Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research
The Pioneer Institute (PI) is a right-wing pressure group that describes itself as a "think tank" that is "committed to individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government, and the application of free market principles to state and local policy". Lovett Peters founded the Pioneer Institute and the Lovett & Ruth Peters Foundation contributes over $100,000 a year to the Institute, according to Annual Reports available on its website. The Pioneer Institute houses and runs the Center for School Reform, the Shamie Center for Better Government, and the Center for Economic Opportunity. It is known for having a staff that has served in various positions in the recent Republican Massachusetts governors' administrations (Weld, Cellucci, Swift, and Romney).
The Pioneer Institute is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2021, SPN's membership totals 163. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. 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 New and Controversies
- 2 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 3 Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 4 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 5 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 6 History
- 7 Funding
- 8 Core Financials
- 9 Personnel
- 10 Contact Information
- 11 Articles and Resources
- 12 References
New and Controversies
Former PI Executive Director Charlie Baker Takes Office as Governor of Massachusetts
On January 8, 2015, Charlie Baker (R) was inaugurated as Governor of the state of Massachusetts. Gov. Baker was an executive director of PI for many years and the organization highlighted this on its website on the day he assumed office, "Our confidence stems in part from the fact that the new Governor was one of this organization’s first executive directors, and played a role in a number of research initiatives since that time. Our founder, the late Lovett C. “Pete” Peters, is surely smiling down on today’s Inauguration with a great deal of pride."
Strong Connection to Former Gov. Mitt Romney
The following are known connections between the Pioneer Institute and 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney:
- Charles Chieppo, the institute’s current Senior Media Fellow and former director of the Pioneer Institute’s Shamie Center for Restructuring Government, was Romney’s Policy Director in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
- Jim Peyser, the institute’s Executive Director from 1993-2000, is a member of Romney’s 2012 campaign’s education policy advisory committee, was chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education during Romney’s administration, and was an education advisor to Romney during his time as governor.
- Steve Poftak, the institute’s current Research Director, was head of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance in the Romney administration, where he oversaw the state budget.
- Charles Baker, former executive director of the Pioneer Institute, was a Romney advisor in 2003 and chaired his transition advisory committee on healthcare before he became governor. Baker would go on to be the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2010.
- Kerry Healey, Romney’s Lieutenant Governor, is a current member of the Pioneer Institute’s Board of Directors.
- Peter Nessen simultaneously served on the Pioneer Institute’s Board of Directors and as the chief education advisor to Romney during his time as governor.
- Erin Blake Elefante, Pioneer Institute’s development director, worked on Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
- Mary Z. Connaughton, Pioneer Institute’s Director of Finance and Administration, was appointed by then-Governor Romney to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board of directors.
- Josh Archambault, current Director of Health Care Policy at the Pioneer Institute, was a senior legislative aide in the Massachusetts Governor’s Office during the Romney administration.
- Former District Court Judge Daniel B. Winslow, who served as then-Gov. Romney’s chief legal counsel, won the institute’s “Better Government” competition for proposals to reform the judiciary.
2003 Massachusetts Board of Education Ethics Tangle
The Pioneer Institute was the subject of controversy when the state Ethics Commission investigated several members of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 2003. As the board was getting ready to vote on 11 proposed charter schools, board member Charles D. Baker asked the state Ethics Commission if he should recuse himself due to the fact he sat on the Pioneer Institute’s Board of Directors, and six of the 11 charter proposals were submitted by people who received training, support, and a $50,000 stipend (each) from the Pioneer Institute. Baker had previously recused himself of charter school votes in 2002. Two other members of the nine-person board of education also had ties with the Pioneer Institute: Abigail Thernstorm, who was an academic advisor to the institute; and Chairman James Peyser, who was the institute’s former executive director. Peyser did not ask for the Ethics Commission’s opinion, and Thernstorm was cleared to vote by the commission as long as she disclosed her relationship with the Pioneer Institute to the governor’s office (Mitt Romney). Baker ended up not attending the voting meeting, and therefore did not vote, due to a scheduling conflict.
The matter was later brought up in court when the city of North Adams sued the Board of Education, the state’s education commissioner, and the attorney general over the constitutionality of charter schools since they are both publicly funded and privately run. The lawsuit claimed that there was a conflict of interest in the approval of several charter schools due to their connections, present and past, to the Pioneer Institute. The lawsuit was dismissed by the court in 2004.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.
