GUEST COMMENTARY - The juxtaposition of two recent tweets from M. Nolan Gray, CAYimby director of research, are rather revealing. The first was a retweet of an MLK-Day blurb attempting to tie MLK’s legacy to zoning, using the loaded and misleading term “exclusionary zoning” to describe single-family neighborhoods (as if MLK didn’t want Black people to be able to choose to live in a home with a garden).
Gray’s next retweet was from Kendall Cotton, the President and CEO of the “Frontier Institute,” who had retweeted his organization’s release of the “Montana Zoning Atlas 2.0, an expanded interactive resource that demonstrates how strict local zoning regulations exclude low and middle-income residents and worsen Montana’s housing shortage.”
Gray wasn’t alone among the Yimbys (who are more appropriately referred to as Wimbys) in touting the Frontier Institute’s work. Law professor Chris Elmendorf, the Mikhail Suslov of the Wimby movement, also tweeted a link to the Frontier Institute’s website with the urban hipster catchphrase “Love to see it!”
He then went on to elucidate his joy at the Frontier Institute’s work product: “The next stage is for states to mandate local govts' submission of zoning maps to a central agency, and to make the submitted, simplified maps "real" with an HAA-like ban or denying/downsizing projects whose density & FAR conform to the submitted map.”
Elmendorf, unlike Gray, didn’t retweet the link directly from Kendall Cotton or the Frontier Institute itself, but retweeted a former colleague of Gray’s, Salim Furth, a researcher at the Mercatus Center (more on them later). Anti-homeownership, Urban Growth Machine apologist and Wimby darling, writer Jerusalem Demsas of “The Atlantic,” who has her own page on the Wall-Street-funded Marron Institute’s website, also shared Furth’s tweet.
Just what is the Frontier Institute?
President and CEO Kendall Cotton’s having served as Montana congressional representative Matt Rosendale’s campaign manager might begin to give a picture. Rosendale, if you recall, was one of the GOP holdouts who tried to block Kevin McCarthy’s election as House Speaker, because McCarthy isn’t right-wing enough for him. Rosendale is also an anti-environmentalist who wants to defund wildlife management agencies.
Reading the Institute’s self-description, it seems clear they are radical libertarians in the Koch Bros mold who believe:
“In solving problems with more freedom not more government. When government gets in the way of people pursuing their dreams, we elevate powerful stories and sound policy solutions to break down these barriers so all Montanans can thrive.”
As if straight from a “Yellowstone” episode, they proclaim:
“Respect for Individual Rights is Essential to the Spirit of the West.”
Their goals are stated as follows:
- “Red Tape Relief,” i.e. market deregulation.
- “Fiscal Responsibility,” i.e. limited government and tax reductions that make Jarvis look like tax-and-spend Democrats.
- “Healthcare Reform,” i.e. anti-science and antivaxxer policies.
- “Active Forest Management,” i.e. anti-Nature, anti-Environment deregulation.
- “Education Freedom,” i.e. more charter schools, more privatization of education, less standardization of curriculum, and avoidance of all discussions of race in school.
The Frontier Institute is a proud member of the State Policy Network (SPN), described as “a web of right-wing ‘think tanks’ and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, DC, Canada and the United Kingdom,” whose staffers – unsurprisingly – include graduates of the Ayn Rand Institute.
President Cotton brags about his organization’s being a finalist for the State Policy Network’s Bob Williams Award for “Most Impactful Research” in 2021. Unfortunately, they lost out to New York’s Empire Center.
Some ten years ago, the Center for Media and Democracy published their first damning report whose title pretty much says it all: “Exposed: The State Policy Network. The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government.”
The funders of SPN are just whom you might expect, notably the Koch Bros and an assortment of other right-wing corporatists and radical libertarians, including the Bradley Foundation, which spent a fortune to spread The Big Lie. One of the more colorful major funders of SPN is Farris Wilks, a fracking billionaire, a major funder of far-right anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQIA+ groups, and a pastor for the Assembly of Yahveh 7th Day Church, whose doctrines include that “homosexuality is a serious crime” and that abortion is “murder,” including in cases of incest or rape. Wilks also once famously remarked to his congregation:
“If (God) wants the polar caps to remain in place, then he will leave them there.”
Wilks has also funded anti-LGBTQIA+ extremist David Lane, in his effort to get pastors elected to political offices around the country.
Another one of SPN and the Koch Bros’ major initiatives is to protect the donors of dark money, or, as the Center for Media and Democracy puts it, “to make dark money even darker.” Democracy may die in darkness, but corporate profits evidently thrive in it…
Wimby groups, including CAYimby, are likely salivating at the prospect of dark money becoming even darker. Wimby groups are awash in dark money, and webs of opaque, virtually untraceable piles of cash fund Wimby AstroTurf groups and fuel their hardcore anti-community lobbying efforts throughout the nation.
