Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity


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. The group 

Established in January 2009, The Franklin Center describes its mission as  ”support[ing] and train[ing] 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.” It obtained non-profit status in June, 2009. [1], [2]

In 2012, The Franklin Center launched an “activist training program” titled Citizen Watchdog with the goal of raising “an army of citizen journalists, trained and equipped to serve as watchdogs in their local communities.” The Franklin Center's operates in over 20 states and promotes the work of “affiliates” across the country. [3]

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 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 [4], [5], [6][7], [8]

The Franklin Center was originally launched and funded by the now-defunct Sam Adams Alliance (SAA), a conservative think-tank which encouraged “grass-roots activism.” The group 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 with 43 state news networks and writers in over 40 states. [9], [10]

Some have criticized's quality of journalism. For example, reporter Gene Gibbons  wrote the following description 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.”  [11]

Stance on Climate Change

While the Franklin Center does have an official statement on climate change, has published articles questioning man-made climate change.  For example:

“There's seemingly nothing anyone can do to appease global warming activists bent on putting the nation’s energy suppliers out of business.” [12]

“[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. “ [13]

“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.” [13]


In addition to seed money from the Sam Adams Alliance, The Franklin Center has received significant funding from grants channeled through DonorsTrust, 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. [14][15]

Mother Jones magazine described DonorsTrust as the “Dark Money ATM of the Conservative Movement,” and allows for anonymous donations from individuals and groups that want to conceal their donor information through “donor-advised funds.” [16] 

The following funding details are based on data the Conservative Transparency Project collected from publicly-available 990 tax forms. From 2009 to 2013, The Franklin Center received a total of at least $20,257,169 from Donors Capital Fund, and an additional $4,224,520 from DonorsTrust. Note that not all of the following funding values have been verified by DeSmogBlog for accuracy. (See attached .xls sheet for more information on funding by year). 

Donor Total Contributions
Donors Capital Fund $20,257,169
DonorsTrust $4,224,520
The Thirteen Foundation $1,309,775
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $480,500
Searle Freedom Trust $362,500
Wellspring Committee $160,000
Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking $155,000
State Policy Network $100,000
Castle Rock Foundation $25,000
Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice $10,000
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation $8,702
National Christian Foundation $1,000
Grand Total $27,094,166

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.” [17]

990 Forms


Key People

Board of Directors

As of October, 2015, the Franklin Institute listed the following Directors on their website: [18]

  • Mary Beth Weiss
  • John J. Miller — Author at the National Review (Conservative Magazine)
  • Jack Fowler — Publisher for the National Review

The following people were listed on the Franklin Institute's “Staff” page, as of October, 2015:  [19]

Leadership Team

  • Erik Telford, President
  • Will Swaim, Vice President of Journalism

Communications & Outreach

  • Kevin Glass, Director of  Outreach and Policy
  • Breyana Franklin, Public Affairs Manager
  • Victor Nava, Staff Writer


  • Shana Davidson, Direct Marketing Manager
  • Matthew Hauck, Director of Development
  • Christina Pajak, Manager of Investor Relations
  • Megan Ritter, Grants Manager and Development Writer
  • John Courts, Development Operations and Research Manager

Marketing & Special Projects

  • Kristen Hawley, Digital Marketing Manager
  • Scott Kocen, Technology Adviser
  • Andrew Collins, Digital Media Manager


  • Becky Wessels, Director of Operations
  • Alyssa Viscomi, Executive Assistant

Watchdog Arena

  • Jackie Bastasch, Managing Editor, Watchdog Arena
  • Josh Kaib, Outreach and Content Manager

  • Mary Ellen Beatty, Director of Journalism Operations
  • John Bicknell, Executive Editor of Watchdog
  • Mark Lisheron, Deputy Editor of Watchdog
  • John Trump, Content Editor
  • Johnny Kampis, Content Editor
  • Andrew Staub, Pennsylvania Watchdog – Reporter
  • Arthur Kane, Colorado Watchdog Reporter
  • Moriah Costa, Education Reporter
  • Rob Nikolewski, Energy Reporter
  • Paul Brennan, Education Reporter
  • Tom Steward, Minnesota Bureau – Reporter
  • Steve Wilson, Mississippi Watchdog – Reporter
  • Evan Grossman, Education Reporter
  • Tori Richards, National Reporter
  • Deena Winter, Nebraska Watchdog – Reporter
  • Mark Lagerkvist, New Jersey Watchdog – Reporter
  • Jason Hart, Ohio Watchdog – Reporter
  • Jon Cassidy,Texas Watchdog – Bureau Chief and Reporter
  • Eric Boehm, National Reporter
  • Chris Butler, Tennessee Watchdog – Reporter
  • Kenric Ward, Texas Reporter
  • Matt Kittle, Wisconsin Watchdog – Bureau Chief and Reporter

Past People

According to the Franklin Center Website, As of February, 2012: [20]

Board of Directors (2012)

Advisory Committee (2012)

Staff (2012 - Partial List)

  • 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.


