Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

Background

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is a 501(c)(3) conservative media organization located in Bismarck, North Dakota that trains journalists and publishes political news and commentary.  Established in January 2009, The Franklin Center “supports and trains investigative journalists to advance transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in local government, and to spotlight free-market, pro-liberty solutions to difficult public policy challenges,” according to its website. The Franklin Center obtained non-profit status in June, 2009.1About,” Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gGhxG 2About,” Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Archived June 25, 2011. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/821wj

The Franklin Center was originally launched and funded by Eric O’Keefe’s now-defunct Sam Adams Alliance (SAA), a conservative think-tank which encouraged “grass-roots activism.” The website was registered by John Connors, who also worked with Americans for Prosperity and was the public face of the dark money group Citizens for a Strong America.3 Julie Kosterlitz. “Conservative Watchdogs Awake.(Watchdog.org),” National Journal, December 11, 2009. Retrieved from HighBeam Research. Archived September 21, 2014. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/UFLRX 4About,” Sam Adams Alliance. Archived February 16, 2012. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/kftrK

The Center has also been criticized for funding partisan polls, and has ties to the Tea Party training group American Majority. The Center maintains a large and growing number of news bureaus across the United States.5The Conservative Group Behind The Poll Of Walker’s Budget Plan,” TPM, February 24, 2011 Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/aR8dF 6About,” Sam Adams Alliance. Archived February 16, 2012. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/kftrK

When the Center was created, it started with a budget of zero dollars, which by 2009 had jumped to $2.4 million (this being money from the Sam Adams Alliance, the National Journal reports). “That’s a spectacular leap for a nonprofit, especially in Medora,” Jeff Nesbit writes in a 2016 profile of the Franklin Center in Salon. “It was almost as if someone wished to utilize the charter concept of the Franklin Center—developing individual but interlinked news centers across the United States that would all promote the same messages—for other purposes and therefore infused it with a mountain of funding and network support. Intriguingly, this was a year before the Tea Party movement seemingly sprang from nowhere and spread like a prairie fire to the thirty-nine state capitals where the Franklin Center now operates its news sites.”7Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

From 2007/2008, the Franklin Center rapidly grew to become the largest network of local political reporting in the country with  55 news sites generally “from an antitax, antiregulation, or antispending frame,” reports Nesbit. “While each of the sites has its own team of local reporters, they generally tend to share common themes across the entire network of coverage, recent studies have shown.” It describes its network of reporters as “watchdogs.”8Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

The Franklin Center maintains local sites and reporters which adhere to an overarching platform:

“All publications have a mission and a voice. We are unabashed in ours: to spotlight waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars by state and local governments. We always ask these questions when reporting on events: What does this mean for taxpayers? Will it advance or restrict individual freedom? We look at the bigger picture, provide analysis that’s often missing from modern news stories, and do more than provide ‘he-said, she-said’ reports from the state Capitol. Our journalists look for the back story and offer much-needed perspective on the day’s news.”9Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

Nesbit comments that by maintaining multiple news outlets with the same underlying themes, the Franklin Center can obscure its influence: “The state legislators and local readers also aren’t generally aware that a national center is directing traffic.”

In many states, the Franklin Center is a large source of political news: 

“Specializing in state and local government, [the] Franklin Center has focused its efforts on reaching maximum penetration within small and mid-sized media markets—on driving a conversation about transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility at the grassroots level and putting a human face on public policy,” it says. “We specialize in reaching a layman’s audience through local media, coordinating our nationwide network to ensure that we are hitting this audience in every state.”10Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

GOP, Koch, Americans for Prosperity, & Tea Party Connections

The Franklin Center’s former president is Jason Stverak, former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party and former regional field director for the Sam Adams Alliance.11Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2 12Jason Stverak,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/3z3xp

