State Policy Network

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State Policy Network
Predecessor Madison Group (1986–1992)
Formation 1992
Founder Thomas A. Roe, Byron Lamm
Type Nonprofit (501(c)(3)
Purpose Promote public policy from a framework of limited government
Headquarters 1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., S-360
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Tracie Sharp
Revenue (2013)

The State Policy Network (SPN) is a nonprofit corporation which functions primarily as an umbrella organization for a consortium of conservative and libertarian think tanks which focus on state-level policy. Founded in 1992, it is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, with member groups located in all fifty states.


SPN characterizes itself as the "professional service organization" for a network of state-level think tanks across the United States.[2][3][4]

The president of SPN is Tracie Sharp, formerly the executive director of the Cascade Policy Institute, SPN's Oregon affiliate.[5]


The State Policy Network was founded in 1992 by Thomas A. Roe,[6] a South Carolina businessman who was a member of the board of trustees of the Heritage Foundation.[7][8] Roe told U.S. President Ronald Reagan that he thought each of the states needed something like the Heritage Foundation. Reagan's reply was "Do something about it," which led Roe to establish the South Carolina Policy Council.[9] The South Carolina Policy Council adapted Heritage Foundation national policy recommendations, such as public education privatization and environmental deregulation, to the state legislation level.[10] The State Policy Network was an outgrowth of the Madison Group, a collection of state-level think tanks in states including South Carolina, Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan that had been meeting periodically at the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC. Roe was chairman of the board of directors of the State Policy Network from its founding until his death in 2000.[11][12] Gary Palmer, co-founder and president of the nonprofit conservative think tank the Alabama Policy Institute from 1989 until stepping down in 2014 to run successfully for US Congress, helped found the State Policy Network and served as its president.[13]

Initially, the Network consisted of fewer than 20 member organizations.[13] Lawrence W. Reed, the first president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan free market think tank, fostered new state-level regular member organizations through delivery of his think tank training course.[14] By the mid 1990s, the Network had 37 think tanks in 30 states.[10] By 2014, there were 65 member organizations, and at least one in each state.[11][13]

In December, 2013, The Guardian, the British national daily newspaper, in collaboration with the Texas Observer in Austin and the Portland Press Herald in Maine, obtained, published and analyzed 40 grant proposals from SPN regular member organizations. The grants proposals sought funding through SPN from the Searle Freedom Trust. According to The Guardian, the proposals documented a co-ordinated strategy across 34 states, "a blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014." The reports described the grants proposals as proposing campaigns designed to cut pay to state government employees, against worker and union rights, reduce public sector services in education, healthcare, and workers' compensation, promote school vouchers, thwart efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions, eliminate income and sales taxes, and to study a proposed block grant reform to Medicare.[15][16][17][18][19]

Policy positions[edit]

Policy initiatives supported by SPN members have included reductions in state health and welfare programs, state constitutional amendments to limit state government spending, expanded access to charter schools, and school vouchers.[14] Another area of activism has been opposition to public-sector unions.[7] Tracie Sharp, SPN's president, has said the organization focuses on issues such as "workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice in healthcare."[15]

The liberal magazine Mother Jones stated that in 2011 SPN and its member organizations were backing a "war on organized labor" by Republican state lawmakers.[7] Legislative actions taken by the GOP included the introduction and enactment of bills reducing or eliminating collective bargaining for teachers and other government workers and reducing the authority of unions to collect dues from government employees.[7] In Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad cited research by SPN's Public Interest Institute when asking to amend laws to limit collective bargaining by public employees.[7]

Political influence[edit]

SPN and its member groups have supported a variety of conservative legislation in the states.[7]

In 1990, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shared much of its "brain trust" with Republican governor John Engler's election campaign. After the election the Mackinac Center worked successfully with the Engler administration to effect policy changes in areas such as the promotion of charter schools and increasing competition in state contracting.[9]

In 2006, three former presidents of SPN regular member organizations were in the United States House of Representatives: Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Tom Tancredo of Colorado and all were Republican.[14] National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards."[9] The state level think tanks have served Republican elected officials by providing staff to Republican administrations, as a "government-in-waiting," according to Political Research Associates, a non-profit research group.[12][unreliable source?]


SPN files with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its independently audited 2013 Form 990 shows $8.0 million in revenues and $8.4 million in expenditures, of which $1.3 million was used for grants and payments to other organizations.[20][21] The network received a Charity Navigator score of 89 out of 100 possible points for "accountability and transparency" in its most recent (December 2012) evaluation.[20]


Sharp said that SPN keeps its donors private, like most nonprofits.[22] Mother Jones reported that SPN is largely funded by donations from foundations, including the Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.[7] Almost all of the grantmaking of the Roe Foundation of SPN founder Thomas Roe goes to SPN member organizations.[12] A 2013 article by The Guardian said that SPN received funding from a network of conservative entities, including the Koch brothers.[15] Other major corporate funders include tobacco company Philip Morris, grocery manufacturing and processing conglomerate Kraft Foods and British multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.[15] SPN received $10 million from Donors Trust, a conservative donor advised fund, between 2008 and 2013. The approximately $2 million from Donors Trust accounted for about 40% of SPN’s 2011 annual revenue.[23]


