The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives is a right-wing pressure group based in Pennsylvania that calls itself a "think tank." Commonwealth says that it "crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty." The Commonwealth Foundation is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). An August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian lists Commonwealth as a "former SPN member," but the SPN website still lists Commonwealth as a full member as of August 2016, and a July 2013 Commonwealth fundraising proposal to Searle Freedom Trust was included in a packet of SPN proposals in August 2013. On its website, the Commonwealth Foundation lists its issue areas as taxes and spending, jobs and the economy, education, energy and the environment, unions and labor policy, accountable government, and privatization.
SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2022, SPN's membership totals 166. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. 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 Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
- 2 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 3 Lobbying Activities
- 4 Funding
- 5 Core Financials
- 6 Personnel
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 Articles and Resources
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
The Commonwealth Foundation has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council through its membership in various ALEC "task forces." Director of Policy Analysis for Commonwealth, Nathan Benefield, is a member of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. Senior Fellow, Rick Dreyfuss, is a member of the Health and Human Services Task Force and policy analyst, Elizabeth Stelle, is a member of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. SPN, of which Commonwealth is a member, is also an ALEC member and has strong historical ties to ALEC -- several historical documents even indicate that ALEC founded SPN. According to an August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian, Commonwealth terminated its ALEC membership on March 9, 2013 because, according to an ALEC note, it was considered a "former SPN member... - would like to join again if can fit in budget."
Please 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 ExposedbyCMD.org site.
Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
The Commonwealth Foundation started the Pennsylvania Independent, a "statehouse news" publication, in 2010 and transitioned to the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in January 2011. The Franklin Center 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."
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.
According to a report published by Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy, the Commonwealth Foundation has not reported any lobbying activity "with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania," however they did report "over $87,000 in total lobbying expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service from 2008 to 2011, including $55,655 in 'grassroots lobbying.'" The report also states that according to Matthew Brouillette, President of Commonwealth Foundation, the organization, "lobbies 'indirectly' through research, and advocates for broad issues, rather than for specific policy." 
Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy reported in November 2013 that Commonwealth Foundation is largely funded by anonymous donors via DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. These funds create accounts for donors and allow them to manage their money "by telling the organization which non-profits to fund."
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, CF received the following contributions from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital funds between 2008 and 2014:
Other identified funders include:
- Allegheny Foundation: $40,000.00 (1991-1994)
- Carthage Foundation: $10,000.00 (1995)
- Castle Rock Foundation: $25,000.00 (2011)
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation: $90,916.00 (2007-2011)
- Claws Foundations: $65,000.00 (2001-2005)
- Donors Capital Fund: $1,242,800.00 (2005-2011)
- DonorsTrust: $254,500.00 (2009-2011)
- Jaquelin Hume Foundation: $292,561.00 (2002-2011)
- JM Foundation: $100,000.00: (1995-2012)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $187,000.00 (1990-2009)
- Philip M. McKenna Foundation: $1,481,830.00 (1996-2011)
- Scaife Family Foundation: $2,692,000.00 (1995-2011)
- Snider Foundation: $825,000 (2015-2018)
- State Policy Network: $149,000.00 (2002-2011)
- Total Revenue: $3,929,099
- Total Expenses: $3,838,154
- Net Assets: $839,185
- Total Revenue: $2,810,324
- Total Expenses: $2,665,762
- Net Assets: $758,722
- Total Revenue: $1,551,722
- Total Expenses: $1,648,046
- Net Assets: $613,972
- Total Revenue: $1,951,566
- Total Expenses: $1,671,566
- Net Assets: $709,983
- Total Revenue: $1,369,386.00
- Total Expenses: $1,247,489.00
- Net Assets: $429,983.00
- Total Revenue: $1,032,887.00
- Total Expenses: $1,125,595.00
- Net Assets: $308,086.00
As of September 2018:
- Charles F. Mitchell, President and CEO
- Nathan Benefield, Vice President of Policy and COO
- Jennifer Stefano, Vice President
- John Bouder, Director of Communications
- Emily Jae, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement, Southeastern Pennsylvania
- Lenny McAllister, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement, Western Pennsylvania
- Abhi Samuel, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement
- Elizabeth Stelle, Director of Policy Analysis
- Liz Vincent, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement, Central Pennsylvania
- Jeremy Baker, Senior Government Affairs Associate
- Marc LeBlond, Senior Policy Analyst
- Dawn Toguchi, Senior Marketing Specialist
- Michael Torres, Senior Communications Officer
- Jessica Barnett, Policy Analyst
- Savanna Faith Cornibe, Hospitality Coordinator
