Franklin News Foundation
The Franklin News Foundation (formerly known as Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity) is the publisher of The Center Square (formerly known as Watchdog.org), and was for a brief time called the Franklin News Network. It also manages the Franklin Media Group and the Illinois Radio Network. The Franklin News Foundation (FNF) is a national 501(c)(3) journalism organization based in Chicago, Illinois, and established in 2009. FNF now states its mission as holding "government accountable through objective, balanced, citizen-focused public journalism with a taxpayer sensibility. Our work allows all readers to understand the impact and importance of governmental issues in their own backyard." It stresses a promise to "highlight the presence and absence of fiscal responsibility," and "reveals the truth about mismanagement and overreach" in state governments. Further, FNN states that "the reporting we support changes the world for the better, exposing damaging public policies, leading to investigations, and prompting regulatory reforms and legislative changes." A Center for Media and Democracy survey of their articles hinted that the "regulatory reforms and legislative changes" align with conservative goals.
FNF's predecessor, The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, claimed its mission is to be "dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility, and highlight their absence in state and local governments," and to "shine the bright light of transparency into government's darkest corners, and expose the facts about government mismanagement and overreach." The Franklin Center funded state reporters in more than 40 states in August 2011, and in 34 states in May 2013. As of May 2019, Watchdog.org has state bureaus in thirteen states, according to its website. Despite their non-partisan description, many of these websites have received criticism for their conservative bias.
At a time when there are fewer and fewer statehouse reporters -- as of the American Journalism Review's most recent count in 2009, there were 355 in the entire country, down from 524 in 2003, bluntly called a "statehouse exodus" by the same journal -- former Reuters chief White House correspondent Gene Gibbons described the rush of groups like the Franklin Center to fill the gap as follows: "an army of Internet start-ups, some practicing traditional journalism in a new medium, others delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism -- are crawling all over the picnic. . . . At the forefront is the one‐year-old Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity . . ."
- 1 News and Controversies
- 1.1 The Center Square, Franklin Media Group, The Illinois Radio Network
- 1.2 Rebranding to "The Center Square"
- 1.3 Franklin Center Under New Leadership
- 1.4 Bradley Foundation Kept Wisconsin Watchdog Afloat as Franklin Center Struggled Financially
- 1.5 Franklin Center Called Out for Blocking Action on Climate Change
- 1.6 Conflict of Interest in Wisconsin "John Doe" Campaign Finance Investigation
- 1.7 Silence on Pay-to-Play Allegations Highlights Conflicts of Interest
- 1.8 Accusations of Inaccuracy & 'Manufactured News'
- 1.9 Additional Criticism from Media Watchdog Organizations
- 2 Franklin Center "at the Forefront of an Effort to Blur the Distinction Between Statehouse Reporting and Political Advocacy"
- 3 Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 4 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 5 Ties to Other Right-Wing & GOP Organizations
- 6 Funding "Fellows" at "Statehouses Across the Nation"
- 7 Franklin Center-Funded and Affiliated Sites
- 8 Recipients of Franklin Center Funding
- 9 Funding
- 10 Core Financials
- 11 Personnel
- 12 Contact Information
- 13 Articles and Resources
News and Controversies
The Center Square, Franklin Media Group, The Illinois Radio Network
The Franklin News Foundation runs three projects: The Center Square, the Franklin Media Group, and the Illinois Radio Network, according to its website.
The Center Square
The Center Square, a rebrand of Watchdog.org, is a "news" site with "taxpayer sensibility," according to FNF. Its stories are distributed through "a newswire service to legacy publishers and broadcasters, TheCenterSquare.com, and social media." As of January 2020, Center Square operates in the following 18 states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Franklin Media Group
The Franklin Media Group claims to be a "full-service marketing agency that specializes in generating leads for businesses and professionals on a state and regional level."
The Illinois Radio Network
The Illinois Radio Network "the preeminent news and information source for radio stations across" Illinois. The Illinois Radio Network has "74 affiliate radio stations and covers all 102 counties in Illinois."
Rebranding to "The Center Square"
The Center Square website launched in mid-May 2019 purporting to be “a non-profit, non-partisan, non-political, no-nonsense organization.” Watchdog.org, Franklin's news website began redirecting to "thecentersquare.com" in May of 2019. Chris Krug was announced as the publisher of the site and president of the Franklin News Network, which according to a Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) investigation is a "new mask" in an "effort to replace local journalism with right-wing reporting."
Articles published in the first few weeks since The Center Square name change "give no indication that it will operate any differently from its previous iterations." A CMD survey of recent stories included "a write up of a fellow SPN group’s report critiquing “unfunded retirement obligations,” a summary of FreedomWorks’ — a group described as one of the “big-money funders and free-market advocacy organizations” — recent actions, and transcription of Wisconsin Republican talking points."
Franklin Center Under New Leadership
Wisconsin Watchdog reporter James Wigderson tweeted on April 14, 2017, “The Franklin Center is shutting down,” but a few days later, it appeared that Franklin was rebooting. In a press release on April 17, Franklin announced that Chris Krug, former editor and manager of the Illinois News Network, would be the new President. The Illinois News Network is a project of the Bradley-funded Illinois Policy Institute, a State Policy Network “think tank.”
