The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a think tank backed by some big-name conservatives, has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to professors at labor-centric schools, asking to see any emails containing certain key words, Talking Points Memo reports. The subjects mostly relate to the Wisconsin union protests: "Scott Walker," "Wisconsin," "Madison," and "any other emails dealing with the collective bargaining situation in Wisconsin." There's one other, outlying subject the think tank would like to see emails about — the FOIA request also seeks emails that mention "Maddow."
As in, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
"Some days my job is weirder than others," Maddow told TPM in response to her name being among the topics of interest to the Mackinac Center.
The FOIA requests were sent last Friday and Monday to the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and Michigan State University, which has a School of Human Resources & Labor Relations. The requests were written to cover emails sent by all labor faculty from January 1, 2011, to March 25, 2011.
Roland Zullo, a professor at the University of Michigan, theorized to TPM that the Mackinac Center is trying to catch the professors using their taxpayer-salaried time to push their policy ideas and opinions.
"It sounds like they're trying to catch us advocating for the recall or the election of a politician," Zullo said. "Because we're not supposed to do that, we're not supposed to use our University of Michigan resources for something like that."
Though the Mackinac Center describes itself on its website as a "nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions," the think tank casts a decidedly conservative shadow. The Mackinac Center is associated with the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mother Jones reports, and past donors include one of the Koch brothers, as well as the Prince Foundation, whose vice president is Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
Citing their position as non-profit and non-partisan, the Center asked that the findings of their FOIA be provided free of charge.
"This is a way that they're going after folks they don't agree with, I suppose," Zullo told TPM. "I see it just simply as part of the political environment we exist in right now."
When TPM called Ken Braun, the managing editor of the Mackinac Center's newsletter, he declined to comment.
"I'm not going to release what we're writing about," he said.