The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy is a Wisconsin-based think tank and a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). According to its website, the MacIver Institute promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government and aims to "produce a new generation of ideas to make Wisconsin great again." According to One Wisconsin Now, the MacIver Institute is "a pro-corporate organization founded in 2009 to advance conservative ideas and values."
MacIver operates the website WisconsinOpenGov.org, which it says “provides you with one location for data on Wisconsin public employee salaries, benefits and labor contracts. We have worked hard to not just allow 'access' the way many government information sites do, but to give you all of the data in a format that allows you to select and sort the information as you see fit.”
- 1 News and Controversies
- 1.1 MacIver Falsely Claimed Wisconsin's September 2020 Coronavirus Spike was Result of "Bad Math"
- 1.2 MacIver Institute Files Lawsuit Against John Chisholm One Week Before His Primary
- 1.3 Despite Wisconsin Job Loss, MacIver Institute Insists the Governor’s plan “Is Working”
- 1.4 The MacIver Institute Suggests Invalid Signatures Will Be Included by the GAB
- 1.5 Critics Claim that John MacIver Would Not Approve of the Distortions Being Made in His Name
- 1.6 Irregularities in the MacIver Institute "Doctor's Note" Video
- 1.7 MacIver Reporter Fails to Reveal his Identity to Interviewees
- 2 MacIver: An ALEC Ally in Wisconsin
- 3 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 4 Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- 5 Ties to the Kochs
- 6 Background
- 7 Funding
- 8 Core Financials
- 9 Personnel
- 10 Contact Information
- 11 Articles and Resources
- 12 External Resources
- 13 References
News and Controversies
In late September 2020, a MacIver piece claimed Wisconsin's COVID-19 calculation method "led to a wildly distorted picture of the state's progress in confronting a the virus." Politifact investigated this claim and gave it a "false" rating, saying "This is how DHS has consistently calculated test positivity... whatever one's objections to the methodology, if the same formula is used at the beginning and the end of a given time period, and the rate increases dramatically in that span, the increase is real."
MacIver Institute Files Lawsuit Against John Chisholm One Week Before His Primary
The MacIver Institute filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, as well as former members of the non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for their role in the John Doe II probe into illegal campaign coordination between Governor Scott Walker and right wing dark money groups. The lawsuit was filed on August 1, 2016, eight days before Chisholm's primary against Verona Swanigan, who is being backed by GOP operative Craig Peterson and Eric O'Keefe's dark money group, Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance.
"In the suit, MacIver says Chisholm and the now-defunct GAB illegally seized their digital records, violating the Stored Communications Act... The suit asks for monetary damages and for a confidential copy of the records seized to be returned to MacIver," according to The Cap Times.
In May a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Cindy Archer and O'Keefe's attorneys against Chisholm. Archer claimed to have been a victim of a renegade prosecutor, but she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisholm's investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy. Cindy Archer's claims of abuse were later disproved by a recording of the search of her home, which demonstrates that investigators read her the search warrant, Mirandized her and treated her cordially.
Despite Wisconsin Job Loss, MacIver Institute Insists the Governor’s plan “Is Working”
In February 2012, the MacIver Institute released an advertisement that makes a variety of claims about how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s programs are “working.” The ad asked Wisconsinites not to believe what they see going on around them and instead to fall for the spin developed by Walker’s messaging team. This ad came at a time when the state of Wisconsin had lost jobs for six months running. Madison’s Capital Times reported that “It” may be working, but if Walker keeps at it, Wisconsinites won’t be working.
The MacIver Institute Suggests Invalid Signatures Will Be Included by the GAB
‘The Capital Times’ reported that the MacIver Institute suggested that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) would deem recall signatures from “Mickey Mouse” or “Hitler” to be valid when counting signatures signed to recall Wis. Gov Scott Walker. The GAB made it clear that it would review petitions with an eye toward disqualifying false or inappropriate signatures. Additionally, a judge defined parameters for the review process.
Critics Claim that John MacIver Would Not Approve of the Distortions Being Made in His Name
'The Capitol Times' reported that the institute that is named for John MacIver "appears to be taking its lead from hyper-partisan out-of-state interests that have little interest in Wisconsin’s civic -- and civil -- traditions. That’s not the way John MacIver, an old-school Wisconsin Republican whose memory we well regard, operated." MacIver was a Milwaukee lawyer and political campaigner who played an important role in electing moderate leaders such as former Governor Warren Knowles. He was a classic mainstream Republican, with close ties to Tommy Thompson and George H.W. Bush. MacIver was a UW-Madison graduate who was always active in civic and state affairs; he frequently served on boards and commissions. And he is well recalled for his work with Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, to create Wisconsin’s Commission on Judicial Elections and Ethics. "[MacIver] would be shocked by what is being done in his name," said the Capitol Times.
