State Policy Network originated in 1986 as the Madison Group, an informal confederation of the state think tanks and their supporters named after the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC, where they first met. In 1992, SPN was established as an independent 501(c)(3) educational organization providing services to its members - the state-focused, free market think tanks and their national think tank partners. At that time, the goal was to encourage cooperation and collaboration among the fledgling state think tank movement, maintaining a basic schedule of meetings and providing advisory services as needed during its first five years of operations.
The state policy research community rapidly grew and matured during the 1990s, SPN's Board of Directors realized the need for a stronger organization that would provide additional services. After extensive discussions, the existing Board took a bold and historic step in September 1998, dissolving itself and appointing a transitional Board to fulfill the broader role envisioned for the organization. SPN's primary mission continues to be serving and supporting independent, state-focused, market-oriented policy research organizations and these institutional changes created the flexibility to provide a broader range of services to state think tanks.
SPN's Board, staff, and physical location changed during 1999. Byron Lamm, SPN's founding Executive Director, passed the reins to current President Tracie Sharp in January 2000. Tracie has an 18-year career in the state think tank community, helping to establish and develop two successful state think tanks - the Washington Policy Center (Seattle) and the Cascade Policy Institute (Portland, OR). She has been involved with SPN since its formative years as the Madison Group.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all these changes, SPN lost a leading light when Tom Roe, its long-time Chairman of the Board, passed away in January 2000. Tom had an abiding vision for SPN as a service and networking organization that would help coordinate state and national efforts to promote free enterprise.
Carl Helstrom, Executive Director for The JM and Milbank Foundations, succeeded Tom as Chairman of SPN in October 1999. In addition to a Board of Directors consisting of free market leaders, the President's Advisory Council advises the President on management and policy issues facing state think tanks.
When SPN was founded, there were 12 independent, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks. Today - in less than 20 years - there are 59 representing all 50 states.