Non-profit

Center on Wisconsin Strategy

Website:

www.cows.org/

Location:

Madison, WI

Formation:

1991

Executive Director:

Joel Rogers

Type:

Labor policy think tank

The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) is a left-of-center think tank that primarily focuses on union-aligned labor policy. The organization is based on “high road,” a left-of-center political strategy oriented toward egalitarianism, environmentalism, and democracy.

COWS has attracted controversy over accusations of using state funds for political advocacy. The organization was established under the purview of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a public university. COWS does not receive any direct funding from the university, but it is primarily funded by government and private grants and claims to be nonpartisan. [1] Nonetheless, the connection between COWS’s advocacy work and the university is ambiguous.

Minimum Wage Advocacy

In October 2014, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and the Economic Policy Institute, a union-funded think tank, released “Raise the Floor Wisconsin – Minimum Wage Edition,” a report which advocated for raising Wisconsin’s minimum wage. The study claimed that one quarter of Wisconsin workers worked jobs paying less than $11.36 per hour. The report was widely used by Democratic lawmakers and left-of-center media outlets to push left-of-center labor policies. [2][3]

In December, the Wisconsin Reader used state open record laws to reveal that COWS associate director Laura Dresser had received data for the study from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Wisconsin Jobs Now, a pro-union advocacy group. Unions like the SEIU stood to benefit considerably from minimum wage increases which would shift the scales of the wages guaranteed in union contracts. In one of the revealed emails, Dresser admitted that she was not confident in data given to her by these groups, though she later publicly recanted her statement. [4]

American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange

In 2012, COWS co-founded the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE), a web-based library of left-progressive laws and policy proposals at the state level. ALICE was designed to be a left-of-center counterpart to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-of-center membership conference of state legislators. The formation of ALICE attracted criticism from Wisconsin State Journal reporter Chris Rickert, who criticized COWS and ALICE for receiving indirect support from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is prohibited from engaging in pollical activism. Representatives from the university claimed that ALICE’s values of “democracy, sustainability and equality” are nonpartisan. [5]

In 2014, ALICE merged with the Progressive States Network and the Center for State Innovation to become the State Innovation Exchange (SIX), funded by donors from the left-of-center Democracy Alliance. [6]

Mayors Innovation Project

In 2005, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and then-Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (D) launched the Mayors Innovation Project, a network of left-progressive mayors that holds annual meetings. [7]

Leadership

Joel Rogers is the founder and director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy. He is the Noam Chomsky Professor of Law, Political Science, Public Affairs, and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rogers has worked as an advisor for numerous left-of-center and left-wing organizations, including the Economic Analysis and Research Network, the Working Families Party, Apollo Alliance, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, the Emerald Cities Collaborative, the State Innovation Exchange, and the Educational Partnership for Innovation in Communities Network. [8]

Laura Dresser is the associate director of COWS and a left-progressive activist. Dresser signed the 2011 petition to recall former Republican Governor Scott Walker (R) and joined protests against Governor Walker’s collective bargaining reforms. [9]

Partner Organizations

The Center on Wisconsin Strategy lists partner organizations for five research categories: jobs and skills, transportation and energy, cities and states, Wisconsin economy, and green jobs. These include a number of left-of-center labor and advocacy organizations, including the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Economic Analysis and Research Network, the Economic Policy Institute, the National Employment Law Project, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, the Emerald Cities Collaborative, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Fresh Energy, Green for All, Policy Matters Ohio, and the Ohio Environmental Council. [10][11][12][13]

Other COWS partners include the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, the National Skills Coalition, Regional Industry Skills Education, the Wisconsin Budget Project, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Working Poor Families Project, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Federal Highway Administration, RE-AMP, the Apollo Alliance Project, Big Ideas for Jobs, Green Madison, Milwaukee Energy Efficiency, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, Regional Industry Skills Education, and the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association. [14][15][16][17]

References

  1. Davidoff, Judith. “ALICE: A progressive counterpoint to ALEC.” ISTHMUS. October 11, 2012. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://isthmus.com/news/news/alice-a-progressive-counterpoint-to-alec/. ^
  2. “Raise the Floor Wisconsin – Minimum Wage Edition.” COWS. October 8, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/_data/documents/1660.pdf. ^
  3. Tobias, Adam. “UW agency coordinated with liberal groups on minimum wage study.” Say Anything Blog. December 4, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.sayanythingblog.com/entry/uw-agency-coordinated-with-liberal-groups-on-minimum-wage-study/. ^
  4. Tobias, Adam. “UW agency coordinated with liberal groups on minimum wage study.” Say Anything Blog. December 4, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.sayanythingblog.com/entry/uw-agency-coordinated-with-liberal-groups-on-minimum-wage-study/. ^
  5. Rickert, Chris. “Chris Rickert: Should UW be backing ALICE?” Wisconsin State Journal. October 6, 2012. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/chris_rickert/chris-rickert-should-uw-be-backing-alice/article_c5361692-0f31-11e2-b76d-0019bb2963f4.html. ^
  6. Vogel, Kenneth P. “Democrats create an ALEX-killer.” Politico. November 9, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/democrats-create-an-alec-killer-112733. ^
  7. “Mayors Innovation Project.” Community Wealth. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://community-wealth.org/content/mayors-innovation-project. ^
  8. “Joel Rogers.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/staff-page/joel-rogers. ^
  9. Tobias, Adam. “UW agency coordinated with liberal groups on minimum wage study.” Say Anything Blog. December 4, 2014. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.sayanythingblog.com/entry/uw-agency-coordinated-with-liberal-groups-on-minimum-wage-study/. ^
  10. “Wisconsin Economy.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/wisconsin. ^
  11. “Jobs & Skills.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/jobs-and-skills. ^
  12. “Cities & States.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/states-cities. ^
  13. “Transportation & Energy.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/energy-transportation. ^
  14. “Wisconsin Economy.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/wisconsin. ^
  15. “Jobs & Skills.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/jobs-and-skills. ^
  16. “Cities & States.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/states-cities. ^
  17. “Transportation & Energy.” COWS. Accessed January 13, 2021. https://www.cows.org/energy-transportation. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Joel Rogers
    Director
  2. Amy Hanauer
    Former Senior Associate
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Center on Wisconsin Strategy

7122 Social Science Building
1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706