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The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in Midland, Michigan, is the largest state-based free market think tank in the United States.[2][3][4][5][6]

Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Logo Mackinac Center.jpg
Established1987; 32 years ago (1987)
ChairmanClifford Taylor
PresidentJoseph G. Lehman
BudgetRevenue: $6,434,630
Expenses: $6,003,578
(FYE December 2015)[1]
Address140 West Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, Michigan 48640

The Mackinac Center conducts policy research and educational programs. It holds workshops for high school debate students. It sponsors, an online legislative voting record database. Mackinac Center scholars generally recommend lower taxes, reduced regulatory authority for state agencies, right-to-work laws, school choice, and enhanced protection of individual property rights.[7][8] But they avoid socially conservative issues like abortion.

Joseph P. Overton, (1960–2003), a senior vice president of the Mackinac Center, stated the political strategy that later became known as the Overton window. Overton said that politically unpopular, unacceptable policies must be changed into politically acceptable policies before they can be enacted into law.[9]



Mackinac Center building in Midland, Mich.

According to the Mackinac Center, the organization was founded in 1987 by a group of citizens who met on Mackinac Island and shared an interest in making Michigan a better place to live and work. The organization is named after Mackinac Island.[10] The Center began operations in 1987 with no office or full-time staff. It formally opened offices in Midland in 1988 with its first president, Lawrence W. Reed, an economist, writer, and speaker who had chaired the economics department at Northwood University. The Lansing-based Cornerstone Foundation provided early direction and some funding.[11] The Center's first annual budget under Reed was $80,000. In 1997, the Mackinac Center moved from rented offices to its current headquarters after having raised $2.4 million to renovate a former Woolworth's department store on Midland's Main Street.[12] Reed served as president from the Center's founding until September 2008, when he assumed the title President Emeritus and also became the president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Former Chief Operating Officer Joseph G. Lehman was named the Mackinac Center's president on September 1, 2008.[13]

The Mackinac Center is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.[14] The Mackinac Center is a member of the State Policy Network,[15] an umbrella organization of conservative and libertarian think tanks operating at the state level. In November 2006 The New York Times published a two-part series about state-based free market think tanks that described how the Mackinac Center trained think tank executives from 42 countries and nearly every US state. The New York Times reported that, "When the Mackinac Center was founded in 1987, there were just three other conservative state-level policy institutes. Now there are 48, in 42 states."[16]

When asked by Detroit's Metro Times in 1996, the Center's President Lawrence Reed said: "Our funding sources are primarily foundations ... with the rest coming from corporations and individuals," but that "... revealing our contributors would be a tremendous diversion..."[11]

In 2002, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) sued the Mackinac Center over the Center's use of a supportive quote by the MEA's President in fundraising material. In 2004, the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit.[17]

In a 2011 interview, founder Joe Olson said that the Center was first conceived in a Lansing, Michigan bar at a meeting between Olson, fellow insurance company executive Tom Hoeg, Richard McLellan and then-Senator John Engler. Olson said the founders wanted an organization that would focus on research, writing, speaking, issuing press releases and looking at public policy from a free-market point of view.[18]

In 2014, the organization released a mobile app, VoteSpotter.[19][20][21] The app allows users to track votes by elected officials in the United States. It was originally an extension of the organization's website, but has since expanded to include other states.[20]


The Mackinac Center prefers the term "free market" over "conservative,",[16] because it does not address social issues such as abortion, censorship, and gambling. The Center writes that its ideology is most accurately characterized as flowing from the "classical liberal tradition" of Milton Friedman and others: "socially tolerant, economically sophisticated, desiring little government intervention in either their personal or economic affairs."[22]


In addition to policy studies, the Center publishes a number of periodicals including Michigan Education Report, Michigan Privatization Report, Michigan Science, Michigan Capitol Confidential, Impact and Michigan Education Digest.


