The Buckeye Institute
The Buckeye Institute (formerly The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions) is a right-wing advocacy group based in Ohio. It is a member of the $83 million-a-year State Policy Network (SPN), a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as "think tanks" and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide. According to its website, the organization seeks to "set the policy debate in Ohio by researching and promoting relevant and practical solutions to Ohio's most pressing public policy issues." It was founded in 1984 as the Buckeye Center, in part by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation's former president, John Blundell (Atlas is a prominent SPN associate member). It changed its name to Buckeye Institute in 1995. Atlas award-winner Sam Staley later became BIPPS' president, and Atlas President Alex Chafuen was on BIPPS' board.
SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of June 2018, SPN's membership totals 156. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state "think tank" members. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "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.'" Not only that, but 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.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
- 1 Overstated Charter Schools' Graduation Rates in Report to State Legislators
- 2 Banned by Columbus Dispatch for Plagiarism
- 3 Questions of Lobbying
- 4 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 5 Ties to the Franklin Institute for Government and Public Integrity
- 6 Funding
- 7 Other Funding
- 8 Core Financials
- 9 Personnel
- 10 Contact Information
- 11 Articles and Resources
Overstated Charter Schools' Graduation Rates in Report to State Legislators
In 2009, the Buckeye Institute issued a report entitled "The High Cost of High School Dropouts in Ohio," which presented charter schools as an attractive solution to the problem of high school dropout rates. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice reviewed the report and found that the graduation rates from charter schools presented in the report were " inconsistent with the data reported by the state of Ohio for the year chosen, resulting in a dramatic overstatement of the graduation rates at the charters." The review also found that the Buckeye Institute's report was "a minor variant on six similar reports published by the Friedman Foundation over the past three years." The Friedman Foundation is an Indiana-based nonprofit devoted to the privatization of schools through the promotion of an educational voucher system.
Banned by Columbus Dispatch for Plagiarism
According to a November 2013 report by ProgressOhio and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD):
- "In October 2003, the Columbus Dispatch 'banned' the Buckeye Institute and announced that it would no longer publish op-eds bearing the Institute or its scholars' names after it was discovered that Buckeye Director Joshua Hall [had] plagiarized part of a recently published opinion piece.
- "In that case, a Dispatch reader discovered that Hall had copied five passages from an op-ed written by Geoffrey F. Segal of the Reason Public Policy Institute (which is also funded by the Koch family fortune and includes Koch reps on its board) published in The Baltimore Sun several months earlier. When confronted, Hall repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
- "The Dispatch persisted and in a meeting with the paper, Buckeye Institute President Samuel R. Staley admitted that both Segal and Hall’s works were plagiarized. In fact, the research and text in question had originally been prepared by a public-relations firm in Alexandria, Virginia, which had forwarded the information to interested parties as part of a communications strategy."
Questions of Lobbying
In February 2011, former Buckeye Institute President Matt Mayer (now president of the newer SPN affiliate Opportunity Ohio) was caught in a contradiction regarding the organization's lobbying and advocacy activity. In a tweet to the blog Plunderbund, Mayer said, “Of course we weigh in on ideas (repeal), especially ones we propose-we don’t advocate for specific bills ('vote for x') or pols." But on the same day, in a blog post about a bill -- 2011 SB 5 -- on Buckeye's website, Mayer wrote, "We need to be calling, faxing, and emailing every Ohio Senator, every day, until this vote is passed. They need to be told with total certainty that this vote is a choice between the citizens of this state and the public sector employee unions. Get the numbers and emails out to your membership and tell them to make that choice clear.”
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- "In May 2013, the Buckeye Institute promoted the release of ALEC's 'Rich States, Poor States' report on its website. That report has been the subject of devastating criticism for its methodology and the distorted way it tallies state's economic health.
- "The Buckeye Institute cited four ALEC model bills as 'promising policy approaches' in its November 2010 report Smart on Crime.
- "The Buckeye Institute cited ALEC's 2011 edition of 'Rich States, Poor States' in its May 2012 Policy Brief, 'Big Government Spending Not Requisite for Economic Growth.' Such claims have been subject to numerous criticisms.
