Facebook, Google, and Wells Fargo are all prominent sponsors this year’s conference of a Koch-funded network of right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups, several of which promote far-right beliefs, including Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism.
Facebook is giving branded travel mugs to attendees of the 2019 State Policy Network (SPN) conference, which begins today at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs:
Colorado SPN member groups include the Independence Institute, the Centennial Institute, Leadership Program of the Rockies, Steamboat Institute, and the Mountain States Legal Fund.
Many of the SPN members have longstanding ties to the Koch empire, which has deep connections to the Republican Party and has advocated for conservative policies at the national and state levels for decades.
Earlier this year Centennial Institute founder John Andrews spoke at his group’s signature event, the Western Conservative Summit, where he told the audience that it is impossible to be a “good and faithful American” and a good and faithful Muslim.” He then warned that “America is in a war to death” with Islam. His xenophobia led The Denver Post editorial board to describe Andrews as a “Anti-American fringe radical.”
The Centennial Institute also has a long history of advocating homophobic beliefs and anti-LGBT policies, including promoting false information to advance its policy agenda. Last year the organization called for a boycott of Disney’s Beauty & The Beast movie for featuring “a gay moment.” In 2017 it hosted a rabbi who called gay couples “an abomination” and compared them to space aliens who “aren’t human beings.”
In addition to its branded giveaways, Facebook is also hosting whiskey and wine tastings in the afternoon: “Join us at Facebook’s corner quadrant for a distilled spirits experience! Don’t miss this chance to taste some of Colorado’s and the country’s best whiskies while connecting with fellow event attendees.” Sponsorship level information appears to indicate that Facebook donated $20,000, making it a “Constitution Partner” benefactor.
Wells Fargo is sponsoring a “Hospitality Lounge,” while Google’s name is on one of the Wednesday afternoon workshops, “Build Your Digital Toolkit.” The session offers to teach attendees to how to use Google and YouTube to amplify their message:
“Learn about how Google and YouTube can help amplify your message and protect your information. The presentation will cover how think tanks can utilize Google Search, Maps, Analytics, and YouTube to establish their online presence and boost engagement with target audiences.
Another Colorado SPN associate, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, is best known for the extreme views of its former director, William Perry Pendley (who now runs the Bureau of Land Management), who in 2014 expressed sympathy for the Bundy family in its armed resistance to the federal government.
The Utah-based Sutherland Institute is also participating. It’s known for circulating a resolution to cities and towns asking them to assert, as a matter of official public policy, that local “government holds the protection of the natural family to be their first responsibility.” Sutherland defines the natural family as “a marriage of one man and one woman as ordained by God,” with “young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers” and “open to a full quiver of children.”
SPN’s Arizona affiliate, the Goldwater Institute has been criticized for making misleading arguments and using racist dogwhistles in its attempts to overturn the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The Goldwater Institute also supported an Arizona rancher who illegally detained border crossers at gunpoint and was forced by courts to pay punitive damages for his actions.
Just today, State Policy Network member Kevin Mooney, a reporter with the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, tweeted into the conference’s hashtag today to share his column claiming, “Solar energy may have caused California’s wildfires.”
Responding to the Guardian’s reporting on Google’s support of climate-change denying groups, including its sponsorship of the SPN conference, the tech giant said “its “collaboration” with organizations such as CEI “does not mean we endorse the organizations’ entire agenda.”
Emails to Facebook, Google and Wells Fargo requesting comment on their decisions to sponsor the event were not immediately returned. This story will be updated with any responses.