Who Is Citizens for a Sound Economy?

Peggy Venable, the head of the Texas office of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), says her group represents regular consumers who support free market public policies. And she isn't thrilled with the way the press treats her organization, which is backed by a laundry list of corporate interests. "It does irk me sometimes that newspapers don't talk about a free-market consumer group" like CSE, she says.

Venable's group, which is pushing for deregulation, claims 20,000 individual members in Texas who give an average of $17.50 per year. But CSE also has a lot of corporate help. According to an article that appeared last July in National Journal magazine, CSE is backed by groups like the American Petroleum Institute, The American Plastics Council, and the Chemical Manufacturers Association. "Money has poured into CSE coffers from chemical, oil, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and tobacco companies that often have a huge stake in the battles CSE has fought," says National Journal. The group's biggest contributor is the David Koch Charitable Foundation, which is associated with Koch Industries, a privately-held, Kansas-based oil and gas conglomerate with annual revenues of $20 billion. Koch and its affiliated companies give CSE between $750,000 and $1 million per year. Koch was also a major backer of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

CSE has had phenomenal growth. Since 1991, the group's budget has quadrupled, and in 1995, according to National Journal, its budget reached $17.6 million. The national director is C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel under President George Bush. And CSE is now spending at least $5 million in 10 states, including Texas, to convince voters that major environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act, need to be scrapped.

CSE has been a vocal opponent of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new air quality standards. Venable has authored several op-ed pieces in state newspapers and she wrote a letter last month to Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission chairman Barry McBee saying that, "Before we accept these untested, far-out proposals, let's learn the real facts" about the danger of small, airborne particulates. "We should also work to release the fate of our state's economy from the jaws of EPA and provide Texans with the opportunity to manage our own environmental concerns."

Jim Marston, head of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund, calls CSE, "just a front group for industry." But in fairness to CSE, Marston's group, which also promotes free-market solutions to environmental issues, also gets large donations from corporate interests. The difference, says Marston and members of consumer groups like Public Citizen and Citizen Action, is that CSE won't tell who their backers are. "We accept corporate and foundation contributions," Venable explains. But she adds, "We have a policy that we don't tell who contributes to us. We receive very little from corporations and businesses."

When told CSE has been criticized by other consumer groups, Venable said, "It's interesting to me that these other groups are name-calling and talking about where we do or don't get funding. I'm not doing that with regard to other groups. People take pot shots at what they are most afraid of." -- R.B.

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