Independent Women's Forum
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The Independent Women's Forum (IWF, not to be confused with the International Women's Forum) is an anti-feminist organization predominantly funded by right-wing foundations, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch brothers' Claude R. Lambe Foundation. On its website, it describes its mission as being "to rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom. IWF builds support for a greater respect for limited government, equality under the law, property rights, free markets, strong families, and a powerful and effective national defense and foreign policy."
The IWF originally grew out of a group called "Women for Clarence Thomas," formed to support Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, against allegations of sexual harassment. It has vocally opposed the Violence Against Women Act.
In an editorial, The New York Times called the IWF "a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women."
IWF has two sister organizations: a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy group, Independent Women's Voice (IWF), formed in 2003; and a network of local chapters called Independent Women's Network, formed in 2012.
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
- 1 Ties to the Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity
- 2 Ties to ALEC
- 3 IWF and IWV Market Right-Wing Ideas to Reach Independent Women Voters Under the Guise of Neutrality
- 4 Controversies
- 5 History
- 6 Funding
- 7 Personnel
- 8 Contact Details
- 9 Articles and Resources
- 10 References
Ties to the Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity
IWF has received funding from several sources with ties to the Koch brothers. The Koch family foundations donated $844,115 to IWF between 1998 and 2014 and no fewer than half of the Independent Women’s Forum’s full-time staff previously worked directly for Koch-controlled groups or for entities that received Koch funding. DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund have contributed over $5 million to IWF from 2002 to 2014.
Heather Higgins, the chair of IWF's board of directors, has attended at least one Koch network summit meeting. Former IWF president Nancy Pfotenhauer worked for Koch Industries and has attended multiple Koch network meetings. Pfotenhauer currently sits on the board of Americans for Prosperity, a key organization in the Kochs' political network.
From 2003 to 2008, IWF was closely affiliated with the Koch brothers-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity. IWF staff registered AFP's websites, AFPHQ.org and AmericansForProsperity.org, in 2003. The domain names were both registered by Michael Berry, who at the time was IWF's chief operating officer and Secretary/Treasurer of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) board of directors. At that time, both IWF and AFPF listed their address as 1726 M Street, NW, Tenth Floor, Washington, D.C. The two organizations shared additional personnel, including Nancy Pfotenhauer, who served as both President and Director of IWF and as President of AFPF, and Arianne Massey, who in 2004 served as COO of IWF and as secretary/treasurer for AFPF. By 2009, IWF and AFPF were listing separate addresses in their tax filings, with IWF giving its address as 4400 Jenifer Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
Ties to ALEC
Independent Women’s Forum President Sabrina Schaefer offered to help American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislators “sell” corporate-backed alternatives to paid sick leave, equal pay, quality childcare, and workplace flexibility in their home states in a meeting with ALEC in July.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
IWF and IWV Market Right-Wing Ideas to Reach Independent Women Voters Under the Guise of Neutrality
The Independent Women’s Forum and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, the Independent Women’s Voice, market themselves to the media and voters as “non-partisan,” “independent,” and “neutral.” An investigation of the groups by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveals them to be anything but that.
Joan Walsh wrote for The Nation, "IWF and its political arm, Independent Women’s Voice, have become aggressive players in Republican politics, embedded in the network of organizations backed by Charles and David Koch, advocating for the Koch brothers’ myriad concerns, and playing on their 'independent' label to elect GOP candidates."
Heather Higgins, the President of the Independent Women’s Voice and the Board Chair of the Independent Women’s Forum, admitted as much in a speech to potential 2016 donors at a David Horowitz Freedom Center retreat:
Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you’re actually conservative puts us in a unique position. Our value here and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal is a group that can talk to those cohorts [women who are not Republican conservatives] that would not otherwise listen but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable.
- CMD: Independent Women's Forum and Independent Women's Voice Use “Independent” Brand to Push Right-Wing Agenda to Women Voters
- CMD: A Reporter's Guide on the Independent Women's Forum/Voice
- Joan Walsh: Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work
IWV Spent to Help “War On Women” GOP Candidates
- IWV made $67,242 in independent expenditures aiding Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin with calls and independent voter outreach in November 2012, after Akin claimed on August 19, 2012 that rape victims couldn’t get pregnant because “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
- $176,991 on a “Romney wants Mourdock” ad after Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock asserted that when a woman is raped, she carries a “gift from God” and that such a pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen.”
- Joe Walsh, a GOP Rep. from Illinois claimed in the 2012 race against Tammy Duckworth that abortions to save a mother’s life are never medically necessary. Two weeks later, Independent Women’s Voice spent more than $5,000 on calls and outreach to independent voters in his district.
