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Driving the News

How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania

A Report by Keystone Progress

August, 2013

This report was produced by Keystone Progress. Keystone Progress is Pennsylvanias largest progressive advocacy organization with over 350,000 subscribers. Keystone Progress embraces a pragmatic and flexible approach to advancing equal opportunity for all, the protection of individual freedoms, and democratic, transparent and people-oriented (rather than corporate) government. We support every workers right to organize and earn a living wage, every individuals right to control their reproductive health options, every childs right to public education, and every human beings right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and access adequate health care, food and shelter. 610-990-6300 2

Executive Summary
There is a disturbing new movement to supplant genuine investigative reporting with pseudo-reporting by right-wing advocacy organizations. These advocacy groups, posing as legitimate news bureaus, are well funded and have become accepted as objective news organizations by many mainstream newspapers, television and radio news operations. In fact, one such network claims that it is already "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."i This insidious infiltration of legitimate news operations is led by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Its local affiliate in Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania Independent. Key Findings Despite its claims, the Pennsylvania Independent is far from being independent or unbiased. The Pennsylvania Independent is run by the far-right Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which has close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch brothers, the Tea Party, the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Heritage Foundation and numerous other conservative causes and candidates. The Franklin Center lists dozens of conservative think tanks, many of which are members of the rightwing State Policy Network, as state affiliates. The Commonwealth Foundation is one of those conservative think tanks. The Independent is staffed by conservative ideologues who have been active in conservative causes. Ninety-five percent of the Franklin Centers known funding comes from the Donors Capital Fund and the related Donors Trust, "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" that receives significant funding from the Koch brothers. Mainstream legitimate news operations are ignoring the clear conservative advocacy intentions of the Pennsylvania Independent and are republishing its reporting as legitimate, unbiased news.

The Pennsylvania Independent: Right-Wing Group Masquerading as Objective News Organization

It is no secret that the news industry is in serious trouble. Traditional print media have seen a readership drop, resulting in cuts to reporting staff, especially in the number of investigative reporters. Electronic news media have had a hard time remaining objective as viewers and listeners choose ideological outlets over genuinely objective media. The Economist, citing the growth of ideological news outlets such as the Fox News Channel, said impartiality is already the exception rather than the rule.ii And some of the nations remaining daily newspapers have become the target of activist conservative investors like the Koch brothers, who intend to buy major media outlets. While these trends are dangerous to the survival of real journalism, there is an even more ominous threat that is happening under the radar. There is a disturbing new movement to supplant genuine investigative reporting with pseudo-reporting by right-wing advocacy organizations posing as legitimate news bureaus. These advocacy groups are well funded and have become accepted as objective news organizations by many mainstream newspapers, television and radio news operations. In fact, this network of news outlets run by the Franklin Center claims that it already "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."iii This infiltration of legitimate news operations is led by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Its Pennsylvania affiliate is the Pennsylvania Independent.

Dubious Claim of Being Without a Doubt Nonpartisan

The Pennsylvania Independentiv claims to be "without a doubt" nonpartisan, saying, We dont care about political parties. It states that all reporting by any news organization is biased, but that the Independents reporting is nonetheless based on "facts."v These claims are hard to back up, especially when one looks at the history, funding and staffing of the Independent. According to its website, the Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. vi However, its primary investigative reporter is a former Republican politician, it is advised by a GOP political consulting firm, and even a cursory glance at its content will reveal its overtly conservative bias. The home page of the Independent includes a

litany of conservative issues, with privatization, elimination of consumer protections and anti-union issues being the most commonvii. The Pennsylvania Independent is led by Eric Boehm (Bureau Chief), Melissa Daniels (News Reporter), and Jim Panyard (Investigative Reporter). Boehm and Daniels are recent college graduates, while Panyard has a long history in business, politics, and journalism in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York. A review of the Independents website identified no other apparent full-time reporters or other full-time employees. viii In 2006, Panyard was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor in Pennsylvania.ix

Founded by Conservative Advocacy Organization, the Commonwealth Foundation, Now Run by Right-Wing Franklin Center
The Independent was founded as a special project of the Commonwealth Foundation, launching full-scale operations in 2010. The Commonwealth Foundation website states that its fundamental mission is to "craft free-market policies, convince Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counter attacks on liberty."x It is one of the leaders in far-right advocacy in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth Foundation is a member of the national far-right State Policy Network (SPN), which was founded at the suggestion of President Ronald Reagan to build something like the Heritage Foundation in each of the states. xiFairness and Accuracy in Reportingxii, the national media watch group, called Commonwealth Foundation one of the "Heritage [Foundation] Clones in the Heartland."xiii The daily operations of the Independent were turned over to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in January 2011.xiv Since then, the Franklin Center has controlled reporters salaries, payment of business expenses, and the administration of grants that fund the Pennsylvania Independent.xv

