As newsrooms across the country have cut staff reporters — due in part to slipping ad revenue and corporate media conglomeration — the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has rushed to fill the gap, as the Center for Media and Democracy CMD has documented. The Franklin Center has 40 state news websites, with reporters in 34 states so far. Its reporters have received state house press credentials and its stories appear as news in mainstream print newspapers in each state without alerting readers to the heavy right-wing bias of the Franklin-related publications.
Franklin Center Quadruples in Size, Adjusts Strategy
Franklin Growth 2009-2011Source: Franklin Center IRS Forms 990The Franklin Center does not disclose its funders. But based on a review of the annual IRS filings of foundations that fund groups like Franklin, as of 2011 the most recent available financial data, 95 percent of the group’s funding comes from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. These two related entities are “donor-advised funds” that were spun off by the Philanthropy Roundtable and cloak the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country. Mother Jones has called the combined Donors funds “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.” The Franklin Center received the Donors funds’ second-largest donation in 2011. Among the most prominent funders of Donors is the Knowledge and Progress Fund, a Charles Koch-run organization, which contributed nearly $8 million from 2005 to 2011. The Franklin Center has also received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and Searle Freedom Trust. As CMD has previously reported, the Franklin Center received a startup grant from the Tea Party Sam Adams Alliance, run by Eric O’Keefe, who also helped launch American Majority and sits on the board of Club for Growth Wisconsin.
From its founding in early 2009 to the end of 2011, the Franklin Center’s revenues have grown almost fourfold, from $1.7 million in 2009 to $6.6 million in 2011. In an unexpected twist, however, the number of statehouses in which it placed reporters declined slightly from 41 in 2010 to 34 in 2013. Franklin Center Executive Director Jason Stverak did not respond to CMD’s requests for comment on this trend.
According to Trent Seibert, former editor and founder of Franklin affiliate Texas Watchdog, the Franklin Center “announced last year they would not be supporting independent journalism operations in 2013.” This means they are no longer funding organizations such as Seibert’s, which was founded in 2008 before the Franklin Center itself, and over which editorial control was exercised by Seibert himself rather than the Franklin Center. Without that funding, both Texas Watchdog and the Nevada News Bureau have folded.
But there are now 20 “Watchdog Bureaus” operated directly by Franklin — including one writer in Texas to replace Seibert’s crew — and 20 “Watchdog Partners,” according to a May 2013 Franklin Center document obtained by CMD. “Watchdog Bureaus” operate as a direct part of Franklin, with reporters and bureau chiefs listed as staff of the center. They are located in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. That includes the big five swing states of the 2012 election: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Colorado which was the tipping point state. And it includes two of the more important secondary swing states: Pennsylvania and Iowa. North Carolina, another swing state, is covered by a “Watchdog Partner.” More…