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I wanna know all about you

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  February 18, 2009

Here at the Hernia Hill Institute of Unquantifiable Econometrics and Daytime Drinking, internationally renowned scholars (mostly me, although my renown has trouble evading the Border Patrol and slipping into Canada) are constantly (except during happy hour) thinking about Maine's fiscal crisis. From time to time (like almost never), we produce acclaimed studies (one guy in a bar said, "Yow, dat is shumm shtudee") explaining the complexities involved in dealing with recessionary trends through the imperfections of the political process (we make fun of boobs in the Legislature).

These documents feature charts (stolen off other think tanks' Web sites) and footnotes in really small type (if you enlarge them, they turn out to be mostly about feet). You probably aren't clever enough to understand any of this stuff, since you missed the "Unquantifiable Econometrics" joke in our name (and, trust me, it's hilarious).

The point is, this is an economic research organization (as well as an illicit after-hours bottle club), just like the Maine Heritage Policy Center (committed to reducing taxes and spending), the Maine Center for Economic Policy (committed to increasing taxes and spending), the Maine Economic Research Institute (committed to reducing the number of Democrats in the Legislature) and the Maine Public Spending Research Group (committed to increasing the general level of wonkiness).

All these organizations do important work that no normal person pays the slightest attention to. But Democratic state Representative John Tuttle of Sanford is not a normal person.

I don't mean that in a good way.

Tuttle is currently serving his 12th term in the Legislature (the medical equivalent of suffering 12 concussions), where he's sponsoring such landmark measures as "An Act To Allow the Licensing of Minibars in Hotel Rooms" and "An Act To Allow Mixed Martial Arts Competitions in Maine." But it isn't these proposals that concern those of us in the economic-studies game.

We're worried about another of Tuttle's bills, titled "An Act To Require Economic Research Organizations To Report Financial Matters to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices." If this measure passes, it would compel groups like mine (only more legitimate) to submit detailed quarterly reports to the state ethics commission explaining where we get our money (Internet scams, Ponzi schemes) and how we spend it (liquor stores, saloons). In addition, we would be ordered to provide "any information required by the commission to monitor the activities of an organization," which could mean we'd be forced to make public our grade-school report cards, medical tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and that embarrassing video from our cousin's bachelor party involving the inflatable John Tuttle doll filled with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Unless that wasn't a doll.

Which could explain why Tuttle is sponsoring this bill.

A more likely explanation is that somebody in the Democratic Party isn't happy with the Maine Heritage Policy Center's advocacy on behalf of the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, which would rein in state spending, or the Maine Economic Research Institute's legislative ratings, which often give failing grades to Dems. The moving force behind this measure (it probably isn't Tuttle, who's already stretched to his limits dealing with the complexities of legalizing overpriced shooter bottles in hotel rooms and permitting irrational acts of violence in arenas) decided to teach these groups a lesson by subjecting them to governmental probing of an intrusiveness usually reserved for political-action committees and colonoscopies.

This attempt at intimidating think tanks by requiring them to comply with regulations imposed on no other nonpolitical organization will doubtless please those interested in probing the innards of the more conservative of these groups to find out where they get their money. But, as Tony Payne of the Alliance for Maine's Future pointed out in his e-mail newsletter, the bill's definition of the sort of institution covered — any "nonpartisan, independent, not-for-profit organization formed to conduct research, analysis and reporting on economic issues" — could be construed by compliant bureaucrats as applying to everything from Bowdoin College to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Tuttle's bill seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Maybe he should form a think tank of his own (possible name: Tuttle's Rebuttal) to find one.

I'd offer the services of the Hernia Hill unquantifiable econometricians (see, that's really funny), but we're currently investigating the merits of minibars, and the resulting disagreements are expected to keep us occupied until long after the current legislative session expires. There are, after all, vast philosophical differences between the bring-a-travel-flask faction and the even-the-hotel-bar-is-cheaper crowd.

If you have a thought in your tank, e-mail me

  Topics: News Features , Political Policy, Politics, Think Tanks,  More more >
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