If the Goldwater Institute wasn’t on Sen. Dick Durbin’s enemies list before Friday, then the conservative public policy non-profit took strides in making it.
The Goldwater Institute responded harshly Friday to the Illinois senator’s Aug. 6 letter inquiring into its position on stand-your-ground laws and connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council. The institute asked him if he had no decency, a question posed to Sen. Joe McCarthy in reaction to hearings he held to smoke out communists.
“We’re telling Sen. Durbin to pound sand,” said Clint Bolick, Goldwater Institute’s vice president of litigation. “This strikes us as eerily reminiscent of the McCarthy witch hunts and it’s interesting that Durbin doesn’t even seem to realize that.”
Durbin reportedly sent 300 letters to corporate backers of ALEC, an association of conservative lawmakers, policy experts and business leaders. He told recipients their responses will be part of the public record when he holds a hearing next month on stand-your-ground laws in the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
Durbin and critics of ALEC say the group created model legislation for the self-defense laws, which eliminate the legal duty to retreat from a confrontation, and that the legislation is tied to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.
Although Zimmerman did not invoke the stand-your-ground defense, there was language pertaining to it in the jury instructions and one juror has said it was a factor in the verdict.
ALEC said in a March 2012 (cq) press release that its model legislation, which has flourished around the country, was actually based on Florida’s 2005 statute, not the other way around.
Durbin’s letter drew criticism from the Wall Street Journal and his hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, both of which accused him of pressuring businesses by threatening to smear them with Martin’s death. The Tribune editorial was titled “Durbin’s Enemies List.”
“He’s a renowned bully,” Bolick said. “He is a brass-knuckle Chicago boy.”
The senator wanted to know if the Goldwater Institute has served as a member of ALEC or provided funding in 2013, and whether the non-profit supports stand-your-ground legislation.
Goldwater Institute President Darcy Olsen wrote in an Aug. 9 response to Durbin’s letter that his “inquisition” was an outrage, especially in the wake of the IRS scandal in which the tax collector gave conservative non-profit groups extra scrutiny, significantly delaying their tax-exempt status.
“Your attempt to silence your fellow Americans through threats and intimidation because they don’t share identical political beliefs is disgraceful and not worthy of the title you hold,” Olsen wrote.
Bolick said that while the Goldwater Institute loudly proclaims its stance on issues, others could be put on the spot by such an inquiry.
And while Goldwater refused to answer Durbin’s questions, he said the organization has never taken a stance on the self-defense laws and is a dues-paying member of ALEC, but provides no other funding.
Durbin’s office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Sen. Dick Durbin’s letter to The Goldwater Institute