Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Logo Mackinac Center.jpg
Established 1987
Chairman Joseph Olson
President Joseph G. Lehman
Budget Revenue: $5,593,469
Expenses: $4,339,266
(FYE December 2013)[1]
Location Midland, Michigan
Address 140 West Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, Michigan 48640

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is an American non-profit free market think tank headquartered in Midland, Michigan.[2][3][4] It is the largest state-based free market think tank in the United States.[5] The Center states that it is "dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan residents by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions."[6]

The Mackinac Center conducts policy research on a range of public policy issues. It also conducts educational programs such as workshops for high school debate students and sponsors, an online legislative voting record database. Mackinac Center scholars generally recommend lower taxes, reduced regulatory authority for state agencies, right-to-work laws, school choice, and enhanced protection of individual property rights.[7]


Mackinac Center building in Midland, Mich.

According to the Mackinac Center, the organization was founded in 1987 by a group of citizens who met on Mackinac Island and shared an interest in making Michigan a better place to live and work. The organization is named after Mackinac Island.[8] The Center began operations in 1987 with no office or full-time staff. It formally opened offices in Midland in 1988 with its first president, Lawrence W. Reed, an economist, writer, and speaker who had chaired the economics department at Northwood University. The Lansing-based Cornerstone Foundation provided early direction and some funding.[9] The Center's first annual budget under Reed was $80,000. In 1997, the Mackinac Center moved from rented offices to its current headquarters after having raised $2.4 million to renovate a former Woolworth’s department store on Midland’s Main Street.[10] Reed served as president from the Center’s founding until September 2008, when he assumed the title President Emeritus and also became the president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Former Chief Operating Officer Joseph G. Lehman was named the Mackinac Center’s president on September 1, 2008.[11]

The Mackinac Center is a member of the State Policy Network,[12] an umbrella organization of conservative and libertarian think tanks operating at the state level. In November 2006 the New York Times published a two-part series about state based free market think tanks that described how the Mackinac Center trained think tank executives from 42 countries and nearly every US state. New York Times reported that, “When the Mackinac Center was founded in 1987, there were just three other conservative state-level policy institutes. Now there are 48, in 42 states."[13]

In a 2011 interview, founder Joe Olson said that the Center was first conceived in a Lansing, Michigan bar at a meeting between Olson, fellow insurance company executive Tom Hoeg, Richard McLellan and then-Senator John Engler. Olson said the founders wanted an organization that would focus on research, writing, speaking, issuing press releases and looking at public policy from a free-market point of view.[14]

Budget and finances[edit]

The Mackinac Center is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.[15] In 2004, the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit filed against the Mackinac Center by the Michigan Education Association in which one of the remedies sought by the union was a list identifying the Center’s donors. The court ruling was based on the MEA's failure to show actual malice. It did not reach the question of whether the Mackinac Center's donor lists should be made public.[16]

When asked by Detroit’s Metro Times in 1996, the Center’s President Lawrence Reed said: "Our funding sources are primarily foundations … with the rest coming from corporations and individuals," but that "… revealing our contributors would be a tremendous diversion…"[17]


Although it is sometimes called “conservative,"[18] the Mackinac Center characterizes the label as inaccurate, pointing out that it does not address social issues usually identified with modern conservatism including abortion, censorship, and gambling, and that “free market” is a more useful shorthand description of its policy expressions.[19] The Center writes that its ideology is most accurately characterized as flowing from the "classical liberal tradition: socially tolerant, economically sophisticated, desiring little government intervention in either their personal or economic affairs."[20]


In addition to policy studies, the Center publishes a number of periodicals including Michigan Education Report, Michigan Privatization Report, Michigan Science, Michigan Capitol Confidential, Impact and 'Michigan Education Digest.

Notable Mackinac Center personnel[edit]

Policy staff members[edit]

Adjunct scholars[edit]

Board of directors[edit]

Board members[edit]

Former members[edit]

  • William Rosenberg, Bush Presidential Campaign, Reagan Administration, Michigan Gov. William Milliken and Gov. John Engler administrations
  • Robert Teeter, RNC Chairman, Pollster for Nixon, Ford, Bush campaign
  • Dick DeVos, Amway, Republican Candidate for Governor


  1. ^ "Charity Rating". Charity Navigator.  Also see "Quickview data" (PDF). GuideStar. 
  2. ^ IRS Data: EIN 38-2701547 (Public Charity)
  3. ^ The Mackinac Center: ID Number 71871; Domestic Nonprofit Corporation Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
  4. ^ Heinlein, Gary; Livengood, Chad (March 4, 2015). "Worker says ending film incentives will cost Mich. jobs". Detroit News. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  5. ^ New York Times "Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government", Nov. 17, 2006
  6. ^ "About the Mackinac Center". Mackinac Center. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Gardner, Greg (September 1, 2013). "After firestorm, Michigan right-to-work law has had little spark". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "What Is the Mackinac Center?"
  9. ^ "Behind John Engler: The Big Mac Attack, The Metro Times, March 1996
  10. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, "Mackinac Center to Build $2.4 Million Headquarters", March 23, 1998
  11. ^ Midland Daily News, ‘’Lehman succeeding Reed as Mackinac Center president’’, July 21, 2008
  12. ^ "Directory SPN Members". State Policy Network. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  13. ^ New York Times Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government", Nov. 17, 2006
  14. ^ "Genoa resident one of the founders of Mackinac Center", Oct 19, 2011
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Ibid."
  17. ^ Link inactive on Aug. 14, 2008:
  18. ^ New York Times, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government Nov. 17, 2006
  19. ^ Mackinac Center Web site, “Is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Liberal? Libertarian? Conservative?”
  20. ^ "Is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Liberal? Libertarian? Conservative?". Mackinac Center. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  21. ^ MCPP Board page, MCPP website page for current board members, and individual members' pages linked to the Board page. Retrieved 2010-07-08.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°36′49″N 84°14′46″W / 43.6137°N 84.2460°W / 43.6137; -84.2460