Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow released a series of reports on how the State Policy Network coordinates an agenda carried out by affiliate “Stink Tanks” in all 50 states. Responding to questions from reporters, SPN’s CEO Tracie Sharp demanded that each of the seemingly independent groups were “fiercely independent.”
But Jane Mayer at the New Yorker reports Tracie Sharp said the opposite to attendees of SPN’s recent annual meeting. In Oklahoma City last September, Ms. Sharp plainly told her associates how to coordinate a broad agenda and pander directly to the interests of billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and the Searle family for grants:
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.”
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 responded to the New Yorker with a generic statement that didn’t address her contradictory statements. And who knows if there’s anything useful she could say at this point, The State Policy Network was just caught with its pants down.
For those who don’t spend their days reading about the inner workings of the corporate-conservative political machine, the State Policy Network isn’t a familiar name. But it’s an important entity. SPN serves as the umbrella of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and all of its state and national allies pushing a coordinated corporate-friendly agenda through all 50 states.
SPN and ALEC have led the coordinated attack on clean energy in states like North Carolina, Kansas and now Ohio. Dozens of SPN groups are longtime players in the Koch-funded climate change denial movement. By orchestrating against policies to lessen global warming impacts or by directly undermining the science, SPN’s efforts have ranged from urging inaction on global climate treaties and forcing teachers to misrepresent climate science to their students.
Beyond shilling for the coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies bankrolling ALEC and SPN’s operations, these coordinated entities attack public employee unions, wages and pensions, block Medicaid expansion, suppress legitimate voters, push to defund and privatize schools, and undermine choice in women’s health.
And who pays for SPN’s work in all 50 states?
SPN’s main purpose is to advance the interests of its corporate funders: dirty coal and petrochemical industries, the tobacco giants, agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, private education firms, tech and telecom companies, and the usual web of trade associations, law firms and lobby shops paid to represent each of those industries. Corporations use SPN to advance political campaigns they are typically embarrassed to associate with publicly.
The State Policy Network also serves to advance an ideological agenda that tends to undermine the interests of most Americans in favor of those who are particularly wealthy and well-connected.
The Koch brothers fit this description, of course. But they’re joined by a legion of lesser known multi-millionaires and billionaires, sometimes coordinating directly with the Kochs.
These SPN funders include Richard Mellon Scaife, Phil Anschutz, Art Pope, the Coors family, the DeVos family, the Searle family, and the remains of the Bradley family fortune, to name a few of the better known of these sources of dark money. Few citizens recognize the names of this quiet minority of political puppetmasters, but people still feel the bruise of plutocratic spending as state and national politics are pushed to new extremes.