1851 Center for Constitutional Law
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a right-wing 501(c)3 nonprofit legal center based out of Columbus, Ohio. Founded in 2008 as a spin-off of the Buckeye Institute, the 1851 Center is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN).
According to the 1851 Center's website, the organization is "dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, voting rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures." It has filed lawsuits challenging project labor agreements, prevailing wage rates, campaign finance limits and disclosure laws, health care expansion and smoking bans.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.
State Policy Network
1851 Center is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of January 2021, SPN's membership totals 163. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. 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.
Ties to Big Tobacco
The 1851 Center's parent organization, the Buckeye Institute (BIPPS) received at least $60,000 in funding from Philip Morris and other tobacco corporations in the 1990s, according to documents in the Tobacco Library -- previously secret papers unveiled as a result of government lawsuits -- analyzed by Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of SourceWatch. According to the report, "The Buckeye Institute was considered an 'allied' organization, a resource to be used in building coalitions and advancing [the tobacco industry's] corporate interests." Such comprehensive documents are not available from more recent years, but Altria funding documents show that Big Tobacco is still funding BIPPS as recently as 2012 and 2009, although the amounts are not known.
In exchange, the "Buckeye Institute has compiled a record of supporting the issues important to its Big Tobacco funders," the report notes, and details many instances of this support. The tobacco industry also funds BIPPS' parent group, SPN.
1851's executive director, Maurice Thompson, led legal efforts against Ohio’s public smoking ban, representing the bar that challenged the smoking ban in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings.
- Citizens for Self-Governance: $14,000 (2011-2012)
- Donors Capital Fund: $185,000 (2010-2011)
- DonorsTrust: $175,000 (2010-2018)
- State Policy Network: $20,000 (2013)
- Total Revenue: $209,764
- Total Expenses: $183,594
- Net Assets: $926,508
- Total Revenue: $182,397
- Total Expenses: $163,998
- Net Assets: $900,338
- Total Revenue: $901,799
- Total Expenses: $155,129
- Net Assets: $881,939
- Total Revenue: $88,444
- Total Expenses: $142,450
- Net Assets: $135,269
- Total Revenue: $102,306
- Total Expenses: $172,439
- Net Assets: $189,275
- Total Revenue: $146,247
- Total Expenses: $178,914
- Net Assets: $259,408
- Total Revenue: $312,489
- Total Expenses: $194,751
- Net Assets: $292,075
As of April 2020:
- Maurice A. Thompson, Executive Director and Founder
Board of Directors
- Bradley A. Smith, Chairman
- Christopher P. Finney
- David N. Mayer
Employer Identification Number (EIN): 27-1636436
1851 Center for Constitutional Law
122 E. Main Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
- State Policy Center, Directory, organizational website, accessed January 3, 2017.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, About, organizational website, accessed January 3, 2017.
- Charles Koch Institute, Partner Organizations, organizational website, January 3, 2017.
- David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million, ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
- 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.
- ProgressOhio and Center for Media and Democracy, Smoke Screen: The Buckeye Institute, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Altria Family of Companies, 2012 Recipients of Charitable Contributions from Altria Family of Companies, corporate document, accessed November 2013.
- Altria Family of Companies, 2009 Recipients of Charitable Contributions from Altria Family of Companies, corporate document, accessed November 2013.
- Cincinnati CityBeat, Ohio Supreme Court Rules Smoking Ban Constitutional, Cincinnati City Beat, May 23, 2012.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2018 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, November 11, 2019.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2017 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, November 12, 2018.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2016 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, May 2017.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2015 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, August 15, 2016.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2014 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, August 13, 2015.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, 2013 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, May 19, 2014.
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, About Us, organizational website, accessed April 2020.