SPN Founders, History, and Staff
SPN Founders, History, and Staff:
This article is a breakout from the main article on the State Policy Network (SPN).
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.
Please see State Policy Network for more. Below is information about SPN's founders, history, and important personnel:
- 1 SPN History
- 2 Founding and Ties to Reagan
- 3 Founders
- 4 Personnel
- 5 Contact Details
- 6 Articles and Resources
SPN was founded in November 1991 and incorporated in March of 1992. The founding chairman of the board was Thomas A. Roe (1927-2000), and the founding executive director was Byron S. Lamm. It was formerly known as the Madison Group, which was founded in 1986, and was formed as an umbrella organization for what were intended to be "mini-Heritage Foundations at the state level."
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."
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.
See SPN Ties to ALEC for SPN's more recent ties to the group.
Founding and Ties to Reagan
According to the National Review and SPN's website, SPN was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan. In a conversation with Thomas Roe (a member of his "kitchen cabinet") in the 1980s, Reagan allegedly suggested Roe create "something like a Heritage Foundation in each of the states." So in 1986, Roe founded the South Carolina Policy Council. Similar groups -- state-based think tanks -- formed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and elsewhere at around the same time. Representatives of those groups met at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. and started to call themselves the "Madison Group." SPN was formally created as an "umbrella organization" to provide "advisory services" -- bankrolled by Roe and other conservative funders -- in 1992.
SPN's founding executive director was Byron Lamm, who held that position from 1992 until 2000. He was extremely influential in the development of the organization, as well as co-founding SPN member state think tank the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, just as Roe had founded the South Carolina Policy Council. He was succeeded by Tracie Sharp, who was the executive director and one of the founders of the Cascade Policy Institute. Sharp has also been quite influential. During her tenure, SPN has continued to grow at a rapid rate, expanding from 43 member state think tanks in 2002 to 63 member state think tanks in 2013. Sharp also co-founded member state think tank the Cascade Policy Institute.
From 1992 to 1998, SPN operated in a relatively limited organizational capacity. Then, according to SPN, "SPN's Board of Directors realized the need for a stronger organization that would provide additional services. After extensive discussions, the existing Board took a bold and historic step in September 1998, dissolving itself and appointing a transitional Board to fulfill the broader role envisioned for the organization."
"Pioneers" of the state think tank movements, as Lamm called them in a 2002 newsletter, included "Joe and Diane Bast at Heartland, John Andrews, then at the Independence Institute [its founder], Larry Reed at Mackinac, Stan Marshall and John Cooper at the James Madison Institute, Fritz Steiger at Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Tom Roe."
Thomas A. Roe
Thomas Anderson Roe, Jr. (1927-2000, pictured at right) was a businessman and industrialist from Greenville, South Carolina. He was the founding chairman of the State Policy Network (SPN) as well as founder of the South Carolina Policy Council. In the mid-1980s, Roe allegedly told fellow wealthy conservative donor and Heritage Foundation trustee Robert Krieble, "You capture the Soviet Union -- I'm going to capture the states." He was an adviser to President Ronald Reagan and was called "an architect of the South Carolina Republican Party." He died in 2000, but his Roe Foundation "continues to provide financial support to free-market policy groups across the country."
Roe "accumulated his wealth as chairman of the board of Builder Marts of America Inc., which he transformed from a small building-materials supply company into an international corporation," according to The Greenville News. (The company had sales of $600 million in 1998.)
No "Collectivist World" or Organized Musicians: Strict Instructions for Endowment at Roe Foundation
According to the conservative "opposition research" think tank Capital Research Center (CRC), Roe believed in maintaining "donor intent," so the foundation his personal wealth endowed, the Roe Foundation, has explicit by-laws and requires grantees to "sign a document promising to uphold" the following principles:
- "First, 'the maximum potential of a free people is achieved when they are free to control their own destiny'; second, 'the greatest threat to these freedoms is intrusive government'; and third, 'the Judeo-Christian tradition represents the underpinnings of a just society.' Furthermore, recipients of the foundation’s support must recognize 'the importance of state and local organizations functioning alongside national organizations in the pursuit of a free society.' Finally, they must 'educate the public at large and all public policy makers to a better understanding of these fundamental values and practical ways to achieve the goals of expanding human freedom.'"
