Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is a conservative, libertarian, public interest law firm backed with millions in grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. WILL is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
- 1 News and Controversies
- 2 Court Cases
- 3 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 4 Ties to ALEC
- 5 State Policy Network
- 6 Funding
- 7 Core Financials
- 8 Personnel
- 9 Contact Information
- 10 Articles and Resources
- 11 References
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. 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." 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. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation provided millions of dollars in funding for the CCF.
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."
Support for Act 10
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." 
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. 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.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
WILL's President and General Counsel Esenberg Speaks at First Bradley Forum at ALEC States & Nation
Rick Esenberg spoke at the first ever Bradley Foundation Forum at the the 2018 ALEC States & Nation meeting on December 4, 2018. Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, Tarren Bragdon of the Foundation for Government Accountability and Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center also spoke on the panel.
Former Bradley President and CEO on WILL Board of Directors
Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.
2015-2016: (Barder Fund): $1,155,355 over three years to create a “Center for Competitive Federalism” to work with others in Bradley’s Wisconsin Network, including WPRI, to cast federal programs as overly burdensome to the states.
2015: $500,000 to support general operations. Bradley calls WILL its MVP of the Wisconsin Network. “Nearly all of the organizations of the conservative infrastructure come to WILL for advice… In the (four) years since its inception (WILL) had made itself the indispensable partner to nearly every member of the Wisconsin Network, and has been a voice in nearly every public controversy over property rights, free speech and limited government in Wisconsin…WILL has taken the lead in the fight against the Milwaukee Street Car, sued Milwaukee County Board for open meetings violations, sued against the Kenosha Unified School Board for violating Act 10, filed an amicus brief in McCutcheon v FEC, filed suit against the Government Accountability Board (GAB), partnered with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to rebuff union challenges to Act 10 and represented a UWM student whose dissertation criticizing MPS was used to bar her graduation. WILL has worked with School Choice Wisconsin, Media Trackers, the MacIver Institute, American Majority and Education Action Group.”
2014: $500,000 to support general operations. WILL “has grown from 2 to 5 attorneys plus an unpaid legal fellow, MU Law School approved WILL’s participation in its internship program…It is estimated that for the cost of $1.4 million roughly $4.3 million in legal services were provided.”
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.
Ties to ALEC
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.
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).  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. 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.'"
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.
State Policy Network
WILL is a member of SPN. SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of March 2019, SPN's membership totals 162. 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.
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.'"
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.
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:
- Total Revenue: $2,117,912
- Total Expenses: $1,907,460
- Net Assets: $3,161,576
- Total Revenue: $1,378,877
- Total Expenses: $1,599,898
- Net Assets: $2,951,124
- Total Revenue: $3,001,261
- Total Expenses: $1,309,639
- Net Assets: $3,172,145
- Total Revenue: $1,611,698
- Total Expenses: $791,708
- Net Assets: $1,408,523
- Total Revenue: $938,457
- Total Expenses: $663,606
- Net Assets: $660,553
- Total Revenue: $664,068
- Total Expenses: $514,619
- Net Assets: $385,592
- Total Revenue: $511,939
- Total Expenses: $275,796
- Net Assets: $236,143
As of February 2019:
- Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel
- CJ Szafir, Executive Vice President
- Stacy A. Stueck, Vice President for Administration
- Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel and Litigation Manager
- Lucas Vebber, Deputy Counsel and Director of Regulatory Reform and Federalism
- Brian McGrath, Senior Counsel
- Mike Fischer, Senior Counsel
- Libby Sobic, Director & Legal Counsel of Education Policy
- Anthony LoCoco, Associate Counsel
- Will Flanders, Ph.D., Research Director
- Collin Roth, Director of Communications and Policy Analyst
- Cori O'Connor Petersen, Writer and Research Analyst
- Eric Searing, Director of External Relations
- Jessica Holmberg, Public Policy Intern
- Jake Curtis, Associate Counsel & Federalism Litigator
- Clyde Taylor, Associate Counsel
- Cameron Sholty, Communications Director
- Virginia Zignego, Director of Development
- Natalie Goodnow, Research Fellow
- Mario Loyola, Senior Fellow
- Jennifer Johnson, Law Clerk 
- Elena Ramlow, Policy Intern
Board of Directors
As of February 2019:
- Michael H. White, Chairman
- Michael Grebe, Director
- James T. Barry, III, Director
- Christopher Wolfe, Director
- Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel
Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
1139 E. Knapp St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 727-WILL(9455)
Fax: (414) 727-6385
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, About WILL, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- Bill Glauber, Marquette professor leads Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in conservative causes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 12, 2013.
- State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2017.
- Haley Henschel, Conservative legal group announces states' rights initiative, Journal Sentinel, July 11, 2016.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, WILL Launches New Project on Federalism, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, July 11, 2016.
- 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.
- Case Updates, WILL Files Lawsuit Against MATC, will-law.org, May 2, 2013.
- McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC - Case Summary, FEC.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- Shaun McCutcheon, et al., Appellants v. Federal Election Commission, SupremeCourt.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- ALEC, The Inaugural Bradley Forum at the 2018 States and Nation Policy Summit, ALEC, December 2018.
- WILL, Michael Grebe, WILL, 2019.
- Cameron Sholty, Center for Competitive Federalism Presents White Paper to ALEC Conference, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, December 17, 2016.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Coalition Letter to Support the Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, June 1, 2016.
- Eric Wolff, Virgin Islands AG withdraws Exxon subpoena, Politico, June 30, 2016.
- 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.
- Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
- Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2017 Form 990, organizational tax filing, October 18, 2018.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2016 Form 990, organizational tax filing, November 2, 2017.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2015 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 12, 2016.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2014 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 6, 2015.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2013 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 15, 2014.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2012 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 2, 2013.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2011 Form 990, organizational tax filing, July 5, 2012.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Staff, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2019.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Staff Bios, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- WILL, Board of Directors, WILL, 2019.