Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement? - 2013-11-15
In every state in the country, there is at least one ostensibly independent "free-market" think tank that is part of something called the State Policy Network— there are sixty-four in all, ranging from the Pelican Institute, in Louisiana, to the Freedom Foundation, in Washington State. According to a new investigative report by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group, however, the think tanks are less free actors than a coördinated collection of corporate front groups—branch stores, so to speak—funded and steered by cash from undisclosed conservative and corporate players. Although the think tanks have largely operated under the radar, the cumulative enterprise is impressively large, according to the report. In 2011, the network funnelled seventy-nine million dollars into promoting conservative policies at the state level.
Tracie Sharp, the president of the S.P.N., promptly dismissed the report as "baseless allegations." She told Politico, "There is no governing organization dictating what free market think tanks research or how they educate the public about good public policy."
But notes provided to The New Yorker on what was said during the S.P.N.'s recent twenty-first-annual meeting raise doubts about Sharp's insistence that each of the think tanks is, as she told me, "fiercely independent." The notes show that, behind closed doors, meeting with some eight hundred people from the affiliated state think tanks, Sharp compared the organization's model to that of the giant global chain IKEA.