State Policy Network

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State Policy Network
Predecessor Madison Group (1986–1992)
Formation 1992
Founder Thomas A. Roe
Type Nonprofit 501(c)(3)
Purpose Promote public policy from a framework of limited government
Headquarters 1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., S-360
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Tracie Sharp
Revenue (2013)
Mission "To advance a free society by providing leadership development, management training and networking opportunities for think tank professionals and by promoting strategic partnerships among market-oriented organizations."[2]

The State Policy Network (SPN) is an American nonprofit organization which functions primarily as an umbrella organization for a consortium of conservative and libertarian think tanks which focus on state-level policy.[3][4][5] The organization serves as a public policy clearinghouse and advises its member think tanks on fundraising, running a nonprofit, and communicating ideas.[6] 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.[7][8][9] The Wall Street Journal and National Review have referred to SPN as "a trade association of think tanks."[10][11]

The president of SPN is Tracie Sharp, formerly the executive director of the Cascade Policy Institute, SPN's Oregon affiliate.[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][15] 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).[16] SCPC adapted Heritage Foundation national policy recommendations, such as school choice and environmental deregulation, to the state legislative level.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

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

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.[20][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]

National Review journalist John Miller reported that in 1990, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy shared much of its "brain trust" with Republican governor John Engler's election campaign. After the election, the Mackinac Center worked successfully with the Engler administration to effect policy changes in areas such as the promotion of charter schools and increasing competition in state contracting.[16]

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.[20] National Review described them as having "used SPN organizations as political springboards."[16]


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.[28][29] The organization received a Charity Navigator score of 88 out of 100 in its most recent evaluation.[28]

In 2013, Sharp told Politico that like most nonprofits, SPN keeps its donors private and voluntary.[30] 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.[31][32] 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.[33]


SPN provides grant funding to its member organizations for start-up costs and program operating expenses.[14][22][29][33] 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.[34] 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.[20] 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.[35] 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.[36]

SPN is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts and shares state-level model legislation for conservative causes,[37] and ALEC is an associate member of SPN.[30] SPN is among the sponsors of ALEC.[33] A 2009 article in an SPN newsletter encouraged SPN members to join ALEC,[38] and many SPN members are also members of ALEC.[39] 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.[40]

Member organizations[edit]

As of 2015, SPN has a membership of 65 think tanks and hundreds of affiliated organizations in all 50 states.[41] 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."[42] 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.[30] 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.[30][23]

Regular members[edit]

Regular members are described as "full-service think tanks" operating independently within their respective states.[42][43]


  1. ^ Organizational ProfileNational Center for Charitable Statistics (Urban Institute)
  2. ^ "About". State Policy Network. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Fund, John (September 28, 2000). "Forget Washington". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Boucher, Dave (May 24, 2015). "Beacon Center grows, helps defeat Insure TN". The Tennessean. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  5. ^ McCormack, John (December 21, 2007). "Google Government Gone Viral". Weekly Standard. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Caldwell, Patrick (March 7, 2013). "Outmatched". The American Prospect. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Matthew Medvetz, Thomas (2007). Think Tanks and Production of Policy-knowledge in America. University of California, Berkeley. p. 168. ISBN 978-0549529002. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Dagan, David; Teles, Steven (November–December 2012). "The Conservative War on Prisons". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Feith, David (August 9, 2008). "How to Bring Innovative Ideas To a Machine-Politics State". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Fang, Lee (April 15, 2013). "The Right Leans In". The Nation. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  13. ^ "About SPN". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  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. ^ Miller, John J. (May 2007). "Safeguarding a Conservative Donor's Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39" (PDF). Foundation Watch. Capital Research Center. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c Miller, John J. (November 19, 2007). "Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level" 59 (21). National Review. pp. 42–44. 
  17. ^ a b Fang, Lee (2013). The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right. New York: The New Press. p. 199. ISBN 9781595586391. 
  18. ^ a b "History". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c Barnes, Fred (May 22, 2014). "A Conservative Candidate of Character, Conviction, Knowledge, and Leadership". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c d Jason Deparle, Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government, New York Times, November 17, 2006
  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 State Policy Network, Charity Navigator website, accessed February 17, 2015
  29. ^ a b "2013 Form 990 State Policy Network" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  30. ^ a b c d Kopan, Tal (November 13, 2013). "Report: Think tanks tied to Kochs". Politico. Retrieved February 24, 2015. 
  31. ^ Pilkington, Ed (November 14, 2013). "Facebook and Microsoft help fund rightwing lobby network, report finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  32. ^ Gold, Hadas (January 10, 2014). "PunditFact rates Rachel Maddow's Koch claim 'Mostly False'". Politico. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Keller, Amy (October 7, 2013). "Florida's Think Tanks - Newcomers". Florida Trend. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  35. ^ Jeff Woods, The Great Gadfly: How a baby-faced kid became the governor's No. 1 nemesis, Nashville Scene, September 11, 2008
  36. ^ Mayer, Jane (2013-11-14). "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  37. ^ Cohen, Rick (November 14, 2013). "Corporate Money in Network of Right-Wing State Policy Think Tanks". Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved February 16, 2015.  External link in |work= (help)
  38. ^ "SPN & ALEC: A Model Relationship". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  39. ^ Blumenthal, Paul (November 14, 2013). "Meet The Little-Known Network Pushing Ideas For Kochs, ALEC". The Huffington Post. 
  40. ^ Markon, Jerry (February 1, 2010). "New media help conservatives get their anti-Obama message out". Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  41. ^ 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. 
  42. ^ a b "SPN Membership Information". State Policy Network. Retrieved May 27, 2011. 
  43. ^ "Directory". State Policy Network. Retrieved February 8, 2015. 

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External links[edit]

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