2014: $50,000 to support its distribution of its study on the impact of the Common Core State Standards. “Faced with the prospect of the Common Core Initiative overwhelming its successful K 12 reform effort, the Pioneer Institute produced a series of white papers from 2010 13 in the US Department of Education’s promotion of the CCSSI. These papers found the following: that under the Common Core high performing states such as Massachusetts, California, Indiana, Georgia and New Hampshire would see a significant reduction in student exposure to classic works of literature, higher level math and history and civics courses; that under the Common Core the federal government was in violation of laws prohibiting the US Department of Education from directing K 12 curricula, curricular materials, and instructional practice in the states; and that under the Common Core some $16 billion in unfunded mandates will be placed on the states.” Pioneer planned to use the grant to publish its findings, authored by Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars. “Pioneer will work with strategic partners such as Heritage, Cato, the American Principles Project and SPN and certain key attorneys general to provide testimony on the Core and to develop a public policy at the state level for the adoption of K 12 state curricular standards.”
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research has strong ties to the Koch Brothers. PI is a "partner organization" in the Charles Koch Institute's Liberty@Work program, which places students at its Institute in non-profits aligned with Koch interests across the country. In addition, David Koch has contributed over a $100,000 a year nearly every year between 1998 and 2014.
Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
The Pioneer Institute has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It has been listed as a member of the ALEC Education Task Force and the Health and Human Services Task Force. An August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian suggests that the Pioneer Institute terminated its ALEC membership on March 18, 2013 after it was "kicked out of ALEC (?) because of education issue" (presumably a resolution in opposition to Common Core that passed the Education Task Force twice but was voted down by ALEC's board). SPN is also a private sector member of ALEC.
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 Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research has hosted writers from the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which 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.
The Pioneer Institute was founded with a $160,000 grant (and matching grants requested from personal friends) in 1988 by businessman Lovett C. Peters (1913-2010), who made his millions in the oil and gas industry, including at Energy Ventures, Conoco, and Bankers Trust. Civil rights attorney Harvey A. Silverglate told the Boston Globe upon Peters' death in 2010, "His creature, the Pioneer Institute, follows Pete’s lead . . ." Peters' son Daniel runs the Ruth and Lovett Peters Foundation, a major donor to the cause of education privatization. Peters received the "Roe Award" -- named after SPN founder Thomas A. Roe -- from SPN and the "Champions of Freedom Award" from SPN member the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan. He was a member of the Mont Pelerin Society (a right-wing "free market" organization convened in 1947 by economist F.A. Hayek that counts among its current and former members Charles G. Koch and Thomas A. Roe).
According to the Boston Globe, "the Shamie Foundation . . . is actually the forebear of the Pioneer Institute, which took over its registration number with the secretary of state's office and the attorney general's division of public charities. [Prominent Massachusetts Republican politician Raymond] Shamie is a contributor to Pioneer." Shamie was chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party when Pioneer was founded in 1988. The Institute spent the two years between its founding and the election of Massachusetts' first Republican governor in 16 years, William F. Weld, "trash[ing] state programs," and the Globe called the organization "an agenda-setting forum for the administration" of then-Governor-elect Weld.
The Institute has focused on charter schools and education reform in Massachusetts since the early 1990s. The organization also focuses on government transparency, privatization, economic development, government spending, and healthcare.
SPN think tanks do not as a general rule publicly disclose their donors. Pioneer, however, does list select donors (without specific donation amounts) in its annual reports, which show that David Koch has given at least $100,000 a year directly to the organization in most years since 1998. CMD has also discovered that David Koch gave $125,000 directly to the Massachusetts-based SPN member think tank Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research in 2007, making him (individually) the largest donor that year. A list of 2007 funders that was disclosed to the IRS was inadvertently made public. That list of funders -- featuring Pennsylvania-based Sovereign Bank, oil and gas magnate Lovett C. Peters, banker William Edgerly, retired Blue Seal Feeds CEO Dean Webster (former director of the right-wing think tank Capital Research Center), Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, and textile heir Roger Milliken in addition to David Koch -- provides an important case study in how SPN's member think tanks are funded, and by whom.
