Franklin News Foundation

Franklin News Foundation

Background

The Franklin News Foundation, previously the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, describes itself as “an innovation 501(c)(3) nonprofit media company built to address the many challenges of sustainable public journalism.” Its projects include The Center Square, the Franklin Media Group, and the Illinois Radio Network (IRN). [1]

The Franklin Center was first established in January 2009 with seed money from the Sam Adams Alliance to support and train “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.” [2], [3]

According to its website, the Franklin News Foundation was created in 2019 to “provide value to news consumers who access their news and information across an ever-changing mosaic of content streams.” The 2018 990 form for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity notes the new name of the 501(c)(3). The Franklin Center itself was founded in January 2009. [4]

The Franklin Center was originally launched and funded by Koch operative 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. [5], [6]

The Franklin Center was criticized for funding partisan polls, and has ties to the Tea Party training group American Majority. Operating as the Franklin News Foundation, it continues to maintain a large and growing number of news bureaus across the United States. [74]

Franklin Center’s Early Growth

When the Franklin 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 wrote in a 2016 profile of the Franklin Center in Salon, excerpted from his book “Poison Tea: How Big Oil and Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party and Captured the GOP”: “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.” [15]

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.” [15]

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.” [15]

Nesbit commented 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.” [15]

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.”

Nesbit wrote 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.’ ”

The Center Square & Watchdog.org

Following the transition of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity to the Franklin News Foundation, Watchdog.org, listed as the Franklin Center’s main program, rebranded as The Center Square. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism previously ranked the Watchdog.org group as “highly ideological.” [7], [8]

“The Center Square was launched to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States,” the Franklin News Foundation website reads. “The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting.” According to the FNF, “distribute our journalism through three main channels at no cost to our partners or readers: a newswire service to legacy publishers and broadcasters, TheCenterSquare.com, and social media.” [9]

According to The Center Square website, the group launched under its new name in May 2019. Publisher Chris Krug described the transition and offered some insight into the name changes for the Franklin News Foundation and Center Square. Krug said their “team took over the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and Watchdog.org in 2017.” [10], [11]

“We already had in place one of the nation’s most successful state-focused news sites and newswire services with the Illinois News Network, from which we delivered such content. So it was with INN in mind that we invested in revamping Watchdog.org in 2018, and approached each of our new states as if it was an INN franchise,” Krug wrote.

“But the feedback from editors and readers was consistent: How can you call yourselves Watchdog.org when you are not purely an investigative news operation, and why does your 501(c)(3) sound like you’re running a think tank?” he added. “Point taken. Message received.”

“As it turns out, the [insert your state here].watchdog.org web sites are a franchise. Tailor the brand with a state, though not all states are represented, and a whole list of anti-union, anti-regulation, right-wing misinformation articles springs up in one’s browser,” Truthout wrote in 2011. [8]

The Pew Center has published more than one report on the Watchdog.org network and have listed it as “highly ideological” and only “somewhat transparent.” A 2013 report on nonprofit journalism from the Pew Center noted the Watchdog.org “content carried a conservative tone” and was among two nonprofit news sites with the “most consistently ideological content.” [12], [13]

In 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 was 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.” [75]

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. [76]

Jeff Nesbit 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.” [15]

Franklin Media Group

According to the FNF website: “Franklin Media Group is a full-service marketing agency that specializes in generating leads for businesses and professionals on a state and regional level.” [9]

The Franklin Media Group lists its services as including advertising, marketing, and production. [14]

Illinois Radio Network

IRN includes 84 affiliate radio stations across 102 counties in Illinois. According to FNF, IRN is “the preeminent news and information source for radio stations across the state.” They add: “For more than 30 years, IRN has consistently provided statehouse and statewide news to local broadcast outlets.” [9]

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. [15], [16]

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. [15]

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.” [15]

Stance on Climate Change

Neither the Franklin Center nor the Franklin News Foundation appear to have made any official statements on climate change. However, Franklin-affiliated news outlets regularly publishes articles questioning man-made climate change. Some examples below:

December 10, 2015

According to Roy Cordato, who wrote 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.) [17]

Cordato claimed 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). [17]

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). 