Irregularities in the MacIver Institute "Doctor's Note" Video
The MacIver Institute created a video in which the organization claimed to have caught doctors in white coats in February, 2011 directing Madison, Wisconsin protesters to places where they could obtain absentee excuses for the time they were out of work marching in protest of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill. However, irregularities were found in the report. The absentee letters listed the doctor as "Kathy Orton," but no Kathy Orton was found to be listed as a Wisconsin doctor. Also, the contact listed on the doctors notes was "Badgerdoctors@gmail.com," but there was no listing for "Badgerdoctors," which one would presume would be the name of the medical group or association that the "doctors" were from. Usually in protest situations, the final negotiation with employers forgives the days missed for protests, but this information was not mentioned in MacIver's "report." It was also revealed that the videographer who shot the "doctor's note" footage was Christian Hartstock, a friend of the late Andrew Breitbart, who is known for putting misleading videos on his web site, BigGovernment.com.
Brett Healy reported on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com web site on May 4, 2011 that the video "won an award for their reporting of the labor unrest at the State Capitol. MacIver beat out international competition to win the Grand Prize in the ‘Lights Camera, Liberty’ contest, which was presented at The Atlas Experience conference in Dallas, Texas last week. 'We congratulate the leadership and staff of the MacIver Institute for their tremendous achievements in reaching large audiences through video communications and for the critical role they continue to play educating citizens of Wisconsin and the nation,' said Brad Lips, Chief Executive Officer of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. The award winning video. . . was narrated and produced for the MacIver News Service by investigative reporter Bill Osmulski."
MacIver Reporter Fails to Reveal his Identity to Interviewees
Former television reporter Bill Osmulski works for the MacIver Institute. In 2009, he was charged with obtaining interviews with two elected Wisconsin officials under false pretenses by failing to disclose his affiliation with MacIver. Osmulski led the two officials he spoke with to believe he was conducting the interview for a local television station. When asked about the incident, Osmulski claimed he did not reveal his affiliation because the officials did not ask him for it, but Stephen Ward, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics, said reporters have a duty to disclose their affiliation and the purpose of their interview prior to conducting the interview. "You should be open about all your affiliations in advance," Ward said.
MacIver: An ALEC Ally in Wisconsin
In 2011-2012, the MacIver Institute teamed up with American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) member Americans for Prosperity to produce a multi-million dollar TV "issue ad" campaign called "It's Working!" in support of Governor Scott Walker.
The MacIver/AFP ads told Wisconsinites that Walker brought thousands of jobs to Wisconsin, but omitted the facts that Wisconsin is ranked 50 out of 50 in the nation in job creation and that the state lost at least 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012.
In April 2013, MacIver again published misleading information regarding Wisconsin job growth under Walker, claiming greater job growth than even Walker himself had reported. The piece, titled "Gov. Scott Walker More than Halfway to 250,000 Jobs Goal", claims that 137,372 jobs have been created since Walker took office. The non-partisan fact-checking organization PolitiFact gives this claim "Pants on Fire" status, showing that their conclusions are severely flawed on several levels. First, the MacIver report uses partial years in their calculation, a method which is known to be an extremely poor measure of trends because of seasonal job market fluctuation. Secondly, the MacIver report does not account for the existing jobs at the start of Walker's term, which consequently inflatedly the number by 65,401 jobs that should not have been included. Reports from the Capital Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel estimate that the true number of jobs created from January 2011 to February 2013 was closer to 64,500.
On November 24, 2010, just weeks after Walker was elected governor, the MacIver Institute published an editorial by Brian Fraley calling for the newly-elected governor and legislature to repeal public sector collective bargaining and make Wisconsin a “Right to Work” state. Walker never mentioned attacking collective bargaining rights during the campaign. The editorial was published two weeks before Walker first raised the subject publicly at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon.
Fraley was MacIver’s Director of Communications and the former private sector co-chair of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our ExposedbyCMD.org site.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grants prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.
