Atlas Economic Research Foundation
The Atlas Economic Research Foundation was founded in 1981 by Antony Fisher. A "Johnny Appleseed" of antiregulation groups, it is closely affiliated with the U.K.-based Institute of Economic Affairs, the University of Buckingham (which has ties to the Global Warming Policy Foundation) and an international analogue, the International Policy Network (formerly known as Atlas Economic Research Foundation (UK)).
- 1 Mission - "Johnny Appleseed" of antiregulation groups
- 2 Global warming
- 3 Green Imperialism?
- 4 Affiliations
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Who funds Atlas
- 7 Atlas funding of think tanks
- 8 IRS status and Form 990 curiosities
- 9 PR tips
- 10 Other SourceWatch resources
- 11 Contact information
- 12 External links
- 13 References
Mission - "Johnny Appleseed" of antiregulation groups
For over two decades, a Virginia-based organization has been quietly working as the Johnny Appleseed of antiregulation groups. With a modest $4 million dollar budget in 2003 and a staff of eight, Atlas Economic Research Foundation is on a mission to populate the world with new "free market" voices. In its 2003 review of activities, quaintly titled its "Investor Report," Atlas announced it worked with "70 new think-tank entrepreneurs from 37 foreign countries and several states of the U.S.," including Lithuania, Greece, Mongolia, Ghana, the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina.
The mission of Atlas, according to John Blundell (president from 1987 to 1990), "is to litter the world with free-market think-tanks."
Named after the Greek god condemned to bear the heavens on his shoulders, Atlas identifies, screens and offers initial support to individuals and groups who want to create local think tanks. "Our ideal 'intellectual entrepreneur,'" says Atlas, is "someone who communicates effectively with businessmen, academicians and the general public." By facilitating the establishment of local think tanks, Atlas increases both the reach and local credibility of their "free market" message, thereby having "the most cost-effective impact."
Since its formation in 1981, Atlas has funneled over $20 million in grants to think tanks that have passed its screening process. Atlas aims, it says, to "increase that amount tenfold in the next decade." In 2003, a little over $2 million of Atlas's 2003 budget was passed on to other think tanks. While the large conservative foundations take the approach of making large sustained and often untied grants, Atlas believes less is more, providing new think tanks with only small grants of $5,000 or less. Atlas weans their fledgling projects off this modest annual funding within five years, making exception only for specific innovative projects.
Atlas' think tanks, Chaufen continued, have "remarkable successes" even though they were often faced with "unsympathetic local traditions and ideas. Still, these think tanks have become one of the first places opinion leaders and policy makers go when they are looking for market-based solutions to difficult social, economic or environmental problems".
Atlas has cosponsored Heartland Institute events dedicated to the proposition that climate change is not a crisis and has supported organizations such as the John Locke Foundation which has attacked efforts by state elected officials working on climate solutions with the Center for Climate Strategies.
Some of the other organisations that Atlas has supported include:
- American Tradition Institute
- Sam Adams Alliance
- George Mason University
- Fraser Institute
- Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
- Pacific Research Institute
- National Center for Policy Analysis
- Center for the Dissemination of Economic Information in Venezuela
- Centre for Independent Studies
- Adam Smith Institute
- Hispanic American Center for Economic Research
- Acton Institute
- African Research Institute for Public Policy and Market Process in Kenya
- Free Market Center, Belgrade, Serbia
- Civic Institute in Prague
- Centre for Civil Society
- Circle of Tradition and Progress, London
- Liberty Institute, New Delhi
- Liberty Institute, Romania
- Unirule, Beijing
Closely affiliated organisations include:
They have a database called Freedom Directory with basic information about 600+ think tanks and similar organizations.
- Alejandro Chafuen, President and Chief Executive Officer
- Leonard Liggio, Executive Vice President - Academics
- Brad Lips, Chief Operating Officer and Secretary/Treasurer
- Tom Palmer, VP/International Programs (also senior fellow at Cato Institute and director of Cato University)
- Matt Warner, Director of Programs
These all appear to be former staff:
- Colleen Dyble, Associate Director of Institute Relations
- Jo Kwong, Director of Institute Relations
- Chris Martin, Associate Director of Programs
- Elena Ziebarth, Associate Director of Public Affairs
- Joyce Schroeder, Office Manager
- Priscilla Tacujan, Assistant to the Executive Vice President
Board of directors
From December 2011:
- Chuck Albers
- John Blundell
- Timothy O. Browne
- Alejandro Chafuen, President and Chief Executive Officer
- Dan Grossman, chairman
- Abby Moffatt
- George Pearson (Koch)
- Andrea Millen Rich
- René Scull
- William Sumner, Chairman
- Linda Whetstone
- Curtin Winsor, Jr.
Former members include:
Who funds Atlas
The foundation's funding comes from corporate and institutional sources. During 2002, $193,500 of the organisation's funding came from the Earhart Foundation, $100,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and $50,000 from the Carthage Foundation. The Earhart Foundation has given more than $1m since 1995. 
Known corporate donors include ExxonMobil, which according to the Greenpeace website ExxonSecrets.org., has contributed over $500,000 since 1998. Exxon itself discloses contributions of $65,000 in 1998 (then Exxon)  and $50,000 during 2002. 
Ironically, Atlas requires its protégé think tanks to be "independent." "That is, independent of corporations, independent of governments, independent of political parties and even independent of universities," Atlas President Alejandro A. Chaufen said in an April 1999 interview.