The Franklin Center is a national 501(c)(3) organization based in Bismarck, North Dakota. According to a former iteration of the organization's websitexvi, the group's mission involves "networking and training independent investigative reporters, as well as journalists from state based news organizations, public-policy institutions & watchdog groups." The center funds state reporters in more than 40 states. Despite their non-partisan description, these state policy websites have received criticism for their conservative bias, and their funding from some of the luminaries in the far right movement. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the Sam Adams Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes Tea Party-style citizen activism, helped launch the Franklin Center in 2009.xvii After the change in ownership, the Independent still maintains substantial links to the Commonwealth Foundation. The two organizations maintain addresses in the same building, apparently on the same floor. As of July 2013, the Independents website banner included only one advertisement, a link for the foundations Free My Drink campaign, an effort backing the privatization of Pennsylvanias Wine and Spirit Shoppes and attacking labor unions.xviii

A common tactic used by the Pennsylvania Independent is to use the Commonwealth Foundation as a source for its reporting. For example, a recent story on Pennsylvania government employee pensions, it cites the Commonwealth Foundation, implying that the Foundation is an independent source without disclosing the ties between the two groups. One analysis, by the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, suggests each household in the state will face additional costs of at least $240 annually for the next four years as Pennsylvania pays down its pension costs. xix

Another recent story on privatizing PAs Wine and Spirit Shoppes used the same tactic , again without disclosing ties: Nathan Benefield, research director at the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank in Harrisburg, said he was disappointed that evidence on the social ills of private alcohol sales were presented without the chance for current retailers or retailers in other states to counter the claims.xx This tactic has been repeated dozens of times since the separation of the Independent from the Commonwealth Foundation. A review of the Pennsylvania Independent website in August 2013 did not reveal any instances of articles citing the Commonwealth Foundation that disclosed the relationship between the two organizations.xxi This lack of disclosure is also problematic because it violates the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics,xxii which the Independent claims to follow.xxiii Act Independently: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the publics right to know. Journalists should: -Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. -Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. -Disclose unavoidable conflicts.xxiv

The Pennsylvania Independent is not Independent

Coverage Supports a National Right-Wing Agenda Against Workers, Healthcare, Public Education and Voting Rights
While the Pennsylvania Independent claims to be a non-partisan news outlet with no conflict of interests from its right-wing funders, much of its reporting benefits the rightwing agenda of its current and former parent organizations, the Franklin Center and the Commonwealth Foundation. The table below shows how the Pennsylvania Independents investigations and articles often use language slanted in favor of, or in some cases outright supporting, the national right-wing agenda of the Commonwealth Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).


The Pennsylvania Independent

The first step should be repealing a state law that requires municipalities to offer only defined-benefit pension plans - PA Independents Eric Boehm in an August 2013 commentaryxxv

Commonwealth Foundation
In addition to publishing numerous reportsxxvi calling for reducing pension benefits, the Commonwealth Foundation launched a petitionxxvii to pressure Gov. Corbett and legislators to convert Pennsylvanias public pension system into a defined-contribution system. The Commonwealth Foundation is major opponent of the prevailing wage in Pennsylvania, releasing reports in 2011xxxi and 2012.xxxii The Commonwealth Foundation has released numerous reportsxxxvii over the last year opposing Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and has also opposed the Affordable Care Act in reportsxxxviii and projects dating back to 2009.xxxix

ALECs Defined

Attacking public pensions

Contribution Pension Reform Actxxviii is a move towards eliminating defined benefit plans for public employees, which protect retirees. A bill similar to this ALEC modelSB2was introduced in PA in 2013.xxix
ALECs Prevailing Wage Repeal Act would repeal prevailing wage laws in the state.xxxiii

Repealing the prevailing wage

Opposing health care reform and Medicaid expansion

A March 2013 article entitled PA school districts: Prevailing wages too costlyxxx characterizes the prevailing wage as a costly regulation hampering school construction. Among the PA Independents articles that highlight negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and/or Medicaid Expansion: ACA Medicaid expansion would cost $2B through 2019 (6/2012)xxxiv ACA trickle-down effect could hamper economic growth (6/2012)xxxv Year in Review: ACA Medicaid expansion would cost $2B through 2019 (12/2012)xxxvi

ALECs Guide to Repeal Obamacare would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and recommends legislators reject Medicaid expansionxl. ALECs Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act would prohibit the legislature from requiring individuals to purchase health insurance pursuant to federal health reform.xli A bill introduced in Pennsylvania, HB 42, is similar to the ALEC model in 2011.