- In the 2014 Senate races, CMD’s research finds that Independent Women’s Voice spent more than $850,000 on GOP candidates, most of whom had 0% NARAL ratings; it spent more than $5 million that year on related advocacy.
- Higgins also told donors that Independent Women’s Voice made the only significant independent expenditure in Mark Sanford’s 2012 congressional race in South Carolina. She said Independent Women’s Voice worked to convince “evangelicals to hold their nose and vote for Mark in order to be able to hold onto that seat and not have the liberal win it.”
IWF Fellow Calls Gun Control "Sexist," 2013
Speaking at Senate hearings on gun control in February 2013, IWF senior fellow Gayle Trotter stated that gun control regulations were "sexist":
- "Calling guns 'the great equalizer,' Trotter said women need firearms to protect themselves against male attackers. 'An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,' Trotter said. 'And the peace of mind she has… knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened violent criminals.'"
Trotter's testimony provoked strong reactions, with many critics citing research that suggests the presence of guns in the home often correlates with a greater likelihood that women and children will be injured or killed.
A New York Times editorial wrote that it marked "an absurd low point" in the debate over gun violence in the U.S., adding that "[i]n domestic violence situations, the risk of homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003." The Times editors also noted that the IWF had opposed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.
The Nation added Trotter's statement to its list of "Timeless Whoppers."
Citing additional research linking the prevalence of guns to increased violence against women, feminist writer Amanda Marcotte wrote, "The conservative claim, made by Trotter, that guns are an 'equalizer' is about as serious a misrepresentation as you can muster when it comes to violence against women. Most violence against women is perpetrated by men the victim knows in situations that are intimate or social, where guns aren't usually out."
Trotter defended her testimony in an e-mail to the Daily Beast, writing, "I am an unapologetically liberty-loving, tyranny-hating, red-blooded, patriotic American woman, a lawyer who is proud to say that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the founding charters of freedom and that government of the people, for the people and by the people is here to stay."
Opposition to Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
IWF has regularly opposed VAWA, including during a fight to reauthorize the Act in March 2013. "What concerns us most is VAWA includes no provisions for financial oversight, views violence more through an ideological lens than a practical one, erodes constitutional rights of the accused, and perpetuates the idea that society is hostile to women," IWF's Charlotte Hays said in a statement at the time, according to the Washington Post.
Defense of Rush Limbaugh
IWF has repeatedly defended right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, including supporting Limbaugh after his misogynist comments towards Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke on his show in 2012.
A report by The Nation and the American Independent Institute found that Limbaugh gave about $273,000 to IWF in 2007, making him the group's largest donor that year. The report noted that in later years, "donors to the IWF began cloaking its contributions by running them through the right-wing's biggest donor-advised fund, DonorsTrust," making it difficult to know how much Limbaugh may have contributed since then.
Efforts to Eradicate Teaching of Global Warming from Schools
IWF formed a group called Balanced Education for Everyone whose goal is to stop the teaching of global warming in U.S. schools, according to the Denver Post. The group calls global warming "junk science," and claims teaching it scares children unnecessarily. It also promoted a documentary called "Not Evil Just Wrong," which "was created as a counterpoint to Al Gore's Oscar-winning global-warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
The group started its national effort at a meeting of the Mesa County, Colorado District 51 School Board, where it presented the board with a petition containing 600-700 signatures of people who wanted global warming instruction stopped.
Feminist Majority Objects to IWF's State Department Grant, 2004
In October 2004 the Feminist Majority Foundation objected to the U.S. Department of State's decision to award part of a $10 million grant to IWF for "leadership training, democracy education and coalition building assistance" to women in Iraq. Then-president of the Feminist Majority Eleanor Smeal said that the IWF "represents a small group of right-wing wheeler-dealers inside the Beltway." The funding was from the Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative. In a press release, IWF "denounced" the Feminist Majority's objection, calling it a "radical feminist group," and stated its plan to work with the American Islamic Congress and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
While claiming to challenge "radical feminists," IWF primarily targets mainstream feminists and feminist organizations, as exemplified by such figures as Hillary Rodham Clinton and such groups as the American Association of University Women.
IWF is a secular counterpart to Religious Right women's groups like Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, but these groups often work together. People for the American Way describe IWF as a group that "opposes affirmative action, gender equity programs like Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act."
IWF members include academic women who are paid to write papers that denigrate the idea of equity for girls and women in education. One of these papers, by Judith Kleinfeld, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, has questioned an MIT study on discrimination against women in MIT's science department, calling their findings "junk science."