The Franklin Center’s director of donor development, Matt Hauck, worked for the Charles G. Koch Foundation. Its senior vice president in charge of strategic initiatives, Erik Telford, worked for the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity before joining the Franklin Center. The founding board member who set it up was Rudie Martinson, who helped run Americans for Prosperity in North Dakota. Martinson is still on the Franklin Center’s board. One of the founders of the Franklin Center, John Tsarpalas, is a past president of the Sam Adams Alliance and director of the Illinois Republican Party.13Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

Jeff Nesbit reports that “Like the Sam Adams Alliance training sessions that were conducted under the umbrella of Americans for Prosperity in the year or so prior to the Chicago Tea Party event, most of the Franklin Center’s training sessions for citizen journalists are likewise conducted in partnership with Americans for Prosperity.”14Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

Watchdog.org/Citizen Watchdog

As of 2016, the Franklin Center’s public 990 form stated the Center’s main program was Watchdog.org with approximately 80% of the Center’s budget going to the program, with the remaining 20% going to administrative and operations costs.

Watchdog.org’s stated mission is to “restore oversight of our state governments, to hold politicians and bureaucrats at all levels accountable for their handling of taxpayers’ dollars and to promote innovative solutions to public policy challenges.”15About Us,” Watchdog.org. Archived September 26, 2017. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/PWLbr

The Franklin Center launched its initial “activist training program” in 2012, entitled Citizen Watchdogwith the stated goal of raising “an army of citizen journalists, trained and equipped to serve as watchdogs in their local communities.”  The Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org promoted the work of its “affiliates” across the country.16Elizabeth Hillgrove. “Become a Citizen Watchdog,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, March 1, 2012. Archived October 27, 2015. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/tZ8ZJ

Salon magazine reported on the Franklin Center’s program:

“We’re leaders in the new wave of non-profit journalism. We have reporters, news sites, investigative journalists and affiliates across the country—and we’re growing. In addition to our nationwide team of professional journalists, we are expanding our reach into citizen journalism,” the Franklin Center wrote. “We provide training to these citizen watchdogs so that they can better employ journalistic standards as they keep their local governments accountable through their blogs and Web sites. While distinct from our journalism efforts, this new wave of information activism will help fulfill Franklin’s vision of creating a more vibrant democratic society based on accountability and open government.”17Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

Franklin Center Criticism

While the Center projects itself as being non-partisan, a number of groups have criticized the Franklin Center for a conservative bias and The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism ranked the Watchdog.org group as “highly ideological.” It also maintains other ties to the right: Jason Stverak, former President of the Franklin Center was also the past executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. The Center’s current President, Erik Telford, has previous ties to the right-wing  Americans for Prosperity.18“’Watchdog’ website puts a new spin on politics,” Portland Press Herald, October 2, 2010. Archived October 27, 215. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/nYUCx 19Allison Kilkenny. “The Koch Spider Web,” truth-out.org, August 4, 2011. Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/DVyRi 20A Closer Look at Non-Profit News Sites,” Journalism.org. Archived September 15, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/aRwlv 21Jason Stverak, President,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/CAaMf 22Franklin Center Names Erik Telford President,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Rt90j

Reporter Gene Gibbons criticized Watchdog.org’s journalism quality in the Nieman Reports (a publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard): 

“For the most part, the people in charge of these would-be watchdog operations are political hacks out to subvert journalism in their quest to grab and keep power using whatever means they have to do so. […] At the forefront of an effort to blur the distinction between statehouse reporting and political advocacy is the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.”23Gene Gibbons. “Statehouse Beat Woes Portend Bad News for Good Government,Nieman Reports, December 15, 2010. Archived October 29, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9v8gs

When Gibbons interviewed Franklin Center President Jason Stverak in the spring of 2010 for the Nieman Foundation report, Stverak told him that the Franklin Center journalists were held to the same journalism ethics as those from traditional newspapers. They should be judged “based upon the content that they produce,” Stverak said.

