Cato Institute

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The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Institute states that it favors policies "that are consistent with the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, and peace."[1] Cato scholars conduct policy research on a broad range of public policy issues and produce books, studies, op-eds, and blog posts. They are also frequent guests in the media.

The Cato Institute is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.[2] They are also part of the international Atlas Group network with links to the Institute for Humane Studies. The Independent Institute seems to operate as a Cato subsidiary.

Where ideology and science part company, Cato favors ideology, as shown by an advertisement[3] published in newspapers in 2009 disputing the state of the science on climate change.[4]


Ties to the Bradley Foundation

Through 2016 the Cato Institute received $2,547,500 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.[5]

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: $325,000 to support the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives and to support a religious freedom conference. Bradley funds helped launch the Center. "Over the past several years the Federal Reserve's unchecked expansion has advanced unwise monetary and regulatory policies that pose a significant threat to the long term economic well being of the United States. Cato's Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives has launched an intellectual and practical policy roadmap for the creation of a free market monetary and financial system."

On the conference: "Cato would like to hold a half day conference on religious freedom, as the first steps toward other, larger efforts. It would feature three panels—one on religious freedom and toleration as a defining quality of the American experience, a second on religious freedom as a constant battleground in the context of school choice in particular, and a third on the social and political frictions that inevitably arise when compulsory public accommodation laws are hoisted onto the religiously observant."

2014: $250,000 to support the establishment of the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies. "On the advent of the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve the Cato Institute proposes to launch a Center for Monetary and Fiscal Studies. In this Initiative Cato hopes to accomplish the following: create an integrated network of scholars who support a market based monetary and fiscal regime; develop a coordinated effort to evaluate and communicate the Federal Reserve's performance relative to free market alternatives to fiat money and heavily regulated financials systems; and use research, publications and electronic media to persuade opinion leaders that there are serious risks currently in the way we do our central banking and regulate financial markets; partner with the Economics Department of George Mason University to develop future PHDs who understand and advocate a free market monetary system; develop a formal transition plan to move from a government controlled central banking; and financial system to a free market system."

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

Controversy and Conflict: Koch vs. Crane

Koch Wiki

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.

Cato Institute
Cato Institute (Doc Index)
Cato Institute/Personnel
Cato Institute financial data

The Cato Institute's articles of incorporation were filed in December 1974, with the name "Charles Koch Foundation," listing the original directors as Charles Koch, George Pearson, and Roger MacBride and the same address as Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas.[6] The organization's application for recognition of exemption by the IRS, also filed in December 1974 -- by George Pearson -- anticipated founding contributions of $40,000 in cash from Charles Koch, the Fred C. Koch Trust, and potentially the Fred C. Koch Foundation, as well as 10,000 to 15,000 shares of non-voting common stock of Koch Industries, as well as potentially preferred stock (stock prices of the company at this time are unknown because it is a private corporation).[7]

In 1977, the Cato Institute took its current name and was headquartered in San Francisco with a staff of three and $500,000 in financial backing provided via Charles G. Koch, according to the Washington Post.[8]

The relationship between Edward H. Crane and the Kochs deteriorated in the early 1990s over Charles Koch's "market-based management" theories and the way Crane handled a Moscow conference, according to The Washingtonian.[9] According to a Washington Times report from January 13, 1992:

"Word is dribbling out of the CATO Institute that Charles Koch, the oil billionaire whose bucks have helped keep CATO's thinkers in the tank, has dropped off the board of directors. The situation was announced to staffers last Tuesday by Ed Crane. He told the troops that funding would not be curtailed. Through various pipelines, Mr. Koch is said to control about 60 percent of CATO's budget. Mr. Crane did apparently conclude his briefing on a less than upbeat note, explaining that he really didn't know what Mr. Koch's resignation meant and that it could indicate some hard times ahead."[10]

In 2008, the New Yorker reported that "between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gave eleven million dollars to the [Cato] institute."[11]

2012 Litigation

In March 2012, the Kochs, who together controlled half of the Cato Institute through two of the organization's four quarter-share "shareholder" seats,[12] sued the Cato Institute to gain control of a third seat that had been held by a shareholder who died, which would have allowed the Kochs to further influence policy and management decisions within the organization.[13] At the time of the lawsuit's filing, Ed Crane released this written statement:

