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The Mercatus Center, part of George Mason University, is one of the best-funded think tanks in the United States. It is listed as "sister organization" to the Institute for Humane Studies. Mercatus describes its mission as "to generate knowledge and understanding of the institutions that affect the freedom to prosper, and to find sustainable solutions that overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, and peaceful lives."
The Mercatus Center was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations. According to financial records, the Koch family has contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason University, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. Democratic strategist Rob Stein described the Mercatus Center as "ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” George Mason Uni itself was only founded in 1972 on a campus just outside Washington DC. It is now Virginia's largest public research university with 34,000 students on campus, ten schools and colleges.
The Mercatus Center has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation. According to The Guardian in 2010, it "now fills the role once played by the economics department at Chicago University as the originator of extreme neoliberal ideas." During the George W. Bush administration's campaign to reduce government regulation, the Wall Street Journal reported, "14 of the 23 rules the White House chose for its "hit list" to eliminate or modify were Mercatus entries -- a record that flabbergasted Washington lobbying heavyweights."
The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of."
- 1 History and Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 2 Right-Wing Ties
- 3 News and Controversies
- 4 Funding
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Board of Directors
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 External links
- 9 Related Sourcewatch Articles
- 10 References
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.
History and Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Mercatus Center was founded in 1978 as the Center for the Study of Market Processes. Richard Fink, then an economist at Rutgers, had sought funding to found a center for advancing Austrian school economics, and secured the funds from Charles Koch after visiting him in Wichita, Kansas. The Center moved to George Mason University in 1980, where it merged with the Center for the Study of Public Choice during 1998 to become the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy. The Mercatus Center writes of the move that "Once again, support from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation provided the critical funding for this formative move." The Mercatus Center brand was developed in 1999 from the James Buchanan Center.
In April 2016, GMU renamed its law school the Antionin Scalia School of Law after receiving a $10 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and another $20 million from an anonymous donor which was funnelled through Leonard Leo, the executive VP of the Federalist Society. Between 2011 and 2014 the Koch's gave $48 million in donations to the GMU according to the Associated Press - and it is this money which supports the free-market Mercatus Center. The Mercatus Center is also linked to the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Charles Koch also chairs the board of the Institute for Humane Studies at GMU.
The Mercatus board includes Richard Fink (Exec VP of Koch Industries, and Charles Koch himself. In a 2011 profile, Philanthropy wrote that Charles Koch and Fink shared a goal for Mercatus:
- "...Koch and Fink had another goal in mind. Mercatus would bridge two worlds. Like many of the on-campus centers that Koch has funded, it would continue to conduct original academic research […] At the same time, it would take advantage of its proximity to Washington, bringing its scholarship into direct contact with public policy."
Rich Fink is also executive vice president of Koch Industries and also founded Citizens for a Sound Economy. Fink heads Koch Industries’ lobbying operation in Washington. In addition, Fink is the president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the president of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a director of the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, and a director and co-founder, with David Koch, of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Organizations with links to the Koch brothers have reported giving funding to the Mercatus Center. The Center received $5.5 million from the Koch-linked DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2010 and 2012. The Charles G. Koch Foundation reported giving $8.8 million from 2002 to 2012, and the David H. Koch Foundation gave $100,000 to George Mason University for "Mercatus Center Programs" between 1999 and 2001.
Jane Mayer writes in her book Dark Money that,
- "Clayton Coppin, who taught history at George Mason and compiled the confidential study of Charles's political activities for Bill Koch, describes Mercatus outright in his report as "a lobbying group disguised as a disinterested academic program." The arrangement, he points out, had financial advantages for the Kochs, because it enabled Charles "to have a tax deduction for financing a group, which for all practical purposes is a lobbying group for his corporate interest."
In addition to being funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Mercatus Center also has ties to several prominent right-wing groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
Connections to NFIB and Environmental Deregulation
Two advisory board members of NFIB's Legal Arm are involved with the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center: Wendy Gramm, a distinguished senior scholar at the Mercatus Center (where she founded the Regulatory Studies Program) and Susan E. Dudley, former director of the Regulatory Studies program.