Bradley Foundation Kept Wisconsin Watchdog Afloat as Franklin Center Struggled Financially
A 2017 Center for Media and Democracy investigation of Bradley Foundation internal documents revealed that "in recent years the Franklin Center has foundered. The number of state offices dwindled to five in 2016 and employees fled the sinking ship when a single, mystery funder withdrew support."
It is a "text book case of imprudent funding," wrote Bradley staff. "Unable to resist the offer of $10M annually from one source, the organization grew beyond its capacity to manage itself, and became too dependent on one funder, making it able to shrug off criticism from elsewhere (including Bradley). Last year, when that funder shifted priorities and the fecklessness of the administration became evident, the organization began to collapse" (Grant Proposal Record, August 16, 2016).
When Bradley staff were unsure if Franklin CEO Nicolle Niely was "up to the job," they still funded Wisconsin Watchdog because it was "so effective and such a valuable partner in the state’s conservative infrastructure."
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.
Franklin Center Called Out for Blocking Action on Climate Change
In July of 2016, nineteen U.S. Senators delivered a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests, including the Franklin Center. Sen. Whitehouse (RI-D), who led the effort to expose "the web of denial" said in his remarks on the floor that the purpose was to,
- "shine a little light on the web of climate denial and spotlight the bad actors in the web, who are polluting our American discourse with phony climate denial. This web of denial, formed over decades, has been built and provisioned by the deep-pocketed Koch brothers, by ExxonMobil, by Peabody coal, and by other fossil fuel interests. It is a grim shadow over our democracy in that it includes an electioneering effort that spends hundreds of millions of dollars in a single election cycle and threatens any Republican who steps up to address the global threat of climate change. . . . [I]t is long past time we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America’s political history because of their work.”
Conflict of Interest in Wisconsin "John Doe" Campaign Finance Investigation
In 2013, Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" website published over a dozen articles aggressively attacking Wisconsin's "John Doe" probe into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 recall elections, and broke stories about the investigation. The Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of Sourcewatch.org) uncovered in December 2013 that the news outlet may have a conflict of interest, as "Franklin Center has close ties to individuals and groups that may be caught up in the John Doe."
Franklin Center/Wisconsin Reporter called its series on the John Doe "Wisconsin's Secret War," and cited "unnamed sources to reveal that Wisconsin Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Republican Governors Association had received subpoenas, and describing details about "after-hours visits to homes and offices" and prosecutors' "demands for phone, email and other records." 
Franklin Center/Wisconsin Reporter described the John Doe investigation as "an abuse of prosecutorial powers" with "the apparent goal of bringing down Gov. Scott Walker." However, the news outlet had what journalism professors called "a conflict of interest that minimally ought to be disclosed, whenever stories are written."
"The only name associated with the investigation, Eric O'Keefe, helped launch the Franklin Center's operations in 2009, and his Sam Adams Alliance group provided the majority of its startup budget; O'Keefe has spoken publicly about being subpoenaed in his capacity as director of Wisconsin Club for Growth. Franklin Center's Director of Special Projects John Connors, and the Executive Assistant to the President Claire Milbrandt, also have close ties to a group reportedly involved in the John Doe probe. Its former Director of Operations and General Counsel, James Skyles, worked with another group active in the Wisconsin recalls." 
Silence on Pay-to-Play Allegations Highlights Conflicts of Interest
John Menard, owner of the Menard's chain of hardware stores, gave $1.5 million in previously unknown contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth during the 2012 Wisconsin recall election, according to reporting by investigative journalist Michael Isikoff published March 23, 2015. Isikoff wrote that the contributions "seem to have paid off for the businessman and his company." Over the following two years, Menard's received $1.8 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Walker chairs, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources "sharply scaled back enforcement actions" under Walker. The story made national headlines, including coverage by The New York Times, MSNBC, and U.S. News & World Report the day following its publication.
Wisconsin Reporter, which had previously defended O'Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth against allegations of improper coordination with Walker and his campaign, made no mention of the pay-to-play allegations in the days following Isikoff's story despite the national news coverage, according to Media Matters. "Their silence on the story highlights the conflicts of interest that surround the outlet's reporting on Walker and the 'John Doe' investigations," Media Matters wrote.
Accusations of Inaccuracy & 'Manufactured News'
In August 2010, the West Virginia Watchdog blog quoted an unnamed source claiming that Democratic Governor Joe Manchin's office had been subpoenaed as part of a federal grand jury investigation. The story said that the subpoenas asked for contracts and records for businesses that have done work at the governor’s mansion. "The target may be Manchin himself, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous," the original story said. The governor’s office responded saying that “Neither subpoena was directed to Governor Manchin or the Governor’s Office.... No individual in the Governor’s Office was served with a subpoena…. The State has not been informed that Governor Manchin or any other state employee is under investigation.” The West Virginia Watchdog updated its site with these statements then reported that their "source was ultimately wrong about the purpose of the subpoenas."
In February, the Wisconsin Reporter sponsored a questionable poll asserting that 71% of Wisconsin residents thought the state's Governor Scott Walker's budget proposal to cut the collective bargaining rights of most of the state's public sector workers was "fair." Several local and national news outlets cited the poll without investigation, including MSNBC. The result seemed completely out of whack with other polling leading some to question the source. The same month, We Ask America, largely owned by the Illinois Manufacturing Association, a leading business organization in the region, polled 2,400 Wisconsin residents and found that 52 percent opposed Walker's bill. The Franklin Center's poll was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research. 
