Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is a left-of-center group that advocates against liberal conceptions of government waste, including certain core military programs, most notably the nuclear deterrent,1 and other budget and taxation issues. The group claims not to take money from interests that have a stake in its work such as corporations, unions, and the government, but it frequently takes money from foundations that advocate for left-wing policies. The organization is based in Washington, D.C.
The organization is led by Ryan Alexander. Alexander has been president of the group since 2006; before that, she served on the TCS board for seven years. 2
Before joining Taxpayers for Common Sense, Alexander was the co-founder of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, an organization that opposes to coal mining and natural gas extraction in the Appalachian region. She continues to chair that organization.
She also sits on the board of directors for the Fund for Constitutional Government, an anti-corruption organization that has received donations from left-wing foundations. She also sits on the board for the Project on Government Oversight, which also receives donations from left-wing foundations. She also sits on the board for the ostensibly center-right R Street Institute, which has received funding from left-wing anti-energy advocate Tom Steyer3 and a number of other environmentalist funders.
Autumn Hanna serves as vice president and directs the energy and natural resource campaign. She has been with the organization since 2000. Before she joined TCS, she was at the Penn State Center for Sustainability. 4
TCS was founded in 1995 by Jill Lancelot and Raphael DeGennaro. The first donation to the organization was made by former Senator William Proxmire (D-WI). 5 The organization later revived Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece Award” which the Senator awarded to government agencies that waste money. Proxmire served as TCS’s first honorary chairman.
TCS claims credit for naming the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” a proposed bridge in rural Alaska in the early 2000s that became a symbol of the alleged abuse of Congressional earmarks. The bridge was canceled in 2007 amid widespread public opposition. 6
Recent Issue Stances
TCS opposed plans to grant Gulf Coast states a portion of offshore drilling revenue in order for them to rebuild their coastline. TCS was blasted in a letter written by then U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
“It is shocking to me that, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent levee breaks that left 1,400 people dead, Taxpayers for Common Sense could argue against increasing revenue sharing to invest in coastal protection. This is not only about the destruction of communities and the pain and suffering of the survivors, it is about smart use of taxpayer funds.” wrote Landrieu. 7
TCS has also opposed what it calls subsidies to the oil industry. But its stance has been blasted as dishonest since other industries could take advantage of the tax breaks TCS calls subsides.
“At the end of the day, this TCS ‘study’ doesn’t really seem to make a lot of sense. Those who know how the oil and gas industry, and the tax treatments that apply to it, actually work might even call it nonsense.” wrote energy analyst David Blackmon. 8
TCS came out against the 2017 tax reform bill. It called the bill “fiscally irresponsible.” 9
According to its 2015 tax return, TCS generated $1.8 million in revenue from contributions and grants. It paid out $862,547 in salaries and compensation. Its total expenses were $1.4 million.
Its biggest expense was $586,239 on environmental advocacy and opposition to fossil fuel subsidies. It spent $225,512 on advocacy against farm subsidies. It spent $72,838 on tracking the federal budget.
TCS has been supported by numerous left-wing foundations in the past. The Bauman Foundation awarded $1,000 in 2015. 10 The Energy Foundation has awarded $285,000 since 2014 for various climate change related projects. 11 The Proteus Fund has awarded $150,000 in 2017 to push for lower defense spending. 12 The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has awarded over $586,000 since 2013 for various climate change related projects.
- “Nuclear Wastrels.” Taxpayers for Common Sense. October 12, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.taxpayer.net/budget-appropriations-tax/nuclear-wastrels/.
- “Ryan Alexander, President Of Taxpayers For Common Sense”. 2018. Taxpayers For Common Sense. Accessed October 8. https://www.taxpayer.net/ryan-alexander/.
- “The Tom Steyer Street Institute – American Energy Alliance”. 2014. American Energy Alliance. https://www.americanenergyalliance.org/2014/11/14/the-tom-steyer-street-institute/.
- “Staff & Board Of Directors | Taxpayers For Common Sense”. 2018. Taxpayers For Common Sense. Accessed October 8. https://www.taxpayer.net/staff-board-of-directors/.
- “History & Accomplishments | Taxpayers For Common Sense”. 2018. Taxpayers For Common Sense. Accessed October 8. https://www.taxpayer.net/history-accomplishments/.
- Stern, Marcus. 2008. “‘Bridge To Nowhere’ Chronology”. POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2008/09/bridge-to-nowhere-chronology-013819.
- Landrieu, Mary. 2013. “Losing All Common Sense On The FAIR Act”. US News And World Report. https://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/letters-to-the-editor/2013/08/02/taxpayers-for-common-sense-lost-all-sense-on-the-fair-act.
- Blackmon, David. 2014. “When “Common Sense” Really Amounts To Nonsense”. Forbes.Com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidblackmon/2014/08/07/when-common-sense-really-amounts-to-nonsense/#533db3846d11.
- Nicholson, Jonathan. 2017. “Taxpayers For Common Sense Is The Odd Group Out During Tax Overhaul”. Bna.Com. https://www.bna.com/taxpayers-common-sense-b73014471928/.
- “Taxpayers For Common Sense | The Bauman Foundation”. 2018. Baumanfoundation.Org. Accessed October 8. https://www.baumanfoundation.org/grantee/221.
- “Grants Database « Energy Foundation”. 2018. Ef.Org. https://www.ef.org/grants-database/?fwp_keywords=Taxpayers%20For%20Common%20Sense.
- “Taxpayers For Common Sense – Proteus Fund”. 2018. Proteus Fund. Accessed October 8. https://www.proteusfund.org/grant/taxpayersforcommonsense-2/.