Policy staff membersEdit

Adjunct scholarsEdit

Board of directorsEdit

Current members of the Mackinac Center's board of directors include:[23]

  • Jim Barrett, Member; President & CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce
  • Dulce Fuller, Member; Chair of the Southeast Michigan Committee of The Heritage Foundation
  • Daniel Graf, Member; Financial analyst at Amerisure Mutual Holdings
  • Richard Haworth, Member; Chairman of Haworth, an office furniture and architectural interior company based in Holland, Michigan
  • Kent Herrick, Vice Chairman; President of Thermogy
  • J.C. Huizenga, Member; Chairman of and founder of Huizenga Group, Member of the Acton Institute board of trustees
  • Joseph Lehman, President; Vice chair of the National Taxpayers Union and a director of the Fairness Center
  • Edward Levy, Member; President of Edw. C. Levy Co.
  • Rodney Lockwood, Member; Chairman/CEO of the Lockwood Companies
  • Joseph Maguire, Treasurer; President of Wolverine Development Corporation
  • Richard D. McLellan, Secretary; McLellan Law Offices; formerly Dykema Gossett Law Firm
  • D. Joseph Olson, Member; retired from Amerisure
  • Clifford Taylor, Chairman; Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court from 2005 through 2009

Former members of the organization's board include:


  1. ^ "Charity Rating". Charity Navigator. Also see "Quickview data". GuideStar.
  2. ^ "Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government". The New York Times. November 17, 2006.
  3. ^ "About the Mackinac Center". Mackinac Center. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  4. ^ "IRS Data: EIN 38-2701547 (Public Charity)". Internal Revenue Service.
  5. ^ "The Mackinac Center: ID Number 71871; Domestic Nonprofit Corporation". Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
  6. ^ Heinlein, Gary; Livengood, Chad (March 4, 2015). "Worker Says Ending Film Incentives Will Cost Mich. Jobs". The Detroit News. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  7. ^ Gardner, Greg (September 1, 2013). "After Firestorm, Michigan Right-to-Work Law Has Had Little Spark". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  8. ^ "After firestorm, Michigan right-to-work law has had little spark". Detroit Free Press. September 1, 2013. Archived from the original on March 9, 2015. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  9. ^ "A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window". The Overton Window. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  10. ^ "What Is the Mackinac Center?". Mackinac Center.
  11. ^ a b Guyette, Curt (1996). "The Big Mac Attack". Detroit Metro Times. Archived from the original on October 1, 2000. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  12. ^ "Mackinac Center to Build $2.4 Million Headquarters" (Press release). Mackinac Center. March 23, 1998.
  13. ^ "Lehman Succeeding Reed as Mackinac Center President". Midland Daily News. July 21, 2008.
  14. ^ "About". Mackinac Center.
  15. ^ "Directory SPN Members". State Policy Network. Archived from the original on March 18, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government". The New York Times. November 17, 2006.
  17. ^ Martin, Tim (March 22, 2004). "Court Rejects Suit about Endorsing a Rival". Detroit Free Press. Associated Press.
  18. ^ Totten, Jim (October 19, 2011). "Genoa Resident One of the Founders of Mackinac Center". Daily Press & Argus. Archived from the original on October 20, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2015 – via Livingston Daily.
  19. ^ 10x25MM (May 8, 2015). "Mackinac Center's 'VoteSpotter' Application for Smartphones". Right Michigan. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Smith, John C. "Mackinac Center Hopes iPhone Users Add VoteSpotter App". Star 105.7. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  21. ^ Davis, Justin (December 15, 2014). "Spot the Most Important Vote with Votespotter". West Bloomfield Local Stew. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  22. ^ "Is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Liberal? Libertarian? Conservative?". Mackinac Center. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  23. ^ "Board of Directors". Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved July 13, 2018.
  24. ^ Kroll, Andy (March 23, 2011). "Behind Michigan's 'Financial Martial Law': Corporations and Right-Wing Billionaires". Mother Jones. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
  25. ^ "R.I.P. Paul Gadola". Mackinac Center. December 26, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2015.

External linksEdit