In 2009, the New Mexico Watchdog reported that based on data from Recovery.gov millions of dollars were spent in non-existent congressional districts in the state. The story picked up steam among reporters, even turned into a Colbert Report segment called "Know your Made-up District." The Franklin Center released a national report that said $6.4 billion in stimulus money had been spent in hundreds of “phantom” congressional districts. There was truth to the New Mexico Watchdog report, but it turned out, as reported by the Associated Press, that the culprit was an error-ridden government database. The funds were actually distributed to the right recipients but errors such as zip codes entered incorrectly accounted for the "phantom districts" rather than, as the report suggested, had been unaccounted for or misused.
Even with this new information on the shortfalls of the Recovery.gov site, the Franklin Center failed to set the record straight. In its 2010 Annual report, the center boasted it found that the "stimulus sent funds in the form of grants, loans and government contracts to support more than 200 projects in imaginary ZIP codes covering 38 states." It did not mention the errors in the database, but let the record stand as a story of government waste.
Additional Criticism from Media Watchdog Organizations
The journalistic integrity of these sites has been called into question by media watchdog groups. Laura McGann, assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, wrote that the Franklin Center is backing news organizations who engage in distorted reporting across the country. "As often as not, their reporting is thin and missing important context, which occasionally leads to gross distortions," wrote McGann, who pointed to several instances where the Watchdog websites wrote stories that turned out to be misleading or untrue.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism on a sliding scale of highly ideological, somewhat ideological and non-ideological, ranked the “Watchdog.org” franchise "highly ideological."
Franklin Center "at the Forefront of an Effort to Blur the Distinction Between Statehouse Reporting and Political Advocacy"
"For the most part, the people in charge of these would-be watchdog operations are political hacks out to subvert journalism in their quest to grab and keep power using whatever means they have to do so. . . . At the forefront of an effort to blur the distinction between statehouse reporting and political advocacy is the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity," Gibbons wrote in the Nieman Reports publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He interviewed Franklin Center Executive Director Jason Stverak in March 2010, and Stverak said Franklin sites should be held to the same standard as any news publication -- judged "based upon the content that they produce." But, Gibbons writes, "four months later the Franklin Center cosponsored and played an active role in a two-day conference organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Right Online Agenda conference included such breakout sessions as 'Intro to Online Activism' and 'Killing the Death Tax” and featured speakers such as conservative U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Tea Party activist Sharron Angle, a Republican who was then running against Harry Reid in the election for U.S. Senate in Nevada. No Democratic legislators were included in the program. The finale of the Las Vegas conference was a November is Coming Rally."
Conservative columnist H. Daniel Glover specifically credited the Franklin Center with helping the conservative cause, according to a June 2010 in-depth report by Gibbons written for the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. "Once conservatives realize they can conduct great investigations that expose the flaws of intrusive government and the special interests that corrupt it, you will see more of them embracing that kind of journalism,” Glover said. “Mainstream publications like the Washington Examiner and organizations like the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which helps support and fund budding watchdogs, are showing them the way.”
Gibbons' 2010 report continues:
- "Reporters for news sites in Ohio, Illinois and Idaho funded by the Franklin Center or its affiliates have been denied press credentials by accrediting bodies because of the lack of transparency about donors and links to advocacy groups. Veteran journalist John Dougherty, who was briefly on contract to a Nevada group with links to the Franklin Center, said he quit because it became clear to him the journalism was not non‐partisan.
- "'They were clearly looking for gotcha stories to embarrass Democrats in any way they could. That's not what I do,' he said. 'I'm an equal opportunity basher -- I've written stories that have damaged Democrats as well as Republicans and Independents. I'm apolitical. If it's a story, it's a story; if it's not, it's not,' Dougherty said. (Several weeks after I interviewed him, Dougherty announced he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. Senate from Arizona)."
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Franklin Center has ties to the Koch brothers. The organization has received funding from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Franklin also received funding from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. (See below.)
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 Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a "Vice-Chairman" level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. The Franklin Center was one of about 60 companies and institutions represented in the conference exhibition hall.
Franklin Center board member and North Dakota Republican Representative Blair Thoreson chairs ALEC's Communications and Technology Task Force and penned an op-ed supporting ALEC in the face of criticism over its role in pushing "Stand Your Ground" and "Voter ID" legislation in April 2012. Thoreson was not the only Franklin Center personnel member to publicly defend ALEC. As Media Matters reported, Franklin President Jason Stverak and Vice President of Journalism Steven Greenhut joined in as well. All three commentaries were posted in the days immediately after an ALEC staffer begged for help from Breitbart bloggers and the rest of the right-wing blogosphere at a Heritage Foundation "Bloggers Briefing" April 17, 2012.
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 Other Right-Wing & GOP Organizations
The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM) in 2009, a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. In a 2010 interview, Franklin Center Executive Director Jason Stverak told Gene Gibbons that "the Sam Adams Alliance gave his organization a start‐up grant83 but otherwise was not willing to specify where the Franklin Center gets its funds."
The Franklin Center’s previous president, Jason Stverak, is the former Regional Field Director for SAM, served as North Dakota Executive Director for the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee and former Executive Director of the North Dakota Republican Party.