Both Gramm and Dudley have held government positions where they have crusaded against regulations aimed at protecting the environment. Gramm was previously head of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) 'Information and Regulatory Affairs'. In 2002, the OMB drew up a "hit list" of existing federal environmental regulations it believes should be changed or rescinded of which 44 had been suggested by the Mercatus Center. Dudley was appointed head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by President George W. Bush. According to the Los Angeles Times, Dudley was one of three people previously blocked by Congress from holding environment-related positions "because of their pro-industry views."
Ties to ALEC
Bob Williams, a visiting fellow at the Mercatus Center, is on the ALEC Board of Scholars and has worked on several ALEC Task Forces, including the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force of which he was the chair in 2011.In August 2011, Williams received the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC's) Private Sector Member of the Year Award. Williams is also the founder of the right-wing think tank, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an ALEC-affiliated State Policy Network member.
The Mercatus Center itself has also been involved in ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. Matthew Mitchell, a Mercatus senior research fellow presented to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force at ALEC's 2010 annual meeting. Keith Hall, another Mercatus senior research fellow also gave a presentation at the task force meeting of ALEC's 2012 States and Nation Policy Summit
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.
News and Controversies
Mercatus Center Called Out for Blocking Action on Climate Change
In July of 2016, nineteen U.S. Senators delivered a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests, including the Mercatus Center. Sen. Whitehouse (RI-D), who led the effort to expose "the web of denial" said in his remarks on the floor that the purpose was to,
- "shine a little light on the web of climate denial and spotlight the bad actors in the web, who are polluting our American discourse with phony climate denial. This web of denial, formed over decades, has been built and provisioned by the deep-pocketed Koch brothers, by ExxonMobil, by Peabody coal, and by other fossil fuel interests. It is a grim shadow over our democracy in that it includes an electioneering effort that spends hundreds of millions of dollars in a single election cycle and threatens any Republican who steps up to address the global threat of climate change. . . . [I]t is long past time we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America’s political history because of their work.”
The Enron Loophole
From Jane Mayer's Dark Money,
- "The most fateful Mercatus Center hire might have been Wendy Gramm, an economist and director at the giant Texas energy company Enron who was the wife of Senator Phil Gramm, the powerful Texas Republican. In the mid-1990s, she became the heard of Mercatus's Regulatory Studies Program. There, she pushed Congress to support what came to be known as the Enron Loophole, exempting the type of energy derivatives from which Enron profited from regulatory oversight. Both Enron and Koch Industries, which also was a major trader of derivatives, lobbied desperately for the loophole. Koch claimed there was no need for government policing because corporations' concern for their reputations would cause them to self-regulate.
- Some experts foresaw danger. In 1998, Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, warned that lucrative but risky derivatives market needed more government oversight. But Senator Gramm, who chaired the Senate Banking Committee, ignored such warnings, crafting a deregulatory bill made to order for Enron and Koch, called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Despite Born's warning, the Clinton administration embraced exemptions too, swayed by Wall Street pressure."
Influence on Congress (2000-2006)
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Mercatus holds seminars for congressional staff on topics related to its political agenda and an annual retreat for congressional chiefs of staff, spending "at least $227,000 on more than 400 trips for lawmakers and their staff from 2000 through mid-2005." 
Opposition to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2014)
Hester Peirce, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center, has testified against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, claiming that its "lack of accountability, the opacity of the Bureau’s decision-making processes," and its power to control its own budget and data collection required "fundamental reforms."
Google Funds Legal Conference While Under Investigation (2014)
The Washington Post reported that while Google was being investigated for antitrust violations, the company funded conferences at George Mason University, where the Mercatus Center is hosted, at which "leading technology and legal experts forcefully rejected the need for the government to take action against Google" in front of an audience that included FTC officials, members of Congress, and Justice Department officials. Google has donated to conservative organizations including the Mercatus Center to support research on weakening copyright and patent laws.
The Mercatus Center describes itself as "100% privately funded." According to its website, in FY 2014 it received 54% of its funding from foundations, 42% from individuals, and 4% from corporations.
Mercatus has received funding from a number of foundations that support conservative causes.