The Pennsylvania Independent

An advertisement for the Commonwealth Foundation's pro-privatization "Booze Facts" campaign is displayed on the PA Independent's website banner. The PA Independents pro-liquor privatization articles include: "Horrors! Private liquor spell doom for PA, groups say" (4/2013)xlii WATCHBLOG: Union boss crashes Capitol rally for liquor privatization (3/2013) xliii

Commonwealth Foundation
In 2013, the Commonwealth Foundation launched a petitionxliv to pressure the state Senate to pass liquor privatization legislation. Commonwealth also launched a website Booze Facts to support liquor privatization.xlv

ALECs privatization agendaxlvi includes model bills that would privatize foster care and adoption servicesxlvii, child support servicesxlviii, Social Securityxlix, Medicarel, prisonsli, public educationlii, and public water and sewage services,liii

Privatization of government services and liquor stores


The Pennsylvania Independent

An article in February 2013 touts the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, which use taxpayer funds to subsidize private education.liv Several other articles using language that favors education privatization have been published by the Independent, including: School choice makes national waves (1/2012)lv Educational choice in PA has expanded in past 20 years (1/2012)lvi Parents, students rally for school choice (11/2011)lvii

Commonwealth Foundation
The Commonwealth Foundations education researchlviii almost exclusively focuses on expanding vouchers, charter schools, and cyber schools.lix Commonwealth has also supported parent trigger laws.lx

ALECs Parent Choice Scholarship Program Act-Universal Eligibility lxicreates a voucher program to use taxpayer funds that would be spent on public schools to subsidize private forprofit, religious, or other primary and secondary schools. This program has no income limit for subsidies and therefore all students would be eligible. ALECs Charter Schools Actlxii would allow the state to grant charters to create and operate schools outside of traditional public schools, while also exempting these charter schools from state laws that apply to public schools. ALECs Family Education Tax Credit Programlxiii creates a tax credit for paying private primary or secondary school tuition and fees. It would also create a tax credit for corporations and individuals that give money to be used as scholarships to pay tuition and fees at private schools. This also reduces tax revenue for public services.

Privatizing Public Education



The Pennsylvania Independent

The PA Independent has repeatedly highlighted stories portraying labor unions in a negative light: Law allows odd exemption for stalking by union members in labor dispute (8/2012)lxiv Study: Philadelphia construction unions not big on brotherly love (2/2013)lxv WATCHBLOG: Philly unions assault employees, vandalize vehicles, draw ire of NLRB (3/2013)lxvi

Commonwealth Foundation
The Commonwealth Foundation has published many anti-worker reports under its Unions & Labor Policylxvii studies, and supports so-called right to worklxviii and paycheck protection better named paycheck deception measures.lxix

ALECs Right to Work Actlxx is an attack on working families across the state as this bill takes away workers ability to negotiate fair contracts. Pennsylvanias HB 50, a 2013 bill, is similar to ALECs Right to Work Act. ALECs Employee Rights Reform Actlxxi limits revenue streams for public employee unions and imposes new reporting burdens on union activities. ALECs Paycheck Protection Actlxxii is an attack on workers and attempts to make it difficult for unions to raise funds.

Attacks on unions and workers

Mainstream Media Increasingly Treat PA Independent as Legitimate News Source

When the Pennsylvania Independent was formed, it was not allowed to join the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. According to Boehm, the Capitol press corps initially rejected the Pennsylvania Independents application for membership in the capitol press corps due to the fact that it was run by the Commonwealth Foundation, which also lobbies the General Assembly. It was concluded that the Pennsylvania Independent would not report the news according to the standards of journalismlxxiii. That rejection by mainstream media has changed. In Pennsylvania, and around the nation, the Franklin Centers statehouse reporting efforts have been successful in being picked up verbatim in newspapers with large audiences as fewer traditional newspapers cover state capitols.

