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Week of 9.22.06

Taking the Initiative

In the voting booth this fall, voters in states across the country will find ballot initiatives with titles like "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights" and "SOS - Stop Over Spending."

The aim is to slash state spending, with the potential for deep cuts in health care, education, and other social services. But are these local initiatives really "home" grown? This week, NOW investigates how organizations associated with one wealthy New Yorker, Howard Rich, are secretly providing major funding for ballot measures. In some states, those contributions have been matched by ones from Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group headed by the politically well-connected Grover Norquist. Since 2001, Norquist visited the White House nearly 100 times, including six meetings with President Bush.

NOW also takes a look at the questionable tactics used to put these issues on your ballot. Is someone manipulating your state's laws, your vote, and you?

Editors Note: Grover Norquist's affiliation was mislabeled in the video broadcast. He's with Americans for Tax Reform, not Americans for Limited Government.

About Howard Rich

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Over the past 30 years, New York real estate magnate Howard Rich has steered millions of dollars toward the libertarian causes he has long championed, though he has managed to largely remain under the political radar while doing so. The 66-year-old Republican, who goes by "Howie," serves as chairman of Americans for Limited Government, a national coalition that works with local groups to "protect property rights, stop out-of-control government spending, and hold judges accountable to the rule of law."

Organizations associated with Rich have funneled nearly $7 million into 2006 state initiatives aiming to limit government in 12 states, according to an investigation by The Oregonian published last month. Rich has generally declined to reveal how much of the money comes from his personal wealth, and is not required by campaign finance laws to report how much he privately funds his various groups.

Early in his career, Rich was active in the Libertarian Party and worked with other leaders of the party, such as powerful billionaire Charles Koch, to promote their small-government, free-market causes. But after an internal party dispute in 1983, Rich left the party and continued his activism with private groups and foundations. Rich also sits on the board of directors of the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank founded and funded by Koch and based out of Washington, D.C.

In 1990, Rich and his wife Andrea took over the Libertarian Review Foundation, renaming it the Center for Independent Thought. The Riches have also financially supported the libertarian magazine Reason.

Related Resource: The Oregonian's investigation into Rich's funding of state initiatives