The State Policy Network (SPN) is a coordinated network of conservative think tanks in every state in the country. It’s an $120 million empire that helps drive corporate-backed bills in state capitals by issuing reports and testifying in favor of the legislation. The legislation is often drafted by company lobbyists at American Legislative Exchange Council meetings.
In 2013, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer highlighted SPN and wrote, “Although the think tanks have largely operated under the radar, the cumulative enterprise is impressively large, according to the [Center for Media and Democracy] report. In 2011, the network funneled $79 million into promoting conservative policies at the state level.” It is considered ALEC’s biggest ally in the states.
Mayer also revealed that Tracie Sharp, president and CEO of SPN, said at the SPN annual meeting in 2013 that “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen” and that “the grants are driven by donor intent.”
The Internal Revenue Service classifies most of the think tanks in SPN as 501(c)(3) charities, which means that they are exempt from taxation. However, The Guardian revealed,
Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grand bits contained in The Guardian documents propose the launch of “media campaigns” aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings”, in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.
SPN, along with the think tanks in its network, receive money from foundations that are funded by the Koch Brothers, and two secretive groups called the “Dark Money ATM” of the conservative movement: DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund.
In 2015, SPN continued its role as a coordinating umbrella group to advance legislation to repeal or weaken clean energy laws in conjunction with ALEC. E&E News reported that SPN worked to block funding for several state agencies tasked with developing state implementation plans for the Clean Power Plan.
The most recent analysis of the SPN and its main members’ annual revenues is available at the Center for Media and Democracy.