Top Conservative Group Implodes

Thursday, July 21, 2011

 

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The Ocean State Policy Research Institute—the state’s only conservative think tank—will be dissolved next month and its founder and former president, Bill Felkner, has already parted ways with the organization, GoLocalProv has learned.

Founded in 2007, OSPRI has exerted an influence on local politics and public policy out of proportion to its small size. The group worked on welfare reform with former Gov. Don Carcieri and pushed for key changes in Medicaid and the creation of mayoral academies in the state. It also played a behind-the-scenes role in helping to launch the Tea Party movement in Rhode Island.

More recently, OSPRI helped establish The Hummel Report, an investigative news site.

A major factor in the break-up of the organization was financial issues, according to board member Donald Galamaga. In the absence of “clear direction” from Felkner on the future of OSPRI, he said the board chose to close it, a decision that takes effect next month. “The board took the most prudent step and said we’re going to shut down and see if there’s another way to do this,” Galamaga told GoLocalProv.

New think tank in the works

Board Chairman Dan Harrop, the chairman of the board of directors and a former GOP mayoral candidate, said the main issue was a disagreement over which direction OSPRI should go in—stay small or expand. He said the board split over the choice and settled on dissolution.

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Some of those involved in OSPRI are now working to establish a new “center-right” think tank. So far, organizers have raised about $100,000 towards the new effort, according to Harrop, who is serving as chairman pro tempore for it. OSPRI’s current executive director, Mike Stenhouse will stay on with the new organization.

Stenhouse—who became executive director eight months ago to bolster fundraising efforts—said he offered to resign from OSPRI but was asked to stay on to help wind things down.

“I was not comfortable remaining with OSPRI—which I consider to be Bill’s thing—without Bill and I didn’t want the impression that Bill’s leaving was something I wanted to have happen,” Stenhouse said. “All through the process I was hoping we could find a way to bring everything together,” he added.

‘Nothing suspicious or horrible’

The circumstances surrounding Felkner’s departure are in dispute. (Felkner is pictured above right.)

Dan Harrop, the chairman of the board of directors and a former GOP mayoral candidate, told GoLocalProv Felkner resigned. “There’s nothing suspicious or horrible about what had happened,” Harrop said.

But Felkner said his contract as an employee was terminated in June. Only after that, did he resign his position as a board member. He declined to comment further.

Galamaga offered a slightly different account: True, he said, the board terminated Felkner’s contract, but only after he made it clear he did not want to be involved in setting up a new organization to replace OSPRI. “From the perspective of the board he was no longer interested in the restructuring plan for our organization,” Galamaga said.

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