State Policy Network
|Predecessor||Madison Group (1986–1992)|
|Founder||Thomas A. Roe|
|Purpose||Promote public policy from a framework of limited government|
|Headquarters||1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., S-360|
Arlington, Virginia 22209
The State Policy Network (SPN) is a nonprofit organization that serves as a network for conservative and libertarian think tanks focusing on state-level policy in the United States. The network serves as a public policy clearinghouse and advises its member think tanks on fundraising, running a nonprofit, and communicating ideas. Founded in 1992, it is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, with member groups located in all fifty states.
SPN characterizes itself as the "professional service organization" for a network of state-level think tanks across the United States. The Wall Street Journal and National Review have referred to SPN as "a trade association of think tanks."
The president of SPN is Tracie Sharp, formerly the executive director of the Cascade Policy Institute, SPN's Oregon affiliate. She has described her organizing philosophy as "the IKEA model", because like a ready-to-assemble furniture retailer, the network offers a catalog of policy projects that state-level groups can build.
The State Policy Network was founded in 1992 by Thomas A. Roe, a South Carolina businessman who was a member of the board of trustees of The Heritage Foundation. Roe told U.S. President Ronald Reagan that he thought each of the states needed something like the Heritage Foundation. Reagan's reply was "do something about it," which led Roe to establish the South Carolina Policy Council (SCPC). SCPC adapted Heritage Foundation national policy recommendations, such as school choice and environmental deregulation, to the state legislative level.
SPN 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, D.C. Roe was chairman of the board of directors of SPN from its founding until his death in 2000. Gary Palmer, co-founder and president of the conservative think tank the Alabama Policy Institute from 1989 until 2014, helped found SPN and served as its president.
Initially, SPN's network consisted of fewer than 20 member organizations. Lawrence Reed, the first president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based free market think tank, fostered new state-level regular member organizations through delivery of his think tank training course. By the mid-1990s, SPN had a network of 37 think tanks in 30 states. By 2014, there were 65 member organizations, including at least one in each state.
Starting in 1993, the SPN has held an Annual Meeting around the country. These meetings serve as a chance for members to discuss and analyze policy priorities, train and build members, and refine operations, among other topics.
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. Another area of activity has been opposition to public-sector trade unions. Tracie Sharp, SPN's president, has said the organization focuses on issues such as "workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice in healthcare."
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. 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. In Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad cited research by the Public Interest Institute, an SPN affiliate in Iowa, when asking to amend laws to limit collective bargaining by public employees.
In December 2013, The Guardian, in collaboration with The Texas Observer and the Portland Press Herald, obtained, published and analyzed 40 grant proposals from SPN regular member organizations. The grant proposals sought funding through SPN from the Searle Freedom Trust. According to The Guardian, the proposals documented a coordinated strategy across 34 states, "a blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014." The reports described the grant proposals in six states as suggesting campaigns designed to cut pay to state government employees; oppose public sector collective bargaining; reduce public sector services in education and healthcare; promote school vouchers; oppose efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions; reduce or eliminate income and sales taxes; and study a proposed block grant reform to Medicare. Brooke Rollins, president and CEO of the SPN member organization Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), and TPPF policy analyst John Daniel Davidson, in an article posted on the National Review website, said The Guardian was attempting to intimidate those who support libertarian organizations and to undermine the freedoms of expression and association, and said that The Guardian is part of "the activist Left," described as "a deliberate, coordinated effort across the political left to silence Americans who speak against — and lawfully resist — the growth of government power."
In 2006, three former presidents of SPN member organizations were serving as Republicans in the United States House of Representatives: Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Tom Tancredo of Colorado. National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards."
SPN is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its independently audited 2013 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 showed $8 million in revenue and $8.4 million in expenditures, of which $1.3 million was used for grants and payments to other organizations. The organization received a Charity Navigator score of 88 out of 100 in its most recent evaluation.
In 2013, Sharp told Politico that like most nonprofits, SPN keeps its donors private and voluntary. In 2011, 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. A 2013 article by The Guardian said that SPN received funding from the Koch brothers, Philip Morris, Kraft Foods and GlaxoSmithKline. Other corporate donors to SPN have included Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Comcast. Between 2008 and 2013, SPN received $10 million from Donors Trust, a nonprofit donor-advised fund. In 2011, the approximately $2 million investment from Donors Trust accounted for about 40% of annual revenue.
