University of Wisconsin Serves As Greenhouse for Liberal Think Tank

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is starting to gain an unhealthy track record of allowing liberal organizations to use campus facilities at little or no cost.

As noted in a recent Media Trackers report regarding the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, there is an incentive in the UW-Madison system for groups to hide in the shield of University statute, and appear as if they are a part of the University in order to avoid bureaucratic red tape.  For groups seeking to bolster their work and finances, association with the University lends the appearance of academic credibility to outside observers and offers potential access to nice taxpayer-funded facilities.  This is the case of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), which is provided free office space in the Social Sciences Building of UW-Madison.

COWS is a non-profit liberal public policy think tank run by Joel Rogers, a professor of political science, sociology, and law at UW-Madison.  Rogers, who in a 2002 speech described Republicans as “ruthless mother***ers, “criminals,” and “evil mother***ers,” founded COWS to promote “high road” solutions to social problems.  Rogers is also on the record for soliciting his students to help on anti-conservative political project while they awaited their final grades.

COWS partners with groups such as The Center for State Innovation, the Mayor’s Innovation Project, the Efficiency Cities Network, and ALICE to provide progressive and anti-capitalist responses to social issues.  ALICE, for example, works to provide liberal model laws designed for states to observe and mirror. Examples of these exemplary law models include Maryland House Bill 1092, which provides measures for increased firearm regulation and tracking, and California Assembly Bill 241, which would give the state government increased autonomy to regulate the wages, hours, and working conditions of domestic work employees.

The organization is funded exclusively by non-profit organizations such as the Joyce Foundation, Open Society Institute, and the Ford Foundation.  These groups are the same as those who contributed to the WCIJ’s budget in the past.  No school funds were given to either organization, outside of free work space provided by the university.  In addition, there is no Facility Use Agreement between the University and COWS, unlike the WCIJ, which has an agreement with the University.

According to a University spokesperson, COWS functions without a facility use agreement because they are a part of the sociology department.  At no point on COWS’ website, which is not run through the UW system, does the organization disclose that they are a part of the Sociology Department.

This past year, COWS’ budget was $904,697, according to the UW-Madison Sociology Department.  None of these funds were generated from the Sociology department itself, documents show.  The evident funding source gap between COWS – which raises money outside the University system – and that of the Sociology Department would seem to show that COWS functions as a taxpayer-sheltered organization that serves a very liberal leaning donor base.

This arrangement would seem to give COWS a thin veneer of academic credibility for the hard-core ideological work that it does.

Ultimately, COWS will continue to function on the campus of UW-Madison as an independent group hidden in the shadow of the sociology department.  Thanks to a loophole in the system that allows for winners and losers to be chosen by unelected officials, they will continue to use taxpayer resources to further advance their progressive agenda.

COWS budget is buried in this document: SociologyBudget_2012-2013_WI_OpenRecordsRequest