Perhaps you saw news over the week regarding the new "Stink Tanks" reports from ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy. In short, the national and state-by-state Stink Tanks reports amass evidence showing how the State Policy Network coordinates a cookie-cutter agenda between its national affiliate groups and its state-based think tank member organizations.
State Policy Network CEO Tracie Sharp took offense to reporting in Politico and The Guardian that noted SPN's national coordination, claiming that each state's SPN think tank is "fiercely independent" when called for comment.
But she lied, and Jane Mayer at the New Yorker just proved it with Tracie Sharp's own words.
Using notes from SPN's annual meeting back in September, Mayer reports Ms. Sharp's admission that rich donors like Koch and Searle drive the SPN groups' priority work:
During the meeting, Sharp also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. “The grants are driven by donor intent,” she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.” She said that the donors also sometimes determined in which states their money would be spent.Tracie Sharp also proves the cookie-cutter assertions made in the Stink Tanks reports on SPN and its affiliate groups, likening their operating model to IKEA:
Sharp explained what she called The IKEA Model. She said that it starts with what she described as a “catalogue” showing “what success would look like.” Instead of pictures of furniture arranged in rooms, she said, S.P.N.’s catalogue displays visions of state policy projects that align with the group’s agenda. That agenda includes opposing President Obama’s health-care program and climate-change regulations, reducing union protections and minimum wages, cutting taxes and business regulations, tightening voting restrictions, and privatizing education. “The success we show is you guys,” she told the assembled state members. “Here’s how we win in your state.”Which "services" do these SPN groups provide with their collective annual budget of $83 million? From the Stink Tanks report:
Sharp went on to say that, like IKEA, the central organization would provide “the raw materials” along with the “services” needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. “Pick what you need,” she said, “and customize it for what works best for you.”
The State Policy Network and its 63 members (and formal affiliates) like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Hertiage Foundation, are funded by companies ranging from ExxonMobil to Pfizer to K12, with a backbone of funding and strategic coordination from millionaires and billionaires like Charles and David Koch, Michael D. Searle, William "Jerry" Hume, James Arthur "Art" Pope and Phil Anschutz. These players have a variety of ways to get their money to the SPN groups:SPN and its affiliates push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income.
- They give directly to the SPN members like North Carolina's John Locke Foundation, Arizona's Goldwater Institute or Michigan's Mackinac Center.
- They can funnel the money through the State Policy Network, the central coordinating umbrella of all the seemingly disparate state-based SPN groups.
- They can hide and funnel the money through Donors Trust or Donors Capital Fund, hiding their fingerprints in the process. Jerry Hume is on the Donors Trust board.
- They can decide to skip tax-deduction and cut a check directly from their own companies or personal bank accounts, as with Koch Industries and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Check out the New Yorker's State Policy Network article for yourself, as well as the Stink Tanks report and previous exposes of the State Policy Network featured in The Nation and Mother Jones.