State Policy Network

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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.[1] SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” in 49 states, Puerto Rico and the U.K. 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.[2]

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."[3] It was founded in November 1991[4] and incorporated in March of 1992.[5]

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

The founding chairman of the board and a major funder was Thomas A. Roe (1927-2000),[6] and the founding executive director was Byron S. Lamm.[4] 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."[7]

SPN was formerly known as the Madison Group (see SPN's history below).[1]

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 2016, there were 64 SPN member think tanks in 48 states.[8] (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.'"[9]

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.[10] 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."

Documents Contained at the Anti-Environmental Archives
Documents written by or referencing this person or organization are contained in the Anti-Environmental Archive, launched by Greenpeace on Earth Day, 2015. The archive contains 3,500 documents, some 27,000 pages, covering 350 organizations and individuals. The current archive includes mainly documents collected in the late 1980s through the early 2000s by The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), an organization that tracked the rise of the so called "Wise Use" movement in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency. Access the index to the Anti-Environmental Archives here.

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.[11]

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 Agenda

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."[12] SPN's founding executive director, Lamm, is quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as calling what think tanks in the network do "constructive troublemaking."[13]

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.

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.

SPN Funding

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.

The revenue of SPN itself (separate from its member groups) increased by over 20 times from 2001 to 2012 (from $391,496 in 2001 to $8,050,050 in 2012).[14][15]

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.[1] 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.[16] 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.[17]

For more, including where all that money is coming from, please see SPN Funding for more.

SPN Grants

Each fiscal year, SPN distributes grants to fund research, debate series, various types of "education", and general operating costs to non-profits. The majority of these grantees are SPN members.

For an updated list of SPN contributions, please see Contributions of the State Policy Network.

SPN Ties to Tobacco

[See tobacco document archives)
1994 Jan 28 This Federal Excise Tax (FET) document lists Philip Morris's activities in collaboration with Policy Institutes * Business Roundtable (see document for details)

  • Heartland Institute
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation
  • Manhattan Institute
  • National Empowerment Television (Free Congress Foundation)
  • National Journalism Center
  • National Policy Forum
  • Philanthropy Roundtable
  • State Policy Network

Holding a meeting to mobilize most of the nation's state-based free market policy groups in opposition to the Clinton plan and in support of a more palatable alternative. In conjunction sponsoring a meeting for concerned corporations and political operatives on how to best defeat the Clinton initiative. [1]

1998 Feb/E Roy Marden of Philip Morris has created a "Third Party Message Development Contacts List" which has a range of think-tank operators, journalists, and academics who are willing to write pro-tobacco material without mentioning their tobacco connections [third-party = 'independent commentator']... or sometimes, to allow their names to be used as bylines on articles written by tobacco company staff. The list often carries comments on their usefulness. The notes relating to the SPN say:

Byron Lamm -- Executive Director -- State Policy Network


[Note: Roy Marden was the tobacco company's chief contact with the major think-tanks and millionairre family foundations.]

1999 Sep 23 This is a package of requests for donations sent to Roy Marden at Philip Morris by the larger lobbying think-tanks of the Republican right, They are all asking for money in 2000 in return for their support of the tobacco industry.

  • American Spectator Foundation (they wanted $50,000)
  • The Heartland Institute (prior year $30,000)

    Because Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris' bottom line, things that no other organization does, I hope you will consider boosting your general operating support this year to $30,000 and once again reserve a Gold Table for an additional $5,000.
    Heartland works with ALEC and the State Policy Network to support conservative and freemarket think tanks around the country. Heartland does as much as either of these organizations to support the state-based think tank movement.
    Heartland has devoted considerable attention to defending tobacco (and other industries) from what I view as being an unjust campaign of public demonization and legal harassment. We're an important voice defending smokers and their freedom to use a still-legal product.

  • The Heritage Foundation (prior year $50,000)
  • Small Business Survival Committee (prior donation of $75,000)
  • Tax Foundation (prior year $50,000) [3]


Tom Roe Best Wishes Ronald Reagan.jpg

According to the National Review[1] and SPN's website,[18] 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"[1] to provide "advisory services" -- bankrolled by Roe and other conservative funders -- in 1992.[18]

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."[18]

Please see SPN Founders, History, and Staff for more.



As of December 2016:[19]

  • 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)
  • Katherine Bathgate, Senior Policy Advisor
  • Crystal Bouziden, Manager of Donor Relations
  • Trevor Bragdon, Senior Policy Advisor
  • Teresa Brown, Vice President of Leadership Development
  • Rebecca Bruchhauser, Director of Donor Relations
  • Jennifer Butler, Senior Policy Advisor
  • Starlee Coleman, Senior Policy Advisor
  • Carrie Conko, Vice President for Communications
  • 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)
  • Daniel J. Erspamer, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships
  • Sarah Ferrara, Coalitions Manager
  • Kim Fischer-Kinne, Executive Assistant and Events Manager
  • Brad Gruber, Operations Director
  • Lynn Harsh, Vice President of Strategy
  • Spencer Hughes, Manager of Development Operations
  • Max Huntley, Donor Relations and Stewardship Assistant
  • Sharon Milhollin, Events Manager
  • Kathleen O'Hearn, Director of Policy Advancement
  • Rebecca Primis, Communications Manager
  • Madison Ray, Program Coordinator
  • Kristina Mitten-Sanders, Leadership and Development Specialist
  • Denise Stevenson, Office Manager
  • Bill Stinson, Operations Associate
  • Betsy Thraves, Executive Assistant
  • Meredith Turney, Director of Strategic Communications
  • Victoria Wakefield, Donor Relations and Stewardship Assistant
  • Russ Walker, Senior Policy Advisor

Former Staff

Board of Directors

As of December 2016:[20]

Former Directors

Contact Details

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

Related PRWatch Articles

External Articles and Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 John J. Miller, Fifty Flowers Bloom: Conservative think tanks — mini–Heritage Foundations — at the state level, National Review, November 19, 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NR" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NR" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 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.
  3. State Policy Network, SPN News May 2006, organizational newsletter, May 8, 2006.
  4. 4.0 4.1 State Policy Network, SPN News Fall 2002, organizational newsletter, Fall 2002.
  5. 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.
  6. State Policy Network, SPN News, organizational newsletter, August 2005.
  7. 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.
  8. State Policy Network, Member Organizations, organizational website, accessed September 2013.
  9. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  10. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  11. State Policy Network, IRS Forms 2008-2012. See e.g. 2012 Form 990, annual organizational IRS filing, May 6, 2013.
  12. 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.
  13. Shareese Harold, "State Home to Think Tank with Conservative Bent" (sub. req'd.), Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 24, 1995.
  14. State Policy Network, 2001 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, July 1, 2002.
  15. State Policy Network, 2012 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, May 6, 2013.
  16. Center for Media and Democracy, SPN Funding,, updated November 2013.
  17. Center for Media and Democracy, SPN Funding, SourceWatch, updated November 2013.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 State Policy Network, Background, organizational website, accessed September 2012. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SPN" defined multiple times with different content
  19. State Policy Network, Staff, organizational website, accessed December 2016.
  20. State Policy Network, About, State Policy Network, 2016.
  21. 21.0 21.1 State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 1997, available from, accessed September 2012.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2007, available via, accessed September 2012
  23. 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.
  24. State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 1998, available from, accessed September 2012.
  25. State Policy Network, John Jackson, organizational board member bio, accessed September 2012
  26. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named 2005_990