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
President
Tracie Sharp
Website spn.org

The State Policy Network (SPN) is a U.S. national network of free-market oriented think tanks focused on individual U.S. states. SPN is based in Arlington, Virginia.[1]

History[edit]

SPN was founded in 1992 by Thomas A. Roe, a South Carolina businessman and Republican Party activist 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.[2][3][4] 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, he 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.[4][5] 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.[4]

Activities and finances[edit]

SPN comprises 59 affiliated think-tank organizations, including at least one in every state.[2] In addition, other institutions, such as the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, are associate members.

The network is registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Mother Jones reported that SPN is largely funded by donations from foundations, including the Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation, which also supports the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation; the Castle Rock Foundation, a nonprofit spinoff from the Adolph Coors Foundation; and the Bradley Foundation, a charity devoted to financial support for conservative causes.[2] In 2009, SPN reported revenue of $4,480,000, mostly from grants.[6]

According to the progressive watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, SPN receives funding from a network of conservative entities including the Koch brothers[7][8] and provides grants for financial support of its member groups. In 2009 its individual grant amounts ranged from a few thousand dollars up to a $260,000 grant to the Idaho Freedom Foundation.[2][9] SPN also 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.[4] SPN member organizations also exchange ideas and provide training and other support for each other.[10] A 2008 article in Nashville Scene quoted Peter Montgomery of the liberal organization People for the American Way as having said that SPN conducts training for free-market think-tank organizations "to teach these people how to run these things like franchises".[11] 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.[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.[10] Another major theme in their activities has been opposition to public employee unions.[2][4]

Political influence[edit]

Although their IRS status prohibits SPN and its member organizations from engaging in electioneering and severely restricts their lobbying activity, both 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.[2][4]

A 2009 article in the conservative National Review described the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as a significant source of support for Republican John Engler in the 1990 campaign that led to his election as governor of Michigan. The Mackinac Center was also credited with influencing Engler's policy initiatives as governor, particularly in the promotion of charter schools and increasing competition in state contracting. One of the Mackinac Center's founders was quoted as saying, “People used to say that the Mackinac Center was a front for Engler”, but later the governor was called "a front for the Mackinac Center".[4]

The liberal magazine Mother Jones identified SPN and its member organizations as having led a "war on organized labor" in the early months of 2011, when Republican initiatives to reduce the power of labor unions emerged concurrently in several U.S. state legislatures. What the magazine described as "one of the largest assaults on American unions in recent history" included the introduction and enactment of measures to reduce or eliminate collective bargaining for teachers and other government workers and reduce the authority of unions to collect dues from government employees.[2] Iowa and Nevada are 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.[2] The Michigan legislature passed a set of policy recommendations by the Mackinac Center that give "emergency managers" the authority to cancel municipalities' union contracts and remove local elected officials in order to resolve budget problems. After Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became the target of criticism and street protests for his initiatives to eliminate the rights of public-sector unions in that state, SPN member groups in Wisconsin produced a video attacking the protesters as communists and socialists and wrote a New York Times op-ed piece defending Walker's proposals.[2] In Oklahoma, the SPN member organization Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs publicly encouraged the state legislature to "follow Wisconsin's lead" by restricting public employee collective bargaining.[2] One SPN member group, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research "bragged on its website" that it was "lead[ing] the charge against teachers' union" in Tennessee.[2] Commenting on the similarities in the anti-union initiatives in multiple states, a leader of a Tennessee teachers union said: "This is not a grassroots movement to eliminate collective bargaining; this is a national movement, and it's funded by all the conservative moneyed interests."[2] According to documents obtained by The Guardian in December 2013, the State Policy Network is co-ordinating campaigns across 34 states to weaken public sector services in education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions.[12]

As of 2006, three one-time presidents of SPN member groups were serving in the U.S. Congress, all elected as Republicans. National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards".[4][10]

Member organizations[edit]

SPN claims more than 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".[13]

Regular members[edit]

Regular members are described as "full-service think tanks" operating independently within their respective states.[13]

Associate and other organization members[edit]

SPN lists numerous Associate and Other Organization members; notable organizations include:[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ State Policy Network, Charity Navigator website, accessed May 26, 2011
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Andy Kroll, The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions, Mother Jones, April 25, 2011
  3. ^ Thomas A. Roe, Founding Chairman, 1927-2000, State Policy Network website, accessed May 26, 2011
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h John J. Miller, Fifty Flowers Bloom, National Review, September 16, 2009. Retrieved from the author's website, heymiller.com, on May 27, 2011
  5. ^ About SPN, State Policy Network website, accessed May 27, 2011
  6. ^ State Policy Network Financials, Media Matters Action Network, accessed May 27, 2011
  7. ^ Lopez, Ashley (November 14, 2013). "Koch Brothers Use ‘Front Groups’ To Influence Policy In Florida, Report Claims". Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. 
  8. ^ Wilce, Rebekah (November 13, 2013). "Exposed: The State Policy Network". Center for Media and Democracy. 
  9. ^ State Policy Network Grants, Media Matters Action Network, accessed May 27, 2011
  10. ^ a b c d Jason Deparle, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government, New York Times, November 17, 2006
  11. ^ Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ a b SPN Membership Information, State Policy Network website, accessed May 27, 2011
  14. ^ State Policy Network Directory, 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