Posted by Rebekah Wilce on December 05, 2013

State Policy Network ExposedThe State Policy Network (SPN), a web of pressure groups in all 50 states that call themselves "think tanks" while dramatically influencing state law, is a powerful and stealthy ally of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) detailed in the recent report, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network: The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government." That report is part of a new initiative with Progress Now called "StinkTanks.org," which includes additional research and reports on these groups in each state.

Case Study: Michigan's Mackinac Center and "Right to Work"

A powerful example of how certain SPN affiliates work directly to change state law without reporting any lobbying to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- which requires such disclosures of direct and grassroots lobbying by 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations such as the SPN state affiliates -- is that of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's efforts to make Michigan a "right to work" state.

On December 11, 2012, governor Rick Snyder signed into law a "right to work" bill, which undermines collective bargaining by allowing workers to freeload off the benefits of union negotiations without paying the costs of union representation. The Mackinac Center and its funders, such as the billionaire DeVos family of the Amway fortune, had been coordinating behind close doors to effect this change "for 25 years," as a Mackinac blog post boasted after the bill passed, going on to call the passage of the bill "a classic example of the Overton Window of what's politically possible moving in the proper direction. Mackinac Center experts have been pushing that window toward right-to-work since 1990."

In fact, SPN singled out the Mackinac Center's president, Joseph Lehman, for its highest award at its 2013 annual meeting, the "Roe Award" named after SPN founder and building materials supply magnate Thomas Roe. Why? For "the passage of a right-to-work law in Michigan," another blog post boasted. Betsy DeVos presented the award to Lehman, and Dick DeVos was recognized as well.

Mackinac created or helped create two new online publications -- called Michigan Capital Confidential and Watchdog Wire Michigan (a project of the Franklin Center, of which Mackinac is a "partner") -- to communicate its claims, gain public support, and put pressure on the governor to adopt its "right to work" changes to state law.

In audio released in early 2013 by Progress Michigan, Mackinac Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio was recorded as telling supporters at an Americans for Prosperity "Citizen Watchdog Training" that he had met with Michigan lawmakers to make a plan for ramming "right to work" laws through the state legislature. And in a series of 2011 emails between Mackinac staffers and Michigan Rep. Tom McMillin about a different piece of legislation, Mackinac's Jack McHugh told McMillin, "Our goal is outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA" (Michigan Education Association, the state's teachers union). In another email, McMillin told Mackinac staffers, "my ability to impact this decision could be assisted by hearing your thoughts...soon (and again, this is off the record - ok?)"

Based on these email exchanges and other evidence, U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) asked the IRS to investigate Mackinac and "take appropriate actions to ensure that the Mackinac Center is in full compliance with federal tax law."

In March 2012, ALEC member legislator Rep. Steve Drazkowski (MN R-21B), who sponsored a "right to work" constitutional amendment in nearby Minnesota, told Minnesota Public Radio that he had gotten the text of the amendment not from ALEC -- which had been pushing its "Right to Work Act" since at least 1979, as CMD has reported, and which historical documents show may have founded SPN -- but from the Mackinac Center, as reported by the blog "Bluestem Prairie."

But, despite all its efforts to achieve major legal changes such as "right to work" in Michigan and elsewhere, and despite its own admission that it had been pushing the change and communicating with state legislators about it, the Mackinac Center reported no lobbying to the IRS in 2012, 2011, or 2010.

SPN Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

"Right to work" is an ALEC "model" bill, approved by its board before 1995. The Mackinac Center is deeply involved with ALEC, sitting on at least five task forces, including as the "Private Sector Chair" of the "Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee" of ALEC's Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force as of October 2013. The relationship goes both ways, with Mackinac pushing ALEC legislation in Michigan and ALEC helping Mackinac push its agenda to other states.

Mackinac is not the only SPN affiliate to have ties to ALEC, moreover. At least 35 of SPN's 64 affiliates have direct ties to ALEC -- such as task force membership -- according to a review by CMD, and these groups are among ALEC's most active members, as CMD has reported.