A few grants can go to "nonprofit organizations in the metropolitan area of Greenville until such time as there are no descendents [sic] of Tom or Shirley Roe living there, but one such grant, to the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, "stipulates that its musicians cannot unionize. 'Tom didn’t like unions,' says [his widow] Shirley Roe."
Roe gave the Mont Pelerin Society and Philadelphia Society "standing to sue" the Roe Foundation if, after his death, the Roe Foundation makes a grant to an organization
“whose activities or public statements reflect a belief in a collectivist world or any view inconsistent” with the foundation’s announced principles (emphasis added), according to Chicago lawyer Paul Rhoads, who has written for the Philanthropy Roundtable.
According to CRC, Roe was vice chairman and finance chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina and a member of the Republican National Finance Committee. He was a delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention, where he "enthusiastically supported the doomed candidacy of Barry Goldwater."
But according to Ed McMullen, president of the South Carolina Policy Council, "He became frustrated with going to meetings of Republicans and discovering that nobody else in the room had even heard of economists such as Ludwig von Mises or Friedrich Hayek." And, according to SPN's founding executive director, Byron Lamm, "He was also concerned that a lot of Republicans were country-club types who weren’t really committed to free-market ideas." As John J. Miller summarizes in his CRC article about Roe, "Too many of them simply hadn’t read their Hayek."
So he turned to conservative policy foundations and was an early funder of the Heritage Foundation, joining Joseph Coors, Samuel Roberts Noble, and Richard Mellon Scaife. He led Heritage's finance committee.
Early Life and Business Career
According to CRC, Roe grew up on his family's farm. He attended Furman University near Greenville, graduating in 1948. The school later gave him an honorary law degree in 1980. He did cancer research as an undergraduate there. In 1961, his father died and he inherited his business, Citizens Lumber Company.
In order for his and other family-owned building materials dealerships to be able to compete with chain stores, he created "Builder Marts of America" to supply "a variety of services to independent dealers, including advertising, security, accounting, and training." Meanwhile, a subsidiary, Builder Way, "moved to acquire" businesses that became available "when a client of Builder Marts would retire or die."
Builder Marts became a "Forbes 500" international company by 2000.
Constance Campanella (formerly Heckman)
An October 1987 ALEC personnel directory available in the Tobacco Library says, "The Madison Group is chaired by Mrs. Constance Heckman, 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."
Constance Heckman is now Constance Campanella, and she left ALEC in 1988 to found the lobbying firm Stateside Associates, which calls itself "the largest state and local government affairs firm." Campenella also formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Washington Area State Relations Group, a state-level lobbyist networking group, according to a report by DeSmog Blog. The report notes, "Her career move from serving as ALEC's executive director to setting up Stateside is another indicator ALEC and related groups facilitate lobbying."
Byron S. Lamm
Byron S. Lamm was the founding executive director of the State Policy Network (SPN), from 1992 until January 2000. According to a 1994 article in The Boston Globe, Lamm was a talk-radio show host, and he told the Globe that SPN often broadcast its messages via talk radio.
Lamm is a managing partner of Pin Oak Group, LLC, an investment firm in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He co-founded and is president of the board of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, an SPN-member think tank founded in 1989. He is on the board of directors of the Roe Foundation. He has previously been chairman of the board of the Center for Education Reform, a group committed to education privatization; and on the board of directors of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC, formerly the Political Economy Research Center), which describes itself as a “free market environmental” group committed to deregulation of industry and to the privatization of public assets; and the Center for Civic Renewal. He has funded the Heartland Institute.
