State Policy Network

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State Policy Network
Formation 1992
Type Nonprofit
Purpose Promote public policy from a framework of limited government
Headquarters 1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., Suite 360
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Tracie Sharp

The State Policy Network (SPN) is a U.S. national network of conservative[1][2] and libertarian[3][4] think tanks focused on state-level policy. Founded in 1992, SPN characterizes itself as the "professional service organization" for a network of state-level think tanks across the United States.[5] It is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, with member groups located in all fifty states.[6][7]


SPN was founded in 1992 by Thomas A. Roe, a South Carolina businessman who also served as a member of the board of trustees of the Heritage Foundation and had in 1986 founded the South Carolina Policy Council, now an SPN member group.[8][9][10] Roe was concerned that the program of "New Federalism" fostered under U.S. President Ronald Reagan had transferred powers and resources to state-level bureaucrats who "weren't necessarily better than" their federal government counterparts.

In conversation, Roe told Reagan that he thought each of the states needed something like the Heritage Foundation. Reagan's reply reportedly was "Do something about it," which led Roe to establish first the South Carolina Policy Council and later the State Policy Network.[10][11] The 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.[10]

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.[12] Another major theme in their activities has been opposition to public-sector unions.[8][10] Tracie Sharp, SPN's president, has said the organization focuses on issues such as "workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice in healthcare."[13]

In 2013, SPN was coordinating campaigns across 34 states, in what The Guardian called a "blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014."[13] The campaigns included those designed to reduce public sector services in education, healthcare, and workers' compensation, eliminate income and sales taxes, and thwart efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions.[13]

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.[8] 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.[8] Iowa and Nevada were among the states where Republican elected officials cited research by SPN member groups as the basis for proposals to amend laws on collective bargaining by public employees.[8] The Michigan legislature passed a set of policy recommendations by the Mackinac Center that gave "emergency managers" the authority to cancel municipalities' union contracts and remove local elected officials in order to resolve budget problems.[8]

Political influence[edit]

Supporters and detractors of SPN have described the network and its member groups as having had significant influence on the political process and legislative action in the states.[8][10]

In 1990, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shared much of its "brain trust" with Republican governor John Engler's election campaign.[10] 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.[10]

In 2006, three one-time presidents of SPN member groups were serving in the U.S. Congress, all elected as Republicans.[12] They included Jeff Flake (Goldwater Institute), Mike Pence (Indiana Policy Review Foundation), and Tom Tancredo (Independence Institute). National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards."[10]

Organization and finances[edit]

SPN comprises 59 affiliated think-tank organizations, including at least one in every state.[8] In addition, other institutions, such as the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, are associate members.[1]

The network is registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and, as of 2013, had "an annual warchest of $83 million," according to The Guardian.[13] 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.[8] A report published by the liberal group Center for Media and Democracy in 2013 said that SPN received funding from a network of conservative entities, including the Koch brothers, and provided grants for financial support of its member groups.[14][15]

SPN provides practical support to its members, who meet each year at SPN conferences and are required to disseminate all of their publications to other member groups.[10] SPN member organizations also exchange ideas and provide training and other support for each other.[12] A 2008 article in Nashville Scene quoted Peter Montgomery of the liberal organization People for the American Way saying that SPN conducts training for free-market think-tank organizations "to teach these people how to run these things like franchises."[16] The founder of Kentucky's Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions said in 2006 that "This is like a franchise," noting that training provided by another member organization had provided him with software, ready-made speeches, and other resources.[12]

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".[17]

Regular members[edit]

Regular members are described as "full-service think tanks" operating independently within their respective states.[17]


  1. ^ a b Kopan, Tal (November 13, 2013). "Report: Think tanks tied to Kochs". Politico. 
  2. ^ Barnes, Fred (May 22, 2014). "A Conservative Candidate of Character, Conviction, Knowledge, and Leadership". The Weekly Standard. 
  3. ^ Markon, Jerry (February 1, 2010). "New media help conservatives get their anti-Obama message out". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Dagan, David; Teles, Steven (November–December 2012). "The Conservative War on Prisons". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Matthew Medvetz, Thomas (2007). Think Tanks and Production of Policy-knowledge in America. University of California, Berkeley. p. 168. 
  6. ^ State Policy Network, Charity Navigator website, accessed May 26, 2011
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Andy Kroll, The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions, Mother Jones, April 25, 2011
  9. ^ Thomas A. Roe, Founding Chairman, 1927-2000, State Policy Network website, accessed May 26, 2011
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i John J. Miller, Fifty Flowers Bloom, National Review, September 16, 2009. Retrieved from the author's website,, on May 27, 2011
  11. ^ About SPN, State Policy Network website, accessed May 27, 2011
  12. ^ a b c d Jason Deparle, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government, New York Times, November 17, 2006
  13. ^ a b c d 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. 
  14. ^ Lopez, Ashley (November 14, 2013). "Koch Brothers Use ‘Front Groups’ To Influence Policy In Florida, Report Claims". Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. 
  15. ^ Wilce, Rebekah (November 13, 2013). "Exposed: The State Policy Network". Center for Media and Democracy. 
  16. ^ Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
  17. ^ a b SPN Membership Information, State Policy Network website, accessed May 27, 2011

External links[edit]

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