Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
|Founded||January 13, 2009|
|Headquarters||Alexandria, Virginia, USA|
Jason Stverak, PresidentWilliam Swaim, Managing Editor
|Alexa rank||1,738,745 (April 2014[update])|
|Type of site||News – blogging – Investigative Journalism – Education|
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is a nonprofit, online news organization in the United States that publishes news and commentary from a free market, limited government perspective on state and local government and politics.
According to the organization’s mission statement, the Franklin Center’s was founded "to help fill the void created as the nation’s newspapers cut back on their statehouse news coverage and investigative reporting in the wake of falling circulation and revenues.” In addition to this, the Franklin Center’s mission statement states that they work “to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training; research, editorial, multimedia and technical support; and assistance with marketing and promoting the work of a nationwide network of nonprofit reporters.”
- 1 History
- 2 Funding
- 3 News bureaus and affiliates
- 4 Awards and recognition
- 5 Breitbart Awards
- 6 CPAC 2013
- 7 GreenTech Automotive controversy
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The Franklin Center was founded in 2009 with an initial sponsorship grant from the Sam Adams Alliance. The organization was originally based in Bismarck, North Dakota and is currently headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Jason Stverak, who previously worked for the Sam Adams Alliance as a Regional Field Director, is the organization President.
The Franklin Center was founded in 2009 with an initial sponsorship grant from the Sam Adams Alliance. According to the organization website "The Franklin Center is supported by contributions from generous individuals, foundations and business entities in support of our mission," the organization does not disclose their donors. An article published by the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2011, revealed that 95 percent of the Franklin Center’s revenues came from the liberty advocacy group DonorsTrust, whose top contributors were Libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch.
News bureaus and affiliates
In September 2009, the Franklin Center launched Watchdog.org, a network of state-based journalists who investigate and report on state and local government. Watchdog.org covers news that involves "public officials, public programs and the taxpayer money that supports them." The network includes affiliates in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.
Statehouse News Online is a network of journalists covering state-specific and local government news. Statehouse News covers state legislation, government and special interests, state budgets and political news. In 2012, Statehouse News was rolled into the Watchdog.org project.
The Franklin Center advocates for “transparency in government.” They believe this can be accomplished through use of new technology, often referred to as “new media.” Franklin Center believes it is important for journalists to become fluent in new media, so the organization offers training to individuals and organizations interested in learning new media techniques.
Reporter training and education
The Franklin Center advocates for citizen and non-profit journalism by providing training and resources for independent investigative reporters, state-based news organizations, public-policy institutions, and watchdog groups.
The organization offers new media tools for journalists of all levels to utilize in their reporting efforts. Training forums are held all over the country in conjunction with state-based nonprofit groups and organizations that advocate government transparency.
The Franklin Center and its affiliates offer their articles as well as training techniques free to any news outlet that wants to “steal our stuff.”
The Franklin Center works with and co-sponsors programs with media and advocacy groups who support their free market and open government point of view.
Recovery.org and phantom congressional districts
On November 16, 2009, Jim Scarantino of the Rio Grande Foundation revealed in an article that millions of dollars in stimulus funds had been allocated to "create and save" jobs in congressional districts that did not exist.
Scarantino cited Recovery.gov, the website developed by the Obama administration to track spending and job creation courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. His article was published in New Mexico Watchdog, a state bureau of Watchdog.org, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Scarantino's investigation resulted in further efforts by Watchdog.org to investigate each state. Over the following twenty-four hours stories appeared all over the internet, which uncovered similar results in all fifty states, D.C., and the American Territories.
An Associated Press fact-check of the piece found that the cause was data-entry mistakes, writing, "The so-called phantom congressional districts are being used as a phantom issue to suggest that stimulus money has been misspent." However they did report that the original story was accurate and raised questions regarding the administrations claims that the stimulus created or saved 640,000 jobs.
Scarantino's original report was correct, and his analysis was the latest discovery of problems in the massive database of stimulus spending.
Jobs have been overstated or counted multiple times. Jobs in multiple cities have been logged under the same city. Some businesses and local governments didn't follow the guidelines for counting jobs. And temporary, part-time jobs have been counted as full-time, full-year positions.Those problems raise questions about how accurate the administration is when it claims more than 640,000 jobs saved or created so far.
The Washington Examiner wrote that, "According to data retrieved from recovery.gov, nearly $6.4 billion was used to “create or save” just under 30,000 jobs in these phantom congressional districts–almost $225,000 per job."