The Center received $5.5 million from the Koch-linked DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2010 and 2012. The Charles G. Koch Foundation reported giving $8.8 million from 2002 to 2012, and the David H. Koch Foundation gave $100,000 to George Mason University for "Mercatus Center Programs" between 1999 and 2001.
Board of Directors
As of June 2016:
- Frank Atkinson, Chairman, McGuireWoods Consulting, LLC
- Donald J. Boudreaux, Senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
- Emily Chamlee-Wright, Mercatus Center Senior Research Scholar and Provost and Dean at Washington College
- Tyler Cowen, Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University; Chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
- Richard Fink, former Executive Vice President, Koch Industries
- Brian Hooks, President of the Charles Koch Foundation
- Manuel Johnson, boardmember
- Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO, Koch Industries, Inc.
- Edwin Meese, former Attorney General of the United States
- Vernon L. Smith, Professor of Economics and Law
Former Board of Directors Members
- Menlo Smith, CEO of Sunmark Capital Corp.
As of June 2016:
- Sherzod Abdukadirov, Research Fellow
- Ashley Adams, Director for Event Strategy
- Paul Dragos Aligica, Senior Research Fellow
- Alexander Anton, Budget and Operations Associate
- Daniel Asiedu, Help Desk Coordinator
- Matt Bagnoli, Manager of Donor Relations
- Taylor Barkley, Assistant Director of Outreach for Technology Policy
- Dan Barrett, Performance Measurement Manager
- William Beach, Vice President for Policy Research
- Christina Behe, Editor and Production Coordinator
- Orges Beqiri, Associate Director of Donor Relations
- Charles Blahous, Director of Spending and Budget Initiative; Senior Research Fellow
- Theodore Bolema, Director for Policy Research Editing
- Kathy Bollen, Associate Director for Policy Research Operations
- Robin J. Bowen, Director of Regulatory Outreach
- Benjamin Brophy, Web Product Manager
- James Broughel, Program Manager, Regulatory Studies Program
- Garrett Brown, Director of Publications
- Michael Buck, IT Project Manager
- Julie Burden, Senior Director of Event Strategy
- Greg Burns, Program Associate
- Daniel Butler, Senior Director of Development
- Rhett Butler, Director of Foundations Relations
- Jen Campbell, Event Manager
- Trevor Carlsen, Health Care Outreach Associate
- Andrea Castillo, Program Manager of the Technology Policy Program
- Eric Celler, Program Coordinator at the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
- Erica T. Celler, Program Coordinator of Academic and Student Programs
- Bryce Chinault, Outreach Associate
- Lane Conaway, Program Manager of Academic and Student Programs
- Tyler Cowen, Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University; General Director and Senior Fellow, F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
- William Culleton, Outreach Associate
- Karen Czarnecki, Senior Director of Outreach
- Malia Dalesandry, Executive Assistant
- Brandon Davis, Graphic Designer
- Kate De Lanoy, Associate Director of Media Relations
- Veronique de Rugy, Senior Research Fellow
- Tad DeHaven, Research Analyst
- Bradley Dick, Development Associate
- Courtney Dunn, Events Coordinator
- Scott Eastman, Program Coordinator for the Project for the Study of American Capitalism
- Neil Eckard, Development Communications Manager
- Mohamad Elbarasse, Program Manager
- Lindsey Emmick, Senior Manager for Foundation Relations
- Bob Ewing, Director of Media Relations
- Michael Farren, Research Fellow
- Jason J. Fichtner, Senior Research Fellow
- Gregory Fitton, Program Associate at the Study of American Capitalism Program
- Claire Forman, Manager of Donor Relations
- Daniel Francis, Policy Communications Manager
- Nita Ghee, Senior Policy Research Editor
- Meg Gilliland, Digital Marketing Manager
- Olivia Gonzalez, Research Assistant
- Robert Graboyes, Senior Research Fellow
- Nolan Gray, Marketing Associate
- John Grover, Development Associate
- Stefanie Haeffele-Balch, Deputy Director, Academic and Student Programs
- Roman Hardgrave, Director of Online Strategies
- Alex Hasan, Senior Network and Security Engineer
- Robert Hasler, Financial Operations Associate
- Justin Hayes, Marketing Manager
