Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
|Nicole Neily, President|
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is an online nonprofit news organization in the United States that publishes news and commentary from a free market, limited government perspective on state and local politics. The Franklin Center publishes Watchdog.org, a network of state-based websites.
According to the organization’s mission statement, the Franklin Center was founded "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." Nicole Neily serves as the organization's president.
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. One of its founders is Jason Stverak, a prior Executive Director of the North Dakota Republican Party.
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. The Franklin Center is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a consortium of conservative and libertarian think tanks which focus on state-level policy. The Franklin Center partnered with the State Policy Network to help establish news websites and hire reporters in each of the State Policy Network think tanks. Thirty news bureaus were established in the first year and 41 in the second year, almost all in State Policy Network think tanks.
In early 2012, the Franklin Center created a platform for citizen journalism under a banner called Watchdog Wire. 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.”
The Franklin Center provides training for investigative reporters, state-based news organizations, public-policy institutions, and watchdog groups.
On May 10, 2011, Franklin Center journalist Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com was named moderator for the 2012 Presidential Candidate Series.
In June 2012 the Franklin Center teamed up with the Heritage Foundation to host the first annual Breitbart Awards dinner. The awards honored 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.
At Conservative Political Action Conference 2013, 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.
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.” The judges also gave Lazarick a third place award in the category "Online: In-depth." 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.
The Franklin Center's Maryland affiliate, Maryland Reporter, has won awards from the Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and from CapitolBeat, the national Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. In 2012, Maryland Reporter was named Maryland's best political website by Baltimore Magazine. Maryland Reporter was also named one of the best state-based political blogs in the nation by the Washington Post.
In August 2011, MarylandReporter.com was awarded a $50,000 grant by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to provide "in-depth coverage of Maryland state government and politics and to expand capacity by giving those who plan on entering journalism as a career real-world experience in investigative reporting supervised by veteran journalists."
Franklin affiliates CapitolBeatOK in Oklahoma, HawaiiReporter.com, and New Jersey Watchdog have been presented awards by the respective state chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. New Jersey Watchdog has also won two New York Press Club awards.
GreenTech Automotive investigation
The Franklin Center published a series of articles that raised questions about GreenTech Automotive and its presumed chairman, Governor of Virginia 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. In April 2013, it was revealed that McAuliffe had left the green energy car-maker in December of the previous year.
Green Tech Automotive filed an $85 million libel lawsuit against Franklin Center on April 8, 2013 in a Mississippi court. Franklin Center described the suit as “intimidation” and pledged to continue investigating GTA and McAuliffe. In July 2014, a federal judge in Mississippi dismissed Green Tech's case. Green Tech's appeal is pending before a federal appeals court.
As of 2012, much of the funding for the Franklin Center came from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, two affiliated donor-advised funds. In 2011, the two funds granted the Franklin Center US$6.3 million. The grants were 95% of the Franklin Center’s revenue that year and was the second-largest grant made by Donors Trust that year. In 2012, the two funds granted the Franklin Center nearly US$9.5 million, more than 80% of the Franklin Center’s revenue that year. For tax years 2011 through 2013, the Franklin Center received US$22 million from the two funds.
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Conservatives used a pair of secretive trusts to fund a media campaign against windfarms and solar projects, and to block state agencies from planning for future sea-level rise
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