The Watchdog articles resulted in other media outlets launching their own investigations. ABC News conducted their own investigation in Arizona that resulted in a headline story on the Drudgereport. Daily publications such as the Washington Times and the Associated Press credited Franklin Center reporters with breaking the phantom district story. Politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized the Obama administration for the website's errors and failure to provide accurate information to the public.
2012 presidential candidate series
On May 10, 2011, Franklin Center journalist Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com was named moderator for the 2012 Presidential Candidate Series. The series of forums took place in Des Moines, Iowa, the first state to hold a presidential caucus.
The first forum featured former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and took place on May 27, 2011, at the State Historical Building in downtown Des Moines. Romney opened the event with a 20-minute statement and then answered questions by moderator Lynn Campbell. Approximately 200 Iowans attended the forum that was interrupted and cut short by a fire alarm set off by burnt popcorn in a microwave oven.
The second forum featured Presidential candidate Herman Cain. He spoke on August 4, 2011. Jobs and the economy dominated Cain's speech as well as personal experience regarding race in America. Cain would drop out of the Presidential race before the Caucus took place.
Wisconsin Democratic Party controversy
On August 5, 2011, Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski sent an email to Franklin Center news bureau Wisconsin Reporter, to express his disapproval of an article published by the organization. The controversy began when Zielinski was quoted in an article saying that Wisconsin’s neighbor to the south, Illinois, was outpacing Wisconsin’s economy. He referred to Gov. Scott Walker’s claim in a recent interview with the Heritage Foundation of economic victory as “right-wing fantasy, a total lie.” Wisconsin Reporter included in the article U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing Wisconsin’s economy creating 9,500 jobs in June, and Illinois lost 18,900 jobs the same month.
In the email, which was sent directly to Bureau Chief Matt Kittle, Zielinski said the publication is a “shill for the Republican Party and isn’t balanced in its news coverage.” Zielinski's email contained language that Franklin Center perceived as threatening.
What happens next is that I contact the publishers and editors of the papers that publish you as ‘unbiased,’ and let them know our deep concern about the obvious bias that permeates your entire operation. Then, we let our activists know which papers publish you, and they write the publisher and editor. Then, we contact the Capitol press pool and let them know about our concerns about your credentialing. And we continue on until you actually admit to the truth of your operation. What is the truth of the operation?
Franklin Center President Jason Stverak responded to the email with a statement condemning Zielinski's comments and demanding an apology from the Wisconsin Democratic Party for what he called "baseless threats."
Zielinski made good on his threat during an October 18, 2011 meeting in Madison, sponsored by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. At the training session, Wisconsin Reporter journalist Kirsten Adshead was asked to leave by an organizer who cited the organization's desire to keep the information out of the media. Adshead agreed to leave the meeting but asked to speak to the individual making the request. According to the Wisconsin Reporter, she was placed on the phone with Zielinski.
Zielinski called the reporter unprofessional, accused her of sneaking into a party function and then threatened to discuss the incident Wednesday with the statehouse press corps, of which Wisconsin Reporter is a member.
“Get out,” Zielinski shouted. “Don’t come to our party functions anymore.”He then hung up the phone.
In early 2012, the Franklin Center created a platform for citizen journalism under a banner called Watchdog Wire. Watchdog Wire aims to train citizens to be journalists and provides a place to feature their work. The Watchdog Wire website states that the it “exists to train citizens just like you to be citizen journalists and provide a place to feature your work. By covering stories in your local community that are otherwise ignored by the establishment media, you can make a difference! We partner with you to provide the training, the platform and the coaching you need to be government watchdogs in your own cities and states.”
In June 2013, Watchdog Wire published a one-year anniversary article citing the success citizen journalists have had under their guise. The organization cited and referenced articles that uncovered behavior that resulted in the firing of five campaign workers and numerous government employees, including a Florida school teacher that forced her students to sign a pledge to "Vote for Obama."
Protect Your Voice project
In support of the project, Franklin Center President Jason Stverak published an opinion editorial in the February 16, 2012, edition of the Washington Examiner. Stverak contended that the First Amendment protects citizen journalists and stressed the need for media shield laws to be updated. He also pointed out that a 1938 Supreme Court Ruling, Lovell v. City of Griffin, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes has already granted bloggers the same protection as traditional journalists when he defined the press as, "every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion."