The Franklin Center also has strong ties to a right-wing web of so-called "think tanks" pushing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s corporate-backed agenda in every statehouse in the country, the State Policy Network (SPN). According to an in-depth 2010 report by Gene Gibbons, "The State Policy Network–Sam Adams Alliance–Franklin Center troika is at least loosely associated with more than a dozen other conservative groups funding news websites in various states. These include the John Locke Foundation, which funds the monthly North Carolina newspaper Carolina Journal and a companion website, www.carolinajournal.com; the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, which funds the news website West Virginia Watchdog; the Commonwealth Foundation, which supports the Pennsylvania Independent (www.paindependent.com); and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which funds Michigan Capitol Confidential (www.michigancapitolconfidential.com)." See SPN Ties to the Franklin Center for more.
The Center's Chief of Staff Gwen Beattie is the former Director of Development and Operations at America's Future Foundation, an organization committed to "identify and develop the next generation of conservative and libertarian leaders."
Ties to Coalition for American Values
The Coalition for American Values (CAV) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit whose only major activities have been spending $400,080 on ads supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the final weeks of the 2012 recall elections. While the CAV did not disclose its funders at the time, tax filings later revealed that almost all of its funding in 2012 came from the Koch-tied Center to Protect Patient Rights, run by Koch operative Sean Noble.
CAV's lawyer, James D. Skyles, was previously General Counsel and Director of Operations at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
The CAV's federal PAC has also paid money to a consulting firm run by John Connors, a leader of operations at the Franklin Center, and president of the group "Citizens for a Strong America," which was also active in the Wisconsin recall elections and kept its donors hidden, while operating out of a UPS drop box.
Additionally, as the Center for Media and Democracy reported, "[t]he 'treasurer' listed on Coalition for American Values' FEC filings and the contact on its filings with Wisconsin's election board is Brent Downs. In 2008, when Connors chaired the Marquette College Republicans, Downs was his treasurer. Both were both students at Marquette University at the same time, and Downs, like Connors, also chaired the Students for Prosperity chapter of David Koch's Americans for Prosperity at Marquette University."
Connors' Citizens for a Strong America was entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth and has been under investigation in the "John Doe" campaign finance investigation. The Franklin Center was founded in part by Koch operative Eric O'Keefe, head of the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Funding "Fellows" at "Statehouses Across the Nation"
In 2009, the Franklin Center announced its "Benjamin Franklin Fellows" program beginning January 1, 2010 and lasting 21 weeks, for "enterprising journalists seeking the hands-on experience of a statehouse beat," advertising that "Franklin Fellows will work in a variety of statehouses across the nation with seasoned correspondents to produce daily news as well investigative pieces" and that "[f]ellows also will have unique networking opportunities with a nationwide collection of state capital bureaus."
Franklin Center-Funded and Affiliated Sites
The Center Square State Sites
As of late-may 2019:
- New Hampshire
As of early-May 2019:
- New Hampshire
- Alabama Watchdog
- California Watchdog
- Hawaii Reporter, Hawaii, hawaiireporter.com
- Idaho Watchdog
- Iowa Watchdog
- Kansas Watchdog
- Missouri Watchdog
- Montana Watchdog
- Nebraska Watchdog
- New Jersey Watchdog
- New Mexico Watchdog
- North Dakota Watchdog
- Oklahoma Watchdog
- Oregon Watchdog
- Tennessee Watchdog
- Texas Watchdog
- Washington Watchdog
As of May 2013 (In 2019, Watchdog does not list its partners):
- Goldwater Institute, Arizona, goldwaterinstitute.org
- Advance Arkansas Institute, Arkansas, thearkansasproject.com
- Pacific Research Institute, California, calwatchdog.com
- Independence Institute, Colorado, investigates.i2i.org
- Yankee Institute for Public Policy, Connecticut, raisinghale.com
- James Madison Institute, Florida, capitolvanguard.org
- Idaho Freedom Foundation, Idaho, idahoreporter.com
- Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois, reederreport.com
- Maine Heritage Policy Center, Maine, themainewire.com
- Maryland Reporter, Maryland, marylandreporter.com
- Missouri News Horizon, Missouri, missouri-news.org
- Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan, michigancapitolconfidential.com
- John Locke Foundation, North Carolina, carolinajournal.com
- John William Pope Foundation, North Carolina, nccivitas.org
- Say Anything Blog, North Dakota, sayanythingblog.com
- Capital Beat OK, Oklahoma, capitolbeatok.com
- Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Rhode Island, oceanstatecurrent.com
- South Carolina Policy Council, South Carolina, thenerve.org
- TN Report, Tennessee, tnreport.com
- Freedom Foundation, Washington, theolympiareport.com
- Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, West Virginia, westvirginia.watchdog.org
Former Statehouse "News Bureaus"
- Pacific Research Institute, California, calwatchdog.com
- Independence Institute, Colarado, comoradonewsagency.com
- Idaho Freedom Foundation, Idaho, idahoreporter.com
- Pelican Institute, Louisiana, thepelicanpost.org
- Maryland Reporter, Maryland, marylandreporter.com
- Michigan Center for Public Policy, Michigan, michigancapitolconfidential.com
- Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, Minnesota, mnstatenews.com
- Missouri News Horizon, Missouri, minewshorizon.org
- Montana Policy Institute, Montana, Montana.watchdog.org
- Nevada News Bureau, Nevada, nevadanewsbeaurea.com
- Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico, capitolreportnewmexico.com
- John Locke Foundation, North Carolina, carolinajournal.com