However, when Gibbons looked further he found “political propaganda dressed up as journalism.” Jeff Nesbit writes at Salon how four months after the interview Gibbons wrote, “The Franklin Center co-sponsored and played an active role in a two-day conference organized by Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Right Online Agenda conference included such breakout sessions as ‘Intro to Online Activism’ and ‘Killing the Death Tax’ and featured speakers such as conservative U.S. Representative Michele Bachman of Minnesota and Tea Party activist Sharron Angle, a Republican who was then running against Harry Reid in the election for U.S. Senate in Nevada. No Democratic legislators were included in the program. The finale of the Las Vegas conference was a ‘November is Coming Rally.’ ”24Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

Stance on Climate Change

While the Franklin Center does not appear to have an official statement on climate change, its affiliated news outlets regularly publishes articles questioning man-made climate change. Some examples below:

December 10, 2015

According to Roy Cordato, who writes in Franklin-Center-affiliated Carolina Journal, “Warming has actually occurred at a pace far below what any climate models have predicted,” (Citing Anthony Watts citing Roy Spencer.)25Roy Cordato. “Front-Page Advocacy on Climate Talks,” Carolina Journal, December 10, 2015. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Zt0Od

Cordato claims there has been a “[…] ‘pause’ in warming, that is the flat trend in global temperatures over the last 18 — now going on 19 — years […]” (Citing himself, citing Anthony Watts, who reposted an article written by Christopher Monckton that finally cites Ross McKitrick).26Roy Cordato. “Front-Page Advocacy on Climate Talks,” Carolina Journal, December 10, 2015. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Zt0Od

Cordato continues, writing that “global warming is not about data points,” but that this is a “a trick pulled by global warming alarmists over the last decade” (citing himself, citing Fred Singer).27Roy Cordato. “Front-Page Advocacy on Climate Talks,” Carolina Journal, December 10, 2015. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Zt0Od

2015

“There is a way for Nevada to fight back. Every business owner and electricity consumer in Nevada should encourage both Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt to join 27 other states and fight the Clean Power Plan in federal court.” — Michael Schaus, Nevada Policy Research Institute.28EPA is determined to prove Obama right and make energy prices ‘skyrocket’,” Nevada Policy Research Institute, December 9, 2015. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/o8hXL

2014

“I continue to contend that ‘climate change’ is a meaningless phrase because the climate obviously changes. But how? To what effect? It’s like saying ‘baby change’ about an infant. How? Is he well and growing? Is he ill?

“’Climate change’ is useful for political activism because, unlike ‘global warming,’ it can’t be tested.” — John Seiler, CalWatchdog.com.29John Seiler. “Fact-checking Tom Steyer on climate change,” CalWatchdog.com, August 23, 2014. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Sckty

2013

“There’s seemingly nothing anyone can do to appease global warming activists bent on putting the nation’s energy suppliers out of business.”30Dustin Hurst. “As reds and blues unite behind Keystone, greens prepare for battle,” Watchdog.org, January 31, 2013. Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/N3rTS

2012

“Many people will uncritically blame fossil fuel use for recent warm weather. But they are blind to how fossil fuels have reduced climate-related deaths since the 1920s.” —Brian T. Schwartz, Boulder Daily Camera (republished by Independence Institute.org)31Brian T. Schwartz. “Fossil fuel use protects us from climate-related risks,” The Boulder Daily Camera, December 15, 2012. Republished by The Independence Institute, December 21, 2012. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/l0iVG

2011

“[T]here are rifts in the scientific community – among scientists themselves when it comes to global warming, what — if anything — should be done about it, and a number of climatologists worry their discipline is getting pulled into overtly political directions.“32Rob Nikolewski. ”What I saw at the climate conference; and leading scientist says some colleagues ‘endorse Al Gore even though they know what he’s saying is exaggerated and misleading’.” New MexicoWatchDog.org, November 15, 2011. Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/tDqxZ