"Charles G. Koch has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to gain control of the Cato Institute, which he co-founded with me in 1977. While Mr. Koch and entities controlled by him have supported the Cato Institute financially since that time, Mr. Koch and his affiliates have exercised no significant influence over the direction or management of the Cato Institute, or the work done here.[14]

Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker that in June 2012, the Koch Brothers agreed to end their litigation in exchange for Ed Crane's retirement.[15] The lawsuit generated significant attention in the media, and Ed Crane stated in an interview with David Weigel for Slate that the lawsuit generated a significant decline in supportive scholars.[16]

Since the group's founding, the Koch family has donated more than $30 million dollars to the organization, according to the New York Times as of 2012.[17]

Controversies and Positions

The Cato Institute is named after "Cato's Letters," a series of libertarian pamphlets that Cato's founders claim "helped lay the philosophical foundation for the American Revolution."[18] Its stated mission is "to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace" by seeking greater involvement of the "lay public in questions of public policy and the role of government."[18]

Anti-Tax Policies

The Cato Institute takes a position against taxation in general -- at the international, federal, state, and local levels.[19][20] Such policies cripple governments, sharing Grover Norquist's goal to "get [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."[21]

Support for Privatizing Government Services

The Cato Institute pushes for privatization of government services, stating on its website, "Privatization has generally led to reduced costs, higher-quality services, and increased innovation in formerly moribund government industries."[22] The Center for Media and Democracy has called this push "a hostile takeover of our schools, roads, prisons, drinking water, and even government itself" and has pointed out the "eye-popping salaries" of the CEOs and executives of the for-profit firms engaged in such privatization and the "fine print follies" in privatization "contracts that put taxpayers on the hook -- even for work not done."[23]

Push for School Privatization

The Cato Institute takes a position against public schools, arguing that the country should "break up the long-standing government monopoly" and move "toward a competitive education market."[24][25][26][27] As noted in a report by the Center on Education Policy, "From the early days of the nation, public education has played a vital role in American democratic society.... American public schools have been expected to fulfill certain public missions[:] "1. To provide universal access to free education[;] 2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children[;] 3. To unify a diverse population[;] 4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society[;] 5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient[; and] 6. To improve social conditions schools, public and private.... Just because [some] individual public schools are not living up to these ideals, however, is no reason to abandon the ideals or the institution of public education. Some citizens point to the poor performance of some public schools as a reason to shift responsibility for education to the private sector.That was tried before, in the years preceding universal public education, and many children were left out."[28]

Support for Privatizing Water Resources

The Cato Institute claims that deregulation of water use will more effectively reduce scarcity than will government management. Jerry Taylor, the Director of Natural Resource Studies at Cato, alleges that water shortages are "the product of government mismanagement," and should therefore be "regulated" through the market. Terry argues that government regulation of water has kept water prices "artificially low -- about half the price of delivery on a national basis -- with over-consumption the inevitable result."[29] If water use were instead treated as a property right, Cato posits, it would create incentives for those holding the rights to use them efficiently and transfer the excess to others at a profit. Cato claims that market "regulation" of water use would lead to fewer problems with water scarcity. Critics point out that this market-based approach to water policy concentrates the right to use water in the hands of a few powerful people, who become even more powerful by controlling the public's use of something as essential as water. Privatization of water could also lead to corruption and loss of local authority, these critics fear.[30]

Support for Social Security Privatization

The Cato Institute has advocated privatizing Social Security since its first years. A chief early architect of Cato's thinking on private accounts was Peter J. Ferrara. The Washington Post's Thomas Edsall wrote in February 2005, "The emergence of the center-right phalanx backing the Social Security proposal is a major victory for the Cato Institute, a prominent libertarian group. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cato was almost alone in its willingness to challenge the legitimacy of the existing Social Security system, a politically sacrosanct retirement program. Recognizing the wariness of other conservatives to tackle Social Security, Cato in 1983 published an article calling for privatization of the system. The article argued that companies that stand to profit from privatization -- 'the banks, insurance companies and other institutions that will gain' -- had to be brought into alliance. Second, the article called for initiation of 'guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.'"[31]

By early 2005, business groups such as the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers and political operations like Progress for America were devoting millions of dollars to the campaign to get rid of the existing Social Security program. The website is run by the Cato Institute, under the heading "Project on Social Security Choice."

