Institute for Free Speech

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The Institute for Free Speech, formerly the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), promotes the deregulation of U.S. elections, being against the McCain-Feingold act, the Disclose Act, the Fairness Doctrine, and being in favor of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend money to promote or oppose candidates in elections. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit which states on its website that its mission is "to educate the public on the actual effects of money in politics, and the results of a more free and competitive electoral process." The Center was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Stephen Hoersting, formerly Smith's Legal Counsel at the Election Commission, served as the Center's first Director. [1] [2] [3] [4]

(Smith was a Republican appointed to the FEC by President Clinton in 2000 as part of the statutory requirement no more than three of the FEC's six commissioners come from any one political party. His nomination was promoted by Republican Senators, but was opposed by Vice President Al Gore and others because Smith opposed campaign finance regulations and thus they considered him "unfit" to regulate those campaign finance practices.[5] He was confirmed as part of a package deal to secure the confirmation of other nominees. In 2004, Smith was elected Chairman of the FEC. (Unlike most federal agencies, the FEC Chairman is not designated by the President. Rather, by law each year the FEC Commissioners elect one of the six Commissioners to serve as Chairman for a one year term. By custom, the Chairmanship of the Agency rotates between Republicans and Democrats; by law, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman must be from different parties.))

The Center for Competitive Politics is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.[6]

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 June 2018, SPN's membership totals 156. 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.[7]

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.'"[8]

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.[9]


In August 2008, Jeanne Cummings of Politico wrote, 'Encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court, conservatives are launching a wholesale legal assault on campaign finance laws. And among the leaders is a man once charged with enforcing those laws: former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith. His goals are big. He doesn't want to just scale back the laws; he wants to pretty much wipe them out.'

Bradley Smith 'opened the Center for Competitive Politics to build a case against the regulatory system that limits individual donations to candidates, reins in the role of outside groups, and bans union and corporate contributions to political parties. With financial support that came largely from individuals he declines to name, Smith opened the Center for Competitive Politics a year later to begin challenging the current campaign finance system in both federal court and the court of public opinion. "What the Center for Competitive Politics can do and is trying to do is to bring the right kind of cases before the court," Hasen said, so Chief Justice John Roberts and his new coalition of conservatives can "knock them out of the park."'[10]

Ties to the Koch Brothers

Between 2012 and 2015 the Center for Competitive Politics received $57,237 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation.

Koch Wiki

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.

Ties to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

Between 2008 and 2016 the Center for Competitive Politics received $640,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below are the descriptions prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.

2016: $125,000 to support general operations (litigation, research and public education activities). The grant will be used by CCP to fight those calling for greater disclosure rules “to chill speech,” part of a national effort to allow campaign finance donors to hide their identities.

2015: $100,000 to support general operations.

2014: $75,000 to support general operations. Key factors in CCP’s selection of cases, in addition to the existence of a favorable plaintiff, are as follows: “the probabilities of winning and anticipated cost and resource allocation; the impact of victory on the legal landscape and campaign finance law generally; opportunities to publicize favorably deregulation through litigation; and the potential of a favorable decision to impact positively legislature incentives to deregulate… Litigation in 2014 and beyond focuses on draconian disclosure laws to harass groups through the reporting process resulting from the Citizens United decision. Recent enactment of disclosure laws in Delaware and Utah present strong vehicles for constitutional challenges. CCP will also be studying options to seek judicial review of current IRS practices regarding political activity by nonprofits… CCP increased attention to the increasingly worrisome donor disclosure legislative initiatives across the country especially aimed at non profits, will be at most a timely and valuable contribution to ensuring the protection of free speech.”

Bradley Files

In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.

Find the series here at

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

Former CCP President Sean Parnell served on the Public Safety and Elections Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). At the 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting, he introduced the "Resolution in Support of Appropriate Disclosure Requirements" model policy for adoption by the Public Safety and Elections Task Force.[11] On July 20, 2011, Parnell published an article in The Daily Caller (conservative/Republican news organization founded by conservative reporter Tucker Carlson and former Dick Cheney aide Neil Patel) criticizing Common Cause for requesting that the Internal Revenue Service look into claims that ALEC, in violation of the laws governing 501(c)(3) organizations, has engaged in lobbying.[12] According to an August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian, CCP terminated its ALEC membership on March 19, 2013 because the Justice Policy Project (JPP), which replaced the Public Safety and Elections Task Force at ALEC, "no longer works on issue."[13]

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, and check out breaking news on our site.

