State Policy Network
Learn more about how the State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states.
Learn more about corporations VOTING to rewrite our laws.
The State Policy Network (SPN) has franchised, funded, and fostered a growing number of “mini Heritage Foundations” at the state level since the early 1990s. SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country. 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.
SPN describes itself as a network and service organization for the "state-based free market think tank movement," and its stated mission is "to provide strategic assistance to independent research organizations devoted to discovering and developing market-oriented solutions to state and local public policy issues." It was founded in November 1991 and incorporated in March of 1992.
The founding chairman of the board and a major funder was Thomas A. Roe (1927-2000), and the founding executive director was Byron S. Lamm. In the mid-1980s, Roe allegedly told fellow wealthy conservative donor and Heritage Foundation trustee Robert Krieble, "You capture the Soviet Union -- I'm going to capture the states."
Fueled by robust funding from right-wing funders including the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation, the anonymous wealthy donors to the donor-advised funds of DonorsTrust, and others, SPN has grown rapidly in recent years. There were 12 original think tanks when SPN was founded. In 2013, there were 64 SPN member think tanks in all 50 states. (See SPN Members for more, including links to articles about each of them.)
In response to a November 2013 report issued by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) -- "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government" -- 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. The funding proposals are from 40 SPN members to the Searle Freedom Trust, a private foundation that funds right-wing groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, Americans for Tax Reform, and more. It is the family foundation funded by the "NutraSweet" fortune of G.D. Searle & Company, which was purchased by Monsanto in 1985 and which is now part of Pfizer. The documents were submitted to Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal editorial board member, founder of the Club for Growth, and ALEC "scholar," who was asked to review the proposals and "identify your top 20 and bottom 20 proposals."
- 1 SPN Political Activity
- 2 SPN Ties to ALEC
- 3 SPN Funding
- 4 SPN Agenda
- 5 Founders, History, and Staff
- 6 Contact Details
- 7 Articles and Resources
- 8 References
SPN Political Activity
SPN and its affiliates push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers' rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income.
SPN President Tracie Sharp was the recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC's) 2009 "Private Sector Member of the Year Award." ALEC gave her the award because, according to an ALEC "scholar" and founder of SPN member think tank the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (now called simply the Freedom Foundation), "Not only have SPN members assisted legislators in drafting model legislation, they've been key in killing some proposals by 'rent-seeking' special interests." However, SPN's tax forms indicate that it does no lobbying.
Although SPN's affiliates -- like SPN -- are registered as educational nonprofits, several appear to orchestrate extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, despite the IRS's regulations on nonprofit political and lobbying activities.
Please see SPN Political Activity for more, including examples of SPN members' lobbying and political campaign contributions.
SPN Ties to ALEC
SPN and many of its affiliates are some of the most active members and largest sponsors of the controversial ALEC, where special interest groups and state politicians vote behind closed doors on "model" legislation to change Americans' rights, through ALEC's task forces. SPN has close ties to, and works with, other national right-wing organizations like the Franklin Center and David Koch's Americans for Prosperity.
All of SPN's 64 member state think tanks have pushed parts of the ALEC agenda in their respective states, and at least 34 of them have additional direct ties to ALEC (beyond SPN's own ties as an ALEC funder). SPN think tanks have introduced, echoed, pushed, and reinforced ALEC policies to hamstring labor, privatize education, disenfranchise minorities, students, and the elderly, and rollback environmental initiatives in the states.
Please see the SourceWatch article on SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
While it has become an $83 million dollar right-wing empire, SPN and most of its affiliates do not post their major donors on their websites. But public documents discovered by CMD reveal that SPN is largely funded by global corporations -- such as Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast, Time Warner, and the Koch- and Tea Party-connected DCI Group lobbying and PR firm -- that stand to benefit from SPN's agenda, as well as out-of-state special interests like the billionaire Koch brothers, the Waltons, the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation of SPN's founder, and the Coors family -- who are underwriting an extreme legislative agenda that undermines the rights of Americans. Corporations like Facebook and the for-profit online education company K12 Inc., as well as the e-cigarette company NJOY (a new member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)), also fund SPN, as demonstrated by its most recent annual meeting.
While, in 2007, the approximately $40 million in combined revenues of the 52 member think tanks in 45 states that were then members was less than the Heritage Foundation's budget that year of $50 million, SPN president Tracie Sharp announced in late 2007 a plan to expand think-tank revenues by $50 million by 2012. In 2010, combined revenues of SPN itself and its (then) 59 member state think tanks was $76.1 million, according to a review of the groups' IRS forms 990 by CMD. See 2010 below for more.
SPN has grown into a multi-million dollar “think tank” empire, as SPN and its member think tanks cumulatively reported over $83.2 million in revenue and $78.9 million in expenses in 2011. SPN itself saw an increase in revenue of more than $3 million from 2011 to 2012.