Opposition to Wall Street Reform

The Cato Institute is opposed to Wall Street reform, calling the 2010 "Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" unconstitutional, saying that it "has implications for the separation of powers, the role of congressional oversight, vagueness and unfettered regulator discretion, and due process."[32]

Opposition to Campaign Finance Reform

The Cato Institute's John Samples wrote an op-ed decrying the "DISCLOSE Act" -- a later attempt to minimize the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United campaign finance case -- for curbing the speech of foreign-owned companies and for exposing the corporate backers of ads.[33] Cato filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United during the court's deliberation over Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.[34]

Support for Eliminating Ballot Referendum "Donor Disclosure" Requirements

In March 2007, Cato and the Institute for Justice called for eliminating disclosure requirements for those who contribute funds in support of or opposition to ballot measures. One of the primary reasons the two groups cited was the purportedly high costs associated with disclosure requirements, which are exponentially less than the amount spent on ads. At the time, these requirements were already weaker than those required for contributions to a candidate's political campaign.[35][36]

Critics Call Cato's Anti-Disclosure Position Pro-Corporate, Anti-Democratic

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), an advocacy group that supports ballot initiatives to reach progressive political and policy goals, posits that donor disclosure protects both the voters and the process of direct democracy from secret money and hidden goals. In response to Cato's position, Kristina Wilfore, BISC's executive director, stated, "The problem with being a front group for corporate fat cats like Exxon, Enron, and Howie Rich, is that you are always a little out-of-touch with the public… CATO aligning itself with more corruption in political giving is taking the side of the powerful against the people –- and they call themselves libertarian?"[35][37]

Amplification of Climate Change Denial

Cato Institute Called Out for Blocking Action on Climate Change

In July of 2016, nineteen U.S. Senators delivered a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests, including the Cato Institute.[38] Sen. Whitehouse (RI-D), who led the effort to expose "the web of denial" said in his remarks on the floor that the purpose was to,

"shine a little light on the web of climate denial and spotlight the bad actors in the web, who are polluting our American discourse with phony climate denial. This web of denial, formed over decades, has been built and provisioned by the deep-pocketed Koch brothers, by ExxonMobil, by Peabody coal, and by other fossil fuel interests. It is a grim shadow over our democracy in that it includes an electioneering effort that spends hundreds of millions of dollars in a single election cycle and threatens any Republican who steps up to address the global threat of climate change. . . . [I]t is long past time we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America’s political history because of their work.”[38]
Documents Contained at the Anti-Environmental Archives
Documents written by or referencing this person or organization are contained in the Anti-Environmental Archive, launched by Greenpeace on Earth Day, 2015. The archive contains 3,500 documents, some 27,000 pages, covering 350 organizations and individuals. The current archive includes mainly documents collected in the late 1980s through the early 2000s by The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), an organization that tracked the rise of the so called "Wise Use" movement in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency. Access the index to the Anti-Environmental Archives here.

Cato Fellow Patrick Michaels Runs Climate Denial PR Firm

Patrick Michaels, a former professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an outspoken climate change denier. On its website, Michaels is listed as Cato's only speaker on climate change. (Three others are also listed in the "Energy and Environment" category -- Jerry Taylor on "gas and oil prices, energy policy, energy conservation and regulation", Peter Van Doren on "energy regulation, gas and oil prices," and Randal O'Toole on broader environmental policies.)[39]

Pat Michaels represented the Cato Institute as a reviewer on Working Group III of the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[40]

Michaels is the Editor of the World Climate Report, a blog published by New Hope Environmental Services, "an advocacy science consulting firm" he founded and runs.[41] Michaels' biographical note on the Cato Institute website does not mention his role with New Hope Environmental Services.[42]

In an affidavit in a Vermont court case, Michaels described the "mission" of the firm as being to "publicize findings on climate change and scientific and social perspectives that may not otherwise appear in the popular literature or media. This entails both response research and public commentary."[43] In effect, New Hope Environmental Services is a PR firm. Michaels' firm does not disclose who its clients are,[44] but in 2006 a leaked memo revealed that Michaels' firm had been paid $100,000 by an electric utility, Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), to counter concern about global warming.[45] An affidavit by Michaels also stated that "public disclosure of a company's funding of New Hope and its employees has already caused considerable financial loss to New Hope. For example, in 2006 Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc., an electric utility, had requested that its support of $50,000 to New Hope be held confidential. After this support was inadvertently made public by another New Hope client, Tri-State informed me that it would no longer support New Hope because of adverse publicity."[43]