IWF's website shows an expansive sphere of concerns, all viewed from right-wing perspectives.
IWF's head Michelle Bernard later became the head of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. The Bernard Center's website lists no donors, no history, and no contact information other than a P.O. box in Potomac, Maryland. Analysts from the Bernard Center have written about 'misguided' food and nutrition policy, and the need for more charter schools.
State Department Grant for Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative, 2004-2008
In 2004, IWF was awarded part of a $10 million U.S. Department of State grant to "train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life." IWF's tax filings show that it received more than $2.6 million between 2004 and 2008, of which $1.3 million was paid to the American Islamic Congress and around $291,000 to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Together, the three organizations created the Iraqi Women's Educational Institute (IWEI), which provided training seminars and "educational materials on democracy and elections" in Iraq, and also operated the "Iraqi Women’s Small Grant and NGO Capacity-building Initiative." The last activities listed on the IWEI's website, iwei.org, took place in 2006, and the domain expired in June 2013.
IWF received $16,234,294 in foundation grants between 1994 and 2013 from the following organizations, according to data compiled by the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation's Conservative Transparency database:
- Randolph Foundation: $3,779,850 (1998-2012)
- DonorsTrust: $3,594,104 (2002-2012)
- Sarah Scaife Foundation: $1,900,000 (1999-2007)
- Donors Capital Fund: 1,640,000 (2012)
- Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation: $835,000 (1998-2010)
- John M. Olin Foundation: $776,000 (1995-2002)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $580,000 (1995-2008)
- Carthage Foundation: $400,000 (1994-1996, 2008-2009)
- Castle Rock Foundation: $400,000 (1998-2011)
- Jaquelin Hume Foundation: $375,000 (1999-2009)
- William H. Donner Foundation: $308,157 (1998-2009)
- Searle Freedom Trust: $300,000 (2001-2008)
- National Christian Foundation: $200,000 (2012)
- Scaife Family Foundation: $200,000 (1999-2002)
- Independent Women's Voice: $161,568 (2004-2006)
- JM Foundation: $120,000 (1995-2007)
- Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation: $116,000 (2002-2007)
- Ruth & Lovett Peters Foundation: $100,000 (2002 and 2007)
- Diana Davis Spencer Foundation: $68,000 (2008-2012)
- Exxon Mobil: $50,000 (2002-2006)
- Gilder Foundation: $50,000 (2003)
- Windway Foundation: $40,500 (2003-2012)
- John William Pope Foundation: $40,000 (2010-2013)
- Roe Foundation: $35,000 (2002-2009)
- Earhart Foundation: $35,000 (2002-2004)
- [[Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation: $31,500 (2002-2010)
- Holman Foundation: $30,000 (2009-2012)
- Hickory Foundation: $17,500 (1998-2001)
- William E. Simon Foundation: $16,000 (1998-2008)
- Bochnowski Family Foundation: $10,000 (2013)
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation: $9,115 (2012)
- Chase Foundation of Virginia: $6,000 (2009-2012)
- Armstrong Foundation: $5,000 (2006)
- National Association of Manufacturers: $5,000 (2005)
Other organizations that have reported giving grants to IWF include:
- Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation: $2,500 "Towards support of their educational efforts" (2013)
- Briggs and Stratton Corporation Foundation: $4,500 for "Operating support" (2012)
- Center for Communications, Health and the Environment: $100 for "Health Promotion" (2010)
- Connemara Fund: $25,000 (2009-2012). The managing trustee of the Connemara Fund is Polly J. Friess, daughter-in-law of Foster Friess and a Koch network summit attendee.
- Garvey Kansas Foundation: $500 for "Education: Programming" (2010)
- Edward A. and Catherine L. Lozick Foundation: $250 (2012)
- Gleason Family Foundation: $200,000 for "Production assistance MSNBC town hall w/Bill Cosby" (2009) 
- Koret Foundation: $5,000 for operating support (2010-2011), $5,000 for "Jericho project" (2012)
- Stephenson Family Foundation (Celebrate Life Foundation): $500, general contribution (2009)
- Triad Foundation: $5,000 for general operating support (2011)
At the time of its resource sharing announcement with Americans for Prosperity in October 2003, IWF stated that "we had come through a difficult transition a few years ago and were really hitting our stride after getting a major, million-dollar grant."
