The Beacon Center of Tennessee, formerly known as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, is a right-of-center think tank that promotes free-market solutions for Tennessee state-level policy matters. The Center’s research areas include economic, education, and health care policy. It is also a member of the State Policy Network, a right-of-center consortium of conservative and libertarian think tanks that focus on state-level policy.
Founding and History
The Beacon Center of Tennessee was founded in 2004 by Drew Johnson as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. Working alongside the late journalist Trent Seibert, Johnson and the Beacon Center quickly became a thorn in the side of then-Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s Democratic administration, accounting for 16 percent of all open records requests to the Tennessee executive branch. 
Described by the left-of-center Nashville Scene as “the governor’s No. 1 nemesis,” the Center uncovered evidence of first lady Andrea Conte’s lavish spending schemes and renovations to the governor’s Executive Residence.  The Center claimed credit for the resignation of Tennessee State Senator Jerry Cooper (D-McMinnville), who resigned from the Tennessee State Senate after a then-record $120,000 civil penalty complaint for improper use of campaign funds. 
In 2007, the Center received major media attention for a report that asserted that environmentalist campaigner and former Vice President Al Gore‘s residence in the Nashville area used more than 20 times the energy of a typical home in the United States.  Initially published in The Washington Post, the Center’s Gore story not only gave the think tank national attention, but single-handedly doubled its funding to $400,000. 
In 2009, Drew Johnson stepped down from his leadership role and was replaced by interim president Clint Brewer, a Center staffer and former award-winning managing editor of Tennessee’s Lebanon Democrat.  A year later in 2010, following Brewer’s hiring as the political editor of the Tennessean, director of policy and general counsel Justin Owen was appointed as president by a unanimous vote. 
In 2011, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research was renamed to its current name, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and continued to swell in revenues to over $1.2 million by 2013.  This increase was attributed to publicity around the group’s push against Tennessee’s death and gift taxes, which were eventually repealed in 2015. 
2015 marked a major year for the Beacon Center. Against a large coalition of organizations like the AFL-CIO and major pharmaceutical companies, the Center successfully fought off Tennessee’s expansion of Medicaid, Insure Tennessee. According to the Tennessean, the Beacon Center and its consultants were the only outside groups to testify before the Tennessee General Assembly against the proposal.  They have also worked together with the left-of-center ACLU of Tennessee to fight against civil forfeiture in the state. 
In 2019, the Beacon Center again received national media attention for revealing that Tennessee had not spent $732 million in federal funds intended to help needy families. As reported on by NPR, this was $200 million more than the next highest state, New York. 
The Beacon Center publishes its research, a blog, and articles on its website. It also offers pro bono legal services and files lawsuits on behalf of Tennessee residents through its sister organization, the Beacon Center Legal Foundation. 
Every year, the Beacon Center releases its “Pork Report,” a report that highlights examples of government mismanagement in the state of Tennessee. 
The Beacon Center’s most recent publicly available filings show total revenues of $1,310,681 and total expenses of $1,303,157. 
According to the Tennessean, a major donor of the Center is Lee Beaman, owner of the Tennessee-based Beaman automotive group and a power player in Tennessee conservative politics. 
The president of the Beacon Center is Justin Owen. Owen has spent most of his career working for the Center and served a four-year term on the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He has been awarded the Nashville Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” award and was named to the 2020 “In Charge” list of the top influential government and policy leaders across Middle Tennessee.  According to the Beacon Center’s most recent publicly available filings, Owen draws a yearly compensation of $159,612.