- "Buckeye Institute policy analyst Greg Lawson spoke favorably about ALEC's influence in Ohio, specifically in the Kasich administration. Lawson is quoted as saying: 'Quite frankly, Ohio only started making the changes ALEC recommended in recent years… It's a little premature to be making some of these judgments until the policies are fully implemented. We're only now beginning to see the impact.'"
SPN's predecessor, the Madison Group, was "launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC . . . and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute," according to a 1991 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) found in the University of California-San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents.
The case is strengthened by an October 1987 ALEC directory also available via the Tobacco Documents that says, "The Madison Group is chaired by Mrs. Constance Heckman [now Constance Campanella, founder of the lobbying firm Stateside Associates], Executive Director of ALEC . . ." A speakers list also available in the Tobacco Documents says in Constance Campanella's biography, "She was a co-founder and first President of The Madison Group, the first network of free-market state think tanks."
SPN has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for many years. In the mid-2000s, SPN secured funding for more of its member think tanks to join ALEC in order to help develop model legislation. By 2009, 22 SPN member think tanks were active ALEC members and participants in ALEC task forces, according to an SPN newsletter, and SPN was being rewarded for its services by ALEC. As of 2013, at least 35 SPN member think tanks have demonstrable ties to ALEC in addition to SPN's own ties, and all of SPN's member think tanks push ALEC's agenda in their respective states, according to a review by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
See SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
Ties to the Franklin Institute for Government and Public Integrity
BIPPS used to host writers from the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which screens potential reporters on their “free market” views as part of the job application process. The Franklin Center funds reporters in over 40 states. Despite their non-partisan description, many of the websites funded by the Franklin Center have received criticism for their conservative bias. On its website, the Franklin Center claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."
In 2010, BIPPS -- at the time a Franklin Center affiliate -- was denied credentials in the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association. Association President Jim Siegel said, "They were denied because they were more of a conservative think tank than a professional news-gathering organization… [T]here were some questions about where their funding came from." Buckeye Institute President (as of 2012) Kevin Holtsberry confirmed the past financial support from the Franklin Center with the Center for Media and Democracy.
Franklin Center Funding
Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in 2013 that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." But 95 percent of its 2011 funding came from DonorsTrust, a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as a large "donor-advised fund," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country (CPI did a review of Franklin's Internal Revenue Service records). Mother Jones called DonorsTrust "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article. Franklin received DonorTrust's second-largest donation in 2011.
The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM), a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM gets funding from the State Policy Network, which is partially funded by The Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation. SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.
Altria contributed to the Buckey institute "at least seven times in the last 10 year."
The Buckeye Institute has received significant funding from the Koch-fueled Donors Capital Fund -- which obscures the true sources of its grants -- according to the ProgressOhio/CMD report: "In 2008 and 2009, grants from Donors Capital made up 57 percent of Buckeye’s total grants received in those two years, and 19 percent in 2010. The Koch brothers have also given to the Buckeye Institute directly through their foundations, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation." Donors Capital Fund gave $2,500 in 2011 and $13,000 in 2013 to the Buckeye Institute in anonymous grants.
Ties Between Buckeye and Big Tobacco
BIPPS received at least $60,000 in funding from Philip Morris and other tobacco corporations in the 1990s, according to documents in the Tobacco Library -- previously secret papers unveiled as a result of government lawsuits -- analyzed by Progress Now and CMD. According to the report, "The Buckeye Institute was considered an 'allied' organization, a resource to be used in building coalitions and advancing [the tobacco industry's] corporate interests." In 2019, The Guardian reported "The Buckeye Institute accepted donations from Altria" the parent company of Philip Morris USA "at least seven times in the last 10 years."
In exchange, the "Buckeye Institute has compiled a record of supporting the issues important to its Big Tobacco funders," the report notes, and details many instances of this support.
Some examples of adopting the same positions as the tobacco include "suing the state of Ohio to block an indoor smoking ban" in 2009 and authoring "a policy brief arguing against raising state cigarette taxes" in 2016.
The tobacco industry also funds BIPPS' parent group, SPN. See SPN Funding for more.