For more, including where all that money is coming from, please see SPN Funding for more.
SPN's purpose, according to its by-laws, is to "assist in organizing, developing and raising funds for institutes throughout the United States whose purpose is the promotion of authoritative ideas and research studies on state and local public policy issues in the public interest." SPN's founding executive director, Lamm, is quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as calling what think tanks in the network do "constructive troublemaking."
Some of SPN's documented activities include "franchise" help -- setting up state think tanks and exchanging information; political candidate "training"; influencing state laws; litigating through associated litigation centers; creating PR plans; and hosting news sites criticized for conservative bias.
Please see SPN Agenda for more.
Founders, History, and Staff
According to the National Review and SPN's website, SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan. In a conversation with Thomas Roe (a member of his "kitchen cabinet") in the 1980s, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create "something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states." So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups -- state-based think tanks -- formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. and started to call themselves the "Madison Group." SPN was formally created as an "umbrella organization" to provide "advisory services" -- bankrolled by Roe and other conservative funders -- in 1992.
SPN's founding executive director, Byron S. Lamm, was also extremely influential in the development of the organization, as well as co-founding SPN member state think tank the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Current executive director (as of 2012) Tracie Sharp has also been quite influential. During her tenure, SPN has continued to grow at a rapid rate, expanding from 43 member state think tanks in 2002 to 59 member state think tanks in 2012. Sharp also co-founded member state think tank the Cascade Policy Institute.
From 1992 to 1998, SPN operated in a relatively limited organizational capacity. Then, according to SPN, "SPN's Board of Directors realized the need for a stronger organization that would provide additional services. After extensive discussions, the existing Board took a bold and historic step in September 1998, dissolving itself and appointing a transitional Board to fulfill the broader role envisioned for the organization."
Please see SPN Founders, History, and Staff for more.
Board of Directors
As of November 2013:
- Carl Helstrom, Chairman (The JM Foundation), board member since at least 1997
- Tracie Sharp, President (former executive director and co-founder, Cascade Policy Institute), board member since at least 1997
- Stanford D. Swim, Secretary (The GFC Foundation), board member since 2007
- Thomas Willcox (The Roe Foundation), Treasurer, board member since 2007, son-in-law of Tom and Shirley Roe
- Theodore D. Abram (American Institute for Full Employment), board member since 1998
- Whitney Ball (Donors Trust), board member since 2005
- John Jackson (Adolph Coors Foundation and Castle Rock Foundation)
- Barbara Wells Kenney (Freedom Foundation), board member since 2005
- Adam Meyerson (Philanthropy Roundtable), board member since 2007
- Bridgett Wagner (The Heritage Foundation), board member since 2005
As of November 2013:
- Tracie Sharp, President and CEO
- Tony Woodlief, Executive Vice President (former president of the Bill of Rights Institute and of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University)
- Jennifer Butler, Vice President of External Relations (Executive Vice President from 2006 to 2013)
- Lynn Harsh, Vice President of Strategy
- Daniel J. Erspamer, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships
- Teresa Brown, Director of Strategic Operations
- Todd Davidson, Policy Specialist (former fiscal policy analyst for SPN member the Kansas Policy Institute and founder of the SPN associate member the Bastiat Society of Wichita)
- Becky Helland, Leadership Development Initiative Operations & Tactical Officer
- Meredith Turney, Director of Strategic Communications
- Kurt T. Weber, Senior Advisor, Contractor with Total Consulting Strategies (advises start-up institutes, co-manages the SPN/Institute for Humane Studies Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow program; formerly worked with the Institute for Humane Studies, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the SPN members Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Cascade Policy Institute, and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty)
- Nicole Williams, Senior Communications Advisor - President, Spark Freedom
- Alexis Baker, Manager of Donor Relations
- Rebecca Bruchhauser, Director of Donor Relations
- Rebecca Feldman, Manager of Foundation Relations
- Rebecca Painter, Donor Relations Manager
- Brad Gruber, Operations Director
- Rachel Kopec, Coalitions Coordinator
- Kathleen O'Hearn, Director of Coalitions
As of April 2013:
- Jerry Krause, Manager of Donor Relations
State Policy Network
1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., Suite 360
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: (703) 243-1655
Fax: (703) 740-0314
Articles and Resources
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
Related PRWatch Articles
- Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRWatch.org, December 19, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, The State Policy Network's Cozy Relationship with Big Tobacco, PRWatch.org, December 16, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Did ALEC Found SPN? 1991 Report Suggests So, Exposes SPN Agenda, PRWatch.org, December 12, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Guardian Documents Expose State Policy Network Groups' Intent to Lobby, PRWatch.org, December 5, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, State Policy Network: The Stealth Network Dramatically Influencing State Law, PRWatch.org, December 5, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Tracie Sharp: Bursar of Mystery Money and "IKEA Model" Materials to Stink Tanks, PRWatch.org, November 19, 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, Reports Expose Extreme Pressure Groups Masquerading as Think Tanks, press release, November 13, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, A Reporters’ Guide to the "State Policy Network": the Right-Wing Think Tanks Spinning Disinformation and Pushing the ALEC Agenda in the States, PRWatch.org, April 4, 2013.