- John William Pope Civitas Institute, North Carolina, nccivitas.org
- Say Anything Blog, North Dakota, SayAnythingBlog.com
- Capitol Beat OK, Oklahoma, capitolbeatok.com
- Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon, oregoncapitolnews.com
- South Carolina Policy Council, South Carolina, thenerve.org
- Cowboy State Free Press, Wyoming, cowboystatefreepress.net
Formerly Listed as Hosting "Investigative Reporters"
- Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama, alabamarighttoknow.org
- Alaska Policy Forum, Alaska, Alaska.watchdog.org
- Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia, forum.georgiapolicy.org
- Hawaii Reporter, Hawaii, hawaiireporter.com
- Iowa Watchdog, Iowa, Iowa.Watchdog.org
- Kansas Watchdog, Kansas, Kansas.watchdog.org
- Pelican Institute, Louisiana, thepelicanpost.org
- Maine Watchdog, Maine, maine.watchdog.org
- Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland, mdpolicy.com
- Pioneer Institute, Massachusetts, pioneerinstitute.org
- MacIver Institute, Wisconsin, MacIverInstitute.com
- Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan, mackinac.org
- Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, Minnesota, freedomfoundationofminnesota.com
- Missouri Watchdog, Missouri, Missouri.watchdog.org
- Montana Policy Institute, Montana, Montana.watchdog.org
- Nebraska Watchdog, Nebraska, Nebraska.watchdog.org
- Nevada Policy Research Institute, Nevada, npri.org
- Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, New Hampshire, newhampshire.watchdog.org
- New Jersey Watchdog, New Jersey, newjersey.watchdog.org
- Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico, newmexico.watchdog.org
- Plains Daily, North Dakota, plainsdaily.com
- Ohio Watchdog, Ohio, ohio.watchdog.org
- Oklahoma Watchdog, Oklahoma, Oklahoma.watchdog.org
- Cascade Policy Institute, Orgeon, oregoncapitolnews.com
- Pennsylvania Independent, Pennsylvania, paindependent.com
- Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Tennessee, Tennessee.watchdog.org
- Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas, texasbudgersource.com
- Texas Watchdog, Texas, texaswatchdog.org
- Sutherland Institute, Utah, sutherlandinstitute.org
- Old Dominion Watchdog, Virginia, olddominionwatchdog.org
- MacIver Institute, Wisconsin, maciverinstitute.com
- Wisconsin Reporter, Wisconsin, wisconsinreporter.org
- Wyoming Liberty Group, Wyoming, wyomingreporter.org
Franklin Center in Wisconsin
One of the Franklin Center's sites, the Wisconsin Reporter, was launched in January, and it's articles have been featured in weekly newspapers across the state. In February, the outlet supported a poll that claimed 71% of Wisconsin residents thought Governor Scott Walker's budget proposal to cut the collective bargaining rights of most of the state's public sector workers was 'fair.' The suspiciously high percentage caused some to question the source of the poll. But a lot of local and national news outlets cited the poll without investigation, including MSNBC. Data from the poll of 500 likely voters was managed by Pulse Opinion Research, owned by Scott Rasmussen, a trustee of the Property and Environment Research Center, which has ties to the Koch Brothers and Exxon Mobil. The Rasmussen Poll also released a poll that "showed 48% of American voters supported Walker, while just 38% supported the unions,” said Evan McMorris-Santoro writing for TPMuckracking. “That poll was criticized for asking leading questions that seemed to point respondents toward opposing the unions.”
- Wisconsin Watchdog Spin on the WI John Doe - "Wisconsin's Secret War", Wisconsin Watchdog, September 19, 2016.
Recipients of Franklin Center Funding
According to an in-depth report on the Franklin Center and related "news" websites by Gene Gibbons, "Len Lazarick, editor of the Maryland Reporter (www.marylandreporter.com) told a public radio interviewer he received $100,000 in start‐up funding from the Franklin Center. 'That interview got me in a little hot water with them,' he told me. 'They would just prefer that everything be as anonymous as possible. They really don't want us to talk about our business models very much.'"
The Franklin Center is required by law to disclose the groups to which it gives money, Since 2009, the Franklin Center funded the following groups:
- Hard Boiled Film LLC: $556,550
- Talent Market: $6,000
- Oregon Capital: $250,000
- American Phoenix Foundation: $25,000
- Cause of Action: $250,000
- Foundation for Ethics in Public Service: $30,000
- Frontier Lab: $235,000
- Government Accountability Institute: $2,000,000
- Independence Institute: $6,750
- James Madison Institute: $75,000
- Nevada News Bureau: $162,851
- Small Business Hawaii Foundation: $21,000
- Texas Watchdog: $322,500
- TN Report.com News Service: $50,000
- True the Vote-Houston: $50,000
- Cause of Action and Freedom Through Justice Foundation (Cause of Action's former name): $994,000
- Citizen Outreach Foundation: $25,000
- Cowboy State Free Press: $6,000
- Foundation for Ethics in Public Service: $7,500
- Nevada News Bureau: $77,500
- Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity: $7,500
- Small Business Hawaii Foundation: $5,500
- American Majority: $25,000
- Cowboy State Free Press: $76,600
- Foundation for Ethics in Public Service: $85,000
- Maryland Reporter: $25,000
- Nevada News Bureau: $17,000
- Pelican Institute: $36,000
- Tennessee Center for Policy Research: $25,000
- Cowboy Free Press: $74,000
- Idaho Freedom Foundation: $60,000
- Lucy Burns Institute (publisher of Ballotpedia.org): $43,413
- Maryland Reporter: $68,000
- Missouri News Network: $200,000
- Pershing Center: $45,000
- Small Business Hawaii Foundation: $45,000
- TN Watch: $150,000
Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings. Here are some of the known funders of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity:
- Charles G. Koch Foundation: $96,107 (2012-2015)
- DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund: $29,177,389 (2010-2014)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $795,500 (2010-2015)
- Searle Freedom Trust: $387,500 (2010-2013)
- State Policy Network: $100,000 (2010)
The Franklin Center has accepted donations from Altria, the parent company of the makers of Marlboro, Virginia Slims, and other tobacco brands, in 2013 and 2014.