In a May 1998 fundraising pitch to tobacco giant Phillip Morris, Chaufen explained that keeping its think tanks off the dole of political parties, universities, government agencies and lobbies "helps keep their ideas and recommendations untainted by real or perceived political or organizational ties" and "helps protect them and us against potential scandal. Think tanks tied to politicians and parties can easily become instruments of corruption. Indeed, in several instances, public officials have enriched themselves and their allies through the 'think tanks' they control," Chaufen wrote.
In 1995 alone Philip Morris contributed $475,000 to Atlas according to an internal budget document released as part of the settlement of the legal action brought by several U.S. states' attorneys general. In 1997, despite a tight budget, PM staff recommended Atlas receive $150,000 because of the organization's ability, through its events and public advocacy work, to "positively impact the regulatory environment, particularly in Latin America." The think tanks fostered by Atlas, PM staff wrote approvingly, results in "an improved operating environment for all PM businesses."
More recently, Atlas has gained financial support the British mutual fund businessman, John Templeton. The Templeton foundation - in conjunction with Atlas - has established the Templeton Freedom Prizes for Excellence in Promoting Liberty. The prizes, $10,000 for the winner and $5,000 for the runner up are for "market-oriented poverty programs; for ethics and values; for social entrepreneurship and for student outreach". Under the awards it is planned that $1.25 million will be distributed between now and 2007.
The Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation both support the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.$113,800 received from Koch foundations 2005–2008 Total Koch foundation grants 1997–2008: $122,300 
2005-2009 contribution amounts
2005-2009 donations to Atlas ranged from almost $4m in 2005 to almost 6.5m in 2008. In 2006, one individual gave Atlas $743,000, according to the group's 2007 Form 990; the next highest donation was $500,000.
Atlas funding of think tanks
The 2007 Form 990 reports about $2.5m ($1.5m? see Part IIIa) going to think tanks, but didn't say which ones or where they are.
2009: mostly outside the U.S.; no transparency re recipients
The 2009 Atlas Form 990 shows under $650k in grants (to organizations, governments and individuals) in the U.S., and over $2m outside the U.S.
Outside the U.S., it listed "economic education" expenditures of:
- $125k to Sub-Saharan Africa
- $392k to East Asia and the Pacific
- $39k to North America
- $1 million to Europe
- $427k to South America
- $54k to the Middle East
But because the IRS instructs filers not to identify their international grantees, the identity of the recipients is hidden.
Inside the U.S., Atlas listed mostly grants of roughly $10,000, including one to the Sam Adams Alliance ($10,200); though some grants were larger, e.g. the George Mason University Foundation got $50,000.
IRS status and Form 990 curiosities
Atlas's EIN# is 94-2763845, ruling date 12/1981. Its IRS Form 990s are available on its website. (and are more complete than the filings on Guidestar or ERI, which were missing the 2008 990). The group's 2009 Form 990 Schedule I might be incomplete; while it does list the U.S. organizations it funded, in alphabetical order, it starts at "Fou". 
While Atlas calculates that its "family" comprises approximately one-third of the world's 470 "market oriented" think tanks, it worries that "many young think tanks lack know-how regarding reaching the media and communicating a message effectively." To help build skills, Atlas recruited Vince Breglio, co-founder and senior executive with the market research and public relations company Wirthlin Worldwide.
At its mid-August conference in Salt Lake City, Breglio gave PR tips in a two-hour workshop titled "communicating the message of liberty." A veteran of the 1980 and 1984 Reagan Presidential campaigns, Breglio is no stranger to helping sell unpopular ideas. Internal tobacco industry documents reveal he advised both R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris on public opposition to smoking.
According to an Atlas report on the conference, Breglio told participants in the two-hour workshop that building a larger supporter base depends on "persuading by reason, motivating by emotion".
"Breglio showed the workshop a methodical approach to identifying the "emotional drivers" that motivate individuals on a given issue, and then developing a communications strategy that links a product or idea to the needs of an audience," the conference report stated. Download pdf copy of presentation - 450k file
Other SourceWatch resources
- Center for Opening and Development of Latin America - Argentine Counterpart
- Think tanks
- Philip Morris
- Wirthlin Worldwide
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
1201 L St NW, 2nd floor
Washington DC 20005
(this is same address and phone as the American Friends of the Institute for Economic Affairs)
(on 2007 990)
2000 North 14th St., Suite 550
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 934-6969
(this was same address and phone as the American Friends of the Institute for Economic Affairs)
4084 University Drive, Suite 103
Fairfax, VA 22030
Phone: (703) 934-6969
Email: atlas AT atlasusa.org
- Alejandro Chafuen, Letter to Matt Winokur (Philip Morris), Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Bates Number: 2065243814/3816, December 1998
- Richard Cockett, Thinking the unthinkable: think-tanks and the economic counter-revolution, 1931-1983, Fontana Press, 1995. (This book has a brief section on the role of Atlas in spawning and supporting emerging think-tanks around the world pages 307-8).
- Eli Lehrer, The Atlas Foundation Shoulders the World (Interview with Chafuen), Insight on the News, April 19, 1999
- David R. Sands, "Fighting the war", Washington Times, June 7, 2004.
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation, "Communicating the Ideal of Liberty", undated, accessed November 2004.
- Bob Burton, "Atlas Economic Research Foundation: the think-tank breeders", PR Watch, Volume 11, No. 3, Third Quarter 2004.
- "Atlas Offspring Used U.S. Funds to Oppose Chávez", PR Watch, Volume 11, No. 3, Third Quarter 2004.
- Russ Barnes, "Planting Seeds Worldwide", Philanthropy, Philanthropy Roundtable, March/April 2005.
- "Page 13 "
- Given the number of recipients, it seems unlikely that no recipient names were positioned earlier in the alphabet.
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