State Policy Network

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State Policy Network
PredecessorMadison Group (1986–1992)
FounderThomas A. Roe
TypeNonprofit 501(c)(3)
PurposePromote public policy from a framework of limited government
Headquarters1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., S-360
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Tracie Sharp
Revenue (2018)

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.[2][3][4] The network serves as a public policy clearinghouse and advises its member think tanks on fundraising, running a nonprofit, and communicating ideas.[5] 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.[6][7][8] The Wall Street Journal and National Review have referred to SPN as "a trade association of think tanks."[9][10]

The president of SPN is Tracie Sharp, formerly the executive director of the Cascade Policy Institute, SPN's Oregon affiliate.[11] 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.[12]


The State Policy Network was founded in 1992 by Thomas A. Roe,[13] a South Carolina businessman who was a member of the board of trustees of The Heritage Foundation.[14] 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).[15] SCPC adapted Heritage Foundation national policy recommendations, such as school choice and environmental deregulation, to the state legislative level.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

Initially, SPN's network consisted of fewer than 20 member organizations.[18] 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.[19] By the mid-1990s, SPN had a network of 37 think tanks in 30 states.[16] By 2014, there were 65 member organizations, including at least one in each state.[17][18]

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.[20]

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.[19][21] Another area of activity has been opposition to public-sector trade unions.[14] Tracie Sharp, SPN's president, has said the organization focuses on issues such as "workplace freedom, education reform, and individual choice in healthcare."[22]

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.[14] 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.[14] 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.[14]

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.[22][23][24][25][26] 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."[27]

Political influence[edit]

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.[19] National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards."[15]

SPN introduced model legislation for state legislators to implement on the state level to undermine the Affordable Care Act.[28] The organization also pushed for states not to expand Medicaid.[28]


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.[29][30] The organization received a Charity Navigator score of 88 out of 100 in its most recent evaluation.[29]

In 2013, Sharp told Politico that like most nonprofits, SPN keeps its donors private and voluntary.[31] 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.[14] A 2013 article by The Guardian said that SPN received funding from the Koch brothers, Philip Morris, Kraft Foods and GlaxoSmithKline.[22] Other corporate donors to SPN have included Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Comcast.[32][33] 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.[34]

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.[35][better source needed]


SPN provides grant funding to its member organizations for start-up costs and program operating expenses.[14][22][30][34] 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.[36] 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.[19] 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.[37] 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.[12]

SPN is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts and shares state-level model legislation for conservative causes,[38] and ALEC is an associate member of SPN.[31] SPN is among the sponsors of ALEC.[34] A 2009 article in an SPN newsletter encouraged SPN members to join ALEC,[39] and many SPN members are also members of ALEC.[40] ALEC is "SPN's sister organisation," according to The Guardian.[22]

SPN member think tanks aided the Tea Party movement by supplying rally speakers and intellectual ammunition.[41]

Member organizations[edit]

As of 2015, SPN had a membership of 65 think tanks and hundreds of affiliated organizations in all 50 states.[42] 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."[43] 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.[31] 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.[31][23]


