The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives is a right-wing pressure group based in Pennsylvania that calls itself a "think tank." Commonwealth says that it "crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty." The Commonwealth Foundation is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). An August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian lists Commonwealth as a "former SPN member," but the SPN website still lists Commonwealth as a full member as of August 2016, and a July 2013 Commonwealth fundraising proposal to Searle Freedom Trust was included in a packet of SPN proposals in August 2013. On its website, the Commonwealth Foundation lists its issue areas as taxes and spending, jobs and the economy, education, energy and the environment, unions and labor policy, accountable government, and privatization.
SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of July 2017, SPN's membership totals 153. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state "think tank" members. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
- 1 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 2 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 3 Lobbying Activities
- 4 Funding
- 5 Core Financials
- 6 Personnel
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 Resources and Articles
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
The Commonwealth Foundation has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council through its membership in various ALEC "task forces." Director of Policy Analysis for Commonwealth, Nathan Benefield, is a member of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. Senior Fellow, Rick Dreyfuss, is a member of the Health and Human Services Task Force and policy analyst, Elizabeth Stelle, is a member of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. SPN, of which Commonwealth is a member, is also an ALEC member and has strong historical ties to ALEC -- several historical documents even indicate that ALEC founded SPN. According to an August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian, Commonwealth terminated its ALEC membership on March 9, 2013 because, according to an ALEC note, it was considered a "former SPN member... - would like to join again if can fit in budget."
Please see SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
The Commonwealth Foundation started the Pennsylvania Independent, a "statehouse news" publication, in 2010 and transitioned to the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in January 2011. The Franklin Center screens potential reporters on their “free market” views as part of the job application process. The Franklin Center funds reporters in over 40 states. Despite their non-partisan description, many of the websites funded by the Franklin Center have received criticism for their conservative bias. On its website, the Franklin Center claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."
Franklin Center Funding
Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in 2013 that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." But 95 percent of its 2011 funding came from DonorsTrust, a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as a large "donor-advised fund," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country (CPI did a review of Franklin's Internal Revenue Service records). Mother Jones called DonorsTrust "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article. Franklin received DonorTrust's second-largest donation in 2011.
The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM), a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM gets funding from the State Policy Network, which is partially funded by The Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation. SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.
According to a report published by Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy, the Commonwealth Foundation has not reported any lobbying activity "with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania," however they did report "over $87,000 in total lobbying expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service from 2008 to 2011, including $55,655 in 'grassroots lobbying.'" The report also states that according to Matthew Brouillette, President of Commonwealth Foundation, the organization, "lobbies 'indirectly' through research, and advocates for broad issues, rather than for specific policy." 
Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy reported in November 2013 that Commonwealth Foundation is largely funded by anonymous donors via DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. These funds create accounts for donors and allow them to manage their money "by telling the organization which non-profits to fund."
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, CF received the following contributions from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital funds between 2008 and 2014:
Other identified funders include:
- Allegheny Foundation -$40,000.00 (1991-1994)
- Castle Rock Foundation -$25,000.00 (2011)
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -$90,916.00 (2007-2011)
- Claws Foundations -$65,000.00 (2001-2005)
- Donors Capital Fund -$1,242,800.00 (2005-2011)
- DonorsTrust -$254,500.00 (2009-2011)
- Jaquelin Hume Foundation -$292,561.00 (2002-2011)
- JM Foundation -$100,000.00 (1995-2012)
- Philip M. McKenna Foundation -$1,481,830.00 (1996-2011)
- Scaife Family Foundation -$2,692,000.00 (1995-2011)
- State Policy Network -$149,000.00 (2002-2011)
- The Carthage Foundation -$10,000.00 (1995)
- The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation -$187,000.00 (1990-2009)
- Total Revenue: $3,929,099
- Total Expenses: $3,838,154
- Net Assets: $839,185
- Total Revenue: $2,810,324
- Total Expenses: $2,665,762
- Net Assets: $758,722
- Total Revenue: $1,551,722
- Total Expenses: $1,648,046
- Net Assets: $613,972
- Total Revenue: $1,951,566
- Total Expenses: $1,671,566
- Net Assets: $709,983
- Total Revenue: $1,369,386.00
- Total Expenses: $1,247,489.00
- Net Assets: $429,983.00
- Total Revenue: $1,032,887.00
- Total Expenses: $1,125,595.00
- Net Assets: $308,086.00
As of August 2016:
- Charles F. Mitchell, President and CEO
- Darryl White, Senior Vice President
- Douglas Baker, Vice President of Communications and COO
- Nathan Benefield, Vice President of Policy and COO
- Tom Bako, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement
- John Bouder, Director of Communications
- Gina Diorio, Director of Media Relations
- Elizabeth Stelle, Director of Policy Analysis
- Dawn Toguchi, Director of Marketing
- Bob Dick, Senior Policy Analyst
- James Paul, Senior Policy Analyst
- Jonathan Humma, Senior Government Affairs Associate
- Brittney Parker, Senior Entrepreneur Engagement Officer
- Jessica Barnett, Policy Analyst
- Jonathan Reginella, Entrepreneur Engagement Officer
- Debbie Attardi, Executive Assistant
- Savanna Faith Cornibe, Staff Assistant
- Catherine Fitzhugh, Staff Assistant
- Matthew J. Brouillette, President and CEO
- Jay Ostrich, Director of Public Affairs
- Amy J. Grimm, Director of Operations
- Katrina Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst and Director of Government Affairs
- Dawn Meling, Director of Community Relations
- Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, Director of Strategic Communications
- Abhi Samuel, Senior Community Liason
- Bethany Wilston, Manager of First Impressions
As of August 2016:
- Priya Abraham, Senior Fellow
- Emily Kuebler Cox, Senior Fellow
- Richard Dreyfuss, Senior Fellow
- Robert O'Donnell, Senior Fellow
- Jennifer Stefano, Senior Fellow
- Gordon Tomb, Senior Fellow
- Hon. Jeff Coleman, Senior Fellow
- Dr. Victoria C. G. Coates, Senior Fellow
Board of Directors
As of August 2016:
- Jane Leader Janeczek, Chairman
- Thomas E. Beach
- George G.H. Coates Jr.
- Robert L. Ecklin, Jr.
- Michael W. Gleba
- W. Kirk Liddell
- Frederick W. Anton III
- Dr. Allan H. Meltzer
- Hon. William W. Scranton III
- Hon. Patrick J. Toomey
- Matthew J. Brouillette
- David E. Barensfeld
- T. William Boxx
- Glen T. Meakem
Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
225 State Street, Suite 302
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Resources and Articles
Related SourceWatch Articles
- State Policy Network:
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Koch Industries
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- Heritage Foundation
- Think tanks
- Whitney Ball
- Adam Meyerson
- Bridgett Wagner
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