Franklin's "Commercial Fundraiser," ClearWord Communications
Gibbons wrote in June 2010, "The Franklin Center is headquartered in Bismarck, ND, but its mailing address is a law office in Stafford, Texas, and its fundraising agent is a Bristow, VA firm that also raises funds for the Republican Party and the Heritage Foundation." That agent is ClearWord Communications Group, Inc., a "donor strategies firm" or "commercial fundraiser" that also raises funds for:
- American Council on Science and Health, Inc.
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- American Majority, Inc.
- Bill of Rights Institute
- Claremont Institute For The Study Of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy
- Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow
- Competitive Enterprise Institute
- FreedomWorks, Inc.
- Illinois Policy Institute (a State Policy Network (SPN) member)
- Institute for Energy Research
- James Partnership
- Lincoln Institute for Research and Education
- Mackinac Center (another SPN member)
- Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute
- Pacific Legal Foundation
- Sam Adams Alliance, Inc.
- State Policy Network (SPN)
- Total Revenue: $1,714,140
- Total Expenses: $1,651,328
- Net Assets: $680,417
- Total Revenue: $1,377,091
- Total Expenses: $1,668,152
- Net Assets: $484,806
- Total Revenue: $3,190,004
- Total Expenses: $4,189,004
- Net Assets: $783,385
- Total Revenue: $8,816,029
- Total Expenses: $7,057,535
- Net Assets: $1,782,385
- Total Revenue: $10,049,984
- Total Expenses: $9,847,101
- Net Assets: $23,891
- Total Revenue: $8,118,913
- Total Expenses: $8,678,265
- Net Assets: -$178,992
- Total Revenue: $11,625,189
- Total Expenses: $11,773,324
- Net Assets: $380,360
- Total Revenue: $6,614,542
- Total Expenses: $6,672,066
- Net Assets: $473,964
- Total Revenue: $3,775,771
- Total Expenses: $3,942,844
- Net Assets: $531,248
- Total Revenue: $2,378,965
- Total Expenses: $1,689,442
- Net Assets: $690,913
As of January 2020:
- Chris Krug, President and Publisher
- Dan McCaleb, Executive Editor
- Danielle Behler, Director of Development - has ties to the Goldwater Institute, Young America’s Foundation, FreedomWorks and Jeff Sessions
- Derek Draplin, Great Plains Regional Editor (also an editor at The Daily Caller
- Dave Lemery, East Regional Editor
- Brett Rowland, Midwest Regional Editor
- Jason Schaumburg, Regional Editor
- Bruce Walker, Regional Edigtor
- Jason Goch, IRN Sports Director
- Tyler Arnold, Staff Reporter has ties to Cause of Action Institute
- Greg Bishop, Staff Reporter
- Nyamekye Daniel, Staff Reporter
- David Jacobs, Staff Reporter
- Cole Lauterbach, Staff Reporter
- Scott McClallen, Staff Reporter
- John Spataro, Affiliate and Sales Manager
- Brendan Hartsell, Business Operations Manager
- Will Swaim, Senior Advisor and Contributing Editor
- John Bicknell, Executive Editor of Watchdog
- Bruce Parker, Managing Editor of Watchdog
- Johnny Kampis, National Watchdog Reporter
- Ashe Schow, Higher Education – Reporter
- Kathy Hoekstra, Watchdog Regulations – Reporter
- Matt Kittle, Wisconsin Watchdog – Bureau Chief and Reporter
- James Wigderson, Wisconsin Watchdog – Reporter
- William Patrick, Florida Watchdog – Reporter
- Erin Clark, Florida Watchdog – Reporter
- Steve Wilson, Mississippi Watchdog – Reporter
- Christian Britschgi, Arizona Watchdog – Reporter
- Lou Varricchio, Vermont Watchdog – Bureau Chief and Reporter
- Emma Lamberton, Vermont Watchdog – Reporter
- Michael Bielawski, Vermont Watchdog – Reporter
- Becky Wessels, Director of Operations
- Kathleen Hampton, National Director of Donor Relations
- John Courts, Development Operations and Research Manager
- Laurel Patrick, Director of Communications and Media Outreach
- Kevin Glass, Director of Outreach and Policy
- Josh Kaib, Marketing and Communications Manager
- Joseph Camardo, Social Media and Graphic Design Manager
- Kristen Hawley, Digital Marketing Manager
- Mary Ellen Beatty, Chief of Staff
- Carter DeWitt, Vice President of Development
- Steve Mullins, Chief Financial Officer
- Nicole Neily, President
- Erik Telford, President
- Paul Olivett, Vice President of Investor Relations
- Paul Alfonse, Outreach Coordinator
- Breyana Franklin, Public Affairs Manager
- Victor Nava, Staff Writer
- Shana Davidson, Direct Marketing Manager
- Matthew Hauck, Director of Development
- Christina Pajak, Manager of Investor Relations
- Megan Ritter, Grants Manager and Development Writer
- Scott Kocen, Technology Adviser
- Andrew Collins, Digital Media Manager
- Jackie Moreau, Managing Editor, Watchdog Arena
- John Trump, Content Editor
- Arthur Kane, Colorado Watchdog and Oklahoma Watchdog – Reporter
- Moriah Costa, Education Reporter
- Rob Nikolewski, Energy Reporter
- Ben Yount, Illinois Watchdog – Bureau Chief
