The State Policy Network has fifty-nine (59) affiliates throughout the country. Now, in 2009, some of these think tanks had already existed for many years; but what they began doing was lavishing tens of millions of dollars into these State-based think tanks, growing them very quickly, adding new staff, adding new conservative, State-based media outlets coordinated through another group called the Franklin Center (and I apologize for all of these names I'm kind of shooting out, I'll explain them in a moment). What each of these political infrastructure groups in each state have done is move the conversation to the Right by creating a permanent campaign, if you will, of creating academic papers, these media outlets, putting people on television, and on the radio, on the internet, creating a new media apparatus to constantly attack their perceived enemies on the Left, to put stuff online that's constantly pressuring government to cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor, really, with these increases on the sales tax.
And what's happened is that, while President Obama has held the White House, we've seen State after State move to the Right - basically reflecting this push in political resources. So when I went to one of these Conservative Planning Meetings recently, the were very sad, of course, of losing, again, the White House in 2012. But what these Conservative planners said was, "Look at this drive to move the country to the Right in many of these states," and they pointed to the Midwest, where not only Scott Walker took away collective bargaining rights for Public sector workers, but just in December, Governor Rick Snyder enacted Right to Work, which basically erodes unions by allowing workers to receive benefits of union contracts without paying dues. It's basically turned Michigan into a Southern State, in terms of their labor laws.
We're seeing this process happening all over the country, where corporations are pouring money into these ideological (or quasi-ideological) think tanks, and these think tanks are then allowing these corporations to lobby the Legislature to enact big favors to corporations, deregulations, tax cuts, but without having their fingerprints on them. So this is a massive operation, but it's not very transparent. It's really putting this Conservative ideology in front of what's really just lobbyist's goals.
Rob Kall: And your article and your book go into really solid detail into describing just how systematic they are in building a local state - and even more local - presence, how they're taking advantage of the disappearance of newspapers, and the loss of local newspapers that are replaced by chain newspapers that don't really do much coverage. This is part of what the Franklin Center does, I understand. Right?
Lee Fang: Yes. You're right Rob, this is an important dynamic that they saw. One interesting aspect here is that a lot of these Conservative planners said, "Well look at what happened after the financial collapse: we're seeing all these local newspapers scale back. A lot of them went bankrupt, a lot of the big news agencies laid off their State Capitol reporting units." So there's a vacuum there; and what a lot of these Conservative State think tanks have done is they have hired a lot of these former journalists, but have instructed them to basically report the news with a Conservative bias. In some cases that's led to some legitimate journalism, but in many other cases they're writing these stories about how we should be angry at teachers, that they're paid to much, that the causes of all our economic woes stem from public workers, really they're the ones that should bear the brunt of these austerity measures. Some of the news articles that come out of the Franklin Center media outlets have questioned Obama's birth certificate and some of these other fringe conspiracy theories.
But at the end of the day, they're stacking up. In 2001, the Franklin Center has helped hire over a hundred former journalists to work at these state think tanks, to set up these new media outlets. Some of them are called Watchdog Wires, others have different names; but the sum of it is that they are taking these reporters, creating these media outlets with this Conservative bias, and then providing their content for free, unlike Fox News. Fox News is proprietary: they're trying to make money while doing (laughs) what is well known, and what is well associated with Fox News. What's unique about Franklin center is that they're non-profit: they're giving their content for free to struggling local town and county newspapers, saying, "Here. You guys are suffering. Take our content for free." And for a paper that doesn't have any of their own reporters in the State Capitol, this is a very helpful service. The problem is, the public doesn't really know where this content is coming from, and when the bias creeps in, it's the reader, it's the public that's really at a loss.
Rob Kall: It goes back to the State Policy Network. I want to repeat that: The State Policy Network, SPN. This seems to be one of the central organizations in this spiderweb of operations that the Right has been deploying across the US in almost every State. Is that correct?
Lee Fang: That's right. They've got a think tank in every state: from Alaska to Florida, from Maine to Hawaii, they've got these think tanks. And they're growing quickly. In several States they didn't have affiliates until just recently. They just opened new ones in places like Louisiana and Rhode Island, but in states they've had an affiliate for some time, they've pumped more money into them. So they're growing very quickly.