Shadowy Right-Wing Group Generates Media Coverage For Conservative Policy From Coast To Coast

State Policy Network

A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy reveals an expansive network of closely allied right-wing groups, funded in part by Charles and David Koch and other corporate and conservative sources, operating as the State Policy Network (SPN).

The Center notes that while many of the organizations allied with SPN claim to be independent, their agendas often mesh together and work in concert with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has often circulated model legislation in state legislatures aimed at promoting conservative causes, including the controversial NRA “Stand Your Ground” law in several states. The report also explains that SPN affiliates are required to share their publications with each other, and as the head of the Alabama Policy Insitute (an SPN affiliate) told National Review, “We trade information all the time and borrow ideas from each other.”

The State Policy Network's research has been cited far and wide in the media, from the national level down to local newspapers and blogs. A small sampling of the various issues the State Policy Network-affiliated groups have been cited on by the media:

  • Debate over an Apple manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona [Phoenix Business Journal11/8/2013
  • Right to work laws targeted at teacher unions in Michigan [Detroit Free Press11/10/2013
  • School testing standards in North Carolina [News & Observer,11/7/2013]
  • A report on the effect of taxation in Farmington, New Mexico [Farmington Daily Times11/27/2012]
  • A proposal to eliminate income tax in Maine [Associated Press,10/21/2013]
  •  Efforts to eliminate collective bargaining in Wisconsin [Maine Sun Journal2/28/2011]

In addition, Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute (an SPN affiliate) has appeared at least seven times over the last year on Fox'sStosselattacking public education and promoting the privatization of municipal services.

Center for Media and Democracy explains that while many donations to these groups have not been publicly disclosed, individual donations have been made to SPN groups by the Koch Brother's Family Foundations, Koch Industries, and David Koch himself.  Koch money also fuels SPN through the Donors Capital Fund, which has received millions from the brother's Knowledge and Progress Fund.

SPN has also received funding from longtime conservative benefactors the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and corporate backers including Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast and Time Warner. Facebook was a sponsor of SPN's 2013 annual meeting in Oklahoma City.

In a conference call with reporters, Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves explained, “these groups are extraordinarily influential, they've been flying below the radar screen appearing as if they are neutral, non-partisan experts and in fact they're part of a national network to throw the voices of some of the richest CEO and CEO families in the country.”  The Center reports that the combined revenue of SPN groups was $83.2 million in 2011, making it “one of the most prominent members of the national right-wing network and an essential tool for some of the richest CEOs in the world to push their right-wing agenda.”

SPN is an active member of ALEC, and 34 SPN members are directly linked back to ALEC. As the Center notes, “all of SPN's member think tanks push parts of ALEC's agenda in their respective states.” SPN has been a sponsor of ALEC's annual meeting for the last three years, a sponsorship which costs $50,000 per meeting according to ALEC documents.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which generates news coverage friendly to conservative causes and leaders through its web of state-based news outlets, is also a beneficiary of SPN. At least 37 SPN affiliate groups either host Franklin's reporters or publish publications associated with the Franklin Center. The Franklin Center also shares several key donors with SPN.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, SPN groups have drafted model legislation attacking worker and environmental protections in several states, including Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. The Center notes that the Arizona-based SPN affiliate, The Goldwater Institute, has three model bills on its website attempting to attack the Affordable Care Act at the state level, while another would treat any gun control legislation at the federal level as the “equivalent of a federal crime.” John Loredo, former Minority Leader of the Arizona House of Representatives, described the Goldwater Institute as “corporate mercenaries who push their agenda at every level of government.”