Submitted by Rebekah Wilce on
The 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.
SPN member think tank
Personnel representing think tank at ALEC
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.