Fresh today from the Center for Media and Democracy: A Reporters’ Guide to the State Policy Network.
What is the State Policy Network, aka SPN? According to CMD’s report on PR Watch:
SPN officially launched in 1992 with 12 members and money from South Carolina billionaire Thomas Roe to franchise, fund, and foster a growing number of in-state “mini Heritage Foundations” (with the influence of the DC-based Heritage Foundation that Roe helped underwrite). Today, SPN has 59 member think-tank groups, and a presence in every state capitol in the nation. Some of these — like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Arizona’s Goldwater Institute — have growing notoriety, but many others, despite their influence, are barely known by those other than state capitol insiders.
Its purpose? To produce reports, create statistics, draft talking points and “expert” testimony in support of bills, and disseminate videos along with a raft of other materials to advance a right-wing legislative agenda in the states, under the guise of being a nonpartisan, nonprofit charitable organization full of neutral scholars and academics.
But these are not academics in an ivory tower. These think tanks actually write legislation; they write materials to support their legislation; and they work closely with legislators and sometimes throw their voice through legislative talking points. They also often take to the airwaves and the Internet to give purportedly objective analysis. Their legislative agenda, often ratified via ALEC, is frequently adopted as law by states controlled by ALEC majorities — often with little or no disclosure of their role in the process.
CMD, which brings us PR Watch, SourceWatch and ALECExposed among other online transparency and advocacy tools, spent three months digging into the State Policy Network and its state-level member think tanks and national allies alike. These SPN members and affiliates range from the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) down to Chicago Illinois’ Heartland Institute and North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation.
Through State Policy Network, these seemingly disparate entities coordinate their current attacks on unions, clean energy policies, and numerous other issues that are ultimately funded by a small group of American billionaires, millionaires and multinational corporations.
Aside from the dirty legacies of visionaries like Thomas Roe, Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors, who founded the Heritage Foundation, SPN and other crucial cogs in the Conservative Hate Machine, we’re talking about the Koch brothers, Art Pope, Phil Anschutz, the Bradleys, the Scaifes, and the other usual suspects who have far too much money invested in manipulating our democracy to serve their narrow financial ambitions.
That’s how it seems anyway, when you’re not a multi-millionaire and don’t have the excess cash to force state politics that work for you. And that’s precisely why the State Policy Network’s mission is bad for the majority of Americans.
For more on this fascinating but disturbing history, check out the Lewis Powell Memo, Lewis Lapham’s “Tentacles of Rage” article in Harpers, and the history of SPN on SourceWatch, apparently dating back to a suggestion from President Ronald Reagan.
Connor Gibson does research for Greenpeace USA. Personal opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.