- Paul Brennan, Iowa Watchdog - Reporter
- Tom Steward, Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau – Reporter
- Evan Grossman, National Reporter
- Yaël Ossowski, National Reporter
- Mary C. Tillotson, National Reporter
- Tori Richards, National Reporter
- Deena Winter, Nebraska Watchdog – Reporter
- Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog – Reporter
- Brigette Russell, New Mexico Watchdog – Reporter
- Jason Hart, Ohio Watchdog – Reporter
- Eric Boehm, Pennsylvania Independent – Managing Editor
- Chris Butler, Tennessee Watchdog – Reporter
- Kathryn Watson, Virginia Watchdog – Investigative Reporter
- Gwen Beattie (Executive Vice President)
- Steven Greenhut (Vice President of Journalism)
- Raaki Garcia (Colorado Watchdog Reporter)
- Sheena Dooley (Iowa Watchdog Reporter)
- Kevin Mooney (National Reporter)
- Mark Lisheron (Texas Watchdog Reporter)
- Lee Ann O’Neil (Texas Watchdog Reporter & Watchdog.org Content Editor)
- Lynette Wilhelm (Operations Assistant)
- Frank Keegan (National Watchdog Editor)
- Scott Reeder (National Statehouse Editor)
- James Skyles (General Counsel and Director of Operations)
- Meghan Tisinger (Director of Communications)
- Mary Massingale (writing coach and content editor)
- Elizabeth Hillgrove (staff writer and special projects)
- Jonathan Miltimore (national reporter, fiscal issues)
- Bill McMorris (staff writer)
- Drew Thomason (Reporter, Illinois Statehouse News)
- Stephan Burklin (editor, Maine Watchdog)
- Brian R. Hook (editor, Missouri Watchdog)
- Joe Jordan (editor, Nebraska Watchdog)
- Andrew Griffin (reporter, Oklahoma Watchdog)
- Paige Winfield Cunningham (editor, Old Dominion Watchdog)
- Amanda Iacone (Bureau Chief, Virginia Statehouse News)
- Stephen Groves (reporter, Virginia Statehouse News)
- Kevin Lee (Statehouse reporter, Wisconsin Reporter)
- Jon Cassidy, Texas Watchdog – Reporter
- Kenric Ward, Texas Watchdog – Reporter
Board of Directors
As of January 2020:
- John Tillman, Chairman
- Chris Krug, President
- Charles Mitchell, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation
- Eric Sucharski, Attorney
- Bradley Walton, President of Signature Advisors Group
- John J. Miller
- John Fowler
- Ed McFadden
- Mary Beth Weiss
- Kristina Rasmussen
- Erik Telford
- Jason Stverak, Chairman and President
- Rudie Martinson, Director and Secretary
- Doug Loen, Director
- Blair Thoreson, Director (R-ND 44, American Legislative Exchange Council member from North Dakota, current member of ALEC Board of Directors, former ALEC State Chair, ALEC Award Winner 2009)
As of September 2013 (No advisory board posted as of May 2019):
- Tucker Carlson, Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Caller
- Jack Fowler, Publisher, National Review
- Ashley Landess, President, South Carolina Policy Council
- Joseph Lehman, President, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
- Mark Tapscott, Executive Editor, The Washington Examiner
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
Related SourceWatch Articles
- American Legislative Exchange Council
- Charles Koch
- David H. Koch
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Property and Environment Research Center
- Rodney Fund
- Sam Adams Alliance
- State Policy Network
- Franklin Center "For The Media"
- American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, Recipient: Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, funding profile.
- Scott Zimmerman Franklin’s Right-Wing Watchdog.org Rebrands as The Center Square Center for Media and Democracy, May 30, 2019
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- Franklin News Network about organizational site, accessed May 30, 2019
- Franklin Center For Government & Public Integrity, About, organizational website, accessed June 23, 2017.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Think tank Journalism: The Future of Investigative Journalism, organizational website, accessed August 19, 2011, since modified by the organization.
- Franklin Center, Watchdog.org, organizational document, May 2013, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy June 2013.
- Rebekah Metzler, 'Watchdog' website puts a new spin on politics', The Portland Press Herald, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Allison Kilkenny, The Koch Spider Web, Truthout, August 4, 2011.
- AJR's 2009 Count of Statehouse Reporters, American Journalism Review, April/May 2009, accessed November 2013.
- Jennifer Dorroh, Statehouse Exodus, American Journalism Review, April/May 2009, accessed November 2013.
- Gene Gibbons, Ants at the Picnic: A Status Report on News Coverage of State Government, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Discussion Paper Series, #D‐59, June 2010.
- Franklin News Foundation, Units of Operations, Franklin News Foundation, January 2020.
