The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization with an operating budget of $4 to $6 million a year. The organization’s website says that it “enjoys the support of foundations, individuals, and businesses who share a concern for Michigan’s future and recognize the important role of sound ideas.” Originally named the Michigan Research Institute, the organization was founded in 1987 as a state-level conservative policy think tank in Michigan.
In 2013, The American Prospect revealed how the organization laid the groundwork for conservative issues that eventually got signed into law, such as right-to-work and reductions in welfare. The article also detailed how the organization is connected to the State Policy Network (SPN):
“One of the best things SPN does is sponsor get–togethers where we can share ideas and learn from each other,” says Joseph Lehman, the president of Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the think tank that played a central role in passing right-to-work in that state. “I would say that it is the most exciting and energetic meeting of freedom-minded people that I go to every year.”
SPN is a coordinated network of conservative think tanks in nearly every state of the country. It drives corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills in state capitals by issuing reports and testifying in favor of legislation.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer detailed SPN’s work 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.”
SPN contributed a total of $222,839 to the Mackinac Center from 2012 through 2016 through grants classified as energy research, economic freedom research, tax and budget research, travel scholarships, healthcare policy research, educational product development, the We the People project, and a debate series.
In 2013, Columbia Journalism Review wrote about the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s media strategy to advocate for conservative issues:
“Mackinac has a two-part media strategy. The first, more traditional flank involves putting out a steady stream of reports designed to move the state’s news agenda, and making its analysts readily available to journalists … The second, more novel part of Mackinac’s strategy is to make its own media. The center publishes the polished Michigan Capitol Confidential news site—CapCon for short.”
According to DeSmog Blog, the Mackinac Center was created with seed money from the Cornerstone Foundation, as well as $335,986 from various officials of Dow Corning and Dow Chemical. Other large donors include DonorsTrust and its sister organization, Donors Capital Fund.
Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust have been described as the Koch brothers’ conduit and a “dark money ATM of the conservative movement in the US.” They allow for anonymous donations, mostly from conservative individuals and foundations, to flow to organizations while hiding their identity through “donor advised funds.”
In 2012, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Beacon Hill Institute released a flawed and biased study about the costs of implementing Proposition 3, a proposal to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25% by 2025, which was then used in the utility-funded opposition group’s attack ads.
According to Progress Michigan, Mackinac has received generous funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation in support of efforts to oppose environmental protection policies. The foundation gave $79,151 between 2005 and 2009. During this period of time, the Mackinac Center released reports supporting the “No-More-Stringent” law in Michigan, which prohibited the Department of Environmental Quality from adopting any regulation more stringent than the federal government. Opposition to environmental regulation would be beneficial to Koch Industries various interests and the corporation is a known repeat offender of EPA regulations.
The Mackinac Center regularly publishes articles questioning man-made climate change. The Center has questioned prominent climate policy consultants, and have historically cited the work of skeptical individuals and organizations such as the Cato Institute. From 2000 through 2002, ExxonMobil – which was engaged in a campaign to sow doubt about the facts about climate change – contributed $30,000 to the Mackinac Center. In 2001, James Sheehan, an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center, applauded President Bush’s veto of an EPA plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.