Right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel’s interest in Wimbyism is well-known. It’s also well-known that Wimby high priest, California state senator Scott Wiener, is massively funded by a variety of developer and corporate interests, as well as – yes –-dark money. It’s entirely possible through the untraceable flow chart and web of dark money, that funding from Thiel, the Koch Brothers, or even Farris Wilks himself ends up in the coffers of Wimby groups and Wimby politicians. The irony of money from Farris Wilks helping Scott Wiener get elected speaks for itself. Wilks may hate LGBTQIA+ folks, but he sure loves deregulation, repealing environmental legislation, and profits.
The Mercatus Center, mentioned before as Salim Furth’s employer, is also a major tool in the Koch Bros network; it’s hardly surprising that Koch Industries executive Richard Fink serves on Mercatus’s board and Charles Koch remains a Board Member Emeritus. It’s also hardly surprising that Mercatus is a nest of Ayn-Rand-loving, anti-government reactionaries who look at the entire economy through the prism of objectivism.
Seems just a bit odd, doesn’t it, that the “progressive” California Wimby mob and their density fetishism would make common cause with a radical libertarian organization in one of the nation’s least densely populated states? (Only Alaska and Wyoming are less dense than Montana).
And yet the Wimbys seem happy to make common cause and to march in lockstep with the motley bunch of anti-union, corporatist, anti-vaxxer, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-environmentalist extremists of the SPN and the Koch Bros web of lobbying organizations, “think tanks,” and advocacy groups.
Politics may make strange bedfellows, but money makes even stranger ones. As always, it’s ultimately all ‘bout the money.
Back to M. Nolan Gray, CAYimby’s director of “research.” We can only imagine the kind of “research” he engages in, having been a “research fellow” at Mercatus itself and whose stated goal, in line with the extreme right-wing Koch Bros, radical libertarian agenda of complete deregulation, is to “abolish zoning, all of it.”
CAYimby likes to feign support for tenants’ rights (while refusing to advocate for robust anti-speculation housing policies), while their director of research busily retweets his sometime co-author Salim Furth, who loves tweeting against rent stabilization policies. The Mercatus Center’s anti-tenant and anti-rent stabilization dogma fills literally hundreds of pages of search results on the center’s website.
There’s certainly a heapin’ helpin’ of hypocrisy from all sides. The Frontier Institute declaims that “Education shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all.” But evidently housing and what otherwise would be diverse communities should be…
The SPN professes: “We believe local problems are best solved by local leaders who know and understand the challenges their communities face.” Except evidently, when it comes to housing, community choice and lifestyle decisions, they believe local problems are best solved by centralized politicians, beholden to special interest money, as well as bureaucrats and apparatchiks, who can ensure that community decision-making doesn’t stand in the way of corporate profits…
Right after he tweeted about MLK, M. Nolan Gray retweeted an anti-zoning Frontier Institute video featuring its President and CEO, Kendall Cotton, whose goal very well may be to turn Montana from the “Big Sky state” to the Big Lie state. Matt Rosendale, the candidate whose campaign Cotton managed (and donated to) and who currently serves in the House, has kissed the asses of white supremacists throughout his entire political career. Along with his boss, Cotton was a member of a vile, racist Tea Party Facebook group, which featured posts targeting African-Americans.
Neat little juxtaposition of tweets there.
Despite Sacramento-based CAYimby’s supposedly “progressive” bona fides, the company they keep and whose agenda they share, is crystal clear: like most Wimbys, they are really just a bunch of libertarians and Ayn Randos who cloak themselves in “progressive” jargon to avoid the stench of the Koch Bros and the other unsavory racist, anti-Nature, anti-LGBTQIA+, corporatist types (but they just can’t seem to quit retweeting them). Heck, for all we know, CAYimby may be bucking for a Bob Williams Award of their own…
A Truthout exposé of the Yimby movement from 2017 currently has the title online as: “YIMBYs: The Darlings of the Real Estate Industry.” At the bottom of the article is an Editor’s Note:
This story’s original headline, “YIMBYs: The ‘Alt-Right’ Darlings of the Real Estate Industry,” has been amended upon further review to be more accurate and representative of the story’s contents.
Given the cheek-to-cheek relationship with radical libertarians and their funders that has blossomed over the past six years, a restoration of the original headline would likely be in order; at the very least the revised headline should read: “YIMBYs: The ‘Alt-Right-Adjacent’ Darlings of the Real Estate Industry and Wall Street.”
Because of their attempt to “project progressive,” the Wimby brand of hypocrisy is at least just as head-shaking as the hypocrisy of the far-right groups whose policies and dogma they so readily embrace. Indeed, the Wimbys care as much about the Trojan horses of housing affordability, equity, and the environment as their alt-right-adjacent collaborators and brothers-in-dark-money-arms.
How refreshing would it be if they dropped the pretense, ended their attempts at wokewashing, and just admitted that they’re nothing more than a bunch of tetchy, unremitting, raging developer shills?
Please, just end the hypocrisy.
You’d love to see it…
(John Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009, and has served three terms as mayor. He is currently a garden-variety councilmember and a contributor to CityWatchLA.com.). Photo Above: M. Nolan Gray