Lamm has personally given $56,455 to Republican and Libertarian politicians and PACS from 1998 to September 2012, including $1,500 to the influential right-wing political group Club for Growth and its PAC.
Please see Byron S. Lamm for more.
Tracie Sharp , president of the State Policy Network (SPN) since January 2000, had previously served on its board of directors for 14 years. She was the executive director and one of the founders of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon's market-oriented think tank, from 1991 to 1999. She worked in the areas of education and social security privatization.
In 2012, a list of 2010 funders of an SPN member think tank in Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), that was disclosed to the IRS was inadvertently made public. The list of funders revealed is an important case study in how SPN's member think tanks are funded, and by whom. Koch Industries, for example, gave $159,834 directly to TPPF, in addition to $69,788.61 from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, which is a Koch Family Foundation. SPN itself gave TPPF $49,306.90, but what's more, Tracie Sharp, SPN's executive director, was the contact person for an additional $495,000. These two grants, for $300,000 and $195,000, were listed as being received from the "State Think Tank Fund" and the "Government Transparency Fund," respectively -- two funds about which virtually nothing is known.
Sharp represents SPN as a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). She is a member of ALEC's Education Task Force and Health and Human Services Task Force. She was the recipient of ALEC's 2009 Private Sector Member of the Year Award.
Sharp is also a trustee to the Roe Foundation and to the Special Hope Foundation, a "family foundation supporting innovative projects to assist the causes of the physically, emotionally, and developmentally disabled," a biographical note states. In 1993, Sharp founded HOPE-Oregon, a Portland, Oregon-based "private volunteer effort to provide health care education services to low-income families."
"Previously, Ms. Sharp worked with Washington State radio commentator and Republican Party leader John Carlson as director of programs at the Washington Institute for Policy Studies in Seattle." Please see Tracie Sharp for more.
As of April 2018:
- Tracie Sharp, President and CEO
- Crystal Bouziden Baker, Manager of Donor Relations
- Victoria Wakefield Bartolomeo, Project Manager of Advancement Services
- Teresa Brown, Vice President of Leadership Development
- Julie Burden, Senior Director of Event Strategy
- Carrie Conko, Vice President for Communications
- Todd Davidson, Director of Policy Leadership Development (former fiscal policy analyst for SPN member the Kansas Policy Institute and founder of the SPN associate member the Bastiat Society of Wichita)
- Kim Fischer-Kinne, Events Manager
- Brad Gruber, Operations Director
- Lynn Harsh, Vice President of Strategy
- Spencer Hughes, Associate Director of Advancement Services
- Max Huntley, Leadership Giving Officer
- Sarah C. Keenan, Coalitions Manager
- Cindy Kilduff, Director of Foundation and Organization Relations
- Chantal Lovell, Director of Strategic Communications
- Juliana McMahan, Executive Assistant
- Amanda Meyer, Budget Manager
- Sharon Milhollin, Senior Event Manager
- Kathleen O'Hearn, Senior Director of Policy Advancement
- Rebecca Painter, Vice President of Development
- Christina Pajak, Manager of Donor Relations
- Britt Parker, Manager of Donor Relations
- Rebecca Primis, Director of Marketing
- Madison Ray, Program Coordinator
- Kristina Mitten-Sanders, Senior Director of Leadership and Philanthropic Strategy
- Denise Stevenson, Office Manager
- Betsy Thraves, Executive Assistant
- Meredith Turney, Director of Strategic Communications
- Tony Woodlief, Executive Vice President
- Katherine Bathgate, Senior Policy Advisor
- Trevor Bragdon, Senior Policy Advisor
- Rebecca Bruchhauser, Director of Donor Relations
- Jennifer Butler, Senior Policy Advisor
- Starlee Coleman, Senior Policy Advisor
- Daniel J. Erspamer, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships
- Sarah Ferrara, Coalitions Manager
- Bill Stinson, Operations Associate
- Russ Walker, Senior Policy Advisor
- Jerry Krause, Manager of Donor Relations
- Becky Helland, Leadership Development Initiative Operations & Tactical Officer