On a 2007 academic CV, Michaels disclosed that prior to creating his firm, he had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute -- an electric utility trade group -- and the Western Fuels Association -- an entity that provides coal and transportation services to electric utilities. He has also been a frequent speaker at events organized by leading coal and energy companies as well as coal and other industry lobby groups.[46]

In 2009, the Center for Media and Democracy's PRWatch noted that, "in its returns, Cato reports that since April 2006 it has paid $242,900 for the 'environmental policy' services of Michaels' firm. (In preceding years, New Hope Environmental Services was not listed amongst the five highest paid independent contractors supplying professional services to Cato.) In response to an email inquiry, Michaels stated that the Cato funding 'largely supported the extensive background research for my 2009 book, Climate of Extremes, background research on climate change, mainly in the areas of ice melt and temperature histories, and background research required for invited lectures around the world.' (Climate of Extremes was published by the Cato Institute in January of ... [2009].) Asked whether the funding came from a specific company, donor or foundation, Michaels wrote via email that there wasn't 'for this or for any of my activities.' (In case the Cato Institute knew of dedicated funding sources for Michaels work that he was unaware of, I also emailed an inquiry to the think tank's media office. They did not respond.)"[47]

Alliance with the Tobacco Industry

The Cato Institute appears on several Philip Morris lists of "national allies," including a 1999 "Federal Government Affairs Tobacco Allies Notebook"[48] and a less-specific 2000 list of "National Allies."[49]

The Cato Institute accepted multiple donations from Reynolds American/RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (the makers of Camel cigarettes) and five from Altria (the makers of Marlboro). Documents, according to The Guardian show that Catol listed Altria and Reynolds as corporate sponsors who contributed “$5,000 or more" in 2010.[50]

R.J. Reynolds (RJR) also names Cato Institute as an organization the company could rely upon to help the tobacco industry "shift the debate and framework under which cigarette-related issues are evaluated in the future." In the September 2000 document, titled "Reframing the Debate Communications Plan," RJR states, "Work with CATO Institute ... to empanel a group to debate legality and future management of cigarette industry. Open forum to media (pitch C- SPAN coverage); issue press release and transcript of remarks to media not in attendance." A subsequent part of the plan says RJR could help sustain public interest in their points of view by encouraging Cato Institute to send [pro-tobacco] columns to the national media.[51]

Objection to Cigarette Taxes

Cato "scholars" have raised a number of objections to cigarette taxes. Such taxes are frequently justified by the claim that smokers impose unfairly high costs on society. In a January 10, 1998, commentary published in the Chicago Tribune, Cato Institute Assistant Director of Environmental Studies Peter Van Doren claimed that smokers' premature deaths actually save taxpayers money, calling into question the fairness of imposing ever-higher tobacco taxes on them. Van Doren also claimed that high tobacco taxes are highly regressive, noting that smokers tend to be disproportionately poor and minority.[52]

Robert A. Levy, an independently wealthy businessman who became a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in his 50s,[53] has published numerous editorials criticizing higher tobacco taxes, lawsuits against the Tobacco Institute, and other anti-smoking policies. In one 1999 piece written with Cato fellow Rosalind B. Marimont and published in the Cato magazine Regulation, Levy acknowledged that smoking was a serious health problem but argued that the common estimates of 400,000 smoking-related deaths each year exaggerated the magnitude of the problem.[54] In another 1999 piece published in the Wall Street Journal, Levy decried the Clinton administration's Department of Justice lawsuit against tobacco companies to recoup the federal government's cost for treating sick smokers.[55]

Cato has also criticized the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) that 46 U.S. states signed with the tobacco industry.[56] For example, Levy argued that the 1998 MSA, which he claimed effectively created a government-run tobacco cartel for the benefit of large tobacco companies, created a situation in which tobacco companies no longer need worry about new competitors pushing down tobacco prices.[57] He pointed out that the four largest tobacco companies have managed to maintain a 96 percent market share despite the costs of the settlement and called the agreement a "sweetheart deal" between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry.