Opposing the Disclose Act

The DISCLOSE Act would require corporations to publicly disclose contributions to organizations and trade associations that might make expenditures for campaign ads. The bill was introduced in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case allowing corporate spending in campaigns. Advocates of stricter campaign finance laws say that the public has a right to know exactly who is funding political ads.[14]

The Center for Competitive Politics and other groups including Americans for Tax Reform, The American Conservative Union,, and Citizens Against Government Waste argue that provisions in the DISCLOSE ACT go beyond disclosure to actually prohibit speech, and sent a letter to Congress calling the bill "an unequivocal ban on free speech, masquerading as an exercise in accountability."[15]


Between 2010 and 2015 the Center for Competitive Politics received $4,227,480 combined from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The twin Donors organizations are advertised as a way for very wealthy people and corporations to remain hidden when "funding sensitive or controversial issues," creating a lack of accountability.[16] (See DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients for more).

Other top donors between 2006 and 2014, per Conservative Transparency:[17]

According to the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), "In order to maintain its independence, the Center for Competitive Politics accepts no government funding. We receive funding from individuals and foundations. Approximately five percent of CCP’s funding comes from for-profit corporations. CCP is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to CCP are tax deductible under the law." [18]

In its 2006 annual return to the Internal Revenue Service, the CCP states that it had total revenue of $373,571 with expenses of $284,118. It listed its 2005 income as having been $251,005.[19] It reported income of $820,851 in 2007 and $1,425,502 in 2008. [20]

For 2008, Media Matters lists the following funders:[21]

Lee Fang, writing at the blog "Think Progress," has claimed that Center is a "front group" of libertarian activist Howie Rich, which the Center has denied.[22] The Center for Competitive Politics, along with groups such as the Cato Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, worked in favor of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The groups filed amicus briefs to the Court.[23]


The CCP releases regular research studies on the role of money in US elections. This research has been criticized by groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice, which generally takes the opposite side from the CCP on questions of campaign finance and corporate speech. The Brennan Center argues that the CCP's research is plagued by methodological flaws and inappropriate conclusions drawn from undisclosed data points.[24] CCP's original research reports, as well as copies of legal briefs, legislative testimony, and commentary published by the organization, are available through the organization's website.

Core Financials

2015 [25]

  • Total Revenue: $1,956,529
  • Total Expenses: $1,596,794
  • Net Assets: $2,405,786

2014 [25]

  • Total Revenue: $1,951,006
  • Total Expenses: $1,495,165
  • Net Assets: $2,046,051

2013 [25]

  • Total Revenue: $1,754,752
  • Total Expenses: $1,545,035
  • Net Assets: $1,590,210

2012 [25]

  • Total Revenue: $1,420,276
  • Total Expenses: $1,252,639
  • Net Assets: $1,380,493

2011 [25]

  • Total Revenue: $1,816,786
  • Total Expenses: $1,577,324
  • Net Assets: $1,212,856


Staff [26]

As of August 2017:

  • Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Founder
  • David Keating, President
  • Allen Dickerson, Legal Director
  • Matt Nese, Director of External Relations
  • Joe Albanese, Research Fellow
  • Alex Baiocco, Communications Fellow
  • Scott Blackburn, Senior Research Analyst
  • Susan Bradley, Office Manager
  • Alex Cordell, Research Fellow
  • Alex Kroll, Director of Development
  • Tyler Martinez, Staff Attorney
  • Zac Morgan, Staff Attorney
  • Luke Wachob, Senior Policy Analyst
  • Eric Wang, Senior Fellow
  • Owen Yeates, Staff Attorney

Board of Directors [27]

As of August 2017:

  • Hunter Bates, Partner, Akin Gump
  • Edward H. Crane, Founder and President Emeritus, Cato Institute
  • Cleta Mitchell, Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP
  • Stephen Modzelewski, Managing Member, Maple Engine LLC
  • Eric O’Keefe, Chairman of the Board, Citizens for Self-Governance
  • Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Co-Founder, Center for Competitive Politics and Blackmore-Naught Designated Professor of Law, Capital University Law School
  • John Snider, CPA-Retired, Treasurer