- Kim Hemsley, Media Analytics Associate
- Cristinan Hernandez Brown, Recruiter
- Sophia Higgins, Manager of Financial Reporting
- Jeff Holmes, Creative Director
- Patrick Horan, Program Associate
- Eric Imhoff, Development Database Administrator
- Sarah Jenislawski, Senior Manager, Foundation Relations
- Jim A. Johnston, Director of Marketing
- Mary Jones, Assistant Director of Outreach
- Sarah Jones, Payroll and Benefits Specialist
- Elizabeth Kailey, Director of Finance
- Jamil Khan, Program Coordinator, Health Care
- Benjamin Klutsey, Program Manager
- Brian Knight, Senior Research Fellow
- Jeff Koo, IT Project Manager
- Christopher Koopman, Research Fellow
- Leah M. Kral, Director of Strategic Management Systems
- Angela Kuck, Deputy Director of Spending and Budget Initiative and Director of Policy Communications
- Kayla Lahti, Program Associate
- Gary D. Leff, Chief Financial Officer
- Jayme Lemke, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Director of Academic and Student Programs
- Peter Lipsey, Program Manager of Academic and Student Programs
- Michael Mayfield, Help Desk Coordinator
- Maurice P. McTigue, Vice President, Outreach
- Adam Michel, Program Manager
- Stephen Matteo Miller, Senior Research Fellow
- Adam Millsap, Research Fellow
- Matthew Mitchell, Director of the Project for the Study of American Capitalism and Senior Research Fellow
- Claire Morgan, Director of Academic Relations for Academic and Student Programs
- Marc Morris, Media Relations Associate
- Lindsay Moss, Video Production Associate
- Sarah Muse, Senior Development Associate
- Chris Myers, Director of External Relations
- Jonathan Nelson, Program Associate, for the Regulatory Studies Program
- Scott Norbert, Application Development Manager
- Ladan Nowrasteh, Marketing Director
- Michael Olson, Desktop Support Technician
- Naomi Ortega, Office Manager
- Sam Pfizer, Associate Director of State Outreach
- Kyle Precourt, Associate Director of Media Relations
- Rizqi Rachmat, Research Data Visualist
- Robert E. Raffety, Senior Director of Policy Research Operations
- Edward Ranger, Financial Operations Associate
- James Reed, Office Coordinator
- Chad Reese, Assistant Director of Outreach for Financial Policy
- Tyler Richards, Program Coordinator for the Regulatory Studies Program
- McKenzie Robey, Program Associate for Academic and Student Programs
- Andrea Ronal, Development Associate
- Daniel M. Rothschild, Executive Director
- Amanda Ruetz, Manager of Financial Operations
- Stacie Rumenap, Director of Corporate Relations
- Daniel Sacks, Director of Donor Relations
- Ranock Saing, Help Desk Technician
- Rachiny Samek,Human Resources Associate
- Thomas Savidge, Program Associate for the State and Local Policy Project.
- Ashley Schiller, Manager of Donor Relations
- Caitlyn Schmidt, Event Manager
- Corrie Schwab, Managing Editor
- Leck Shannon, Program Manager
- Oliver Sherouse, Research Analyst
- Cory Shreckengost, Director of Editorial Content
- Vera Soliman, Research Assistant
- Bethany Stalter, Event Coordinator
- Solomon Stein, Research Fellow, F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
- Virgil Storr, Senior Research Fellow and Senior Director, Academic and Student Programs
- Lauren Thompson, Program Associate for Academic and Student Programs
- Alexandra Tooley, Senior Web Projects Manager
- Robin L. Walker, Director of Outreach for Fiscal and Health Care Policy
- Camille Walsh, Media Manager, Spending and Budget Initiative
- Emily Washington, Policy Research Manager
- TJ Whittle, Editor
- Geary Williams, Network Administrator
- Richard Williams, Director of Regulatory Studies Program and Senior Research Fellow
- Michael Wilt, Policy Writer and Editor
- Chris Wolske, Senior Director of IT
- Jennifer Zambone, Vice President for Operations
- Stephen Zimmer, Program Associate for Academic and Student Programs
George Mason University
3301 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 450
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
tel: (703) 993-4930
Fax: (703) 993-4935
web site: www.mercatus.org
- "George Mason University", Media Transparency (includes donations for the 'Mercatus Center')
- Bob Davis, "Rule Breaker: In Washington, tiny think tank wields big stick on regulation", Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2004.
