Center for Independent Employees

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Learn more about how the State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states.

The Center for Independent Employees (CIE) is a right-wing 501(c)3 nonprofit and a former associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN).[1]

Founded in 2002, the Center for Independent Employees' listed address is a P.O. Box out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. CIE's website is password protected, but its social media accounts promote right-wing, anti-union views.[2] "CIE is a legal defense foundation that provides free legal services to workers against unionization," according to President Russ Brown's LinkedIn page.[3]

State Policy Network

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 2022, SPN's membership totals 166. 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.'"[6]

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.[7]

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $900,040
  • Total Expenses: $ 493,671
  • Net Assets: $426,530


  • Total Revenue: $166,000
  • Total Expenses: $151,858
  • Net Assets: $20,161


  • Total Revenue: $58,560
  • Total Expenses: $57,885
  • Net Assets: $6,019


As of the CIE' 2015 tax filing:[8]
Board of Directors

  • Russ Brown, President
  • William Strickland, Secretary
  • James F. Edwards Jr., Treasurer
  • Jared Rodriguez, Executive Director


Employer Identification Number (EIN): 26-0005176

Center for Independent Employees
P.O. Box 2421
Spartanburg, South Carolina 29304
Website: (password protected/inaccessible)
Phone: (864).316.9050
Twitter: @CIEMedia


  1. State Policy Network, Directory, organizational website, March 9, 2017.
  2. Center for Independent Employees, CIEMedia, Twitter, accessed March 9, 2017.
  3. Russ Brown, Russ Brown, LinkedIn, accessed March 9, 2017.
  4. David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million, ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
  5. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  6. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  7. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Center for Independent Employees, 2015 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, May 12, 2016.
  9. Center for Independent Employees, 2014 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, May 12, 2015.
  10. Center for Independent Employees, 2013 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, March 29, 2014.