2016: $170,000 to support general operations. According to the grant proposal record, “In the coming year, McIver plans to put its resources behind a push for a 3 percent flat income tax for Wisconsin; a change in the mandatory sentencing rules for 17 year-olds; to continue the Raising up Wisconsin: How Minimum Wage Jobs Turned into Family Supporting Careers series; and a study on how to cut a billion dollars from state spending. At the same time, MacIver will continue its rapid response and fact-checking of the progressive movement.
2015: $19,640 to support a special project. This grant was to fund Brett Healy’s update to The Progressive Non-Profit Movement in Wisconsin which will include information on the “Left’s new infrastructure, its funding, and its leadership.”
2014: $170,000 for general operations. The Bradley grant proposal notes that MacIver is active on labor issues, supporting Gov. Walker’s Act 10 and in the “education reform” arena, mentioning a report it published on “Florida’s K-12 reforms that were the basis for many of the reforms debated (in 2014) … MacIver has done a lot of work documenting the ‘protestors’ at the north woods mining sites… It is doubtful these stories would have been covered at all had MacIver not been present.” MacIver also collaborated with David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin on It’s Working, Wisconsin.
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Matt Kittle Joins MacIver After Franklin's Wisconsin Watchdog Closes Doors
The MacIver Institute 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.
Method of Operation and Reporting Irregularities
The MacIver Institute claims to be a news service, but it actually gathers -- and in some cases seems to create -- "news" footage designed to advance a conservative, anti-worker agenda.
Ties to the Kochs
ThinkProgress reported that the MacIver Institute has numerous ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers, billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries, which has numerous business interests in Wisconsin. ThinkProgress writes that "Mark Block, the Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin state director and a key figure in the alleged voter suppression plot, sits on MacIver’s board of directors. MacIver and AFP Wisconsin also share two other board members, David Fettig and Fred Luber. MacIver also works closely with AFP Wisconsin as part of the Wisconsin Prosperity Network, along with another group with ties to Koch funding, American Majority. The think tank also participates in the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies’ Koch Summer Fellows Program and is a member of the Koch-funded State Policy Network."
The MacIver Institute teamed up with Americans for Prosperity to purchase $700,000 worth of television ads in Wisconsin. The ad claimed that by eliminating collective bargaining, Walker had "put taxpayers back in control" and praised his record. Groups registered as 501(c)(3)s can do some lobbying for or against legislation (but not candidates), so long as this is “an insubstantial part” of their overall activities, a threshold the IRS has not clearly defined. Most groups that engage in issue advocacy opt for a different tax status, 501(c)(4), according to Wisconsin journalist Bill Lueders. Lueders characterized the ad campaign's legality as "close to the line."
As of January 2017, the MacIver Institute is also listed as a "partner organization" in the Charles Koch Institute's Liberty@Work program.
Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.
According to the Eye on Wisconsin blog, the domain name maciverinstitute.com was privately registered in December, 2008, "with no one willing to lay public claim to the new org[anization]."
The MacIver Institute is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings. Here are some of the known funders:
- Americans for Prosperity Foundation: $25,000 (2018)
- Atlas Network: $20,500 (2010-2011)
- Bradley Impact Fund: $280,384 (2013-2018)
- Charles Koch Institute: $17,500 (2015-2016)
- DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund: $174,000 (2010-2017)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $1,590,640 (2008-2018)
- State Policy Network: $55,100 (2014-2016)
- Total Revenue: $489,212
- Total Expenses: $564,268
- Net Assets: $96,090
- Total Revenue: $337,711
- Total Expenses: $495,572
- Net Assets: $167,182
- Total Revenue: $466,434
- Total Expenses: $459,618
- Net Assets: $329,193
- Total Revenue: $474,506
- Total Expenses: $455,948
- Net Assets: $323,230
- Total Revenue: $398,830
- Total Expenses: $480,359
- Net Assets: $303,910
- Total Revenue: $509,474
- Total Expenses: $528,194
- Net Assets: $387,684
- Total Revenue: $632,359
- Total Expenses: $504,410
- Net Assets: $406,404
- Total Revenue: $404,334.00
- Total Expenses: $496,830.00
- Net Assets: $278,455.00
- Total Revenue: $584,944.00
- Total Expenses: $384,756.00
- Net Assets: $370,951.00
As of June 2019:
- Brett Healy, President
- William Osmulski, Investigative Reporter
- Ola Lisowski, Research Director
- Chris Rochester, Communications Director
- Matt Kittle, Investigative Reporter
- Jack Laufenberg, Research Associate
The MacIver Institute has a quick staff turnover, and the staff listing on its contact page sometimes doesn't quite keep up with its press releases about staff replacements. A selection of current and former staff is below:
Cory Liebmann of the Eye on Wisconsin website discovered that former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen had written press releases for the MacIver Institute, even though his name is not on the releases and the Institute has denied that Jensen is formally involved with the organization. Jensen's authorship of the releases, Liebmann writes, can be discovered by accessing one of the organization's press releases, right-clicking on it and observing the document properties (e.g. "Author:Scott Jensen"). Jensen also authored a PowerPoint presentation on the Institute's web site.