State

SPN member think tank

ALEC ties*

Personnel representing think tank at ALEC

Task force

Examples of some of the bills pushed, presentations, or other ALEC roles

AL Alabama Policy Institute Task force membership Michael Ciamarra, Vice President Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Ciamarra recommended bill, 2009 SB204, based on ALEC's "Transparency and Government Accountability Act," to the Alabama state legislature
AZ Goldwater Institute Task force membership Jonathan Butcher, Education Director; Matthew Ladner Education Task Force * Butcher sponsored the "District and School Freedom Act," which he presented at 2012 Spring Task Force Summit, as well as the "Resolution Opposing the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative," which he presented to the K-12 Education Reform Subcommittee Meeting during the 2011 annual meeting; * Ladner sponsored the "A-Plus Literacy Act" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Nick Dranias, Director of Policy Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Presented "Decentralized Land Use Regulation for Rural Counties" and the "State Sovereignty through Local Coordination Act" at the 2010 annual meeting
      Nick Dranias; Byron Schlomach Health and Human Services Task Force * Dranias sponsored the "Health Freedom Compact Act" at 2011 Spring Task Force Summit; * Schlomach sponsored the "Insurance Compact Enabling Act" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit and gave a presentation on "The Evolution of Third-Party Payment in Health Care" at the annual meeting that year.
      Steve Silvinski, Senior Economist International Relations Task Force Presented "Constitutional Defense Council Legislation," "Model State Sovereignty Civil Rights Law," and the "Sovereign State Interstate Compact" at ALEC's 2011 annual meeting
      Nick Dranias; Byron Schlomach Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force * Dranias introduced the "Subsidy Truce Compact" at ALEC's 2011 annual meeting; * Schlomach sponsored the "Balanced Budget Certification Act" and the "Spending Evaluation Act" at the 2010 annual meeting and "A Constitutional Amendment Requiring State Approval for Increases in Federal Debt" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Byron Schlomach Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Introduced "Prohibition on Paid Union Activity (Release Time) by Public Employees Act" and "Public Employee Paycheck Protection Act" at ALEC's 2012 Spring Task Force Summit. Schlomach also introduced the "Insurance Compact Enabling Act" along with Nick Dranias at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
AR Advance Arkansas Institute Task force membership Dan Greenberg, Executive Director Civil Justice Task Force Presentation at 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit: "Preventing Settlement Abuse: The Work of CCAF and the Advance Arkansas Institute"
CA Pacific Research Institute Task force membership Lawrence McQuillan, Director of Business and Economic Studies Civil Justice Task Force Participated in presentation on ranking state tort systems ("2010 Tort Liability Index") during 2010 annual meeting
      Vicki Murrary, Education Studies Senior Policy Fellow Education Task Force Presented "10 Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education" at 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      John Graham, Director of Health Care Studies (former) Health and Human Services Task Force  
      Jason Clemens, Director of Research (former) and John Graham Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Graham gave a report ("What ObamaCare Means for State Budgets") at 2010 Spring Task Force Summit
CO Independence Institute Task force membership Ben DeGrow, Policy Analyst Education Task Force Sponsored amendments to ALEC's "Open Enrollment Act"; Gave a presentation entitled "Collective Bargaining Transparency" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Rob Natelson, Senior Fellow International Relations Task Force Spoke about convening an Article 5 convention at 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit and gave a presentation on "How States Protect the Constitution" at the 2011 Annual Meeting; Authored an ALEC handbook for state lawmakers entitled "Proposing Constitutional Amendments by a Convention of the States"
      Barry Poulson, Senior Fellow Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Participates in the Public Pension Reform Working Group (gave a report on their behalf to the task force at the 2011 annual meeting)
FL Foundation for Government Accountability Task force membership Tarren Bragdon, President and CEO Health and Human Services Task Force Gave a talk titled "Florida's Health Care Reforms: Health and Welfare Successes in the Sunshine State" at the 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit; Christie Herrera, Vice President of Policy for FGA, is the former director of the HHS task force
      Joyce Errecart, Tax Policy Senior Fellow Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Gave a presentation on "Tangible Personal Property Business Taxes" at the 2012 States and Nation Policy Summit
FL James Madison Institute Task force membership JMI is a new member as of 2012 Education Task Force  
    Through staff     James M. Taylor, a member of its Research Advisory Council, is involved with the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force as a frequent guest speaker

 