“The science is settled? While I got the impression there’s plenty of consensus among the scientists at the Santa Fe conference on a warming planet, there wasn’t much agreement on points beyond that.”33Rob Nikolewski. ”What I saw at the climate conference; and leading scientist says some colleagues ‘endorse Al Gore even though they know what he’s saying is exaggerated and misleading’.” New MexicoWatchDog.org, November 15, 2011. Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/tDqxZ

June 2011

“Hard-nosed physical evidence of man-made global warming has yet to be provided by the promoters of warming, even after a nominal $80 billion dollars have been spent in the attempt to do so.” — Michael Fox, Hawaii Reporter.34Michael Fox. “The Corruption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: A National Peril,” Hawaii Reporter, June 22, 2011. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/IvEiX

Funding

According to research by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch,  “Franklin acts as a hub that distributes funding that it receives from right-wing institutions such as the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance.”35Sara Jerving. “Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source,” PR Watch, October 27, 2011. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/BXikm

The following funding details are based on data collected by the Conservative Transparency Project.  Note that not all of the following funding values have been verified by DeSmogBlog for accuracy. See the attached spreadsheet for more information on the Franklin Center’s funding by year (.xlsx).36Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity,” Conservative Transparency. Accessed May 19, 2017. Data on file at DeSmog.

Franklin Center as Recipient

DonorTotal
Donors Capital Fund$33,144,119
DonorsTrust$5,851,973
The Thirteen Foundation$1,309,775
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation$885,500
Searle Freedom Trust$812,500
Walton Family Foundation$650,000
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation$357,736
Wellspring Committee$160,000
Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking$155,000
Judicial Education Project$100,000
State Policy Network$100,000
Pew Charitable Trusts$80,784
Mywireless.org$50,000
Sarah Scaife Foundation$35,000
Americans for Prosperity Foundation$30,000
Castle Rock Foundation$25,000
Adolph Coors Foundation$25,000
Armstrong Foundation$25,000
Vernon K Krieble Foundation$24,500
Hickory Foundation$20,000
Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice$10,000
Einhorn Family Foundation$6,000
Robert P Rotella Foundation$5,000
National Christian Charitable Foundation$2,000
Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation$1,000
Grand Total$43,865,887

Franklin Center as Donor

RecipientTotal
Government Accountability Institute$2,000,000
Cause of Action$894,000
Hard Boiled Film$556,550
Freedom Through Justice$350,000
Texas Watchdog$322,500
Nevada News Bureau$257,351
Oregon Capitol$250,000
Frontier Lab$235,000
Missouri News Network$200,000
Cowboy State Free Press$156,000
TN Watch$150,000
Foundation for Ethics in Public Service$115,000
Maryland Reporter.com$93,000
James Madison Institute$75,000
Small Business Foundation Hawaii$71,500
Idaho Freedom Foundation$60,000
TNRReport.com$50,000
True The Vote$50,000
Pershing Center$45,000
Lucy Burns Institute$43,412
Pelican Institute$36,000
American Majority$25,000
American Phoenix Foundation$25,000
Citizen Outreach Foundation$25,000
Tennessee Center for PP$25,000
Rhode Island Center for Freedom$7,500
Independence Institute$6,750
Talent Market$6,000
Grand Total$6,130,563

DonorsTrust/Donors Capital Fund

In addition to seed money from the Sam Adams Alliance, The Franklin Center received significant funding from grants channeled through DonorsTrust (DT) over the years, with much of this finding going directly to the center’s campaigns against alternative energy and the recognition of climate change. According to the Center for Public Integrity, 95 percent of the Franklin Center’s revenue in 2011 came from DonorsTrust.37Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/UjpX2 38Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states,” The Center for Public Integrity, February 14, 2013. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/m05vU

From 2009 to 2013, The Franklin Center received a total of at least $20,257,169 from Donors Capital Fund (DCF), and an additional $4,224,520 from DonorsTrust

Mother Jones magazine described DonorsTrust as the “Dark Money ATM of the Conservative Movement.” DT and DCF allow for anonymous donations from individuals and groups that want to conceal their donor information through “donor-advised funds.”39Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement,” Mother Jones, February 5, 2013. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/AV3CQ