- Sara Jerving, ALEC and Heartland Aim to Crush Renewable Energy Standards in the States, PRWatch.org, November 27, 2012.
- Connor Gibson, Meet the Network Hiding the Koch Money: "Donors Trust" and "Donors Capital Fund", PRWatch.org, October 29, 2012.
- Brendan Fischer, Koch-Funded Mackinac Center Brings Wisconsin Act 10 Provisions to ALEC, PRWatch.org, May 2, 2012.
- Sara Jerving, Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source, PRWatch.org, October 31, 2011.
External Articles and Resources
- DeSmog Blog, Stink Tanks: Historical Records Reveal State Policy Network Was Created by ALEC, December 9, 2013.
- The Guardian, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, December 5, 2013.
- Portland Press Herald, "Washington County residents have mixed reactions to plan to eliminate taxes," December 5, 2013.
- The Texas Observer, "The Money Behind the Fight to Undermine Medicaid," December 5, 2013.
- Media Matters, North Carolina Newspapers Largely Ignore Conservative Funding Of Sham Think Tanks, December 3, 2013.
- Shepherd Express, Masters of Manipulation: Right-wing Billionaires, Corporations and the Bradley Foundation Pay for Junk Studies that Prop up Their Agenda, November 27, 2013.
- "Moyers & Company," How a Shadowy Network of Corporate Front Groups Distorts the Marketplace of Ideas, November 19, 2013.
- MSNBC "Rachel Maddow Show," November 18, 2013.
- Free Speech TV "Ring of Fire," Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T and Others Supporting Right Wing Propaganda Machine, November 18, 2013.
- Topeka Capital-Journal, Trabert dismisses report tying KPI to Koch agenda, November 16, 2013.
- The New Yorker (Jane Mayer), Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, November 15, 2013.
- Salon, Ted Cruz and Koch brothers embroiled in shadowy Tea Party scheme, November 15, 2013.
- St. Louis Business Journal, Beyond Sinquefield: Who else is funding the Show-Me Institute?, November 15, 2013.
- The Guardian, Facebook and Microsoft help fund rightwing lobby network, report finds, November 14, 2013.
- Huffington Post, Meet The Little-Known Network Pushing Ideas For Kochs, ALEC, November 14, 2013.
- CBS St. Louis, Show-Me Institute’s Ties Questioned in New Report, November 14, 2013.
- Talking Points Memo, Florida Conservative Group Helping Muck Up Obamacare In Alaska, November 14, 2013.
- Mint Press News, Reports Reveal SPN’s Secret Corporate Agenda Through Use ‘Expert’ Testimony, November 14, 2013.
- Media Matters, Shadowy Right-Wing Group Generates Media Coverage For Conservative Policy From Coast To Coast, November 14, 2013.
- The Institute for Southern Studies, Are conservative think tanks breaking lobbying laws?, November 14, 2013.
- Nonprofit Quarterly, Corporate Money in Network of Right-Wing State Policy Think Tanks, November 14, 2013.
- The Progressive, Right-Wing Think Tanks Push Privatization in the States, November 13, 2013.
- Politico, Report: Think tanks tied to Kochs, November 13, 2013.
- Lawrence Journal-World, Reports released by progressive groups are critical of Kansas Policy Institute, November 13, 2013.
- Maine Insights, Report: Maine Heritage Policy Center’s funding connection to Koch Brothers, November 13, 2013.
- The Florida Current, Liberal groups bemoan lobbying by conservative think tanks, November 13, 2013.
- The Oregonian, Cascade Policy Institute benefits from secretive donor group but says it operates independently, November 13, 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Arizona Working Families and CMD, A Reporter’s Guide to the Goldwater Institute: What Citizens, Policymakers, and Reporters Should Know, organizational report, updated November 13, 2013.
- Progress Florida and CMD, Lawmaking Under the Influence of Very Special Interests: Understand the role of Florida ‘think tanks’ in driving a Koch-fueled, ALEC-allied corporate agenda, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Maine's Majority Education Fund, Fooling Maine: How national conservative groups infiltrated Maine politics by founding and funding the Maine Heritage Policy Center, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Progress Michigan, Who's Running Michigan? The Far-Right Influence of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Who's in Charge: How Nationalized Corporate-Run Think Tanks Influence Minnesota Politics, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Progress Missouri, What Missourians Need to Know About the Show-Me Institute, organizational report, updated November 13, 2013.