Funding

The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch described the Franklin Center “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.” [18]

Below is based on data available at the Conservative Transparency project combined with DeSmog’s review of 990 tax forms. Note that values are for both Franklin News Center and Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Franklin News Foundation/Franklin Center as Recipient

Donor & YearTotal
Donors Capital Fund$33,144,119
DonorsTrust$5,901,973
Illinois Policy Institute$1,315,667
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
Bradley Impact Fund$294,000
Sarah Scaife Foundation$185,000
Wellspring Committee$160,000
Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking$155,000
Institute for Technology Development$145,000
Judicial Education Project$100,000
State Policy Network$100,000
Pew Charitable Trusts$80,784
Mywireless.org$75,000
Coalition for the New Economy$75,000
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund$71,145
Linbeck Family Charitable Trust$60,000
Adolph Coors Foundation$50,000
Considine Family Foundation$50,000
Black Family Foundation$50,000
Charles Koch Institute$36,800
Chase Foundation of Virginia$30,000
Americans for Prosperity Foundation$30,000
Greater Houston Community Foundation$25,000
Armstrong Foundation$25,000
Castle Rock Foundation$25,000
Vernon K Krieble Foundation$24,500
Hickory Foundation$20,000
Atlas Economic Research Foundation$20,000
Jewish Communal Fund$10,500
Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice$10,000
Distilled Spirits Council of the United States$7,500
Einhorn Family Foundation$6,000
National Christian Charitable Foundation$5,000
Robert P Rotella Foundation$5,000
James F Causley Jr Family Foundation$2,750
Woodell Foundation$2,000
Frank B and Virginia V Fehsenfeld Charitable Foundation$2,000
Woodford Foundation$1,750
Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation$1,000
Grand Total$46,317,999

Franklin Center as Donor

Recipient & YearTotal
Government Accountability Institute$2,000,000
Hard Boiled Film$1,113,100
Cause of Action$894,000
Oregon Capitol$500,000
Freedom Through Justice$350,000
Texas Watchdog$322,500
Nevada News Bureau$257,351
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
Talent Market$12,000
Rhode Island Center for Freedom$7,500
Independence Institute$6,750
Grand Total$6,943,113

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. [19], [20]

The Franklin News Foundation received more than a combined $39 million from the two groups. 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.” [21]

990 Forms

Below are 990 forms for both the Franklin News Foundation and Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity:

Key People

In April 2017, John Tillman became chairman of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity before it became the Franklin News Foundation. According to his profile at the Franklin News Foundation, Tillman “is best known for leading the relaunch of the Illinois Policy Institute in 2007. He also founded Illinois Policy, a 501(c)(4), and the Liberty Justice Center, a 501(c)(3) public-interest law firm. In 2018, the Illinois Policy Institute and Liberty Justice Center shared the State Policy Network’s Bob Williams Award for Outstanding Policy Achievement in recognition of their U.S. Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCME.” Other notable people have included Kristina Rasmussen, president and operating officer of the Illinois Policy Institute, who was listed as a director as recently as 2018 tax filings. [22], [23]

Board of Directors

Name20122015201620172021TitleDescription
Blair ThoresonYFormer board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) where he served as sector chair of the Communications and Technology task force [24]
Bradley WaltonY
Charles MitchellY
Chris KrugYPresident
Doug LoenY
Ed McFaddenYYHas been a board member of the American Conservative Union. [25]
Eric SucharskiY
Erik TelfordYYSenior Vice President of Stand Together, a key part of the Koch brothers’ network. Also former director of membership and online strategy for Americans for Prosperity [26]
Jack FowlerYYYVice president of National Review and Former board member of the National Review Institute, an associate member group of the State Policy Network. [27], [28]
Jason StverakYChairman
John J. MillerYYYDirector of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College and writes for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. [29]
John TillmanYChairmanHas been chair and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute.
Kristina RasmussenYFormer president and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute. Former Director of Government Affairs at the National Taxpayers Union. Vice President of Federal Affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability, an SPN member [30], [31], [32]
Mary Beth WeissYYDonor representative advising boards of American Commitment, American Transparency and the Network of Enlightened Women. [33]
Rudie MartinsonY