- Andrew Cuff, Manager of Editorial Content
- Catherine Fitzhugh, Entrepreneur Engagement Manager
- Kevin Kane, Entrepreneur Engagement Coordinator, Western PA
- Jordan Pine, Operations Coordinator
- Dennise Zimmerman, Executive Assistant & Contributions Manager
- Matthew J. Brouillette, President and CEO
- Jay Ostrich, Director of Public Affairs
- Amy J. Grimm, Director of Operations
- Katrina Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst and Director of Government Affairs
- Dawn Meling, Director of Community Relations
- Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, Director of Strategic Communications
- Bethany Wilston, Manager of First Impressions
- Darryl White, Senior Vice President
- Douglas Baker, Vice President of Communications and COO
- Tom Bako, Director of Entrepreneur Engagement
- Gina Diorio, Director of Media Relations
- Elizabeth Stelle, Director of Policy Analysis
- Bob Dick, Senior Policy Analyst
- James Paul, Senior Policy Analyst
- Jonathan Humma, Senior Government Affairs Associate
- Brittney Parker, Senior Entrepreneur Engagement Officer
- Jonathan Reginella, Entrepreneur Engagement Officer
- Debbie Attardi, Executive Assistant
As of August 2016:
- Priya Abraham, Senior Fellow
- Emily Kuebler Cox, Senior Fellow
- Richard Dreyfuss, Senior Fellow
- Colleen Hroncich, Senior Fellow
- Gordon Tomb, Senior Fellow
- Robert O'Donnell, Senior Fellow
- Hon. Jeff Coleman, Senior Fellow
- Dr. Victoria C. G. Coates, Senior Fellow
- Jennifer Stefano, Senior Fellow
Board of Directors
As of August 2016:
- Jane Leader Janeczek, Chairman
- Thomas E. Beach
- George G.H. Coates Jr.
- Robert L. Ecklin, Jr.
- Michael W. Gleba
- W. Kirk Liddell
- Frederick W. Anton III
- Dr. Allan H. Meltzer
- Hon. William W. Scranton III
- Hon. Patrick J. Toomey
- Matthew J. Brouillette
- David E. Barensfeld
- T. William Boxx
- Glen T. Meakem
Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
225 State Street, Suite 302
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Articles and Resources
- David Armiak, Bradley Foundation Funds “Opt-Out” Campaign to Cripple Public Sector Unions, ExposedbyCMD, June 25, 2019.
- Commonwealth Foundation, Mission & Values, organizational website, accessed December 2012.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting Board Meeting packet, organizational documents, August 6, 2013, released by The Guardian December 3, 2013.
- State Policy Network, Directory: Pennsylvania, organizational website, accessed July 2014.
- State Policy Network, Searle Tax and Budget Grant Proposals, organizational fundraising proposal packet, July 29, 2013, obtained and released by The Guardian December 5, 2013.
- Commonwealth Foundation, Issues, Commonwealth Foundation, 2016.
- David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million, ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
- Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
- Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force meeting agenda and materials, June 30, 2011, on file with CMD
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Health and Human Services Task Force meeting agenda and materials, June 30, 2011, on file with CMD
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force meeting agenda and materials, June 30, 2011, on file with CMD
- Rebekah Wilce, Did ALEC Found SPN? 1991 Report Suggests So, Exposes SPN Agenda, PRWatch, December 12, 2013.
- Pew Research Center, Pennsylvania Independent, Journalism.org, organizational publication, accessed April 2013.
- Franklin Center, Franklin Affiliates in Your State, organizational website, accessed October 2012.
- The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Think tank Journalism: The Future of Investigative Journalism, organizational website, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Rebekah Metzler, 'Watchdog' website puts a new spin on politics, The Portland Press Herald, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Allison Kilkenny, The Koch Spider Web, Truthout, accessed August 19, 2011.
- Sara Jerving, Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source, PRWatch.org, October 27, 2011.
- Paul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, organizational report, February 14, 2013.
- Andy Kroll, Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement, Mother Jones, February 5, 2013.
- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Franklin Center boss wants apology from Democratic staffer. News website. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- The Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation. Organizational website. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- Sam Adams Alliance. Sam Adams Alliance Media Kit. Organizational PDF. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- Media Matters Action Network. Sam Adams Alliance. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- Media Matters Action Network. State Policy Network. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- Media Matters Action Network. Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
- Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy The Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute: Think tanks or corporate lobbyist propaganda mills? Report, November 2013.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS Form 990, 2014, organizational tax filing, November 4, 2015.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS Form 990, 2013, organizational tax filing, November 11, 2014.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS Form 990, 2012, organizational tax filing, November 12, 2013.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS Form 990, 2011, organizational tax filing, July 9, 2012.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS form 990, 2010. GuideStar.
- Commonwealth Foundation, IRS form 990, 2009. GuideStar.
- Commonwealth Foundation, Staff, Commonwealth Foundation, 2016.
- Commonwealth Foundation, Board of Directors, Commonwealth Foundation, 2016.