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Commentary: Puzzling evidence

When a story is good enough to cut and paste, and too good to check

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The teapot-sized tempest over remarks made by Sean Treglia, a former program officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, in March 2004 continues to roil. But is what Treglia said even accurate? Specifically, he claimed that, "I always encouraged the grantees never to mention Pew."

That was the damning quote cited in The Washington Times today, where once again the Center for Public Integrity was slimed. (Do any of these guys do their own reporting, or are they all cutting and pasting from the same op-ed?)

But is Treglia’s statement accurate? Did he always encourage grantees never to mention Pew? Well, we’re just one group, but a quick look through our archives shows that we mentioned Pew whenever the Philadelphia-based philanthropic foundation supported our work; indeed, we’ve been upfront about the fact.

Our most ambitious Pew project, undertaken originally as a joint venture with our colleagues at the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, was aimed at tracking large donations through state parties. We released it at a June 25, 2002, press conference. Look at the lengths to which our founder and former executive director went to hide Pew’s involvement:

CHARLES LEWIS: I guess we’ll get started. Holy cow. Good morning and thank you all for coming. My name is Charles Lewis, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity. I’m joined at the podium today by Larry Noble, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics and Samantha Sanchez, Executive Director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Information about all three organizations is available here today and on our respective web sites – www.publicintegrity.org, opensecrets.org, and followthemoney.org. None of our groups accept donations from corporations, labor unions, governments or revenue from advertising. This joint project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

We couldn’t have been any clearer than that (and note that the statement also ends with a thank you to Pew from Mr. Lewis, in case anyone missed it). The full transcript of the event is linked from our website; the statement itself is also available.

In our book, The Buying of the President 2000, the acknowledgments also mention Pew’s support:

“...our government accountability research at the national level … is made possible by the terrific ($10,000 and above) support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Everett Philanthropic Fund, the Hafif Family Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the North Star Fund, the Park Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Price Family Fund, the Scherman Foundation …” and so on.

And here’s something from our 1998 book The Buying of the Congress:

Earlier in 1998, we published Congress and the People, a series of Center studies funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Pew, and most other foundations (see Our Private Legislatures, Well Connected, and The Water Barons for other examples), want their support of projects acknowledged. Indeed, our main concern with the foundations that support our work is making certain that we thank them prominently enough.

If Mr. Treglia’s intent was to mask the Pew Charitable Trusts’s support for research into the campaign finance system and making those records more readily available to the public, well, we certainly did not get that message.