Staff

Name2012201520162017201920202021TitleDescription
Alyssa ViscomiYExecutive Assistant
Amelia HamiltonYEducation Reporter
Andrew CollinsYYDigital Media Manager
Andrew HenselYStaff Reporter
Andrew StaubYPennsylvania Watchdog – Reporter
Arthur KaneYColorado Watchdog Reporter
Ashe SchowYHigher Education and Campus Culture; Reporter Former web editor for the Heritage Foundation, former deputy communications director for Heritage Action for America. Following work for Watchdog.org, became reporter at RealClear Investigations, senior contributor at The Federalist, and a senior editor at The Daily Wire [34]
Becky WesselsYYYDirector of Operations
Brendan HartsellYYBusiness Operations Manager
Brett RowlandYYYRegional Editor
Breyana FranklinYPublic Affairs Manager
Bruce ParkerYYManaging Editor of Watchdog
Bruce WalkerYYRegional EditorFormer managing editor at the Heartland Institute, former freelancer for the Acton Institute. According to his Heartland Institute profile, Walker previously worked at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as science editor of MichiganScience [35], [36]
Carter DeWittYVice President of DevelopmentAfter leaving Franklin Center, worked as chief development officer for The Daily Caller News Foundation [37]
Casey HarperYD.C. Bureau ReporterFormer director at Definers Public Affairs, former reporter at The Daily Caller News Foundation, former freelancer for the Heartland Institute [38]
Chris ButlerYTennessee Watchdog – Reporter
Chris KrugYYYYPresident
Christen SmithYYStaff Reporter
Christian BritschgiYArizona Watchdog; Reporter
Christina PajakYYManager of Investor RelationsPrevious development director at Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. Moved on to become Manager of Donor Relations at State Policy Network [39]
Cole LauterbachYYYRegional Editor
Dan McCalebYYYExecutive Editor
Danielle BehlerYYYDirector of DevelopmentFormer senior fundraiser for FreedomWorks, former development officer at Young America’s Foundation, former director of Donor Relations at the Goldwater Institute, former director of development at NumbersUSA [40]
Dave LemeryYYRegional Editor
David JacobsYYYStaff Reporter
Deena WinterYNebraska Watchdog – Reporter
Delphine LuneauYManaging Editor
Derek DraplinYYYRegional EditorAssociate editor at The Daily Caller [41]
Elizabeth HillgroveYDigital Manager
Emma LambertonYVermont Watchdog; Reporter
Eric BoehmYYNational Reporter
Erik TelfordYYSenior Vice President of Stand Together, a key part of the Koch brothers‘ network. Also former director of membership and online strategy for Americans for Prosperity [26]
Erin ClarkYFlorida Watchdog; Reporter
Evan GrossmanYYEducation Reporter
Frank KeeganYNational Managing Editor
Greg BishopYYYStaff Reporter
Gwen BeattieYExecutive Vice President
Heather KaysYEducation ReporterHas been a research fellow for education and managing editor of School Reform News at the Heartland Institute [42]
J.D. DavidsonYRegional Editor
Jackie BastaschYManaging Editor
Jackie ClewsYDigital Marketing Strategist
James WigdersonYYWisconsin Watchdog; Reporter Freelance columnist for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy [43]
Jason GochYYIRN Sports Director
Jason HartYYOhio Watchdog – ReporterHeartland Institute “Expert” [44]
Jason SchaumburgYYManaging Editor
Jason StverakYChairman
Joe MuellerYStaff Reporter
John BicknellYYYExecutive Editor of WatchdogLeft the Franklin Center to work as editorial director of In Persuit Of, a group that has worked as the PR firm for groups in the Koch Network such as Freedom Partners. [45]
John CourtsYYYYDevelopment Operations and Research Manager
John SpataroYYYAffiliate and Sales Manager
John TrumpYContent Editor
Johnny KampisYYYNational Watchdog ReporterKampis moved on to work as an investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation. [46]
Jon CassidyYYYTexas Watchdog; Reporter
Joseph CamardoYSocial Media and Graphic Design Manager
Josh KaibYYYMarketing and Communications Manager
Kathleen HamptonYNational Director of Donor Relations
Kathy HoekstraYWatchdog Regulations; ReporterCommunications specialist with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy from 2008 to 2011 [47]
Kelly CarsonYContent Editor
Kelly MacfarlandYMedia Outreach Assistant
Kenric WardYYYTexas Watchdog; Reporter
Kevin BesslerYYStaff Reporter
Kevin GlassYYYDirector of  Outreach and Policy
Kristen HawleyYYYDigital Marketing Manager
Laurel PatrickYDirector of Communications and Media Outreach
Lori FenwickYDonor Outreach Manager
Lou VarricchioYVermont Watchdog; Bureau Chief
Mark LagerkvistYNew Jersey Watchdog – Reporter
Mark LisheronYYTexas Reporter
Mary Ellen BeattyYYYChief of StaffFormer acting director of communications at Americans for Prosperity [48]
Matt KittleYYYWisconsin Watchdog; Bureau Chief and Reporter
Matthew HauckYYYSenior Development Officer
Megan RitterYYGrants Manager and Development Writer
Michael BielawskiYVermont Watchdog; ReporterAssociate editor at Reason Foundation [49]
Moriah CostaYEducation Reporter
Nicholas Hahn IIIYDirector of External RelationsFormer consultant for Young America’s Foundation, editor of RealClearReligion [50]
Nicole NeilyYYPresidentPresident of Speech First
Nicole StverakYAdministrative Assistant
Nyamekye DanielYYStaff Reporter
Paul BrennanYEducation Reporter
Rob NikolewskiYEnergy Reporter
Scott KocenYYTechnology Adviser
Scott McClallenYYStaff ReporterContributing writer at the Foundation for Economic Education [51]
Scott ReederYNational Statehouse Managing Editor
Shana DavidsonYDirect Marketing Manager
Spencer SchwartzYOutreach & Communications Intern
Steve MullinsYYChief Financial OfficerFormer CFO at Americans for Prosperity [52]
Steve WilsonYYYMississippi Watchdog; Reporter
Therese UmerlikYContent Editor
Tim GruverYYStaff Reporter
Tom StewardYWatchdog.org Minnesota Bureau – Reporter
Tori RichardsYNational Reporter
Tyler ArnoldYYYStaff Reporter
Victor NavaYStaff Writer
Vivian JonesYStaff Reporter
Will SwaimYYYSenior Advisor and Contributing EditorPresident of the California Policy Center, a state affiliate of the State Policy Network [53]
William PatrickYFlorida Watchdog; Reporter

