It all started in November of 1992 with dinner and a napkin. Yes, a napkin. You’ve seen thousands of them, those plain white paper napkins used in restaurants everywhere. It was at that dinner when the late Al Paschall and I conceived the idea of a nonprofit educational institute. We wrote the business plan on a napkin.
We were officially incorporated in June of 1993 as the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. with a mission “dedicated to promoting the ideals of free market economics, individual liberty and limited government through the conduct of public opinion research and related educational outreach projects.”
In the 1990s the conservative movement in Pennsylvania was nowhere near as robust as it is today. Key organizations, such as the Commonwealth Foundation and the Pennsylvania Family Institute had only recently been founded and the infrastructure needed to produce a pro-growth state economy had yet to be formed. Into that mix entered the Lincoln Institute with an initial emphasis on public opinion polling and the conduct of focus groups designed to bring the views of “We the People” into the public policy debate.
After setting up the Lincoln Institute’s legal structure Al Paschall and I reached out to Charles L. “Skip” Huston who had lobbied in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. on behalf of his family business, Lukens Steel and who had taken a larger role in his family’s philanthropic foundations. The Huston Foundation and the Stewart Huston Charitable Trust then provided the start-up funding needed to launch the Lincoln Institute.
Additional early funding was provided by Pittsburgh publisher and national conservative donor Richard M. Scaife through the Allegheny Foundation and from William Boxx at the McKenna Foundation, both long-time friends from my earlier days in Westmoreland County politics.
With the funding base secure, the time had come to expand the Lincoln Institute’s Board of Directors. Al Paschall, Jane Gordon, John Hanks, Skip Huston and I formed the initial board and we quickly added more Westmoreland County friends: the late Robert W. Keibler, and Hilary Holste along with Doris Beaufait and Joanne Beyer of the Allegheny Foundation.
Very soon thereafter additional key board members were elected including the late Frederick W. Anton, III who helmed the influential Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Marsha Ord who became the organization’s long-time board secretary, Joe Geiger from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, and Susan Staub from Pennsylvanians for Right to Work.
With the governance of the organization set the Lincoln Institute began conducting statewide polling, and Public Opinion Court focus group sessions. The late Al Sindlinger conducted daily economic polling for national clients and provided a state-level subset to the Lincoln Institute. Our first newsletter was titled the Lincoln Institute Sindlinger Economic Report and later retitled as Lincoln Journal.
Almost immediately the semi-annual Keystone Business Climate Survey was established. The survey of the owners and top line executives of businesses based in Penn’s Woods has been conducted every Spring and Fall since and has become an accurate, dependable bellwether of economic conditions in the commonwealth.
About this time the Lincoln Institute began expanding more into “educational outreach projects” with the production of Lincoln Radio Journal. The half hour public affairs radio program was at first a monthly show, which expanded to weekly with the addition of the Capitol Watch segment first hosted by Jim Panyard of the PMA. The Lincoln Radio Journal network grew steadily to over 90 stations inspiring the advent of the Lincoln Institute’s first national venture, American Radio Journal in 2008 which now airs on over 270 radio stations nationwide and on popular podcast platforms.
The rise of the internet provided a vehicle to more quickly disseminate information. So newsletter publication ceased and the institute launched www.patownhall.com. Many other organizations wanted to contribute to our printed materials, so www.patownhall.com became a platform for numerous conservative organizations and columnists to provide content to what has become Pennsylvania’s Marketplace of Ideas.
The Lincoln Institute has grown steadily in both reach and impact. The radical environmental front group Energy & Policy Institute published an “expose” claiming the Lincoln Institute is “prominent . . .at the head of an intertwined network” in opposing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which we see as job crushing environmental extremism. The Left-wing web site Eyes on the Ties concluded we are a “powerful figure in Harrisburg.”
Our Board of Directors too has changed over the years. As we observe our 30th anniversary I would like to thank State Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill who serves as Vice Chair; our Treasurer Albert Bienstock, Secretary Marsha Ord, Joe Geiger, Colin Hanna, Dr. Jake Haulk, Dr. Paul Kengor, Andrew Lewis, Frank Ryan, and David Taylor who currently serve on our Board of Directors.
I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of my wife, Carol Henry; my son Tyler Henry; our radio production assistant Joe Winters, and Ryan Shafik who helped to launch American Radio Journal
Much has changed over 30 years, but what has not changed is the admonition of Thomas Jefferson who observed that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
That will continue to be our task.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)