Board of Academic Advisors Board of Directors [28]

As of August 2017:

  • Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Government & Political Science, Harvard University
  • Lillian R. BeVier, John S. Shannon Distinguished Professor of Law University of Virginia School of Law
  • Bruce E. Cain, Professor of Government, Stanford University
  • John Coleman, Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin
  • Richard Esenberg, Adjunct Professor of Law, Marquette University, and President, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
  • Joel M. Gora, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Brooklyn Law School
  • Jay Goodliffe, Associate Professor of Political Science, Brigham Young University
  • Jeffrey Milyo, Frederick A. Middlebush Professor of Social Sciences, University of Missouri
  • Michael C. Munger, Chairman, Department of Political Science, Duke University
  • David M. Primo, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester
  • Larry J. Sabato, Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Political Science, University of Virginia, and Director, UVA Center for Politics
  • John Samples, Director, Center for Representative Government, Cato Institute
  • In Memoriam, Herbert E. Alexander, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California; Director, Citizens Research Foundation. (In memoriam).

Former Personnel [29]:

Contact Details

Employment Identification Number (EIN): 20-3676886

124 S. West Street, Suite 201
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (703) 894-6800
Fax: (703) 894-6811

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Articles


  1. Center for Competitive Politics, "About Center for Competitive Politics", website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  2. Mark Arsenault, "Congress trying to ease campaign finance rules", The Boston Globe, May 24, 2010.
  3. Susan Crabtree, "Sen. Kerry backs changing Constitution to deal with Supreme Court decision", The Hill, February 2, 2010.
  4. Robert Barnes, "Roberts Court rulings on campaign finance reveal shifting makeup, forceful role", Washington Post/Democracy 21, October 29, 2010.
  5. Jed Lewison, Just Who Is Bradley A. Smith?, website, December 29, 2008.
  6. State Policy Network, Directory: Virginia, State Policy Network, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  7. 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.
  8. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  9. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  10. Jeanne Cummings, "Conservatives plot on campaign finance", Politico, August 12, 2008.
  11. American Legislative Exchange Council, "Public Safety and Elections Task Force Meeting," agenda and meeting materials, August 4, 2011, on file with CMD
  12. Sean Parnell, Common Cause’s selective outrage, The Daily Caller, July 20, 2011
  13. American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting Board Meeting packet, organizational documents, August 6, 2013, released by The Guardian December 3, 2013.
  14. Susan Crabtree, "Supreme Court won't hear challenge on campaign disclosure", The Campaign Legal Center, November 1, 2010.
  15. David A. Patten, "GOP Makes Last-Minute Bid to Derail 'Disclose' Act",, June 14, 2010.
  16. DonorsTrust, Frequently Asked Questions, Organizational website, Accessed August 30, 2017.
  17. Conservative Transparency, Top Supporters of Center for Competitive Politics, Conservative Transparency website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  18. Center for Competitive Politics, How CCP Is Funded, CCP website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  19. Center for Competitive Politics, "2006 IRS Return", Guidestar, August 2007, page 1.
  20. Center for Competitive Politics, "2008 IRS Return", Guidestar.
  21. Center for Competitive Politics, Media Matters, accessed November 2010.
  22. Center for Competitive Politics "Press Release" Center for Competitive Politics, May 3, 2010.
  23. Lee Feng, "Secretive Right-Wing Plutocrats Use Front Groups To Attack New Campaign Finance Disclosure Bill", website', August 31, 2017.
  24. MacCleery, Laura, "CCP Survey Debunker", Brennan Center for Justice website, accessed February 2009.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 ProPublica, Center for Competitive Politics, ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  26. Center for Competitive Politics, Staff, Center for Competitive Politics website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  27. Center for Competitive Politics, Board of Directors, Center for Competitive Politics website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  28. Center for Competitive Politics, Board of Academic Advisors, Center for Competitive Politics website, Accessed August 31, 2017.
  29. Center for Competitive Politics, "CCP Staff", website, Accessed August 31, 2017.