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Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

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Learn more about how the State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states.

Learn more about corporations VOTING to rewrite our laws.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.[1] It is a conservative, libertarian, public interest law firm backed by a $1 million grant from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.[2] WILL is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.[3]

State Policy Network

SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of July 2017, SPN's membership totals 153. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state "think tank" members. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.[4]

In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"[5]

A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.[6]

News and Controversies

WILL Founds The Center for Competitive Federalism with Cash From Bradley Foundation

In July 2016, WILL launched an initiative to protect the rights of states and limit the power of the federal government.[7] According to its website, the Center for Competitive Federalism (CCF) will "engage in strategic litigation and public education to advance the “competitive” federalism established by the Constitution – a system in which the authority of both the states and federal government is carefully delineated and circumscribed and which is informed by the need to protect the liberty of persons and not the prerogatives of government."[8] CCF's director is Mario Loyola, former contributing editor at the National Review and former senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, also a member of the State Policy Network.[8] The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation provided millions of dollars in funding for the CCF.[7]

Scott Ross of One Wisconsin Now argues that the Bradley Foundation does not represent citizens of the State of Wisconsin and will use CCF as a tool for its political agenda, "They'll write more seven-figure checks from this right-wing slush fund to sue on behalf of Scott Walker's radical social agenda, failed economic agenda and to attack Walker's political opponents."[7]

Court Cases

Support for Act 10

In February 2013, WILL helped 3 teachers file an amicus curiae brief defending Governor Scott Walker's union-busting reforms.[9]

WILL also filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) for allegedly violating Act 10 by approving a labor agreement. The plaintiff in the lawsuit has been teaching at MATC since 1984. She said, "I'm appalled that my union would flout the law and negotiate an illegal contract." [10]

McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC

Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) filed a lawsuit challenging the Federal Election Commission's biennial limit on individual contributions contending the limit is unconstitutionally low and not supported by a sufficient governmental interest.[11] WILL filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff-appellants. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari and will hear the case during the Fall 2013 session.[12]

Ties to ALEC

About ALEC
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.

WILL Presents Paper at ALEC's Fall 2016 Meeting

WILL President Rick Esenberg, WILL Senior Fellow and Center for Competitive Federalism Director Mario Loyola, and Federal Litigator Jake Curtis presented a paper written by Loyola entitled, A Common Cause: Uniting the States Against Federal Overreach, at the American Legislative Exchange Council fall meeting in November 2016.[13]

WILL Signs onto Letter with ALEC in Support of CEI

WILL signed onto a letter with ALEC and many other Koch-backed groups and SPN members hosted on the ALEC website expressing support of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). [14] The letter addressed to CEI's President Kent Lassman offers support to the "think tank" in face of a subpoena from U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General (AG) Claude Walker filed in May 2016 asking for all of CEI's communication on climate change between 1997 and 2007.[14] AG Walker withdrew his subpoena.

Politico reported that,

"Walker argued that the withdrawn subpoena would help the case against Exxon by clearing space for the Justice Department — which has not yet confirmed an official inquiry into the company’s climate record — 'to focus on its ongoing investigation, without the distraction of this procedural litigation.'"[15]

Funding

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings. Here are the know funders of WILL:

Core Financials

2015[16]

  • Total Revenue: $3,001,261
  • Total Expenses: $1,309,639
  • Net Assets: $3,172,145

2014[17]

  • Total Revenue: $1,611,698
  • Total Expenses: $791,708
  • Net Assets: $1,408,523

2013[18]

  • Total Revenue: $938,457
  • Total Expenses: $663,606
  • Net Assets: $660,553

2012[19]

  • Total Revenue: $664,068
  • Total Expenses: $514,619
  • Net Assets: $385,592

2011[20]

  • Total Revenue: $511,939
  • Total Expenses: $275,796
  • Net Assets: $236,143

Personnel

Staff

As of January 2017:[21]

  • Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel
  • CJ Szafir, Vice President for Policy and Deputy Counsel
  • Stacy A. Stueck, Vice President for Administration
  • Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel and Litigation Manager
  • Brian McGrath, Senior Counsel
  • Mike Fischer, Senior Counsel
  • Mario Loyola, Senior Fellow
  • Jake Curtis, Associate Counsel & Federalism Litigator
  • Clyde Taylor, Associate Counsel
  • Libby Sobic, Associate Counsel
  • Will Flanders, Ph.D., Education Research Director
  • Collin Roth, Research Fellow
  • Cameron Sholty, Communications Director
  • Virginia Zignego, Director of Development
  • Elena Ramlow, Policy Intern

Former Staff

  • Jennifer Johnson, Law Clerk [22]

Board of Directors

As of August 2016:[23]

  • Rick Esenberg, President and Treasurer
  • James T. Barry, III
  • Michael H. White
  • Christopher Wolfe

Contact Information

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
1139 E. Knapp St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 727-WILL(9455)
Fax: (414) 727-6385
Website: http://www.will-law.org
Email: info@will-law.org
Twitter:https://twitter.com/wilawliberty
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Wisconsin-Institute-for-Law-Liberty-191561687596446/

References

  1. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, About WILL, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
  2. Bill Glauber, Marquette professor leads Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in conservative causes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 12, 2013.
  3. State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2016.
  4. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  5. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  6. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Haley Henschel, Conservative legal group announces states' rights initiative, Journal Sentinel, July 11, 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, WILL Launches New Project on Federalism, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, July 11, 2016.
  9. Press Release, Teachers File Brief Defending Gov. Walker's 'Act 10' Reforms in Union's State Appeals Court Lawsuit, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, February 6, 2013.
  10. Case Updates, WILL Files Lawsuit Against MATC, will-law.org, May 2, 2013.
  11. McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC - Case Summary, FEC.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
  12. Shaun McCutcheon, et al., Appellants v. Federal Election Commission, SupremeCourt.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
  13. Cameron Sholty, Center for Competitive Federalism Presents White Paper to ALEC Conference, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, December 17, 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 American Legislative Exchange Council, Coalition Letter to Support the Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, June 1, 2016.
  15. Eric Wolff, Virgin Islands AG withdraws Exxon subpoena, Politico, June 30, 2016.
  16. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2015 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 12, 2016.
  17. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2014 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 6, 2015.
  18. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2013 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 15, 2014.
  19. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2012 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 2, 2013.
  20. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2011 Form 990, organizational tax filing, July 5, 2012.
  21. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, About Us, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2017.
  22. Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Staff Bios, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
  23. Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, 2015 990, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, August 12, 2016.