In September 2020, an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy identified the sources for $41 million in contributions to SPN between 2014 and 2019. Of that amount, the top five funders gave a combined $34.1 million, of which $26.6 million came from two funding vehicles of the Koch network - DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The third-largest funder, at $4.2 million, was Searle Freedom Trust, which also gave $4.5 million directly to 17 SPN affiliates in 2018. The fourth-largest was the Walton Family Foundation; the fifth was the Bradley Foundation.[better source needed]
SPN provides grant funding to its member organizations for start-up costs and program operating expenses. In 2011, SPN granted $60,000 in start-up funds to the Foundation for Government Accountability, a free market think tank based in Naples, Florida. SPN also provides practical support to its members, who meet each year at SPN conferences. SPN member organizations exchange ideas and provide training and other support for each other. A spokesperson for the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way said in 2008 that SPN trained its member organizations to run like business franchises. In a 2013 statement to The New Yorker, SPN president Sharp denied that SPN was a franchise and said that member organizations were free to select their own staff and priorities.
SPN is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts and shares state-level model legislation for conservative causes, and ALEC is an associate member of SPN. SPN is among the sponsors of ALEC. A 2009 article in an SPN newsletter encouraged SPN members to join ALEC, and many SPN members are also members of ALEC. ALEC is "SPN's sister organisation," according to The Guardian.
As of 2015, SPN had a membership of 65 think tanks and hundreds of affiliated organizations in all 50 states. Membership in SPN is by invitation only and is limited to independently incorporated 501(c)(3) organizations that are "dedicated to advancing market-oriented public policy solutions." According to Politico, SPN's associate members include a "who’s who of conservative organizations", including the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, FreedomWorks, Americans for Tax Reform, and American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, SPN and its regular member organizations received combined total revenues of $83.2 million, according to a 2013 analysis of their federal tax filings by the liberal watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy.
- Alabama: Alabama Policy Institute
- Alaska: Alaska Policy Forum
- Arizona: Goldwater Institute
- Arkansas: Advance Arkansas Institute, Arkansas Policy Foundation
- California: California Policy Center, Pacific Research Institute
- Colorado: Independence Institute
- Connecticut: Yankee Institute for Public Policy
- Delaware: Caesar Rodney Institute
- Florida: Foundation for Government Accountability, James Madison Institute
- Georgia: Georgia Center for Opportunity, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
- Hawaii: Grassroot Institute
- Idaho: Idaho Freedom Foundation
- Illinois: Illinois Policy Institute
- Indiana: Indiana Policy Review Foundation
- Iowa: Tax Education Foundation
- Kansas: Kansas Policy Institute
- Kentucky: Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Pegasus Institute
- Louisiana: Pelican Institute for Public Policy
- Maine: Maine Policy Institute
- Maryland: Maryland Public Policy Institute
- Massachusetts: Pioneer Institute
- Michigan: Mackinac Center for Public Policy
- Minnesota: Center of the American Experiment, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota
- Mississippi: Empower Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Public Policy
- Missouri: Show-Me Institute
- Montana: Frontier Institute
- Nebraska: Platte Institute for Economic Research
- Nevada: Nevada Policy Research Institute
- New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, Granite Institute
- New Jersey: Garden State Initiative
- New Mexico: Rio Grande Foundation
- New York: Empire Center for Public Policy
- North Carolina: John Locke Foundation
- North Dakota: Rough Rider Policy Center
- Ohio: Buckeye Institute
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
- Oregon: Cascade Policy Institute
- Pennsylvania: Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity
- South Carolina Palmetto Promise Institute
- South Dakota: Great Plains Public Policy Institute
- Tennessee: Beacon Center of Tennessee
- Texas: Texas Public Policy Foundation
- Utah: Libertas Institute, Sutherland Institute
- Vermont: Ethan Allen Institute
- Virginia: Thomas Jefferson Institute, Virginia Institute for Public Policy
- Washington: Freedom Foundation, Washington Policy Center
- West Virginia: Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy
- Wisconsin: MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Badger Institute, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, Institute for Reforming Government
- Wyoming: Wyoming Liberty Group
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- "Membership Program". State Policy Network. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
- "Directory". State Policy Network. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
- "TEF Iowa".
- Official website
- Nonprofit Explorer – State Policy Network, archive of federal disclosures maintained by ProPublica