Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions
The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions (BIPPS) is a right-wing pressure group that promotes itself as "an independent research and educational institution offering free-market solutions to Kentucky's most pressing problems." The institute was created and initially funded by Chris Derry, a businessman from Bowling Green, Kentucky. BIPPS 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 2020, 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 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 2 Research and Agenda
- 3 Funding
- 4 Core Financials
- 5 Personnel
- 6 =Former Staff
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 Articles and Resources
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
Beginning in 2014, BIPPS was part of a coalition pushing for local "right to work" legislation that included ALEC and its local offshoot, ACCE. See Involvement in Push for Local "Right to Work" in Kentucky below for more.
BIPPS has also sponsored model legislation that was supported by the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. According to a BIPPS press release from December 5, 2012, the model legislation, the so-called "Intrastate Coal and Use Act," continued "to the ALEC board for final approval, following which it will officially be made available to states for adaptation to their individual needs."
The Madison Group, the predecessor of SPN -- of which BIPPS is a member -- was "launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC . . . and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute," according to a 1991 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) found in the University of California-San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents.
The case is strengthened by an October 1987 ALEC directory also available via the Tobacco Documents that says, "The Madison Group is chaired by Mrs. Constance Heckman [now Constance Campanella, founder of the lobbying firm Stateside Associates], Executive Director of ALEC . . ." A speakers list also available in the Tobacco Documents says in Constance Campanella's biography, "She was a co-founder and first President of The Madison Group, the first network of free-market state think tanks."
SPN has been a member of ALEC for many years. In the mid-2000s, SPN secured funding for more of its member think tanks to join ALEC in order to help develop model legislation. By 2009, 22 SPN member think tanks were active ALEC members and participants in ALEC task forces, according to an SPN newsletter, and SPN was being rewarded for its services by ALEC. As of 2013, at least 35 SPN member think tanks have demonstrable ties to ALEC in addition to SPN's own ties, and all of SPN's member think tanks push ALEC's agenda in their respective states, according to a review by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
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 Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions 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.
Research and Agenda
BIPPS describes its own agenda as "promoting free‐market capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties." Its positions follow the right-wing agenda of the State Policy Network (SPN), including privatization of education, restricting workers' rights, and blocking healthcare reform.
In many cases, the credentials or experiential background of BIPPS content contributors is unknown; and some policy documents have been created by individuals with no direct experience in the field they are critiquing. The site promotes pro-corporate, anti-labor positions. BIPPS claims to be non-partisan, but the content contributors overwhelming express Republican or Libertarian political interests and issues.
The organization's website averages 1530 unique visitors monthly and focuses predominantly on a Kentucky-based audience as of November 2007. The Institute acknowledged the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's assistance with the development of its website in earlier versions.
The Courier Journal in Louisville -- the largest print media outlet in Kentucky -- has described BIPPS as generally having a "libertarian anti-government negativism" and downgrades the reliability of its analysis in comparison to the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center."
Founder Says BIPPS Is "Like a Franchise" of Other State Groups
According to The New York Times, BIPPS was founded by Christopher Derry, "a sales executive with no public-policy background" who attended a "conservative think tank school" run by Lawrence Reed at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in 2003. The Times reports that after the Mackinac program, Derry returned to Kentucky "with access to everything from off-the-shelf speeches and papers to management software.... 'This is like a franchise,' Mr. Derry said. 'I saw that I could recreate what the other state groups are doing.'"
Involvement in Push for Local "Right to Work" in Kentucky
The Bluegrass Institute is part of a coalition that has been pushing for local "right to work" ordinances in Kentucky starting in 2014. The New York Times reported in December 2014 that a "carefully devised plan" was being rolled out in Kentucky, with several counties passing right to work ordinances within a matter of weeks. In addition to the Bluegrass Institute, the coalition included ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a new group, Protect My Check, which promised "to pay for the legal battles of any local government that tries [to pass right-to-work laws]."
The Bluegrass Institute has a role in supporting the right-to-work campaign in media. For example, NPR talked to Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters, reporting that Waters "says the state is losing business" due to not having "right-to-work." He said, "We're not saying that a right-to-work law is going to fix all of our economic problems in Kentucky, but what we're saying is that it's an important tool in the state's economic toolbox."