- Mercatus Center: Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group, Greenpeace USA, accessed August 14, 2015.
- John Quiggin Tribalism and locavorism July 9, 2012
- Connor Gibson and Lindsey Berger, Koch Pollution on Campus: Academic Freedom Under Assault from Charles Koch's $50 Million Campaign to Infiltrate Higher Education, Greenpeace USA, September 15, 2014.
- PolluterWatch, Charles Koch vs. Academic Freedom, Greenepeace USA, updated August 13, 2015.
- DeSmogBlog, Koch and George Mason University: Koch Academic Freedom Concerns, accessed August 12, 2014.
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
- Mercatus Center, About, organizational website, accessed July 9, 2014.
- George Monblot, "The Tea Party movement: deluded and inspired by billionaires," The Guardian, October 25, 2010. Accessed July 9, 2014.
- Bob Davis, "In Washington, Tiny Think Tank Wields Big Stick on Regulation," July 16, 2004. Accessed July 9, 2014.
- Jane Mayer Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama The New Yorker, August 30, 2010
- State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2016.
- Mercatus Center, History and Timeline, organizational website, accessed June 24, 2014.
- James K. Glassman, "Market Based Man," Philanthropy, Fall 2011. Accessed June 16, 2014.
- Mercatus Center, Board of Directors, organizational website. Accessed June 2, 2016.
- Jane Mayer, [Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right], 2016.
- Mercatus Center, Wendy Gramm, organizational website, accessed May 2013
- Bloomberg Business, Executive Profile: Wendy L.Gramm, Company Overview of National Federation of Independent Business, accessed May 2013
- NFIB, "Small Business Advisory Board", Legal Center, accessed May 2013
- Clean Air Trust, Trust names Wendy Lee Gramm The Clean Air 'Villan of the Month', January 2002
- Judy Pasternak, "Bush Backs Shunned Nominees: His Three Choices for Jobs Dealing with the Environment Were Previously Blocked as Pro-Industry," Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2007; see also Public Citizen and OMB Watch's extensive report, "The Cost Is Too High: How Susan Dudley Threatens Public Protections."
- American Legislative Exchange Council Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force, organization website, accessed May 28, 2011
- Mercatus Center, Bob Williams, organizational website, accessed May 2013
- American Legislative Exchange Council, "Solutions for the States," 38th Annual Meeting agenda, on file with CMD, August 3-6, 2011
- Mercatus Center, Matthew Mitchell, organizational website, accessed May 2013
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Meeting agenda, 2010 Annual Meeting, on file with CMD, August 7, 2010-
- Mercatus Center, Keith Hall, organizational website, accessed May 2013
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Meeting agenda, 2012 States and Nation Policy Summit, on file with CMD, November 29, 2012
- Sheldon Whitehouse, "Senators Call Out Web of Denial Blocking Action On Climate Change," Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, July 15, 2016.
- Anupama Narayanswamy and Alex Knott, "Unregistered Advocates," The Center for Public Integrity, May 19, 2014. Accessed May 27, 2014.
- Hester Peirce, "Testimony Before the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Committee on Financial Services," May 21, 2014. Accessed May 27, 2014.
- Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold, "Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence," The Washington Post, April 12, 2014. Accessed May 27, 2014.
- Timothy B. Lee, "How Google money is helping turn the political right against strong copyrights," Vox, May 11, 2014. Accessed May 27, 2014.
- Mercatus Center, Donate, organizational website, accessed June 24, 2014.
- Buzz McClain, "Mercatus Center at Mason Receives $2 Million Grant for Economic Research," George Mason University News, February 10, 2014. Accessed May 27, 2014.