Alaska Policy Forum
The Alaska Policy Forum is a conservative state-based think tank and member of the State Policy Network. According to its website, APF believes in individual freedom, private property, sustainable development, and limited government. Its issues include advocating for publicly funded vouchers for private and religious schools, opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and a controversial attempt to publicize public employee compensation packages (see below).
The APF was founded in 2009 by David Boyle, the Alaska chairman for the McCain/Palin presidential campaign. As of 2015 Boyle serves as the APF's executive director. The APF received over half of its funding during its first two years of operation from Donors Capital Fund, a donor-advised fund with ties to the Koch brothers that contributes to many SPN member groups.
SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2020, SPN's membership totals 163. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
- 1 Activities and Controversies
- 2 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 3 Funding
- 4 Core Financials
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Contact Information
- 7 Articles and Resources
- 8 References
Activities and Controversies
Conduit for SPN Influence in Alaska
The APF has played a role in increasing the influence of additional SPN and right-wing organizations in Alaska politics. For example, it "co-sponsored a town hall meeting in Anchorage on Obamacare with officials from Foundation for Government Accountability, from Naples, Florida" and with the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. State Sen. Mike Dunleavey "said the group was helpful in introducing him to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm in Arlington, Virginia, and an associate member of the State Policy Network. The institute testified before the Legislature in support of the state constitutional amendment on education."
Stance On Education
The APF strongly advocates for state support of charter schools in Alaska. The APF has advocated for public funding of private and religious schools using reports authored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The APF has also published a report card on school performance in Anchorage, AL based on student test scores.
Courting Controversy Over Public Employee Compensation
In 2014, the APF spent around $20,000 publishing and distributing 80,000 booklets listing the names of local and state employees along with each person's alleged "total compensation."
- "Inserted into the Alaska Dispatch News, the booklets reported that more than 2,500 employees each had a total compensation -- described as total earnings, overtime and benefits -- exceeding $50,000. Employees’ union affiliations were included, and the booklets contained an alphabetical index to ease searches for individuals."
While payroll data is publicly available, the booklets were criticized as divisive and as potentially misleading, if readers confuse the total payroll expense including Medicaid and Social Security payments with workers' take-home pay.
Influencing Understaffed Legislators?
According to APF board member Bob Griffin, conservative Alaska legislators often get information and data from APF that they use to make policy decisions. “We get frequent phone calls from legislators asking if we can look into this and that, and supplement (information) while their staff is busy,” Griffin told the Alaska Dispatch News. Research on politicians suggests that the less time and staff legislators have, the more dependent they are on lobbyists and outside organizations to do research and draft legislation.
Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
The Alaska Policy Forum has hosted writers from the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which screens potential reporters on their “free market” views as part of the job application process. The Franklin Center funds reporters in over 40 states. Despite their non-partisan description, many of the websites funded by the Franklin Center have received criticism for their conservative bias. On its website, the Franklin Center claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."
Franklin Center Funding
Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in 2013 that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." But 95 percent of its 2011 funding came from DonorsTrust, a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as a large "donor-advised fund," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country (CPI did a review of Franklin's Internal Revenue Service records). Mother Jones called DonorsTrust "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article. Franklin received DonorTrust's second-largest donation in 2011.
The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM), a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM gets funding from the State Policy Network, which is partially funded by The Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation. SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.
The APF does not disclose its funding sources, but some of its funders are known through separate tax filings. APF's funders include:
- Donors Capital Fund: $192,000 (2009-2011)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation: $6,580 (2010)
- Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice: $20,000 (2012)
- Total Revenue: $23,916
- Total Expenses: $32,239
- Net Assets: $95,133
- Total Revenue: $26,478
- Total Expenses: $39,486
- Net Assets: $103,456
- Total Revenue: $70,205
- Total Expenses: $23,062
- Net Assets: $116,595
- Total Revenue: $119,400
- Total Expenses: $105,963
- Net Assets: $116,028
- Total Revenue: $80,386
- Total Expenses: $97,837
- Net Assets: $102,591
- Total Revenue: $57,664
- Total Expenses: $102,715
- Net Assets: $120,042
- Total Revenue: $291,683
- Total Expenses: $126,590
- Net Assets: $165,093
- Total Revenue: $63,405
- Total Expenses: $20,501
- Net Assets: $42,904
As of September 2019:
- Bethany Marcum, Executive Director
- Melodie Bowler, Associate Director
- Bob Griffin, Senior Education Research Fellow
- David Boyle, Senior Education Fellow
- Tom Fink, Chair, Education Choice Task Force
- David Nees, Research Associate
- Sarah Montalbano, Policy Analysis Intern
- Mykala Steadman, Communications Intern
- Larry Barsukoff, Director of Operations
- Jeannie Kollander, Development Director
- Thomas J. Hendrix, Research Fellow in Health Policy and Economics
In 2011, the APF's executive director and development director held paid positions, but as of 2016 tax filings the AFP no longer paid any of its staff.
Alaska Policy Forum
201 Barrow Street #8
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
Phone: (907) 334-5853
Fax: (800) 381-2456
Articles and Resources
Related SourceWatch Articles
- State Policy Network:
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Koch Industries
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- Heritage Foundation
- Think tanks
- Whitney Ball
- Adam Meyerson
- Bridgett Wagner
Related PRWatch Articles
- Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRWatch.org, December 19, 2013.
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- Rebekah Wilce, Guardian Documents Expose State Policy Network Groups' Intent to Lobby, PRWatch.org, December 5, 2013.
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