Stink Tanks Exposed

This week the Center for Media and Democracy released a new report exposing the corporate backing and extreme right wing agenda of the State Policy Network, a coalition of state policy think tanks. The inspiration for the organization came from Ronald Reagan, who suggested to South Carolina businessman Thomas Roe that there should be organizations like the Heritage Foundation in every state. It was officially founded in 1992, and has since grown into a massive – but largely under-the-radar – policy apparatus. From the report:

The network has become a multi-million dollar empire: In 2011, the combined revenue of SPN and its member think tanks totaled $83.2 million. It has also quietly become one of the most prominent members of the national right-wing network and an essential tool for some of the richest CEOs in the world to push their right-wing agenda. In addition to its 63 member think tanks, SPN also has over 100 “associate members.”

The full report is packed with information and worth a read, covering SPN’s ties to ALEC, the Kochs, and the tobacco industry, the “litigation centers” its member groups have set up to push extreme agendas in the courts, its PR strategies, and its lobbying activities. The Guardian published a piece focusing on the fact that tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft back the network. The report is up at, a new collaboration between CMD and Progress Now.

CMD has been at the forefront of exposing corporate-backed, right-wing policy and lobbying networks, especially through its work on ALECExposed. It is also the organization behind SourceWatch, a wiki for tracking industry-funded groups manipulating the public discourse and public policy. Whereas LittleSis is focused on structured network data and tracking relationships and connections in a way that helps you “follow the money,” SourceWatch presents narrative articles that orient you to who these groups are and what they’re up to. It is an invaluable resource for digging into these organizations. SourceWatch has a wealth of information on the State Policy Network, as well as many other groups.

A partial map of the State Policy Network’s interlocks. Click through for the full-size image.

I’ve also added SPN’s member organizations to LittleSis – check them out from SPN’s page on LittleSis and consider building out their profiles by adding their staff, board members, donors, and other key connections. Doing so can help develop a picture of how the groups overlap, what their common funding sources are, where the network is most cohesive, their political preferences and connections (which politicians do their boards support?), and yield other insights into the stink tanks CMD has exposed.