Some of the lobbying activities of so called think-tanks in the State Policy Network (SPN) are forbidden by the IRS
What is the State Policy Network?
The State Policy Network is a network of conservative state-level think tanks. Progress Now created a special web site as a joint project with the Center for Media and Democracy called stinktanks.org which claims, “SPN groups often engage in extensive lobbying activities, even though nonprofits are limited in the amount of lobbying activity they may participate in by the IRS.” Their web site looks at the scandal in terms of three basic questions. What stinks? Who’s money? Where is it going? The original report claims “although SPN think tanks are registered as educational nonprofits, several appear to orchestrate extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, despite the IRS’s regulations on nonprofit political and lobbying activities.”
A Muncie Voice article titled State Policy Network: Billionaires Influencing Policy in Indiana describes how this works in Indiana. “So, the Oligarchs write checks to foundations who then make contributions to the State Policy Networks such as Indiana Policy Review, so the think tanks can function without being traced back to the donors, like the Koch brothers.”
Who are the key people and organizations involved?
The people involved are billionaires. Which billionaires? According to Huffpo, “Multiple documents reviewed in the report also show that the Koch brothers, known for their extensive funding of conservative activist causes, are major funders of the State Policy Network and its affiliates through their linked foundations and Koch Industries. Many other wealthy conservatives have likewise pumped money into the network, including the DeVos family of Amway, the Coors brewing family, the Waltons of Walmart, and wealthy businessman (and North Carolina budget director) Art Pope.”
The organizations involved range from large corporations to organizations funded by or linked to the Koch Brothers. Source Watch reports “SPN is largely funded by global corporations – such as Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast, Time Warner, and the Koch and Tea Party connected DCI Group lobbying and PR firm ”
What are the accusations?
The key charge is that SPN activities extend beyond and thus violate limits set by the IRS describing how much lobbying non-profit groups are allowed participate in. American Legislative Exchange Council task forces draft model bills then SPN member groups turn model bills into state legislation.
Who is accusing them?
Progressive groups as well as progressive and local press are pointing out the pay for policy network. The Center for Media and Democracy issued a detailed report. According to Politico “CMD has been a longtime critic of ALEC, spearheading a project called ALEC Exposed that leaked 800 internal model bills and resolutions drafted by the group.”
A Greenpeace article accuses that, “The State Policy Network (SPN) is a network of state level think tanks and policy organizations that act as a coordinated front for a variety of corporate priorities including delaying action to mitigate global warming.” The same article claims “The State Policy Network has promoted climate science denial conferences”
Joshua Holland of Moyers & Company interviewed the executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy, Lisa Graves. She said, “We’ve documented, through our work at ALECexposed.org, how ALEC has been putting corporate bills in the hands of politicians”
The Idaho Freedom Foundation is the Idaho “branch” of the State Policy Network. Betsy Z. Russel wrote an article titled, “Idaho Freedom Foundation’s charitable status scrutinized” in The Spokesman-Review. In the article Russel claims “Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman persuaded a House committee chairwoman to pull a bill he opposed just as debate was about to start on the floor.” The article clearly explained the illegality in this instance. “At issue is whether taxpayers should be subsidizing its activities. As a charity organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), contributions to the Idaho Freedom Foundation are tax deductible. Contributions to lobbying groups organized under section 501(c)(4), such as the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association, are not.”
How are major media outlets covering the story?
A story on Rachel Maddow’s NBC show reveals “Billionaire Koch brothers have been using their money to fund something called the State Policy Network. I should tell you, the group also gets funding from some major corporations, including our corporate owners, the Comcast Corporation, along with corporate funding and Koch brothers funding, the State Policy Network has dozens of member think tanks in states coast to coast, including the Foundation for Government Accountability, whose expert witness now knows where to charge her iPhone in airports across the country. “
Searching for the terms [State Policy Network] returned no stories from any other major news outlets. Either they aren’t covering the story, their coverage isn’t searchable or I can’t find it.
For instance, I put the following into a search engine [State Policy Network ABC News] and I got a number of documents from the State Policy Network or alternatively, articles from progressive news sites and blogs reporting on the same issue covered by the article you are currently reading. The first entry is a State Policy Network document boasting “The luncheon guest speaker is ABC News correspondent and 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel” at some State Policy Network event.
I did the same for CNN and the results were almost the same. The story was not covered by CNN, but SPN reported on a conference with a CNN guest speaker. You are welcome to report back to us about how FOX News covers the issue. They probably report that the Koch brothers shave their chest hairs and donate them to kittens with receding fur.
I tried [State Policy Network CBS News] and found nothing from CBS national news about the topic. What I did find was an article from the local CBS affiliate in St. Louis, KMOX discussing the issue through the words of “Progress Missouri spokesman Sean Soendker [who ]says the Show-Me Institute is not independent.” According to that report, “The Show-Me Institute (SMI) is often regarded as a Missouri-focused organization formed and funded to advance the extreme right-wing agenda of billionaire Rex Sinquefield.”
Again, a billionaire donates to ALEC or SPN or some other operation managed by the Koch Brothers. The billionaire sees the donation in the form of policy action at the state level. In Missouri, the “Show-Me-State,” the billionaire is Rex and the State Policy Network branch affiliate is the Show-Me Institute (SMI). This isn’t a problem just in Indiana, Iowa and Missouri. This network of policy influence peddlers is nation wide. The national organization is called the State Policy Network, but each state branch gets a cute name.
What were the goals of the conspirators?
In one word, “policy.” In two words, “state policy.” In more words, these groups were passing ALEC bills in state legislatures. These bills are crafted to guide state legislation benefiting the bottom line of large corporations. Instead of calling it the State Policy Network (SPN) research required that we rename it the State Policy Influence-peddling Network.
Some of the biggest corporations in the world have been funding trips for these lawmakers where they hang out three times a year — many of them do — with their spouse and their children. Their children go to this daycare thing with the children of lobbyists and special interest group representatives while the parents — the lawmakers and their spouses – go off to parties and are wined and dined by these corporations that have legislation before those state houses.
And then, during the day, many of those politicians, those elected representatives, actually sit in a room, without the press present, without the public present and they actually vote on these model bills before they’re introduced in the state house.
And then these lawmakers come back to their state houses, as Bill Moyers has documented so carefully in his United States of ALEC documentary — they come back to their state house and they introduce these bills, cleansed of any reference to the fact that they were plied with alcohol and trips to get them to meet up with these special interest groups. They’re cleansed of any reference to the fact that they were pre-voted on by these groups or that ALEC bills are part of this corporate agenda. And sometimes we’ve seen these bills move in the states without really any opportunity for other people to amend them or stop them, because, quite frankly, these lawmakers are often not interested in what the local people think; they’re interested in what the corporations think, rather than their own constituents.
Citizens should have state laws that reflect their interests as individuals and as groups of people. These bills are corporate actions intended to make more profits for the corporations that are willing to pay ALEC. The shameful part of it is that, by going through SPN, they get an additional tax break on their bribe by calling it a “contribution.”