Beacon Center of Tennessee
The Beacon Center of Tennessee, formerly the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR), is a not-for-profit political research and advocacy organization, sometimes described as a think tank, based in Nashville, Tennessee. Representing itself as independent, nonpartisan, and committed to "free market policy solutions" to public issues in Tennessee, Beacon Center has been described as "libertarian" and "anti-tax." The organization is a member of the State Policy Network.
TCPR received widespread media attention in 2007 for issuing a report asserting that Al Gore's residence in Belle Meade, Tennessee, used more than 20 times the energy of a typical home in the United States.
In September 2011, the organization announced that it had changed its name to "Beacon Center of Tennessee." In a message to supporters, Justin Owen indicated that the new name would represent the organization's new mission, "to light the way for freedom and prosperity" in the state.
The Beacon Center is a member of the State Policy Network, a U.S. network of state-specific "free market" think tanks. The State Policy Network provides funding, training and other support for its member groups.
Beacon is financed solely by private donations and grants. In 2008, Drew Johnson told an interviewer that foundation grants provided about 60 percent of the group's funding, with donations from some 200 individual donors providing the rest. TCPR estimated that its 2008 income would total about $400,000 for the year, roughly double its previous year's finances. The increase from 2007 to 2008 was attributed to publicity from its 2007 report on Al Gore's energy use.
Activities and positions
The Beacon Center publicizes its views through publications, press releases, media interviews, and guest columns. Its publications include the Tennessee Pork Report (co-published with Citizens Against Government Waste), of which there had been five published editions as of 2010, and a Legislators’ Guide to the Issues published in 2009 and 2011 for the 106th and 107th Tennessee General Assembly sessions, respectively.
Consistent with its stated commitment to the "principles of lower taxes and smaller, more efficient government," Beacon supports reductions in state government spending and the elimination or reduction of several Tennessee state taxes.
The organization supports an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to ban a state income tax in order to "quash... attempts to pass such a tax once and for all." In its 2011 Legislator's Guide, the organization asserts that "every single day 20,000 taxpayers flee states with income taxes to settle in [one of the nine] non-income tax states," including Tennessee. Beacon states that preventing the enactment of an income tax is "in the best interest of Tennesseans and is the longstanding policy of the state," so a constitutional amendment would simply clarify the state's constitution. Beacon also advocates repealing Tennessee's Hall income tax on interest and dividend income and either eliminating the state's inheritance tax or increasing the amount of an inheritance that is exempt from the state tax to equal the amount that is exempt from U.S. federal estate tax.
Beacon also advocates reducing or eliminating Tennessee's 5.5 percent sales tax on groceries and reducing its 62 cents per pack tax on cigarettes and 21.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline. Beacon notes that each of these Tennessee taxes is higher than the corresponding tax in several of the eight states bordering Tennessee and states that the tax differential "drives Tennessee residents to neighboring states" to buy the affected items.
The organization does not identify any alternative revenue sources to replace the taxes that it would reduce or eliminate. However, in April 2011 Beacon president Justin Owen was quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel as saying that Tennessee's heavy reliance on sales tax is advantageous during an economic slowdown because it is a more stable revenue source than an income tax would be.
In 2011, Beacon opposed a proposal to extend unemployment insurance benefits from a maximum of 79 weeks to a maximum of 99 weeks. A Beacon press release stated: "Economists widely agree that extending the benefits causes the unemployed to remain jobless." 
Under Drew Johnson's leadership, TCPR established a reputation for its aggressiveness in using Tennessee's open records law to obtain access to state employee emails and other records. In 2008, the organization accounted for 16 percent of all open records requests to the Tennessee executive branch through requests that some state workers described as "fishing expeditions" that absorbed "untold hours" of staff time. On one occasion, TCPR sued the state Department of Finance and Administration over delayed response to an open records request. In 2008, state officials responded to a TCPR open-records request for email messages from the Tennessee Department of Revenue by telling TCPR that it would have to pay $3201 for each day of email messages it sought. In a 2008 interview, an adviser to then-Governor Phil Bredesen characterized Johnson as "a partisan nitwit who basically spends all his time dreaming up ways to terrorize rank-and-file state employees."
Climate change denial
TCPR formerly operated a website called "Carnival of Climate Change" that described itself as "a skeptical look at climate change alarmism" and was largely an aggregation of online content from climate-change deniers and skeptics. In 2009, the website, which Drew Johnson described as a "side project" of TCPR, led Mother Jones magazine to name TCPR to a list of "The Dirty Dozen of Climate Change Denial."
Report on Al Gore's house
TCPR received widespread media attention in 2007 for issuing a report asserting that Al Gore's residence in the Nashville area used more than 20 times the energy of a typical home in the United States. Reporters who followed up on the allegations found that Gore's house did use more electricity than a typical home, but they also found that it was about 12 times the average for Nashville (not 20 times, as reported by TCPR), pointed out that the building functioned both as a residence and a business office for both Al and Tipper Gore, it was much larger than a typical home (four times larger than the average home built in 2006, according to Snopes.com), and that Gore made substantial improvements to the home during 2007 that substantially reduced its electricity consumption. TCPR personnel have said that the widespread attention to its report resulted in TCPR's receiving thousands of "hostile emails," as well as "a dozen death threats."
- About Us, Tennessee Center for Policy Research website, accessed May 20, 2011
- Chas Sisk, Beacon Center claims support for school vouchers, The Tennessean, June 5, 2012
- Michael Cass, Day 2 of Metro tax increase poll data leads to questions about the questions, The Tennessean, June 13, 2012
- Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
- Washington Post: War on Warming Begins at (Al Gore's) Home. March 1, 2007.
- Al Gore's Energy Use, Snopes.com, last updated 28 September 2009
- Josh Harkinson, The Dirty Dozen of Climate Change Denial, No. 10: Tennessee Center for Policy Research (A.K.A. Carnival of Climate Change), Mother Jones, December 4, 2009
- Drew Johnson - President, Tennessee Center for Policy Research website, archived at archive.org on August 14, 2007.
- Clint Brewer Now Top Dog At TCPR, Nashville Post, October 29, 2009
- Justin Owen named TCPR president, Tennessee Center for Policy Research press release, August 27, 2010
- TCPR becomes the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Beacon Center of Tennessee website, September 21, 2011
- Clint Brewer, Justin Owen, and Daryl Luna (2010), 2010 Tennessee Pork Report, Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Nashville, and Citizens Against Government Waste, Washington, DC. Page 5.
- Drew Johnson, Shaka Mitchell, and Justin Owen (2009), 106th Tennessee General Assembly Legislator's Guide to the Issues, Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Nashville.
- Justin Owen, Allyn Milojevich, and Jourdon Causseaux (2011), 107th Tennessee General Assembly Legislator's Guide to the Issues, Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Nashville.
- Josh Flory, Tennessee's levy burden well below other states, Knoxville News Sentinel, April 17, 2011
- TCPR opposes unemployment benefits extension, Tennessee Center for Policy Research, press release, May 18, 2011
- Jayme Siemer , TN Leg: Transparency is great… for someone else, Sunshine Review Blog, June 4, 2008
- TN Lawmakers must keep their emails "PUBLIC", WGNS Radio, March 18, 2009
- Matt Wilson, Tennessee: $3,200 for a day’s worth of e-mails?, Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 27, 2008
- Drew Johnson, Climate Change “Cures” are Worse than the Illness, Tennessean, December 13, 2009; archived on TCPR website.