Jensen is controversial because he was the subject of an eight-year criminal case for misconduct while he was in office in Wisconsin. The case concluded in December, 2010 after Jensen agreed to pay a $5,000 civil forfeiture fine and reimburse the state of Wisconsin $67,174 in legal fees initially borne by taxpayers, according to a plea deal. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Patrick L. Snyder found Jensen guilty of an ethics code violation related to his using his government position for illegal gain. Felony charges against Jensen were dropped under the deal. Jensen also has a 2006 misdemeanor conviction in Dane County for violating the public trust. In 2002, Jensen (along with other GOP leaders in the State Assembly) was charged with using taxpayer dollars to run a secret, illegal campaign machine out of the Capitol.
The president of the MacIver Institute is Brett Healy, who worked for Scott Jensen for 12 years and was Jensen's Chief of Staff during the time Jensen was brought up on criminal charges. During Jensen's trial, Healy contradicted testimony offered by two staffers he supervised, Leigh (Himebauch) Searl and Carrie (Hoeper) Richard -- that Jensen was fully aware of the campaign work they and others did on behalf of Taxpayers for Jensen while at the office. In testimony given prior Healy's in the trial, Leigh (Himebauch) Searl said that for four months in 2000, she worked on Jensen's campaign while drawing a state salary and occupying an office at the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Healy testified that he was unaware of that arrangement. Healy went on to become a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin in Milwaukee. 
MacIver's former Director of Communications, Nick Novak', previously a regional field manager for the Republican National Committee, director of operations for Eric Hovde's 2012 U.S. Senate campaign, external relations coordinator for Governor Scott Walker. Former Directors of Communications have included Sean Lansing, Press Secretary for Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana) as of February 2012, and Brian Fraley, who served as the Senior Vice President for State Affairs at America's Health Insurance Plans in Washington, D.C. Fraley was also the national Health and Human Services Task Force Private Sector Chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The Institute's former treasurer, Mark Block, was State Director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Block was banned from politics and fined $15,000 for participating in an illegal scheme in the campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. Block served as Wilcox's campaign manager. Block illegally coordinated $200,000 worth of campaign activity with a group that pretended to be operating independently. The person who ran that "independent" group was fined $35,000 and was also banned from Wisconsin state politics for five years. Justice Wilcox also paid a $10,000 fine. The fines were the largest ever assessed against a campaign in Wisconsin's history
The Institute's former Educational Policy Analyst, Christian D'Andrea, was formerly a Policy Analyst and State Program Director with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which was named after free market economist Milton Friedman. That organization, which has since changed its name to the Foundation for Educational Choice, advocates the use of voucher systems for education, a system that allows taxpayer funds to flow to private schools.
Other prominent Wisconsin Republican operatives connected to the organization include Bill Klauser, a top administrator for Governor Tommy Thompson, and Michael Grebe, head of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Board of Directors
As of January 2020:
- Steve Fettig, Vice Chair
- Laurie McCallum, former First Lady of Wisconsin
- James (Jim) Leef
- Brett Healey, President
- Gerardo (Jerry) H. Gonzalez
- Carl Kuehne of Green Bay (Secretary of the Green Bay Packers and a member of its Executive Committee)
- Fred Luber, Board Chair
- Jim Troupis of Madison. James Troupis is a Republican lawyer-for-hire who has been tied up with the gerrymandering scandal. He has worked for Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s David Prosser, Michael Gableman, and Anette Ziegler. Troupis was also the legal mastermind behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to issue arrest warrants to the 14 Democrat senators who left the state of Wisconsin to in opposition to Walker’s "Collective Bargaining Bill."
John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy
10 East Doty St., Suite 800
Madison, WI 53703
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
Related Sourcewatch Resources
- 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
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