A 2009 American Journalism Review study found that 355 newspaper reporters and editors were covering state capitols full time, a 30 percent decrease at the time from 524 in 2003.lxxiv This has resulted in a reliance on non-traditional media outlets such as Franklin Center affiliates for statehouse news. A May 2012 fundraising email from the Franklin Center bragged, When you give to the Franklin Center, you have an immediate impact on the power of our reporting. Legacy news outlets regularly pick up our stories, driving them far beyond the typical audience for online news."lxxv This trend is borne out by reviewing the use of the Pennsylvania Independent by Pennsylvanias mainstream media. In one recent week, the following newspapers published materials from the Independent: The Philadelphia Inquirer published a story on the move to privative the Wine and Spirit Shoppes, written by Boehm. This story ran verbatim as an unbiased news story, despite the Pennsylvania Independents ties to the privatization campaign.lxxvi The Pocono Record published a story about the states education funding.lxxvii The Delaware County Daily Times published another story from the Pennsylvania Independent on privatizing the Wine and Sprit Shoppes.lxxviii

All of these stories appeared as news items, with no disclaimer about the conservative principles of the author or his employers. At least one publication, the Philadelphia Inquirer, began identifying the Pennsylvania Independent as a conservative organization. In two articles from early July, the Inquirer ran the following disclaimer: The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a conservative national nonprofit journalism organization.lxxix One of the most widely read news aggregators in Pennsylvania is Politics PA.lxxx It sends out a daily summary of political news that breaks down the daily news stories by region for mainstream news organizations. It also has a category for blogs that includes advocacy organizations and full-time bloggers with an ideological bent. The

Pennsylvania Progressive and Keystone Politics are two sites that are regularly listed under the blog category. Despite its similarity to these other sites, the Pennsylvania Independent is now being listed as a statewide news source alongside the Associated Press.lxxxi The Pennsylvania Cable Network has been described as a Pennsylvania version of CSPAN. It airs General Assembly sessions and regularly interviews newsmakers and holds panel discussions with issue advocates and lobbyists. It also has a regular program called Journalists Roundtable, which interviews political reporters. PCN has recently added Pennsylvania Independent staff as part of the Roundtable.lxxxii In two years, the Pennsylvania Independent has gone from rejection by the PA press corps for being too biased, to being recognized as a legitimate journalistic publication, despite its clear bias and lack of adherence to normal journalism standards.

Readers Not Informed of Publications Funders

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Franklin Center/Pennsylvania Independent is not required by law to disclose its funders. However, legitimate news organizations typically disclose their potential conflicts of interest. When a newspaper reports on the corporation that owns it, they will include that information in the story to make sure the readers are aware of any potential bias. The Pennsylvania Independent does not make those disclosures in its reporting or on its website. The outlet claims that by not disclosing its secret funders to the public or to its reporters and editors, a conflict of interest is eliminated.lxxxiii Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Independents Boehm wrote an article-reprinted in numerous publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirerthat chided the left-leaning organization, Pennsylvanians for Accountability, because the groups website provides little public information on its funding sources. lxxxiv

Funding: People Like You or Anonymous Wealthy Donors

The Pennsylvania Independent also claims that it is funded by People Like You. lxxxv However, a review of the Franklin Centers known 2011 funding by the Center for Public Integrity found that 95 percent came from anonymous wealthy donors to DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund.lxxxvi The two Donors organizations are a spin-off of Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as large "donor-advised funds," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country.lxxxvii As a rule, Donors Trust refers clients to Donors Capital Fund if they expect to open donor advised funds of over $1,000,000.


Mother Jones called the Donors organizations "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article.lxxxviii The funds create separate accounts for individual donors. Even though the donor gave the money to Donors, the donor may still control the fund by telling the organization which non-profits to fund. The identity of the original mystery donors remains hidden because the funds are then distributed in the name of one of the Donors organizations. Known contributors to the Donors include the Koch brothers.lxxxix Franklin received Donors Trust's second-largest donation in 2011.xc Other funding sources for the Franklin Centerxci and the Commonwealth Foundationxcii include large conservative foundations and right-wing organizations such as the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the State Policy Network (SPN), the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation, and the Scaife Family Foundations. Between 2009 and 2011, Donors Capital Fund gave $195,000 to the Commonwealth Foundation for journalism project and news bureau. The donations included a $35,000 grant in 2011, the first year that the Independent was purportedly separated from the Commonwealth Foundation.xciii