- Kurt T. Weber, Senior Advisor, Contractor with Total Consulting Strategies (advises start-up institutes, co-manages the SPN/Institute for Humane Studies Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow program; formerly worked with the Institute for Humane Studies, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the SPN members Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Cascade Policy Institute, and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty)
- Nicole Williams, Senior Communications Advisor - President, Spark Freedom
- Alexis Baker, Manager of Donor Relations
- Rebecca Feldman, Manager of Foundation Relations
- Rebecca Painter, Donor Relations Manager
- Rachel Kopec, Coalitions Coordinator
Board of Directors
As of April 2018:
- Carl Helstrom, Chairman (The JM Foundation), board member since at least 1997
- Tracie Sharp, President (former executive director and co-founder, Cascade Policy Institute), board member since at least 1997
- Stanford D. Swim, Secretary (The GFC Foundation), board member since 2007
- Thomas Willcox, Treasurer (The Roe Foundation), Treasurer, board member since 2007, son-in-law of Tom and Shirley Roe
- Theodore D. Abram (American Institute for Full Employment), board member since 1998
- Lawson Bader, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund
- Karen Wright, Ariel Corporation and Ariel Foundation
- John Hood, John William Pope Foundation
- Adam Meyerson (Philanthropy Roundtable), board member since 2007
- Bridgett Wagner (The Heritage Foundation), board member since 2005
- Whitney Ball (Donors Trust),
- Barbara Wells Kenney (Freedom Foundation)
- John Jackson (Adolph Coors Foundation and Castle Rock Foundation)
State Policy Network
1655 N. Fort Myer Dr., Suite 360
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: (703) 243-1655
Fax: (703) 740-0314
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
Related PRWatch Articles
- Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRWatch.org, December 19, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, The State Policy Network's Cozy Relationship with Big Tobacco, PRWatch.org, December 16, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Did ALEC Found SPN? 1991 Report Suggests So, Exposes SPN Agenda, PRWatch.org, December 12, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Guardian Documents Expose State Policy Network Groups' Intent to Lobby, PRWatch.org, December 5, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, State Policy Network: The Stealth Network Dramatically Influencing State Law, PRWatch.org, December 5, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Tracie Sharp: Bursar of Mystery Money and "IKEA Model" Materials to Stink Tanks, PRWatch.org, November 19, 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, Reports Expose Extreme Pressure Groups Masquerading as Think Tanks, press release, November 13, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, A Reporters’ Guide to the "State Policy Network": the Right-Wing Think Tanks Spinning Disinformation and Pushing the ALEC Agenda in the States, PRWatch.org, April 4, 2013.
- Sara Jerving, ALEC and Heartland Aim to Crush Renewable Energy Standards in the States, PRWatch.org, November 27, 2012.
- Connor Gibson, Meet the Network Hiding the Koch Money: "Donors Trust" and "Donors Capital Fund", PRWatch.org, October 29, 2012.
- Brendan Fischer, Koch-Funded Mackinac Center Brings Wisconsin Act 10 Provisions to ALEC, PRWatch.org, May 2, 2012.
- Sara Jerving, Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source, PRWatch.org, October 31, 2011.
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- Salon, Ted Cruz and Koch brothers embroiled in shadowy Tea Party scheme, November 15, 2013.
- St. Louis Business Journal, Beyond Sinquefield: Who else is funding the Show-Me Institute?, November 15, 2013.
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- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 1997, available from Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012.
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2007, available via Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012
- State Policy Network, Form 990, organizational IRS filing, 2005, available via Guidestar.org, accessed September 2012
- State Policy Network, John Jackson, organizational board member bio, accessed September 2012
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