- Granite State Progress, Bad Bartlett: The Josiah Bartlett Center and NH Watchdog Answer the Call of the Koch Brothers, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- ProgressOhio, Smoke Screen: The Buckeye Institute, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Keystone Progress, Think tanks or corporate lobbyist propaganda mills?, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Progress Texas, TPPF + ALEC, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- One Wisconsin Now, S is for Shill: Inside the Bradley Foundation's Attack on Public Education, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Muncie Voice, Pence and Right-Wing Are Taking Over Public Education, November 13, 2013.
- The Spokesman-Review, Shawn Vestal: Idaho Freedom Foundation pushes limits of word ‘charity’, November 2, 2013.
- AZ Central, When this ‘watchdog’ pitches, taxpayers strike out, October 12, 2013.
- IndyStar, Daniels says speech to partisan group was a mistake, October 10, 2013.
- Muncie Voice, Indiana Policy Review: Not an Independent News Source, October 2, 2013.
- The Spokesman-Review, Idaho Freedom Foundation's charitable status scrutinized, September 15, 2013.
- CounterSpin, Lee Fang on 'The Right Leans In', April 5, 2013.
- FireDogLake, State Policy Network, an umbrella coordinating ALEC, Heritage, Heartland and others, April 4, 2013.
- Thom Hartmann with Lee Fang on MSNBC, The conservative State Policy Network is sneaking into your state & will change America, March 29, 2013.
- Current TV "War Room", Lee Fang discussing the State Policy Network, March 28, 2013.
- The Nation, The Right Leans In, March 26, 2013.
- Democracy Now, Donors Trust: Little-Known Group Helps Wealthy Backers Fund Right-Wing Agenda in Secret, February 19, 2013.
- Paul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, Consider the Source, February 14, 2013.
- John R. Mashey, Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax 2, DeSmog Blog report, updated October 23, 2012, p. 74.
- Urban Milwaukee, Stealth Conservatives, October 11, 2012.
- Rome News-Tribune, ANALYSIS: Georgia leaders depend on the same well for ideas, October 2012.
- Andy Kroll, The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions, Mother Jones, April 25, 2011.
- Guidestar, State Policy Network, IRS filings and other organizational information about SPN.
- Center for Policy Alternatives, ALEC and the Extreme Right-Wing Agenda, organizational brochure about ALEC and SPN.
- John J. Miller, Fifty Flowers Bloom: Conservative think tanks — mini–Heritage Foundations — at the state level, National Review, November 19, 2007.
- Bridge Project, State Policy Network, online resource listing grants to SPN and SPN's connections to other groups.
- People for the American Way, State Policy Network, RightWingWatch.org, organizational resource.
- Greenpeace, Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: State Policy Network (SPN), organizational resource.
- John J. Miller, Fifty Flowers Bloom: Conservative think tanks — mini–Heritage Foundations — at the state level, National Review, November 19, 2007.
- Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- State Policy Network, SPN News May 2006, organizational newsletter, May 8, 2006.
- State Policy Network, SPN News Fall 2002, organizational newsletter, Fall 2002.
- State Policy Network, Unified Registration Statement (URS) for Charitable Organizations (v. 3.02), official organizational filing, 2006, obtained from the New York State Office of the Attorney General on October 1, 2012.
- State Policy Network, SPN News, organizational newsletter, August 2005.
- Thomas A. Roe, interview with Lee Edwards, April 13, 1996, Naples, FL. Cited in Lee Edwards, The Power of Ideas: The Heritage Foundation at 25 Years, Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1997, p. 91.
- State Policy Network, Member Organizations, organizational website, accessed September 2013.
- Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
- Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
- State Policy Network, IRS Forms 2008-2012. See e.g. 2012 Form 990, annual organizational IRS filing, May 6, 2013.
- State Policy Network, 2001 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, July 1, 2002.
- State Policy Network, 2012 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, May 6, 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, SPN Funding, SourceWatch.org, updated November 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, SPN Funding, SourceWatch, updated November 2013.
- State Policy Network, By-Laws of State Policy Network, official organizational filing, obtained from the New York State Office of the Attorney General on October 1, 2012.
- Shareese Harold, "State Home to Think Tank with Conservative Bent" (sub. req'd.), Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 24, 1995.
- State Policy Network, Background, organizational website, accessed September 2012.
- State Policy Network, Staff, organizational website, accessed April 2013.
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 1997, available from Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012.
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2007, available via Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012
- John J. Miller, Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39, Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center publication, May 2007, accessed September 2012.
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 1998, available from Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012.
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2005, available via Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012
- State Policy Network, John Jackson, organizational board member bio, accessed September 2012
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2006, available via Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012.