Advisory Committee

Name2012Description
Ashley LandessYFormer president of the South Carolina Policy Council, appointed in 2008 [54]
Jack FowlerYVice president of National Review and former board member of the National Review Institute, an associate member group of the State Policy Network[27], [28]
Joseph LehmanYPresident of the Mackinac Center. Joined the Mackinac Center in 1995. He later became vice president for communications at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., before returning to the Mackinac Center as its executive vice president. Vice chair of the National Taxpayers Union and a member of the board of directors of the Atlas Network [55]
Mark TapscottYEditorial page editor of the Washington Examiner. Tapscottt was a founder and chief instructor of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Media and Public Policy. Was Executive editor and chief of the Investigative Reporting Group at the Daily Caller News Foundation [56]
Tucker CarlsonYFOX News anchor and a co-founder of the conservative news website The Daily Caller. Former senior fellow at the Cato Institute [57]

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. [58]

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 foundationsExxonMobil, and two “Dark Money” organizations, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund[59]

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.” [60]

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.” [61]

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). [62]

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. [63]

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. [64]

The Guardian also analysed and reported on the Peabody bankruptcy findings: [65]

“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.”

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[66]

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.” [66]

Glass claimed residents of North Carolina had 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.” [66]

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. [67]

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. [67]

“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. [67]

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. [68]

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 libellous, including describing the company’s headquarters as a “broom closet.” Additional examples include: [69]

  • 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.

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

February 2013

The Guardian reported 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. [23]

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.” [70]

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.”

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. [71][72]

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.

Contact & Address

Franklin News Foundation

200 West Madison St, Ste 2100 [1]
Chicago, IL 60606
[email protected]
847-497-5230

Franklin Media Group

200 W. Madison St., [1]
Suite 2100 Chicago, IL
Ph: (312)943-6363

Social Media

Resources

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  11. Chris Krug. “Op-Ed: Welcome to TheCenterSquare.com,” The Center Square, May 14, 2019. Archived May 3, 2021. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/xI7lo
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  30. FORMER ILLINOIS POLICY INSTITUTE PRESIDENT KRISTINA RASMUSSEN HAS BEEN APPOINTED CHIEF OF STAFF TO GOV. BRUCE RAUNER,” Illinois Policy Institute. Archived May 6, 2021. Archive URL:https://archive.ph/DxjsZ
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