down. A full-time zookeeper was hired and the city started making some improvements.

Today, the zoo has a larger variety of animals than when it first started, and it is a major tourist attraction. But the question is whether taxpayers or visitors have to support it. People pay for entertainment all the time such as movies and eating out, and those activities are supported by the money they spend. That’s how businesses stay alive. The zoo should not be any different. Yet lawmakers approved $175,000 for the zoo in 2008.

News flash to the New Yorker and the DC-based CAWG: The zoo is not and has never been a private business, and it’s not simply an “entertainment” option. It’s a habitat for over 600 animals, including nearly 30 endangered species, and it’s one of only three accredited zoos in the State. It’s a major quality of life destination in Central Louisiana, and there is absolutely no doubt that our zoo adds value to the entire region.

Regarding that $175,000: I’m sure that the good men and women of the Zoo and the non-profit Friends of the Alexandria Zoo will be thrilled to have the support of the State.

Unfortunately, the check must still be in the mail.

The report lambastes Mayor Cedric Glover for spending $4,475 to attend the United States Conference of Mayors and the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., yet it says absolutely nothing about the tens of thousands of dollars taxpayers have spent to send Governor Bobby Jindal across the country for campaign fundraisers. It criticizes Shaw Group for utilizing $210 million in state incentives, but instead of telling us what, exactly, those incentives were for, it focuses on Shaw CEO Jim Bernhard’s political affiliation. Even though Jindal approved those incentives, the spending is labeled “wasteful” because Bernhard donated to Kathleen Blanco’s gubernatorial campaign.

That’s what The Pelican Institute is: A group of partisan ideologues masquerading as an objective, intellectual “think tank,” outsourcing their “analysis” to established conservative think tanks like Citizens Against Government Waste, the Reason Foundation, and the Cato Institute because they don’t actually employ any real scholars themselves.

The Pelican Institute. Neither pelicans nor an institute. Discuss.