Awards and recognition
In November 2010, Franklin Center reporters at Marylandreporter.com and Illinois Statehouse News were honored by the National Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. MarylandReporter.com editor and publisher Len Lazarick won the first place Cappie award for coverage in the online news category of the Excellence in State House Reporting contest for what the judges called his “solid body of beat reporting.” The judges also gave Lazarick a third place award for news analysis for his articles on General Assembly compensation. Journalist Kevin Lee of Illinois Statehouse News, won the Online In-depth Reporting Award, for his investigation into the General Assembly Scholarship Program in Illinois.
In May 2011, the Society of Professional Journalists gave two awards for excellence to CapitolBeatOK. Editor Patrick B. McGuigan and staff writer Stacy Martin, were the recipient of several journalism awards. The pair shared two awards for a single story on the potential application of federal civil rights strictures to public school districts defying Oklahoma’s special needs scholarship program, aimed at giving handicapped students choices in where they might go to school. CapitolBeatOK.com won “honorable mention” in the “Best News Website” competition and was awarded third place in “Web Design.” The 2011 awards spanned an 18-month time frame. In all, Martin won 5 awards and McGuigan took home 11 Society of Professional Journalists awards(eight for his reporting and commentaries, and three “institutional awards,” including the two recognitions for CapitolBeatOK.com).
On June 24, 2011, Franklin Center affiliate HawaiiReporter.com received four awards at a Society of Professional Journalists ceremony. Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, was honored with the top investigative reporting award and top online news reporting award for her series of stories on alleged human trafficking of Thai workers. Jim Dooley, investigative reporter for Hawaii Reporter, won “finalist” awards in the best business reporting and best government reporting for his work on native Hawaiian contracting preferences.
In August 2011, MarylandReporter.com was awarded a $50,000 grant by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. The grant will provide the Franklin Center affiliate with funding for two years to train aspiring journalists through an intensive 13-week paid internship program.
On April 20, 2013, Oklahoma City bureau chief for Watchdog.org and editor of CapitolBeatOK, Patrick B. McGuigan, finished third in the annual competition for best reporting portfolio sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, Oklahoma professional chapter. In the category of science, technology, health and environmental reporting, McGuigan took second place for his news reports on the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, widely known as “ObamaCare,” and its impact on Oklahoma state government. McGuigan also finished second in the commentary category, for “Telling a Story and Giving Thanks – To all those who give a damn,” which reflected on the 2012 election season.
In June, 2013, Watchdog.org’s New Jersey bureau was selected as the state’s top independent online publication by the Society of Professional Journalists. Reporter Mark Lagerkvist won three awards, including two other first prize awards from SPJ for online investigative reporting and as writer of New Jersey’s best independent blog.
In June 2012 the Franklin Center teamed up with the Heritage Foundation to establish the Breitbart Awards. The award honors the life and work of the late Andrew Breitbart who "pioneered a new media revolution that transformed journalism and the political landscape." The 2012 award winners included Washington Examiner journalist Philip Klein, Citizen Journalist Andrew Marcus, and the Ace of Spades blog. Syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor Michelle Malkin took home the honors in 2013.
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity took part in the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. Erik Telford of the Franklin Center served on a panel discussing "Current trends in technology." During the two-day conference the Franklin Center ran a promotion using an over-sized costume of Ben Franklin meeting and greeting conference participants. Individuals who had their picture taken with the mascot and tweeted the photo received free drink tickets. The promotion won the award for Best CPAC 2013 promotion.
GreenTech Automotive controversy
In December 2012, Virginia Watchdog, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, began publishing a series of articles that raised questions about GreenTech Automotive and its presumed Chairman, Terry McAuliffe. The investigation exposed the company’s reliance on a controversial fundraising program, EB-5, that has been criticized for its lax oversight and subject to abuse. The investigation also revealed that McAuliffe’s public projections, starting back in 2010, of how many cars would be built and jobs created had not come to fruition.
The story garnered public interest as company founder and Chairman Terry McAuliffe is the former national chairman of the Democratic Party and current governor of Virginia. In April 2013, it was revealed that McAuliffe had left the green energy car-maker in December of the previous year, yet failed to publicly disclose his resignation and was still publicly claiming “I'm making electric cars now.”
Green Tech Automotive filed a lawsuit against Franklin Center on April 8, 2013 in a Mississippi court claiming “Defamation”. Franklin Center has called the lawsuit “intimidation” and pledged to continue investigating GTA and McAuliffe.
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