SPN provides grant funding to its member organizations for start-up costs and program operating expenses.[7][15][21][23] SPN granted $60,000 in startup funds to the Foundation for Government Accountability, a free market think tank based in Naples, Florida, in the Foundation's first year, 2011.[24] SPN also provides practical support to its members, who meet each year at SPN conferences. SPN member organizations also exchange ideas and provide training and other support for each other.[14] A spokesperson for the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way said in 2008 that SPN trained its member organizations to run like business franchises.[25] In response, SPN president Sharp denied that SPN was a franchise and said that member organizations were free to select their own staff and priorities.[26]

SPN is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts and shares state-level model legislation for conservative causes,[27] and ALEC is an associate member of SPN.[22] SPN is among the sponsors of ALEC.[23] SPN encourages its members to join ALEC,[28] and many SPN members are also members of ALEC.[29] ALEC is "SPN's sister organisation," according to The Guardian.[15]

The SPN member think tanks aided the tea party movement by supplying rally speakers and research.[30]

Member organizations[edit]

SPN reports that is has over 100 regular and associate member organizations. Membership is by invitation only and is limited to 501(c)(3) organizations that are "dedicated to advancing market-oriented public policy solutions".[31] State Policy Network comprises 59 affiliated think-tank organizations, including at least one in every state.[7] Other institutions, such as the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, FreedomWorks, Americans for Tax Reform, and American Legislative Exchange Council are associate members.[22] In 2011, SPN and its regular member organizations received combined total revenues of $83.2 million, according to a 2013 analysis of their federal tax filings by the liberal watchdog group, Center for Media and Democracy.[22][32][16]

Regular members[edit]

Regular members are described as "full-service think tanks" operating independently within their respective states.[31][33]


  1. ^ Organizational ProfileNational Center for Charitable Statistics (Urban Institute)
  2. ^ Matthew Medvetz, Thomas (2007). Think Tanks and Production of Policy-knowledge in America. University of California, Berkeley. p. 168. ISBN 978-0549529002. 
  3. ^ Marley, Patrick; Stein, Jason (2013). More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 37. ISBN 0299293831. 
  4. ^ Dagan, David; Teles, Steven (November–December 2012). "The Conservative War on Prisons". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Fang, Lee (April 15, 2013). "The Right Leans In". The Nation. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  6. ^ "About SPN". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kroll, Andy (April 25, 2011). "The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions". Mother Jones. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  8. ^ Miller, John J. (May 2007). "Safeguarding a Conservative Donor's Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39" (PDF). Foundation Watch. Capital Research Center. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c Miller, John J. (November 19, 2007). "Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level" 59 (21). National Review. pp. 42–44. 
  10. ^ a b Fang, Lee (2013). The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right. New York: The New Press. p. 199. ISBN 9781595586391. 
  11. ^ a b "History". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c Clarkson, Frederick (1999). "Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-Level Think Tanks" (PDF). The PublicEye 13 (1/2) (Political Research Associates). Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c Barnes, Fred (May 22, 2014). "A Conservative Candidate of Character, Conviction, Knowledge, and Leadership". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d Jason Deparle, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government, New York Times, November 17, 2006
  15. ^ a b c d e f Pilkington, Ed; Goldenberg, Suzanne (December 5, 2013). "State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax". The Guardian (London). Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "State conservative groups plan public sector assault". United Press International. December 6, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  17. ^ Woodard, Colin (December 5, 2013). "Washington County residents have mixed reactions to plan to eliminate taxes". Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  18. ^ Wilder, Forrest (December 5, 2013). "The Money Behind the Fight to Undermine Medicaid". Texas Observer (Austin, Texas). Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  19. ^ Kroll, Andy (December 5, 2013). "Conservative Think Tank Network Plotting "Coordinated Assault" on Medicaid, Education, Workers' Rights". Mother Jones. Retrieved April 2, 2015. 
  20. ^ a b State Policy Network, Charity Navigator website, accessed February 17, 2015
  21. ^ a b "2013 Form 990 State Policy Network" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  22. ^ a b c d Kopan, Tal (November 13, 2013). "Report: Think tanks tied to Kochs". Politico. Retrieved February 24, 2015. 
  23. ^ a b c Abowd, Paul. "Koch-funded charity passes money to free-market think tanks in states". NBC News. Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  24. ^ Keller, Amy (October 7, 2013). "Florida's Think Tanks - Newcomers". Florida Trend. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  25. ^ Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
  26. ^ Mayer, Jane (2013-11-14). "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  27. ^ Cohen, Rick (November 14, 2013). "Corporate Money in Network of Right-Wing State Policy Think Tanks". Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  28. ^ "SPN & ALEC: A Model Relationship". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  29. ^ Blumenthal, Paul (November 14, 2013). "Meet The Little-Known Network Pushing Ideas For Kochs, ALEC". The Huffington Post. 
  30. ^ Markon, Jerry (February 1, 2010). "New media help conservatives get their anti-Obama message out". Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  31. ^ a b "SPN Membership Information". State Policy Network. Retrieved May 27, 2011. 
  32. ^ Wilce, Rebekah (November 13, 2013). "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network: The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government" (PDF). Center for Media and Democracy. 
  33. ^ "Directory". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°53′37″N 77°04′18″W / 38.8937°N 77.0716°W / 38.8937; -77.0716