Claims that "Secondhand Smoke Risks Are Debatable"

Cato staffer Radley Balko testified before the Washington, D.C. City Council in opposition to clean indoor air laws in 2005, arguing that smoking restrictions infringe on the liberty of business owners to decide what policies they wish to adopt for their restaurants, as well as the freedom of smokers. In his testimony, Balko claimed that "the health risks associated with secondhand smoke are debatable." Balko argued that employees worried about the impact of smoking on their health should work elsewhere: "A waiter or bartender who chooses to work for an establishment that allows smoking knows what kind of environment he'll be working in," he stated. As for non-smokers rights, Balko argued that "you don't have the right to walk onto someone else's property, demand to be served food or drink someone else has bought, and demand that they serve you on your terms. Free societies don't work that way," he stated.[58] In his testimony, Balko did not disclose that the Cato Institute received funding from both R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris.[58] (If true, this would beg the question of why higher rates of cardiovascular disease are attributed to non-smokers who worked in the service industry workers or as flight attendants -- before smoking policies were changed -- than other non-smokers.)[59][60]U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs: Nonsmokers' Exposure to Secondhand Smoke --- United States, 1999--2008, government agency report, September 10, 2010.</ref>[61][62]

Criticism of the Executive Branch on Civil Liberties

Cato has characterized the Bush administration's encroachments on individual rights as being the actions of an "intrusive federal government."[63] A little over a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the Cato Institute republished an adapted version of an article by Charlotte Twight cautioning against proposals by then-Attorney General Ashcroft for greater government surveillance powers.[64] In the months after the September 11 attacks, Cato scholars wrote several articles criticizing the Patriot Act and other previous attacks on civil liberties.[65][66][67]

Timothy Lynch, the director of the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, testified before Congress in December 2001 in opposition to an executive order signed by President Bush on government detention of suspected terrorists. A few months later, Lynch cautioned that "to assuage the wide-spread anxiety of the populace, policymakers make the dubious claim that they can prevent terrorism by curtailing the privacy and civil liberties of the people."[68]

Perhaps the most comprehensive response by the Cato Institute on this topic is the May 2006 report by Lynch and Cato senior editor Gene Healy on the Bush administration's abuse of power.[69]

Support for Bush's Civil Liberties Restrictions

However, Cato's Roger Pilon has endorsed some of the Bush administration's moves to restrict civil liberties as part of the war on terror, sparking disagreement from other Cato scholars. For example, the Institute sponsored a debate[70] on the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program, with Cato senior fellow Robert Levy representing the traditional libertarian stance in favor of civil liberties.

Work with the ACLU

Cato has also worked on occasion with the American Civil Liberties Union. For example, Nadine Strossen, the president of its board, contributed a chapter to a 2000 book on President Clinton's civil liberties record,[71] and she delivered the B. Kenneth Simon Lecture at Cato's 2005 Constitution Day event, a speech that was subsequently published in Cato's Supreme Court Review.[72]

Support for Gay Marriage and Sexual Privacy

In 2006, the Cato Institute published a report on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have outlawed gay marriage, titled "Unnecessary, Anti-Federalist, and Anti-Democratic."[73] A Cato amicus brief was cited by the Supreme Court when it struck down sodomy laws in the case of Lawrence v. Texas.[74]

Support for Legalizing Marijuana

Cato staffers and scholars have called for legalization of currently controlled substances such as marijuana on the grounds that the "war on drugs" does not work, is expensive, causes crime, is used as an excuse to reduce civil liberties and to pursue overly aggressive policies abroad, and infringes on the principle of personal liberty.[75] The Cato Handbook, which typically represents a consensus view that the Institute as a whole wants to put its political weight behind, suggests that "Congress should repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, repeal the federal mandatory minimum sentences and the mandatory sentencing guidelines, direct the administration not to interfere with the implementation of state initiatives that allow for the medical use of marijuana, and shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration."[76]

In its 2006 Annual Report, the Cato Institute lists the Marijuana Policy Project as a foundation funder, although the amount and purpose of the funding is unspecified.[77]

Support for Liberalizing Immigration

Cato staff have angered some conservative activists by strongly advocating for the liberalization of immigration laws.[78][79] The Cato Handbook calls for expanded immigration quotas and new visa programs for low-skilled as well as high-skilled workers, and for allowing more refugees to enter.[80] The handbook speaks approvingly of a policy of "immigration yes, welfare no" that resolves the tension between low-skilled immigration and the welfare state not by keeping immigrants out, but by letting them in and making them "ineligible for public assistance." It also characterizes the issues of "immigrant welfare use" as "often overstated."[80]