Regular members are described as "full-service think tanks" operating independently within their respective states.[43][44]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Fund, John (September 28, 2000). "Forget Washington". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  3. ^ Boucher, Dave (May 24, 2015). "Beacon Center grows, helps defeat Insure TN". The Tennessean. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  4. ^ McCormack, John (December 21, 2007). "Google Government Gone Viral". Weekly Standard.
  5. ^ Caldwell, Patrick (March 7, 2013). "Outmatched". The American Prospect. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  6. ^ Matthew Medvetz, Thomas (2007). Think Tanks and Production of Policy-knowledge in America. University of California, Berkeley. p. 168. ISBN 978-0549529002.
  7. ^ Marley, Patrick; Stein, Jason (2013). More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 37. ISBN 0299293831.
  8. ^ Dagan, David; Teles, Steven (November–December 2012). "The Conservative War on Prisons". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  9. ^ Feith, David (August 9, 2008). "How to Bring Innovative Ideas To a Machine-Politics State". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  10. ^ Johnson, Andrew (January 7, 2014). "In Rachel Maddow's Koch-Addled World, MSNBC Is Funding the Tea Party Too". National Review. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  11. ^ Fang, Lee (April 15, 2013). "The Right Leans In". The Nation. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Mayer, Jane (2013-11-14). "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  13. ^ "About". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Kroll, Andy (April 25, 2011). "The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions". Mother Jones. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Miller, John J. (November 19, 2007). "Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level". National Review. Vol. 59 no. 21. pp. 42–44.
  16. ^ a b Fang, Lee (2013). The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right. New York: The New Press. p. 199. ISBN 9781595586391.
  17. ^ a b "History". State Policy Network. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  18. ^ a b c Barnes, Fred (May 22, 2014). "A Conservative Candidate of Character, Conviction, Knowledge, and Leadership". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  19. ^ a b c d Jason Deparle, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government, New York Times, November 17, 2006
  20. ^ "State Policy Network Annual Meeting". Atlas Network. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  21. ^ "America's Next Tax Revolt". Wall Street Journal. June 17, 2005. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  22. ^ a b c d e 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.
  23. ^ a b "State conservative groups plan public sector assault". United Press International. December 6, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  24. ^ Woodard, Colin (December 5, 2013). "Washington County residents have mixed reactions to plan to eliminate taxes". Portland Press Herald. Portland, Maine. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  25. ^ Wilder, Forrest (December 5, 2013). "The Money Behind the Fight to Undermine Medicaid". Texas Observer. Austin, Texas. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  26. ^ Kroll, Andy (December 5, 2013). "Conservative Think Tank Network Plotting "Coordinated Assault" on Medicaid, Education, Workers' Rights". Mother Jones. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  27. ^ Rollins, Brooke; Daniels, John David (December 13, 2013). "The Left's Coordinated Assault on Free Speech". National Review. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  28. ^ a b Hertel-Fernandez, Alex (2019). State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States — and the Nation. Oxford University Press. p. 4.
  29. ^ a b State Policy Network, Charity Navigator website, accessed February 17, 2015
  30. ^ a b "2013 Form 990 State Policy Network" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-17.
  31. ^ a b c d Kopan, Tal (November 13, 2013). "Report: Think tanks tied to Kochs". Politico. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  32. ^ Pilkington, Ed (November 14, 2013). "Facebook and Microsoft help fund rightwing lobby network, report finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  33. ^ Gold, Hadas (January 10, 2014). "PunditFact rates Rachel Maddow's Koch claim 'Mostly False'". Politico. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  34. ^ a b c Abowd, Paul. "Koch-funded charity passes money to free-market think tanks in states". NBC News. Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  35. ^ Armaik, David (2020-09-21). "More Than 100 Funders of State Policy Network Revealed". EXPOSEDbyCMD. Center for Media and Democracy. Retrieved 2020-09-21.
  36. ^ Keller, Amy (October 7, 2013). "Florida's Think Tanks - Newcomers". Florida Trend. Retrieved February 17, 2015.
  37. ^ Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
  38. ^ Cohen, Rick (November 14, 2013). "Corporate Money in Network of Right-Wing State Policy Think Tanks". Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  39. ^ "SPN & ALEC: A Model Relationship". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved February 16, 2015.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  40. ^ Blumenthal, Paul (November 14, 2013). "Meet The Little-Known Network Pushing Ideas For Kochs, ALEC". The Huffington Post.
  41. ^ Markon, Jerry (February 1, 2010). "New media help conservatives get their anti-Obama message out". Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  42. ^ Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander; Skocpol, Theda (April 8, 2015). "Why U.S. conservatives shape state legislation more effectively than liberals". Journalist's Resource. Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative. Scholars Strategy Network. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  43. ^ a b "Membership Program". State Policy Network. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  44. ^ "Directory". State Policy Network. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  45. ^ "TEF Iowa".

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°53′37″N 77°04′18″W / 38.8937°N 77.0716°W / 38.8937; -77.0716