$2.6 Million in Federal Grants
IWF received more than $2.6 million in funding through government grants between 2004 and 2008, including:
- $339,780, U.S. Department of State Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative "to promote democracy for women in Iraq" (2004). (Of this, $234,405 was contracted to the American Islamic Congress and $66,408 to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
- $1,136,718, U.S. Department of State Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative (2005). (Of this, $533,052 was contracted to the American Islamic Congress and $224,813 to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.)
- $661,216, U.S. Department of State Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative (2006). (Of this, $465,780 was contracted to the American Islamic Congress).
- $392,240, U.S. Department of State Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative (2007). (Of this, $91,400 was contracted to the American Islamic Congress.)
- $77,850, further information not listed (2008).
- Total Revenue: $1,163,047
- Total Expenses: $1,072,604
- Net Assets: $609,440
- Total Revenue: $709,757
- Total Expenses: $1,053,256
- Net Assets: $518,997
- In 2013, IWF spent $561,581 (79 percent of its revenue for that year and 53 percent its total expenses) on compensation and employee benefits.
- Total Revenue: $4,427,773
- Total Expenses: $3,785,763
- Net Assets: $862,496
- In 2012, IWF listed its largest single expense as "Active engagement/mkt evaluation," on which it spend $2,983,197 in 2012.
- Total Revenue: $826,254
- Total Expenses: $601,823
- Net Assets: $220,486
- Total Revenue: $858,876
- Total Expenses: $1,028,393
- Net Assets: -$3,945
- In 2010, IWF spent over $540,000 (more than 60 percent of its revenue for that year) on compensation and employee benefits.
- Total Revenue: $4,263,640
- Total Expenses: $4,374,313
- Net Assets: $168,223
As of April 2015:
- Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director. Schaeffer is a weekly contributor to the Fox News show "Forbes on Fox" and has previously been affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, the White House Writers Group, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, Americas Majority, and the National Black Republican Association, and was a speechwriter for Senator George Voinovich (R-OH).
- Carrie L. Lukas, Managing Director
- Victoria R. Coley, Director of Communications
- Whitney Garrison Athayde, Director of Development
- Julie Gunlock, Senior Fellow and Director of the Culture of Alarmism Project
- Charlotte Hayes, Senior Editor and Director of Cultural Programs
- Hadley Heath, Director of Health Policy
- Celia Meyer, Communications Associate
- Amber Schwartz, External Relations Manager
- Michele Vogt, Digital Director
As of April 2015:
- Karin Agness
- Vicki E. Alger
- Charlotte Allen
- Rachel DiCario Currie
- Krista Kafer
- Donna Wiesner Keene
- Patrice J. Lee
- Angela Logomasini
- Jillian Melchior
- Naomi Schaefer Riley
- Anna Rittgers
- Abby W. Schachter
- Lisa Schiffren
- Emily Esfahani Smith
- Amber Smith
- Gayle Trotter
- Jennifer Marsico
- Lane Scott
- Christina Villegas
Board of Directors
As of April 2015:
- Heather Higgins - Chairman
- Elizabeth Biar
- Yvonne S. Boice
- Kellyanne Conway
- Giovanna Cugnasca
- Lisa Gable
- Former U.S. Representative [[Nan Hayworth] (R-NY).
As of April 2015:
- Mindy Berry
- Kim Bolt
- Andrea Bottner
- Susanna Dokupil
- Windi Grimes
- Clark Judge
- Kate Pomeroy
- Janie Tisdale
As of April 2015:
- Lynne V. Cheney
- Midge Decter
- Kimberly O. Dennis
- Wendy Lee Gramm
- Randy P. Kendrick
- Elizabeth Lurie (deceased)
- Kate O’Beirne
- Louise V. Oliver
- Sally Pipes
- Nancy Pfotenhauer
- R. Gaull Silberman (deceased)
- Michaelon Wright
Employer Identification Number (EIN): 54-1670627
Independent Women's Forum
1875 I Street, NW Suite 500
Washington, DC 20006
Articles and Resources
Related SourceWatch Articles
- Koch Brothers
- Koch Family Foundations
- Americans for Prosperity
- Freedom Partners
- Cato Institute
- Heritage Foundation
- Koch Universities
- Koch Network
- Knowledge and Progress Fund
- American Encore
- Donors Capital
- 60 Plus
- Generation Opportunity
- Anne Morse
- Candace de Russy - Member of advisory board
- Elinor Burkett, The Right Women: A Journey Through the Heart of Conservative America, Scribner, ; ASIN: 0684833085, March 1998. (This book looks at the IWF, as well as other conservative women's groups).
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- Independent Womens Forum, "IWF Awarded Grant to Support Iraqi Women", September 28, 2004.
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