990 Forms

Franklin Center Contact & Location

The first legal address of the Franklin Center was a taffy shop in Medora, North Dakota. Its second address is a post office box in Bismark, North Dakota, which forwards mail to Old Town Alexandria, near Washington, DC.40Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

North Dakota law requires that nonprofits have a “physical address,” not just a forwarding address or a post office box. This was why, for years, the Franklin Center was registered to the taffy shop while the mail was forwarded from the UPS store in Bismarck.41Jeff Nesbit. “Inside the right-wing lie factory: Secrets of a Koch-funded propaganda machine more insidious than Fox News,” Salon, April 30, 2016. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/qn7Y2

As of May, 2016, the Franklin Center listed the following contact information on its website:42How to get in touch with Franklin Center,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 29, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/lHzRk

Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity
107 S. West St.
Suite 718
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (571) 384-2090
Fax: (571) 384-2093

Key People

Board of Directors

201243Board of Directors,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 30, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/g5IWz2015 44Board of Directors,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/unmuk201645Board of Directors,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Cypi9
Blair ThoresonY
Doug LoenY
Ed McFaddenY
Erik TelfordY
Jack FowlerYY
Jason StverakY
John J. MillerYY
Mary Beth WeissYY
Rudie MartinsonY

Leadership Team

201546Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5201647Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1Description
Erik TelfordYPast President
Mary Ellen BeattyYChief of Staff
Nicole NeilyYPresident
Steve MullinsYChief Financial Officer
Will SwaimYPast Vice President of Journalism

Communications & Outreach

201548Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5201649Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1Description
Breyana FranklinYPast Public Affairs Manager
Josh KaibYOutreach and Content Manager
Kevin GlassYYDirector of  Outreach and Policy
Spencer SchwartzYOutreach & Communications Intern
Victor NavaYPast Staff Writer

Development

201550Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5201651Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1Description
Christina PajakYYManager of Investor Relations
John CourtsYYDevelopment Operations and Research Manager
Matthew HauckYYDirector of Development
Megan RitterYPast Grants Manager and Development Writer
Shana DavidsonYPast Direct Marketing Manager

Marketing & Special Projects (2016)52Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1

NameDescription
Andrew CollinsDigital Media Manager
Kristen HawleyDigital Marketing Manager
Scott KocenTechnology Adviser

Operations/Administration

201553Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5201654Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1Description
Alyssa ViscomiYPast Executive Assistant
Becky WesselsYYDirector of Operations

Watchdog Arena (2015) 55Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5

NameDescription
Jackie BastaschManaging Editor, Watchdog Arena
Josh KaibOutreach and Content Manager

Watchdog.org

201556Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/Kj0I5201657Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 8, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/x42b1
Amelia HamiltonY
Andrew StaubY
Arthur KaneY
Bruce ParkerY
Chris ButlerY
Deena WinterY
Eric BoehmYY
Evan GrossmanYY
Heather KaysY
James WigdersonY
Jason HartYY
John BicknellYY
John TrumpY
Johnny KampisYY
Jon CassidyYY
Kenric WardYY
Mark LagerkvistY
Mark LisheronYY
Mary Ellen BeattyY
Matt KittleYY
Moriah CostaY
Paul BrennanY
Rob NikolewskiY
Steve WilsonYY
Tom StewardY
Tori RichardsY
Will SwaimY

Past People

Advisory Committee (2012)58Advisory Committee,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived May 30, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/CfGeN

Staff (2012 – Partial List)59Staff,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived February 21, 2012. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/NrZLa

  • Jason Stverak — President. Past Field Director, Sam Adams Alliance.
  • Gwen Beattie — Executive Vice President. Former Director, America’s Future Foundation.
  • John Connors — Director of Special Projects.
  • Steven Greenhut — Vice President of Journalism.
  • Erik Telford — Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Outreach.

