As a freshly minted purveyor of news over the Internet, I believe in spreading information far and wide and letting people draw conclusions and make comments as they may.
I’m just not used to the conclusions and comments being made about me.
The hot news of the moment is the irresistible story of the four young conservative activists who got arrested for what the feds say was an attempt to tamper with the phones in the New Orleans office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. One of them, James O’Keefe, became an instant media celebrity last summer after video-taping an encounter with ACORN workers in Washington during which a would-be prostitute asked for advice on how to avoid taxes. Another, Robert Flanagan is the son of the acting U.S. attorney for the western district of Louisiana.
Both have ties to my former employer, The Pelican Institute for Public Policy. O’Keefe was the featured speaker at a Pelican event last week, and Flanagan was a contributor to the groups’s online policy-and-opinion blog, thepelicanpost.org
The connection has cued stage whispers online: “What’s this Pelican Institute? Who’s behind them? What’s their real agenda? Look – Steve Beatty wrote something about ACORN on the Pelican site.”
As always, I’m flattered when someone reads my stories. In my 8-month tenure as an investigative reporter with the think-tank, which ended Dec. 31, I wrote about ACORN and many other topics that raised issues about government transparency and accountability.
Along with a smaller government and a push to let free markets work unfettered, government accountability is one of the goals of The Pelican Institute.
Every journalist works for someone with an agenda or point of view. My former colleagues at The Connecticut Post, The Times-Picayune and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution state those agendas on the editorial pages. The Lens’ primary benefactor – the Open Society Institute, founded by George Soros –advocates open and just government. And The Lens is a partner with Fox 8 News, which likely brings to mind a particular point of view, tied to its owner Rupert Murdoch.
Here’s what I know about The Pelican Institute.
Generally speaking, The Pelican Institute’s views are comparable to those of The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, and The Pelican Institute is friendly with both. Neither contributes financially to The Pelican Institute.
The Pelican Institute is part of the State Policy Network, a coalition of like-minded groups across the country. Other members include the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Ohio and the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina.
They all suggest the pigeonholes of “right-wing,” “fiscal conservative” or “libertarian,” though not all fit neatly in any of these.
The Pelican Institute was started in 2008 by Kevin Kane, its president, a Tulane University graduate who tried to return to New York. Like a lot of us, he realized he missed New Orleans too much, came back and brought his family.
He’s joined by Jeb Bruneau, a New Orleans native who handles policy and legislative initiatives as the institute’s vice president. Because his father, Peppi Bruneau, was a state House representative for 30 years, Jeb knows his way around Louisiana government – a handy skill for an organization working to influence policy.
I rounded out the relatively small local staff, working as a contract employee to dig into stories. Neither Kane nor Bruneau required or rejected story topics, leaving me to my own interests.
Other adjunct members of the staff write on the think-tank’s policy blog, as do other contributors, such as Flanagan. I’ve never met either Flanagan or O’Keefe.
The Pelican Institute occasionally put on luncheons at the Plimsoll Club, featuring speakers on health care or other current policy topics. It also brought together eight mayoral candidates to hear an address by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and to explain how they would work with the government watchdog.
Also, Kane moderated a panel discussion with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Sen. David Vitter; Gov. Bobby Jindal was scheduled to participate but withdrew because of matters pending in the state Legislature. The topic was “Creating Solutions for America By Using the Principles that Have Historically Worked in America.”
OK. That’s pretty much what I know about the Pelican Institute. I look forward to learning a lot more about what James O’Keefe and his buddies were up to.