Major foundational donors to BIPPS, many of which are allied with the Kochs, include:
|Castle Rock Foundation||$34,600||1995-2010|
|Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation||$28,281||2007-2009|
|Chase Foundation of Virginia||$61,100||2001-2011|
|Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation||$10,000||2005|
|Donors Capital Fund||$1,090,205||2005-2010|
|Jaquelin Hume Foundation||$285,280||1999-2009|
|Neal and Jane Freeman Foundation||$500||2004|
|Searle Freedom Trust||$121,500||2009|
|State Policy Network||$55,000||2003-2011|
|The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation||$1,500||1994|
|The Randolph Foundation||$25,000||2007-2009|
|The Roe Foundation||$315,000||1998-2011|
|Thomas B. Fordham Foundation||$18,500||1999|
|William H. Donner Foundation||$30,000||1998|
- Total Revenue: $1,909,768
- Total Expenses: $1,702,944
- Net Assets: $912,028
- Total Revenue: $1,663,628
- Total Expenses: $1,135,692
- Net Assets: $697,545
- Total Revenue: $851,386
- Total Expenses: $852,599
- Net Assets: $169,609
- Total Revenue: $689,067
- Total Expenses: $570,609
- Net Assets: $170,822
- Total Revenue: $293,115
- Total Expenses: $465,262
- Net Assets: $52,364
- Total Revenue: $491,340
- Total Expenses: $623,952
- Net Assets: $224,511
- Total Revenue: $819,385
- Total Expenses: $531,271
- Net Assets: $357,122
- Total Revenue: $878,745
- Total Expenses: $655,685
- Net Assets: $69,008
Board of Directors
As of 2016 990 filing:
- Deborah L. Owens (associate professor of marketing and international business in The University of Akron's College of Business Administration and co-author of Direct Marketing in Action), Trustee
- Ronald A. McMaster, Treasurer
- Andrew Smith, Vice Chair
- Robert Alt, President
- Brad Smith, Chair
- Daniel Brophy, Trustee
- Rea Hederman, Vice President
- Rebekah Alt, Chief Extern
- Dan Peters, Board
- Jerry Jordan, Trustee
As of November 2018:
- Robert Alt, President & CEO
- Rea Hederman Jr., Executive Director of the Economic Research Center and Vice President of Policy
- Rebekah Alt, Chief External Affairs Officer
- William G. Batchelder III, Edwin Meese III Distinguished Fellow
- Ester Bardo, Manager of Foundation Relations
- Daniel J. Dew, Legal Fellow
- Josh Distel, Executive Assistant, and Office Manager
- Lisa A. Gates, Vice President of Communications
- Andrew J. Kidd, Economist
- Greg R. Lawson, Research Fellow
- Tyler Shankel, Economic Policy Analyst
- Joe Nichols, Policy Analyst with Buckeye Institute's Economic Research Center
- Erin Sutter, Director of Operations
- Andrew M. Grossman, Visiting Legal Fellow
- James B Woodard, Economic Research Analyst, Economic Research Analyst
- John J. Park Jr., Visiting Legal Fellow
- Nathaniel Stewart, Visiting Legal Fellow
Former Staff and Fellows
- Patrick Foley, Office Manager
- Steven Carozza, former Fellow
- Greg Lashutka (former Mayor of Columbus), former Board Chair
- Matt A. Meyer, former Board President
- Danielle Beckett, former Major Gifts Officer
- Dan Lusheck, former Administrative & Research Assistant
- Josh Vaughan, former Fellow
- Orphe Pierre Divounguy, Economist with Buckeye Institute's Economic Research Center
- Greg R. Lawson, Statehouse Liaison and Policy Analyst
- Jeff Reed, Director of Communications
88 East Broad St., Ste. 1120
Columbus, OH 43215-3506
Phone: (614) 224-4422
Fax: (614) 224-4644
Articles and Resources
Related SourceWatch Articles
- State Policy Network:
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Koch Industries
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- Heritage Foundation
- Think tanks
- Whitney Ball
- Adam Meyerson
- Bridgett Wagner
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