Support for School Privatization Agenda
BIPPS supports school voucher programs, charter schools, and other so-called "school choice" initiatives. In 2005, BIPPS started an organization called the Kentucky Alliance for School Choice, which ran a petition drive "aimed at getting legislation passed that would allow for a less strict school districting system," according to the Bowling Green Daily News.
BIPPS stated on its website in 2007, however, that it is "supported through the generous contributions of our members. No government funds are accepted and no contract research is performed. In October 2007, The Courier Journal noted that "the group's spokesman wouldn't tell our reporters the sources of its income or size of its dues-paying membership."
Based on data from other organizations' tax filings, BIPPS funders include the following:
- Donors Capital Fund: $715,000 (2005-2013)
- Jaquelin Hume Foundation: $220,000 (2005-2012)
- Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking: $162,000 (2007-2013)
- Roe Foundation: $140,000 (2004-2012)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation: $105,000 (2008). BIPPS was the recipient of a $100,000 Fisher Venture Grant from Atlas.
- Ruth & Lovett Peters Foundation: $50,000 (2004)
- JM Foundation: $35,000 (2004-2006)
- State Policy Network: $30,000 (2013)
- Castle Rock Foundation: $15,000 (2008)
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation: $5,200 (2011)
- Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice: $1,000 (2007)
In its 2006 IRS return, BIPPS president, Chris Derry, was listed as working 50 hours a week and was paid $59,999. The report indicated that Derry's time was split 60/40 percent between fundraising and "management and general." The return identified $132,872 being spent on "salaries and wages of employees" in addition to that of Derry's.
- Total Revenue: $280,362
- Total Expenses: $294,319
- Net Assets: $-13,957
- Total Revenue: $254,779
- Total Expenses: $225,163
- Net Assets: $56,884
- Total Revenue: $228,367
- Total Expenses: $216,229
- Net Assets: $27,268
- Total Revenue: $303,985
- Total Expenses: $264,744
- Net Assets: $31,846
- Total Revenue: $272,382
- Total Expenses: $280,587
- Net Assets: $-18,746
- Total Revenue: $316,105
- Total Expenses: $392,291
- Net Assets: $-10,541
- Total Revenue: $329,547
- Total Expenses: $466,950
- Net Assets: $77,751
- Total Revenue: $400,403
- Total Expenses: $374,062
- Net Assets: $212,718
- Total Revenue: $430,686
- Total Expenses: $422,875
- Net Assets: $196,526
BIPPS's first IRS return for 2003 listed Derry as the unpaid president and CEO and Morris L. Grubbs and Tommy Adams as directors.
As of March 2019:
- Tom Dupree, Jr., Owner, Dupree Financial Group. Dupree also hosts a radio show on Lexington’s NewsRadio 630 WLAP-AM
- Steven J. Megerle, Attorney
- Aaron Ammerman, Financial Advisor, UBS Financial Services Inc.
- Tim Yessin, Board Chair, V.P. and Wealth Management Adviser for Fifth Third Private Bank
As of March 2019:
- Jim Waters, President and CEO. Waters was appointed interim president in 2012 after eight years working in a communications role.
- Sarah May Durand, Government Affairs Director and Digital Marketing Strategist
- Dick Innes, Education Analyst
As of March 2019:
- John Garen, Chair. Gatton Endowed Professor of Economics, University of Kentucky. Gatten also has an affiliation with the Mercatus Center.
- Stephan Gohmann, BB&T Professor of Free Enterprise at the University of Louisville, a chair endowed by the bank BB&T. As of 2015 he leads a "free enterprise center" funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
- Gary Houchens, Professor, Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research, Western Kentucky University.
- Eric D. Schansberg, Professor of Economics, Indiana University Southeast. Schansberg has also been affiliated with the Acton Institute and the Independent Institute.
- Brian Strow, Policy Scholar. BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Western Kentucky University, a chair endowed by the bank BB&T. Strow also heads the BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism at WKU.
- Kelly Smith, Vice President of Strategic Partners. According to her official bio, Smith completed a "Think Tank MBA" program at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (another SPN member group) in 2011.
- Folu Elegbede, Director of Digital Marketing
- Caleb O. Brown
Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions
P.O. Box 11706
Lexington, KY 40577
Phone: (270) 782-2140
Fax: (305) 675-0220
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
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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