Other known funders of the Pioneer Institute include:
- Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation: $641,000 (1997-2006)
- David H. Koch Foundation: $300,000 (1995-2001)
- Jacqueline Hume Foundation: $309,500 (1999-2011)
- Smith Richardson Foundation: $50,000 (1996)
- Roe Foundation: $83,000 (1998-2011)
- Walton Family Foundation: $479,650 (1998-2001 and 2011)
- John M. Olin Foundation: $2,000 (1992)
- Ruth and Lovett Peters Foundation (family foundation of Pioneer's founder, Lovett Peters, with money made in energy industry): $423,100 (1999-2011)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $50,000 (2014)
- Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund: $246,400 (2010-2013)
- Total Revenue: $2,333,932
- Total Expenses: $2,030,653
- Net Assets: $3,589,105
- Total Revenue: $2,178,130
- Total Expenses: $1,822,097
- Net Assets: $3,002,082
- Total Revenue: $1,588,496
- Total Expenses: $1,655,532
- Net Assets: $2,646,048
- Total Revenue: $1,672,604
- Total Expenses: $1,622,706
- Net Assets: $2,678,229
- Total Revenue: $2,204,323
- Total Expenses: $1,616,241
- Net Assets: $2,628,329
- Total Revenue: $1,255,039
- Total Expenses: $1,475,754
- Net Assets:$2,040,246
- Total Revenue: $1,255,039
- Total Expenses: $1,475,754
- Net Assets: $2,040,246
- Total Revenue: $1,372,090
- Total Expenses: $1,342,630
- Net Assets: $1,715,824
As of September 2018:
- Jim Stergios, Executive Director
- Mary Z. Connaughton, Director of Government Transparency & Director of Finance and Administration
- Barbara Anthony, Senior Fellow in Healthcare
- Tom Birmingham, Distinguished Senior Fellow in Education
- Jamie Gass, Director of the Center for School Reform
- Shawni Littlehale, Director of Pioneer’s Better Government Competition
- Rebekah Paxton: Research Assistant
- Gregory Sullivan, Research Director, Director of the Centers for Better Government and Economic Opportunity
- Chase Bosworth, Communications Assistant
- Lauren Corvese, Development Coordinator and Research Assistant
- Micaela Dawson, Director of Communications
- Brian Patterson, Development Coordinator
- George Parker, Director of Individual Giving
- Joshua Archambault, Senior Fellow
- Cara Candal, Senior Fellow in Education
- Charles D. Chieppo, Senior Media Fellow
- Scott Haller,
- William Smith, Senior Fellow in Life Sciences
- Amy Lischko, Senior Fellow on Health Care
- Matt Blackbourn, Research & Operations Associate
- Erin Elefante, Director of Development
- John Friar, Senior Fellow on Jobs & the Economy
- Stephen Lisauskas, Senior Fellow on Urban Revitalization
- Iliya Atanasov, Senior Fellow on Finance
- Lovett C. Peters Fellow in Healthcare
- John Sivolella, Senior Fellow in Law and Policy
Board of Directors
As of September 2017:
- Stephen Fantone, Chairman; President/CEO, Optikos Corporation
- Lucile Hicks, Vice-Chair
- C. Bruce Johnstone, Vice-Chair; Managing Director and Senior Marketing Investment Strategist, Fidelity Investments
- James Joslin, Treasurer
- Jim Stergios, Executive Director
- Mary Z. Connaughton, Clerk & Assistant Treasurer
- Nancy Anthony, Treasurer
- Steven Akin
- Nancy Anthony
- David Boit
- Brian Broderick
- Gary Campbell
- Frederic Clifford
- Andrew Davis
- Brackett Denniston
- Ellen R. Herzfelder
- Charles Hewitt, III
- Alfred Houston
- Keith Hylton
- Mary Myers Kauppila
- Gary Kearney
- Pamela Layton
- Nicole Manseau
- M. Holt Massey
- Adam Portnoy
- Mark V. Rickabaugh
- Diane Schmalensee
- Kristin Servison
- Eileen Shapiro
- Emmy Lou Hewitt, honorary
- Edna Shamie, honorary
- Peter Wilde
- William B. Tyler, Chairman Emeritus
- Phyllis M. Stearns, honorary
- Amir Nashat
- Preston McSwain
- John Kingston
- Nancy Coolidge
- Stephen Fantone
- Douglas Foy
- Kerry Healey
- Charles C. Hewitt, III
- Lucile Hicks
- C. Bruce Johnstone
- Alan Morse
- Beth Myers
- Brian Shortsleeve
- Patrick Wilmerding
Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research
185 Devonshire Street, Suite 1101
Boston, MA 02110
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
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