Center for Growth and Opportunity

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The Center for Growth and Opportunity (CGO) at Utah State University is a Koch-funded right-wing 501(c)(3) academic center.

CGO was founded in 2017 after a $25 million Koch-Utah State University contract mandated the creation of a new "independent" 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization affiliated with the academic institution.

CGO self-describes as "a platform to connect academic entrepreneurs with today’s most pressing challenges".[1]

CGO is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a group of right-wing think tanks and politically-active nonprofits.

News and Controversies

Furthering Koch Plans to "Dismantle Protections for America’s Public Lands"

A 2018 report found CGO's "faculty, fellows and scholars are contributing to national policy research, commentary, panel discussions and congressional testimony supporting public lands privatization and the rollback of environmental protections."[2] The report also found that the organization was continuing "much of the work of Strata Policy, a Koch-funded, private Utah-based think tank that has vigorously promoted policies to weaken federal protections for America’s public lands in order to dramatically expand fossil fuel development, logging and grazing."[2] In 2015, "Strata won a contract to promote the 'Transfer of Public lands Act', an attempt to privatize Utah’s public land. This bill was originally co-sponsored by then-Representative David Butterfield, who was also on the board of Strata."[3]

"Blurring Private Enterprise With Public Education"

Utah State University (USU) is a public institution, but the Center for Growth and Opportunity does not have to comply with public records requests because it "is not a USU entity and its employees are not USU employees".[2] CGO's board of directors, pre-installed as part of the 2017 Koch-USU contract, have veto power over the organization's new hires.[2][3] USU faculty has "expressed fear that the CGO is positioning itself to become the next Mercatus Center, a nonprofit conservative think tank based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia."[4]

Continuing Research of Koch-Funded Strata Institute

The Koch-funded think tank Strata Policy "has published research that overlaps with those of academics at Utah State."[3] In 2018, USU faculty members were concerned "that the arrival of former officials from Strata Policy [at CGO] will mean the center will carry on Strata Policy’s style of research."[4] Strata Policy is closely connected to USU. Overlap between the two "has long made it difficult to tell where one institution began and the other ended, raising questions about the university’s relationship to the Koch-funded think tank. Strata’s reports often featured the logos of both Strata and Utah State or had authors from both institutions"[2]

Randy Simmons is named as an example of the closeness between Strata Policy and USU.[2][3][4]Simmons "is a faculty member at Utah State University, the executive director of the university's Institute for Political Economy (IPE), and also the president of Strata."[3]

Ties to the State Policy Network

The Center for Growth and Opportunity is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a group of right-wing think tanks and politically-active nonprofits. CGO contributed $15,000 to SPN in 2018. 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.'"[7]

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.[8]

Ties to the Koch Brothers

The Center for Growth and Opportunity was created after a $25 million Koch-Utah State University contract in 2017 mandated the creation of a new "independent" 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization affiliated with the academic institution. This contract involved Charles Koch partnering with fellow billionaire Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. to expand Utah State University's Huntsman School of Business. Many CGO employees formerly worked at Strata Policy, a Koch-funded think tank closely affiliated with USU.[2][3][4]

"Utah State University Using Koch Grant to Empower Leaders of Tomorrow", Charles Koch Foundation YouTube channel

The Charles Koch Institute contributed $7,500 to CGO in 2018.

Koch Wiki

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 Bradley Foundation

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation contributed $30,000 to CGO in 2018.

Bradley Files

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.

Find the series here at ExposedbyCMD.org.

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

A member of CGO attended ALEC's 2019 Annual Conference.

About ALEC
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.

Funding

LPR is not required to disclose its funders but major foundation supporters can be found through their IRS filings. Here are some known contributors:

Core Financials

2019[9]

  • Total Revenue: $5,494,157
  • Total Expenses: $5,215,925
  • Net Assets: $3,252,109

Grants Distributed

  • Jon M Huntsman School of Business: $64,900
  • NCSL Foundation: $17,500
  • Small Business Development of Kiribati: $5,000
  • Utah State University Foundation: $316,500

2018[10]

  • Total Revenue: $3.938,548
  • Total Expenses: $3,740,654
  • Net Assets: $2,973,877

Grants Distributed

  • John M. Huntsman School of Business: $77,400
  • State Policy Network: $15,000
  • USU Conference Services: $20,000
  • Utah State University Foundation: $222,500

2017[11]

  • Total Revenue: $3,538,684
  • Total Expenses: $762,701
  • Net Assets: $2,775,983

Grants Distributed

  • Ipop Foundation: $100,000

Personnel

Staff

As of February 2021:[12]

  • Sarah Bennett, Academic And Student Programs Manager
  • Frank Caliendo, Academic Director
  • Erica Darley, Human Resources Director
  • Eli Dourado, Senior Research Fellow
  • Ivan Dubois, Development Director
  • Blake Dursteler, President
  • Brian Isom, Research Manager
  • Brooke Jacques, Graphic Design Manager
  • Megan E. Jenkins. Research Director
  • Parker Jeppesen, External Relations Director
  • Tahra Jirari, Communications Associate
  • Christopher Koopman, Executive Director
  • Jake Meyer, Research Associate
  • Jennifer Morales, Research Associate
  • Marc Morris, Senior Communications Director
  • Prithvijit Mukherjee, Postdoctoral Research Associate
  • Ian Nemelka, Communications Manager
  • Lucas Rentschler, Assistant Professor
  • William Rinehart, Senior Research Fellow
  • Romy Robinson, Events Manager
  • Caden Rosenbaum, Technology And Innovation Associate
  • Josh T. Smith, Research Manager
  • Wesley Smith, Lead Software Developer
  • Bethany Spraggins, Salesforce Administrator

Board of Directors

As of February 2021:[13]

Editorial Board

As of February 2021:[14]

  • Ted Bolema
  • James Broughel, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center
  • Richard Evans
  • Robert Krol
  • Ian McDonough
  • Pia Orrenius
  • Lucas Rentschler
  • Madeline Zavodny

Contact Information

Utah office:
Center for Growth and Opportunity
3525 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-3525

Washington D.C. office:
Center for Growth and Opportunity
777 6th St NW
Washington DC, 20001

EIN: 45-3564310
Website: https://www.thecgo.org/
Phone (General): hello@thecgo.org
Phone (Press): media@thecgo.org

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch

IRS Form 990 Filings

2019

2018

2017

References

  1. Center for Growth and Opportunity, About, organizational website, accessed February 24, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Samantha Parsons and Ryan Beam, "In$idious Gift: How the Koch Foundation’s $25 Million Donation to Utah State University Aims to Dismantle Protections for America’s Public Lands", report by UnKoch My Campus and Center for Biological Diversity, October 2018, accessed February 25, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Tom Perrett, "How Charles Koch Is Buying Credibility With Academic Investments", DeSmog, September 12, 2020, accessed February 25, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Mark Hand, "New center stokes fears that Utah university is becoming 'Koch U' of the West", ThinkProgress May 1, 2018, accessed February 25, 2021.
  5. David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million, ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
  6. 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.
  7. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  8. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  9. Center for Growth and Opportunity, 2019 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, November 13, 2020.
  10. Center for Growth and Opportunity, 2018 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, October 22, 2019.
  11. Center for Growth and Opportunity, 2017 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, November 15, 2018.
  12. Center for Growth and Opportunity, Staff, organizational website, accessed February 24, 2021.
  13. Center for Growth and Opportunity, Board Members, organizational website, accessed February 24, 2021.
  14. Center for Growth and Opportunity, Editorial Board Members, organizational website, accessed February 24, 2021.