ID Idaho Freedom Foundation Sponsorship (of ALEC)   Health and Human Services Task Force IFF sponsored a 2012 trip for ALEC officials from the HHS task force to meet with Idaho lawmakers to discuss health care policy
    Public support for ALEC     Executive Director Wayne Hoffman published an article on the foundation's website entitled, "ALEC Helps Promote Good Public Policy"
IL Illinois Policy Institute Task force membership Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy Education Task Force Sponsored the "Local Government Transparency Act" at the 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Amanda Griffin-Johnson Health and Human Services Task Force Presented the "State Employee Health Savings Account Act" at the 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Brian Costin, Director of Government Reform, and Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Introduced the "Local Government Transparency Act" and the "Pension Funding and Fairness Act," respectively, at the 2011 annual meeting
IA Public Interest Institute Board of Scholars     Richard Vedder, a PII advisory board member, is on ALEC's Board of Scholars
KS Kansas Policy Institute Task force membership Dave Trabert, President Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Jonathan Williams and Barry Poulson, both adjunct fiscal policy fellows at KPI, are involved in the same task force. Williams is the task force director; Poulson is an advisor through other positions in CO (Independence Institute and the University of Colorado)
KY Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Task force membership Jim Waters, President Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Introduced the "Intrastate Coal and Use Act" at the 2012 States and Nation Policy Summit
LA Pelican Institute for Public Policy Sponsorship (from ALEC)     ALEC sponsored the group's "Policy Orientation for the Louisiana Legislature" event in 2011
ME Maine Heritage Policy Center Task force membership Stephen Bowen Education Task Force Stephen Bowen is now the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education
    Sponsorship (of ALEC)   Health and Human Services Task Force Hosted a talk by HHS task force director, Christie Herrera (former) in 2010
MD Maryland Public Policy Institute Through staff     Adjunct staff member, Wendell Cox, is former ALEC public policy director
MA Pioneer Institute Task force membership   Education  
MI Mackinac Center for Public Policy Task force membership Paul Kersey, Director of Labor Policy (former) Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Presented the "Financial Accountability for Public Employee Unions Act," the "Election Accountability for Municipal Employees Act," and the "Decertification Elections Act" at the 2012 Spring Task Force Summit; Paul Kersey now works for the Illinois Policy Institute
    Task force subcommittee chairmanship F. Vincent Vernuccio, Director of Labor Policy Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee Private Sector Chair  
      Michael Van Beek, Director of Education Policy Education Task Force  
      Russ Harding, Senior Fellow Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force  
      Jack McHugh, Senior Legislative Analyst Health and Human Services Task Force  
      James Hohman, Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force  
MN Center of the American Experiment Through board member   Communications and Technology Task Force CAE board member, John Gibbs, is a private sector member of the task force for Comcast Cable
MO Show-Me Institute Through staff     Former policy analyst, Christine Harbin, was a research manager at ALEC
MT Montana Policy Institute Through staff   International Relations Task Force MPI senior fellow, Rob Natelson, is task force member representing another SPN member think tank, the Independence Institute (see CO)
NJ Common Sense Institute Sponsorship (of ALEC)   Health and Human Services Task Force Hosted a talk by HHS task force director, Christie Herrera (former), in 2011
NM Rio Grande Foundation Through staff     RGF founder, Hal Stratton, received the ALEC Legislator of the Year Award in 1981
    Sponsorship (of ALEC)   Health and Human Services Task Force Hosted a talk by former HHS task force director, Christie Herrera, in 2009
NC John Locke Foundation Task force membership Terry Stoops, Director of Education Studies Education Task Force  
      Daren Bakst, Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Presentation at 2010 annual meeting: "The Limits of EPA Regulatory Power"
      Joe Coletti, Director of Health and Fiscal Policy Studies Health and Human Services Task Force Sponsored "Patients First Medicaid Reform Act" at 2010 annual meeting; Discussed health care providers and health care reform at 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Jon Sanders, Director of Regulatory Studies Public Safety and Elections Task Force (disbanded)  
      Fergus Hodgson, Director of Fiscal Policy Studies Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force  
NY Empire Center for New York State Policy Through parent organization Paul Howard, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Senior Fellow   spoke at the 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting in a Workshop titled, "Rationing By Any Other Name: Medicare's Independent Payment Advisory Board"
OH Opportunity Ohio Task force membership Michael C. Carnuccio, Treasurer Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force  
OK Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Task force membership Brandon Dutcher, Vice President for Policy Education Task Force  
      Michael Carnuccio, President Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force  
      Jason Sutton, Policy Impact Director (former) Health and Human Services Task Force  
      Jonathan Small Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Participated in a panel discussion, "Debunking Tax Myths" at 2012 Spring Task Force Summit
OR Cascade Policy Institute Through staff   Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Former CPI vice president, Todd Wynn, is now task force director