Pennsylvania Independent Staff Made Up of Right-Wing Partisans

Jim Panyard: Very Conservative Former GOP Gubernatorial Candidate, Allegheny Institute Chairman, and Commonwealth Foundation Board Member Jim Panyardxciv investigative reporter for the Pennsylvania Independent, is a former president of the business lobbying group the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association (PMA) and has also been a corporate executive at Independence Blue Cross, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the Philadelphia Port Corporation. In addition, Panyard has served on the boards of both of Pennsylvanias two State Policy Network think tanks the Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute, once serving as chairman of the Allegheny Institute. He worked as a reporter and journalist in both New York and Delaware in the 1960s and 1970s, writing for the Wilmington NewsJournal (Delaware) and The Star Gazette in Elmira, New York. In 2006, Panyard was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor in Pennsylvania.xcv The last remaining opponent of eventual GOP nominee Lynn Swann, Panyard dropped out of the race in February (three months before the May primary election), citing a lack of fundraising and press coverage. After Panyard lost the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary, he apparently joined the ultraconservative Constitution Party. Panyard has been involved in at least one court case on behalf of the Constitution Party and made several contributions to the party and supported candidates (see below) since 2008. In April 2011, Panyard gave a speech at the Constitution Party National Committeexcvi meeting in Harrisburg, where he spoke out against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), called those who advocate for more pollution protections when it comes to fracking and oil drilling "environmental wackos" and "leftwing cuckoos," and referred to public schools as "horrendous" for the middle class. Panyard has contributed at least $3,840 to candidates at the federal and state level between 2000 and 2008, including to U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. All beneficiaries of Panyards contributions are either candidates or committees associated with the Republican Party, Libertarian Party, or Constitution Party. Recipient Charles Baldwin 2008 Constitution Party National Committee Mike Folmer Russ Diamond Taxpayers for Clymer Taxpayers for Clymer Pat Toomey via Pro-Growth Action Team Amount $250 Date 8/9/2008

$240 4/14/2008 $150 2/24/2006 $100 10/13/2004 $250 10/5/2004 $300 9/3/2004 $1,000 4/22/2004

Peroutka 2004 Inc. $400 3/6/2004 Constitution Party of PA $650 1/30/2004 Bruce Golgowski $200 3/15/2002 Mike Turzai $200 6/1/2001 Kevin Harley $100 2/26/2000 (FEC, National Institute on Money in State Politics) xcvii No campaign contributions were found for Eric Boehm or Melissa Daniels. Retained GOP Consultant Called King of the Tea Partiers to Design and Maintain Website It is not just its staff that betrays its biases. The Independents consultants are also right-wing partisans The Independents website notes that it is designed and implemented by Churchill Strategies. Churchill Strategiesxcviii is a Republican political consulting firm run by former GOP state Representative Jeff Coleman. Then-Morning Call political reporter John Micek wrote of Coleman in 2010: The former state lawmaker from Indiana County is now king of the Tea Partiers. He's running state Rep. Sam Rohrer's, R-Berks, gubernatorial campaign and was able to pretty efficiently organize last weekend's Republican State Committee shadow convention at the Harrisburg Hilton.xcix Other Churchill projects include an anti-Obamacare infographic, a Commonwealth Foundation project, and an anti-union campaign called Free to Teach.c Other Connections to the Right-Wing Network

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council: The Franklin Center has several connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial policy organization in which state legislators and corporations come together to write laws behind closed doors that favor the special o The Franklin Center was listed as a Vice-Chairman level sponsor of ALECs 2011 annual conference in New Orleans, a sponsorship that equated to $25,000 in 2010.cii

o Franklin Center board member Blair Thoreson, a Republican member of the North Dakota House of Representatives, is the Public Sector Chair of ALECs Communications and Technology task force.ciii

