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Here’s what happens when an ideologically driven think tank writes partisan op-ed columns and invites newspapers to use them.

The papers do.

The other day the Alton Telegraph ran a piece by “contributing columnist” Austin Berg slamming a “greedy ploy” by the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU supp0rts a bill requiring home caregivers to attend an annual training session. Berg sniffed out a secret agenda: he thinks that what the SEIU really wants is the chance to pressure a captive audience into joining the union.

The SEIU needs the money, Berg argues. Two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that home caregivers in Illinois couldn’t be required to pay a fee to the SEIU in order to receive financial support from the state. “Since then,” wrote Berg, “nearly 12,000 Illinois caregivers have stopped paying the union.” 

I have no comment on Berg’s argument against the SEIU other than to note he didn’t make it independently. His view is very much the view of the Illinois Policy Institute—a not-for-profit devoted to “free market principles” that has benefited handsomely from the largess of Governor Rauner’s family foundation (before he became governor) and is so hostile to the SEIU it’s created a website dedicated to encouraging caretakers to leave it. “YOUR VOICE, YOUR CHOICE,” the site proclaims: “Personal assistants deserve to keep their hard-earned money. Opt out of the SEIU today!” There’s a link to an “SEIU Opt-Out Form.” Cutting ties with the union couldn’t possibly be any easier than IPI makes it.

And here’s what the Telegraph neglected to tell its readers:

Austin Berg was expressing an opinion he’s paid to hold. He works for IPI, where he’s not only a staff writer but its pride and joy, the new featured columnist of IPI’s media arm, the Illinois News Network. As I reported a few days ago, in March the head of INN e-mailed editors around the state introducing Berg as the author of a new “weekly opinion column for your use.”

For your use. . .  Telegraph readers also weren’t told that one reason they were reading Berg instead of somebody else is that Berg comes gratis. 

Given what Telegraph readers didn’t know, Berg’s op-ed began on an appropriate note. “Illinois politics,” said his first line, “is too often a master class in masking true intentions.”

So it is. I wrote the managing editor, Nathan Woodside, and wondered if the Telegraph should have been more forthcoming. He said the SEIU was writing a rebuttal, and if I wanted to send him something too, I should keep it under 300 words. (I told him I had my own space.)

Berg’s piece also was picked up by the Daily Southtown (a Tribune Publishing paper), the Times in Ottawa, the Northwest Herald, and Champaign’s News-Gazette. These other papers did at least identify Berg as an IPI writer and INN columnist. And Berg’s op-ed showed up on the website of WRPW FM in Bloomington-Normal, where it topped a stack of state news “Provided by IL News Network.”

So Berg’s free message got around.