PA Commonwealth Foundation Task force membership Elizabeth Stelle, Policy Analyst Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force  
      Rick Dreyfuss, Senior Fellow Health and Human Services Task Force  
      Nathan Benefield, Director of Policy Analysis Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force  
RI Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity Through staff Bob Williams and Jonathan Williams Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Jonathan Williams is director of the task force and Bob Williams is private sector chair. Both are adjunct scholars at RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity
TX Texas Public Policy Foundation Task force membership Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice Civil Justice Task Force Sponsored "Resolution on Transparency and Accountability in Criminal Law" in 2011 subcommittee conference; Levin is private sector chair of the Overcriminalization Subcommittee
      Dr. Thomas Lindsay, Director, Center for Higher Education Education Task Force Vice chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee of of the task force as of November 2013
      Mario Loyola, Director, Center for Tenth Amendment Studies Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Introduced "Regional Air Quality Interstate Compact" at 2011 Spring Task Force Summit
      Arlene Wohlgemuth, Executive Director and Director, Center for Health Care Policy Health and Human Services Task Force Presented the "Health Professional Modernization Act" at 2010 annual meeting and sponsored "Health Care Compact Act" at 2011 annual meeting
      Marc Levin Public Safety and Elections Task Force (disbanded) * Sponsored the "Resolution on the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act" and the "Provisional Licenses for Ex-Offenders Act" at the 2012 Spring Task Force Summit; * "Civil Liability Relief for Employers Hiring Ex-Offenders Act," the "Treating Accused Persons Fairly Act," and the "Criminal Intent Protection Act" at the 2011 Spring Task Force Summit; * "Juvenile Offender Performance Incentive Funding Act" and "Resolution on Transparency and Accountability in Criminal Law" at 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit; * "Resolution in Support of Victim Offender Mediation" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Talmadge Heflin, Director, Center for Fiscal Policy Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force  
    Public support for ALEC     Wendy Lee Gramm, chairman of the board, and Brooke Rollins, president and CEO, wrote an op-ed in defense of ALEC in the Wall Street Journal in May 2012
UT Sutherland Institute Sponsorship (of ALEC)     Co-sponsored ALEC 2012 annual meeting
WA Freedom Foundation Task force membership Trent England, Vice President of Policy Public Safety and Elections Task Force (disbanded) Participated in a debate, "Electoral College v. National Popular Vote," at the 2011 annual meeting and gave presentation on the Electoral College at 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit
      Bob Williams, Founder and Senior Fellow; Amber Gunn Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force * Williams sponsored the "Defined Contribution Pension Reform Act" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit and the "Unfunded Pension Liabilities Accounting Act" at the 2011 Spring Task Force Summit; * Gunn sponsored the "State Agency Lobbying Reform Act" at the 2011 Spring Task Force Summit; Williams gave two presentations at 2011 meetings: "Broken Budgets in the States" and "State Budget Solutions"; Williams is private sector chair of the Tax task force
      Harry Stille Education Task Force Sponsored the "Performance Audit Act" at the Higher Education Subcommittee Meeting of the 2011 Spring Task Force Summit
    Board of Scholars Bob Williams   Williams is on the Board of Scholars and received the 2011 Private Sector Member of the Year Award
WA Washington Policy Center ALEC State Chair of WA Daniel Mead Smith, President    
    Task force membership Todd Myers, Director, Center for the Environment Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Sponsored the "Resolution in Opposition to the EPA's 'Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule' and the Treatment of Biomass Energy" at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit; Presentation at 2011 and 2010 States and Nation Policy Summits: "Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment" and "A Fresh Start on the Environment: Good Science and Good Policy for New Majorities," respectively
      Carl Gipson, Director, Center for Small Business (former) Communications and Technology Task Force  
      Jason Mercier, Director, Center for Government Reform Public Safety and Elections Task Force (disbanded) Presentation at 2011 Annual Meeting: "Principles of Legislative Transparency"
      Jason Mercier Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Sponsored the "Legislative Transparency Act" at the 2011 Spring Task Force Summit
WI MacIver Institute Through staff Brian Fraley, former Director of Communications Health and Human Services Task Force Fraley was the former private sector co-chair of ALEC's Health and Human Services Task Force
WI Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Through staff   Health and Human Services Task Force Leah Vukmir, public chair of the Health and Human Services Task Force in 2011-2012, was a research fellow and contributing author at WPRI
    Through staff     Leah Vukmir is also on the ALEC Board of Directors

* Individual sources for each think tank's ALEC ties are cited in the article on that specific think tank linked in the table. Please follow the links in the chart or see the full list of SPN member think tanks for more.


This article has been updated (December 16, 2013) to add more information about the Mackinac Center's political activities.

Rebekah Wilce

Rebekah Wilce is a reporter and researcher who directs CMD's Food Rights Network project.