Development and Outreach

  • Alicia Barrett — Manager of Investor Relations
  • Shana Davidson — Direct Marketing Manager
  • Matt Hauck — Director of Development. Former Associate, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
  • Christina Pajak — Manager of Investor Relations.
  • Megan Ritter — Grants Manager and Development Writer.
  • John Courts — Development Coordinator.
  • Kathy McDonald — Senior Director of External Affairs.

Actions

July 12, 2016

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, represented by Nicole Neily, was among 22 groups represented in a “Coalition” open letter pushing back against what the Heartland Institute describes as an “affront to free speech.” The groups are responding to the recent Web of Denial Resolution brought up in the Senate, calling out fossil fuel industry-funded groups denying climate change.60Jim Lakely. “#WebOfDenial Push by Senate Dems Exposes Their Hatred of Free Speech,” Somewhat Reasonable (Heartland Institute Blog), July 12, 2016. Archived July 14, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/eFCkh

According to the Climate Investigations Center, all but one of the open letter’s signatory organizations have taken money (totalling at least $92 million since 1997) from the “climate denial web” including Koch Brothers’ various foundations, ExxonMobil, and two “Dark Money” organizations, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.61Cindy Baxter. “Front Groups Attacking #WebofDenial Senate Action Took Over M in Dark, Dirty Money,” Desmog, July 14, 2016. Originally posted at Climate Investigations Center.

Championed by Senators Whitehouse, Markey, Schatz, Boxer, Merkley, Warren, Sanders, and Franken, the resolution condemns what they are calling the #WebOfDenial — “interconnected groups – funded by the Koch brothers, major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, identity-scrubbing groups like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, and their allies – developed and executed a massive campaign to deceive the public about climate change to halt climate action and protect their bottom lines.”62Brendan Demelle. “Senators Launch Resolution, Speech Blitz Calling Out #WebOfDenial Blocking Climate Action, DeSmog, July 11, 2016.

The open letter addresses the senators, calling them “tyrants”:

“We hear you. Your threat is clear: There is a heavy and inconvenient cost to disagreeing with you. Calls for debate will be met with political retribution. That’s called tyranny. And, we reject it.”63Coalition Letter to Senate Web of Denial Resolution (PDF). Retrieved from the Heartland Institute. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

The full list of signatories and their respective organizations is as follows:

June 13, 2016

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was listed as a creditor in Peabody Energy’s 2016 bankruptcy filings, reports the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD/PRWatch).64Nick Surgey. “Peabody Coal Bankruptcy Reveals Climate Denial Network Funding,” PRWatch, June 13, 2016. Archived June 20, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/a73wj

While the available bankruptcy documents do not list the scale or dates of funding, they outline Peabody Energy’s financial ties to a large network of groups promoting climate change denial.65In re: Peabody Energy Corporation, et al. Debtors,” United States Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division,  Case 16-42529, May 27, 2016. Retrieved from DocumentCloud.

Prominent individuals appearing in the documents include climate deniers Willie SoonRichard LindzenRoy Spencer and Richard Berman. The long list of organizations also includes groups such as Americans for ProsperityAmerican Legislative Exchange CouncilCFACTInstitute for Energy ResearchState Policy Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens more.66Farron Cousins. “Court Documents Show Coal Giant Peabody Energy Funded Dozens Of Climate Denial Groups,” DeSmog, June 13, 2016.

The Guardian also analysed and reported on the Peabody bankruptcy findings:67Suzanne Goldenberg and Helena Bengtsson. “Biggest US coal company funded dozens of groups questioning climate change,” The Guardian, June 13, 2016. Archived June 20, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/pw7On

“These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial,” said Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigation Center, who has spent 20 years tracking funding for climate denial. “It’s the broadest list I have seen of one company funding so many nodes in the denial machine.”

