Acton Institute

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The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (founded 1990) is a Classical Liberal think tank, part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network, which promotes laissez-faire economics and public policy within a Christian framework. According to its website, the Acton Institute's goal is "to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles."[1] It is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN).

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Ties to Koch Brothers

The Acton Institute has received funding from organizations with links to the Koch brothers. IRS filings show that the David H. Koch Foundation has given at least $313,000 to the Acton Institute since 2003. The Claude R. Lambe Foundation reported giving $60,000 to the Institute between 1998 and 2001. Both organizations are Koch Family Foundations. The Acton Institute is also a DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund grant recipient, receiving around half a million dollars per year in 2010 and 2011 and over $700,000 in 2012, according to tax filings.

Mission and Positions

The Acton Institute "seeks to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing."[2]

The group is both pro-religious and pro-market. Director of Research Samuel Gregg said in an interview with the National Catholic Register that "both the Church and the world of economics certainly need each other. The Church needs to take seriously the insights of economics, especially when it comes to addressing poverty, while economics as a discipline needs people to remind it of all the moral and spiritual realities that don’t fit well into the models employed by most mainstream economists."[3]


The Acton Institute hosts an annual four-day conference known as "Acton University" in Grand Rapids, MI, where it is based.[4]

Acton also provides grants of a few thousand dollars each to "to enhance the effectiveness in the teaching and scholarship of market economics for business and economics faculty at Christian colleges, universities and seminaries across the United States and Canada."[5]

News and Controversies

Tax-Exempt Status Rejected

In March 2014, the city of Grand Rapids, MI denied tax exempt status to the Acton Institute, after it spent a reported $7 million moving its offices to Grand Rapids. The Institute is expected to owe about $91,000 in property taxes for 2014. A letter sent by the city rejecting the Institute's application for tax-exempt status stated that "the entity does not meet non-profit charitable requirements according to case law."[6] Interviewed by the Grand Rapids Press, Grand Rapids City Assessor Scott Engerson further explained, “Most people think that if they’re a tax-exempt 501(c)3 they’re exempt from property tax, and that’s not the case in Michigan...In regard to Acton, it’s the charitable piece that the city was not able to definitively conclude.”[6]

Opposition to Pope Francis

The Acton Institute's strong support for both Catholicism and free market economics has come under strain as Pope Francis has actively criticized global inequality and unfettered capitalism. In May 2014, the Pope's Twitter account posted a tweet saying "Inequality is the root of all evil." Joe Carter, a senior editor at Acton, tweeted in reply, “Seriously, though, what was up with that tweet by @Pontifex? Has he traded the writings of Peter and Paul for Piketty?”, referring to economist Thomas Piketty, author of the 2014 book Capital in the 21st Century, a critique of growing economic inequality.[7]

Support for GMOs

In November 2014, in a Thanksgiving-themed blog post, Bruce Edward Walker (an Acton Institute freelancer[8] who was managing editor of the Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010 to 2012[9] and science editor of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's MichiganScience and communications manager for its Property Rights Network from 2006 to 2010)[10] wrote that, "if not for genetically modified organisms, many of us wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional sense" and "GMOs are making tremendous strides when it comes to feeding the world not only on a day set aside for acknowledging our thanks for our food, but as well the remaining 364 days of the year.... The increasing capability of GMOs to feed the world -- safely, cost-effectively and environmentally sound -- is something to be truly thankful for." The article criticized the environmental advocacy organization As You Sow for its campaign to label GMOs.[11][12]



Advisory Board

Senior Fellows


Institutional donors provide much of the funding for the Institute. The Bradley Foundation provided $225,000 during 2001. The Bodman Foundation gave $55,000 from 2007 through 2012.[13]

There are at least two known corporate donors. In 1995, Philip Morris gave $10,000 [1] and in 2002 ExxonMobil gave $30,000 to the Acton Institute.

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $12,680,511
  • Total Expenses: $7,358,337
  • Net Assets: $14,969,997

Contact Details

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
161 Ottawa NW, Ste. 301
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Telephone: (616) 454-3080
Fax: (616) 454-9454

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Links


  1. Acton Institute, About, organizational website, accessed June 3, 2014.
  2. Acton Institute, About, organizational website, accessed June 3, 2014.
  3. Trent Beattie, "Cultivating Capitalism’s Compatibility With Catholicism," National Catholic Register, May 20, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
  4. Acton Institute, Acton University, organizational website, accessed June 4, 2014.
  5. Acton Institute, Mini-Grants on Free Market Economics, organizational website, accessed June 4, 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Matt Vande Bunte, "Acton Institute tax exemption denied, Grand Rapids says think tank not charitable," Grand Rapids Press/MLive Media Group, March 7, 2014. Accessed June 3, 2014.
  7. David Gibson, "Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality," District Chronicles, May 12, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
  8. Bruce Edward Walker, LinkedIn profile, accessed December 2014.
  9. Heartland Institute, Bruce Edward Walker, organizational biography, accessed December 2014.
  10. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Bruce Edward Walker, Editor-at-Large, organizational biography, accessed December 2014.
  11. As You Sow, GMOs, organizational website, accessed December 2014.
  12. Bruce Edward Walker, Acton Institute, A GMO Thanksgiving, Acton Institute PowerBlog, November 25, 2014.
  13. Achelis & Bodman Foundations, 2006-2007 Grants, foundation grant report, accessed July 2014.
  14. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2012 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, June 14, 2013.