- David Armiak and Mary Bottari, Bradley Foundation Floated Wisconsin Watchdog While Franklin Center Floundered, ExposedbyCMD, May 25, 2017.
- Mary Ellen Beatty, Chris Krug to lead Franklin Center and Watchdog.org, Franklin Center, April 26, 2017.
- Sheldon Whitehouse, "Senators Call Out Web of Denial Blocking Action On Climate Change," Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, July 15, 2016.
- Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRwatch.org, Dec. 19, 2013.
- Michael Isikoff, "Secret $1.5 million donation from Wisconsin billionaire uncovered in Scott Walker dark-money probe," Yahoo Politics, March 23, 2015.
- Daniel Angster, "The Pay-To-Play Allegation Walker's Watchdog Isn't Defending," Media Matters, March 26, 2015.
- Gov. Joe Manchin’s Dept. of Administration, Division of Highways Subpoenaed in Federal Probe, West Virginia Watchdog, August 7, 2010.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Poll Shows 71% of Wisconsinites Think Walker’s Budget Changes are “Fair," organizational press release, February 24, 2011.
- Bill McMorris, $6.4 Billion Stimulus Goes to Phantom Districts, New Mexico Watchdog, November 17, 2009.
- Matt Apuzzo, Stimulus accuracy comes under fire, Associated Press, November 19, 2009.
- Rebekah Metzler, 'Watchdog' website puts a new spin on politics', Portland Press Herald, October 2, 2010.
- Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism, Watchdog.org, Assessing a New Landscape in Journalism, organizational report, July 18, 2011.
- Gene Gibbons, Statehouse Beat Woes Portend Bad News for Good Government, Nieman Report, Winter 2010.
- Tony Rogers, Conservatives See Need for More Investigative Reporting, About.com, undated, accessed November 2013.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011 Conference Sponsors, conference brochure on file with CMD, August 11, 2011.
- Franklin Center, Board of Directors, organizational website, accessed July 2013.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Communications and Technology Task Force, organizational website, accessed July 2013.
- Blair Thoreson, Commentary: Progressive War on ALEC, franklincenterhq.org organizational website article, April 18, 2012.
- Matt Gertz, FLASHBACK: Franklin Center's Full-Throated Defense Of ALEC, Media Matters, July 12, 2012.
- Jason Stverak, ALEC AND MISLEADING JOURNALISM: A CASE STUDY, Breitbart.com, April 26, 2012.
- Steven Greenhut, COMMENTARY: Attacks on ALEC hypocritical and unfair, franklincenterhq.org organizational website article, April 19, 2012.
- Rebekah Wilce, ALEC Sends Out an SOS to Breitbart Bloggers, PRWatch.org, April 18, 2012.
- Sam Adams Alliance, Sam Adams Alliance Media Kit, organizational PDF, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, Watchdog,org, organizational media report, accessed June 2013.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Staff, organizational website, accessed August 19, 2011.
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- Gwen Beattie, Gwen Beattie, LinkedIn profile, accessed October 5, 2011.
- Americans for Prosperity, AFP Announces Free Market Essay Contest, organizational blog, accessed October 5, 2011.
- Brendan Fischer, "Exclusive: Ads Telling Voters 'Recall Is Not the Wisconsin Way' Funded by Out-of-State Koch Network," Center for Media and Democracy's PRWatch.org, January 8, 2014.
- Andy Kroll, "Could this Pro-Walker Dark-Money Group Torpedo Recall Turnout?," Mother Jones, June 5, 2012.
- Lisa Graves, "Group Called "Citizens for a Strong America" Operates out of a UPS Mail Drop but Runs Expensive Ads in Supreme Court Race?," Center for Media and Democracy, PRWatch, April 2, 2011. Accessed July 29, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRWatch.org, December 19, 2013.
- Bill McMorris, Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Benjamin Franklin Fellows, organizational publication, October 2, 2009.
- The Center Square states website, accessed May 31, 2019
- Watchdog.org, Watchdog.org, Watchdog.org, 2019.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. BREAKING: Poll Shows 71% of Wiscosnites Think Walker's Budget Changes are "Fair," organizational press release, February 24, 2011.
- The Conservative Group Behind The Poll of Walker's Budget Plan, Talking Points Memo, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Talking Points Memo TV, MSNBC Pushes Right-Wing Wisconsin Poll, YouTube, accessed August 19, 2011.
- American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, Recipient: Property and Environment Research Center, Bridge Project profile, accessed June 2013.
- Evan McMorris-Santoro, Mysterious Conservative Poll of Walker’s Budget Plan Hits Wisconsin, Talking Points Memo, February 24, 2011.
- Franklin Center, 2014 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, September 18, 2015.
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- Paul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, organizational report, February 14, 2013.
- Jessica Glenza, Sharon Kelly and Juweek Adolphe Free-market groups and the tobacco industry - full database the Guardian accessed Jan 23 2019
- Washington State Office of the Secretary of State, Charitable Solicitations Program Charity Profile Report: Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, state governmental agency website, accessed November 19, 2013.
- Washington State Office of the Secretary of State, Commercial Fundraiser Profile Report: ClearWord Communications Group, Inc., state governmental agency website, accessed November 19, 2013.
- Franklin Center, 2017 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, October 3, 2019.
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- Franklin News Foundation, Staff members, Franklin News Foundation, January 2020.
- FNN Danielle Behler profile, accessed May 31, 2019
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