The company’s filings reveal funding for a range of organisations which have fought Barack Obama’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and denied the very existence of climate change. […]

Among Peabody’s beneficiaries, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has insisted – wrongly – that carbon emissions are not a threat but “the elixir of life” while the American Legislative Exchange Council is trying to overturn Environmental Protection Agency rules cutting emissions from power plants. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity campaigns against carbon pricing. The Oklahoma chapter was on the list. […]

“The breadth of the groups with financial ties to Peabody is extraordinary. Thinktanks, litigation groups, climate scientists, political organisations, dozens of organisations blocking action on climate all receiving funding from the coal industry,” said Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy.

“We expected to see some denial money, but it looks like Peabody is the treasury for a very substantial part of the climate denial movement.”

Notable organizations listed in the initial documents include:

Notable individuals named in the initial documents include the following:

May 2, 2016

Kevin Glass, Director of Outreach and Policy at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, wrote an article sympathetic to Duke Energy in Real Clear Markets.68Kevin Glass. “Junk Corporate Activism Victimizes North Carolinians,Real Clear Markets, May 2, 2016. Archived June 25, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gBNRi

According to Kevin Glass, “shameless green groups are […] running ads in North Carolina vilifying Duke Energy and are ramping up their attacks against the company over coal ash. Their motivation is clear: They want to link Republican Governor Pat McCrory – a former longtime Duke Energy employee – to a contrived ‘pollution’ scandal.”69Kevin Glass. “Junk Corporate Activism Victimizes North Carolinians,Real Clear Markets, May 2, 2016. Archived June 25, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gBNRi

Glass says that residents of North Carolina have been “needlessly frightened and misled by both state health officials and by radical environmentalists who will stop at nothing to bring down a trusted, much needed energy producer.”70Kevin Glass. “Junk Corporate Activism Victimizes North Carolinians,Real Clear Markets, May 2, 2016. Archived June 25, 2016. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gBNRi

In 2015, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a do-not-drink order for residents living near coal ash storage ponds managed by Duke Energy. The state had found water wells were contaminated with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium and vanadium, which is known to harm kidneys and affect blood pressure. While “do not drink” notices were released in April, they were later retracted in March, confusing many residents.71Confusion and Fear in North Carolina As State Ends Drinking Water Safety Warning,” DeSmog, March 16, 2016.

Environmental groups said that pointing out how municipal water is also contaminated doesn’t mean the state should withdraw public health protections from citizens using well water.72Confusion and Fear in North Carolina As State Ends Drinking Water Safety Warning,” DeSmog, March 16, 2016.

“While the amounts of hexavalent chromium detected in municipal water supplies in North Carolina are worrisome and show we do need state and federal drinking water standards to catch up to the latest science, some of the levels found in wells near Duke’s coal ash sites have been much higher,” said Katie Hicks, Associate Director for Clean Water for North Carolina.73Confusion and Fear in North Carolina As State Ends Drinking Water Safety Warning,” DeSmog, March 16, 2016.

December, 2012 – July 2014

GreenTech Automotive launched a $85 million lawsuit against the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity after the Center’s December, 2012 investigative series that attempted to tie the manufacturing company to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.74(Press Release). “Judge Throws Out Million Lawsuit Against Franklin Center,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, July 25, 2014. Archived October 29, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/uiSNW

GreenTech accused the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org Virginia bureau chief Kenric Ward of defamation and business interference, saying that it had lost $85 million in investment capital due to the articles that the Center had published.

GreenTech’s suit cites a number of instances of Watchdog.org’s reporting as libelous, including describing the company’s headquarters as a “broom closet.” Additional examples include:75Jim Geraghty. “GreenTech vs. Watchdog.org,” National Review, April 17, 2013. Archived October 29, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/i6zhz

  • Quotes from investment advisor Michael Gibson criticizing GTA’s business model “despite the fact Gibson has never seen nor reviewed GTA’s business model” 
  • “Statements from Gibson calling GTA’S EB-5 funding project a ‘fraud’”
  • “False assertions that EB-5 funding is GTA’s chief source of funding and its long-term plan for continuing capital”;
  • Allegations that GTA’s plant in Tunica, Miss., is behind schedule in its building and hiring, when both construction and employment goals are on pace to be met;
  • Statements contending and/or insinuating that federal agencies are investigating or taking “a closer look” at the sources of GTA’s funding.