o Media Matters reported that, in the days after ALEC eliminated its Public Safety and Elections Task Force after backlash and public criticism of the task forces Voter ID and Stand Your Ground model bills, several Franklin Center staffers and board members wrote opinion pieces supporting ALEC, including Vice President of Journalism Steven Greenhut who targeted what he called overheated criticisms and intimidation tactics from leftists.civ All three commentaries (including Thoresons) were written in the days immediately after an ALEC staffer begged for help from Breitbart bloggers and the rest of the right-wing blogosphere at a Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing on April 17, o Franklin reporters or Franklin-affiliated publications are hosted at 37 of 59 total State Policy Network member state think tanks, as of early 2013.cvi Not only is SPN itself an ALEC member (participating in multiple so-called task forces), but at least 24 of the 37 SPN member think tanks that have ties to the Franklin Center also have demonstrable ties to ALEC, according to a review by the Center on Media and Democracy. cvii Ties to the Koch Brothers: The Center for Media and Democracycviii has identified the following connections between the Franklin Center and the Koch Brothers: o Matt Hauck, the Franklin Centers Director of Donor Relations, is a former Associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.cix o Rudie Martinson, a member of the Franklin Centers board of directors and its secretary, previously worked as the assistant state director for North Dakota's chapter of David Koch's Americans for o Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives and outreach, previously served as director of marketing and online strategy for Americans for Prosperity.cxi o Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach, oversaw communications for Americans for Prosperity's 32 state chapters.

o Alicia Barnaby, former Coalitions Coordinator, was previously Americans for Prosperity's Development Associate for Corporate Relations. Ties to the Republican Party and Republican Candidates: Several Franklin Center staff members have previously worked on Republican campaigns and for the Republican Party, including:

o Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center, was previously the North Dakota executive director for the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee and served as executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party for six years.cxii o Maggie Thurber, a lead writer for the Franklin Centers Ohio affiliate, Ohio Watchdog, is a former Republican Lucas County Commissioner. Thurber was among four Republicans convicted in 2006 on misdemeanor charges for illegally funneling money from a prominent coin dealer to the 2004 George W. Bush campaign.cxiii o The Franklin Centers affiliate in Nebraska, the Nebraska Watchdog, stated on its former website that it is affiliated [with] and funded by Peter Ricketts, the 2006 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and founder of several Nebraska-based conservative organizations.cxiv o The Franklin Center was one of the co-sponsors of the 2012 Western Republican primary debate, along with other conservative organizations such as, Citizens United,, and Americans for Prosperity.cxv Co-Sponsor of CPAC: In 2012, the Franklin Center was listed as a co-sponsor of the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, which would mean that the Franklin Center contributed at least $5,000 to the right-wing event.cxvi Ties to the Heritage Foundation: In 2012 and 2013. the Franklin Center to cosponsored awards in the name of the late Andrew Breitbart, a staunch right-wing commentator who was often criticized for slanted or inaccurate reporting. The 2013 awardee was Michelle Malkin.cxvii Connected to Conservative Think Tanks: The Franklin Center lists dozens of conservative think tanks, many of which are members of the rightwing State Policy Network, as state affiliates. The Commonwealth Foundation is one of those conservative think tanks.cxviii As noted above, 37 SPN member think tanks host Franklin Center reporters or publications. The Kennebec Journal reports that employing conservative investigative journalists to reinforce and promote research done by state-based think tanks might have been an idea that originated with SPN. SPNs 2007 annual meeting in Portland (two years before the Franklin Center was founded) included a session called Strategies to Bring the Policy Heat: Collaborating with c-4s, Hiring Investigative Reporters and Using Litigation." cxix

Conclusions Advocacy groups posing as legitimate news operations pose a serious threat to legitimate news reporting in this country, especially in a time of dwindling resources provided for reporting on public policy. Newspapers, television, and radio news operations have fewer reporters covering capitols and city halls. There is an understandable temptation by management, publishers and editors to rely on free reporting. But, as the adage goes, there is no free lunch. The free reporting of ideological organizations like the Pennsylvania Independent comes at a cost. The biggest cost is the credibility of the legitimate news operation utilizing their biased reporting. The Pennsylvania Independent is not a news operation. Based on its funding sources, its staffing and its ties to other conservative organizations, it is a conservative advocacy organization. It may have the trappings of legitimate news, including trained reporters, but its stated purpose is not to report, but to drive the news. Real news organizations should continue to cite the work of the Independent, but not as reporting. Instead, it should be treated in the same fashion as any issue advocacy organization. If legitimate news operations in Pennsylvania continue to pretend that the Independent is real reporting it threatens their already fragile credibility with their readers.


Sara Jerving,, PR Watch, October 27, 2011 ii iii Sara Jerving,, PR Watch, October 27, 2011 iv v vi vii viii ix x xi xii xiii xiv xv ibid xvi xvii xviii xix xx xxi xxii xxiii xxiv xxv xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix xxx xxxi xxxii xxxiii xxxiv xxxv xxxvi xxxvii xxxviii xxxix xl xli xlii


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