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.  [21]
GreenTech accused the Franklin Center and 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's reporting as libelous, including describing the company's headquarters as a “broom closet.” Additional examples include: [22]
  • 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. [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.”


The Guardian reports that the Franklin Center, along with its affiliated websites and news groups, was involved in a campaign against wind farms and solar projects in the U.S. along with other organizations that have received funding from the secretive DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. [24]

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.” [25]


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.  [26], [27]

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, 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'.” [28]

This high percentage created some skepticism about the poll, while the data was cited by major news sources including MSNBC without further investigation.  [28][9], [29]

December, 2011

Watchdog affiliate New Jersey Watchdog posted an article that pushes for the state to drop a regional emissions reduction program. [30]

Related Organizations

According to archives at Sourcewatch, Franklin Center lists the following affiliated Statehouse News Bureaus: [31]

SourceWatch also archived a list of the Franklin Center's previously affiliated “Investigative Reporters” or organizations: [32]


  1. About,” Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. October 27, 2015.

  2. About,” Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Archived June 25, 2011.

  3. Elizabeth Hillgrove. “Become a Citizen Watchdog,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, March 1, 2012. Archived October 27, 2015. WebCite URL

  4. “'Watchdog' website puts a new spin on politics,” Portland Press Herald, October 2, 2010. Archived October 27, 215. WebCite URL

  5. Allison Kilkenny. “The Koch Spider Web,”, August 4, 2011. Archived October 27, 2015. WebCite URL

  6. A Closer Look at Non-Profit News Sites,” Accessed October, 2015.

  7. Jason Stverak, President,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  8. Franklin Center Names Erik Telford President,” Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  9. The Conservative Group Behind The Poll Of Walker’s Budget Plan,” TPM, February 24, 2011 Archived October 27, 2015. WebCite URL

  10. About,” Sam Adams Alliance. Archived February 16, 2012.

  11. Gene Gibbons. “Statehouse Beat Woes Portend Bad News for Good Government,” Nieman Reports, December 15, 2010. Archived October 29, 2015. WebCite URL

  12. Dustin Hurst. “As reds and blues unite behind Keystone, greens prepare for battle,”, January 31, 2013. Archived October 27, 2015. WebCite URL

  13. Rob 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, November 15, 2011. Archived October 27, 2015. WebCite URL

  14. Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  15. Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states,” The Center for Public Integrity, February 14, 2013.

  16. Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement,” Mother Jones, February 5, 2013. Archived October 28, 2015. 

  17. Sara Jerving. “Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source,” PR Watch, October 27, 2011. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  18. Board of Directors,” Franklin center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  19. Staff,” Franklin center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  20. Staff,” Franklin center for Government & Public Integrity. Archived February 21, 2012.

  21. (Press Release). “Judge Throws Out $85 Million Lawsuit Against Franklin Center,” Franklin center for Government & Public Integrity, July 25, 2014. Archived October 29, 2015. WebCite URL

  22. Jim Geraghty. “GreenTech vs.,” National Review, April 17, 2013. Archived October 29, 2015. WebCite URL

  23. Suzanne Goldenberg. “Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. Archived October 29, 2015. WebCite URL

  24. Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  25. Citizen Journalist Training With James O'Keefe,” September 22, 2012. Archived October 28, 2015. WebCite URL

  26. Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity,” SourceWatch. Archived October 28, 2015.

  27. American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011 Conference Sponsors, conference brochure on file with CMD, August 11, 2011.

  28. “Poll Shows 71% of Wisconsinites Think Walker’s Budget Changes are 'Fair',” Franklin center for Government & Public Integrity, February 21, 2011. WebCite URL

  29. YouTube. MSNBC Pushes Right-Wing Wisconsin Poll. YouTube. Accessed February 16, 2013.

  30. Mark Lagerkvist. IT’S CURTAINS FOR RGGI AS NJ’S CAP-AND-TRADE OPERA ENDS,” New Jersey Watchdog, December 9, 2011. Archived October 29, 2015. WebCite URL 

  31. Statehouse News Bureaus,” SourceWatch, accessed October 29, 2015.

  32. Investigative Journalists” (JPG image) Sourcewatch. Accessed October 29, 2015.

Other Resources