“There’s no denying that defending the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of our reporters has been costly to us in terms of time, people and money,” Franklin center president Jason Stverak said, “but it’s hard to put a price on defending the Constitution.”

The lawsuit was dismissed on July 24, 2014 by a Mississippi federal court.

February 2013

The Guardian reported that the Franklin Center was at the forefront of a media campaign against wind and solar power that was largely funded by DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund.76Suzanne Goldenberg. “Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. Archived October 29, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/zhWtr

The Guardian also comments on the $6.3 million that the two funds gave to the Franklin Center in 2011, saying that this “Signals a shift in priorities for the conservative billionaires who are funding the anti-climate cause towards local and state-level organising.”

September 12, 2012

Co-sponsored a “Citizen Watchdog Training” event with Americans For Prosperity featuring right-wing activist James O’Keefe who spoke at the event on how “Together, we can begin the hard, but important job of taking back America.”

The event description hints at government conspiracy: “You’ve heard the egregious examples of waste, fraud, and abuse on a daily basis. We can no longer afford to sit by and wait for the government or mainstream media to fully inform the public about what’s going on behind closed doors.”77Citizen Journalist Training With James O’Keefe,” Meetup.com. September 22, 2012. Archived October 28, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9ymUB

2011

According to records on file at SourceWatch, The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a “Vice-Chairman” level sponsor of the 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference.78Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity,” SourceWatch. Archived October 28, 2015. 79American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011 Conference Sponsors, conference brochure on file with CMD, August 11, 2011.

ALEC maintains ties with some of the largest industry organizations and provides connections to state legislators. The group is primarily responsible for drafting bills and resolutions created by the corporations who finance ALEC.

Notably, one of the Franklin Center’s former Directors, Blair Thoreson, was the State Chairman for the North Dakota chapter of ALEC at the time.

February 24, 2011

The Franklin Center commissioned a poll of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal through WisconsinReporter.com, one of the Center’s affiliate websites.

The Franklin Center press release said that “ Poll Shows 71% of Wisconsinites Think Walker’s Budget Changes are ‘Fair’.”80Poll Shows 71% of Wisconsinites Think Walker’s Budget Changes are ‘Fair’,Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, February 21, 2011. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/i2zak

This high percentage created some skepticism about the poll, while the data was cited by major news sources including MSNBC without further investigation.81Poll Shows 71% of Wisconsinites Think Walker’s Budget Changes are ‘Fair’,Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, February 21, 2011. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/i2zak 82The Conservative Group Behind The Poll Of Walker’s Budget Plan,” TPM, February 24, 2011 Archived October 27, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/aR8dF 83YouTube. MSNBC Pushes Right-Wing Wisconsin Poll. YouTube. Accessed February 16, 2013. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

December 2011

Watchdog affiliate New Jersey Watchdog posted an article that pushes for the state to drop a regional emissions reduction program.84Mark Lagerkvist. ”IT’S CURTAINS FOR RGGI AS NJ’S CAP-AND-TRADE OPERA ENDS,” New Jersey Watchdog, December 9, 2011. Archived October 29, 2015. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/KsuwI

Sourcewatch compiled a list of “Statehouse News Bureaus” associated with the Franklin Center. Note that not all of the following news groups are still in operation:85Statehouse News Bureaus,” SourceWatch, accessed October 29, 2015.

Franklin Center News Bureaus

*(Click image for full size)

SourceWatch also archived a list of the Franklin Center’s previously affiliated “Investigative Reporters” or organizations:86Investigative Journalists” (JPG image) Sourcewatch. Accessed October 29, 2015.

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