Support for Limited Government

In the preamble to its 2006 annual report, Cato's former President and CEO, Edward H. Crane and late former Chairman, William A. Niskanen, argued for a limited role of government: "The list of reasons why it is not smart to turn to government to solve social and economic problems is, if not endless, extensive. Yet, despite a truly horrendous record over the decades, the politicians of both major parties reflexively assume that the state is the proper vehicle for solving problems," they wrote. Crane and Niskanen describe Cato as embodying a "classical liberal/libertarian philosophy."[81]


Cato has close ties with elements of the Republican Party, but it has often been critical of Republican officeholders -- especially President George W. Bush. Cato scholars criticized the 2003 decision by U.S. President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq, prosecution of the war on drugs, giving federal money to faith-based organizations, and the decision of President George H.W. Bush to fight the first Gulf war.

The Cato Institute has argued repeatedly against the Republican party on bipartisan spending.[82][83][84][85] It has strongly criticized President Barack Obama's stimulus legislation and his health care law.[86] Cato scholars have also criticized President Obama for escalating the war in Afghanistan and for continuing Bush-era civil liberties abuses.[87]

Finances and Funding

Core Financials

For the period April 1, 2015-March 31, 2016.

  • Total Revenue: $27,869,293
  • Total Expenses: $29,162,114
  • Net Assets: $68,974,691

For the period April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015.

  • Total Revenue: $36,069,847
  • Total Expenses: $28,246,157
  • Net Assets: $70,269,969

For the period April 1, 2013-March 31, 2014.

  • Total Revenue: $28,350,110
  • Total Expenses: $24,538,565
  • Net Assets: $62,454,980

For the period April 1, 2012-March 31, 2013.

  • Total Revenue: $22,006,365
  • Total Expenses: $26,028,845
  • Net Assets: $58,731,695


Cato has also been funded by the tobacco industry (see Tobacco Funding to Cato Institute for more) and other corporations (see Cato Institute financial data for more), including:[92][93] According to a report from The Guardian The Cato Institute accepted multiple donations from Reynolds American/RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company (producers Camel cigarettes), Altria (Marlboro) and Japan Tobacco. Since at least 2000, internal Philip Morris documents show Cato listed as one of the company’s "national allies".[94]


The following gave at least $5,000 to the Cato Institute in 2014:[95]



  • BB&T
  • CME Group
  • Consumer Electronics Association
  • Facebook Inc.
  • Google Inc.
  • Mcgraw-Hill Financial
  • Metlife Inc.
  • Property Casualty Insurers Association
  • Reynolds American Inc.
  • Seaworld Parks & Entertainment Inc.
  • C. V. Starr & Company Inc.
  • Whole Foods Market


The Cato Institute has received funding from the following between 1985-2012:[96]

Foundation Amount Donated Foundation's funding source Years
Aequus Institute $9,500 2005-2011
Armstrong Foundation $99,500 1998-2012
Arthur N. Rupe Foundation $77,000 2007-2009
Aster, Richard F. Jr. Foundation $285,000 2006-2011
Atlas Economic Research Foundation $10,000 2010
Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation $427,618 1998-2005
Barney Family Foundation] $400,000 2003-2012
Bradley, Lynde and Harry Foundation $1,872,500 1986-2012
Cain, Gordon and Mary Foundation $400,000 1998-2000
Carthage Foundation $185,000 1989, 2004-2005, 2012
Castle Rock Foundation $450,000 (formerly the Coors Foundation) 2001-2008
Center for Independent Thought $217,000 2008-2012
Challenge Foundation $425,000 2007-2012
Chase Foundation of Virginia $286,840 2001-2012
Chiaroscuro Foundation $35,000 2010
CIGNA Foundation $10,000 2006
Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation $10,217,350 Koch Industries family foundation 1986-2010
Claws Foundation $1,700,000 2009-2012
Curry, Ravenel and Elizabeth Foundation $267,500 2001-2012
Davis, Shelby Cullom Foundation $5,000 1999
DeVos, Dick and Betsy Family Foundation $10,000 Amway 2008-2009
Donner, William H. Foundation $280,000 2001-2012
Donors Capital Fund $1,173,534 Koch-tied anonymous donor-directed fund 2003-2012
DonorsTrust $413,506 Koch-tied anonymous donor-directed fund 2004-2012
Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking $5,055,000 2002-2013
Earhart Foundation $667,125 1996-2012
ExxonMobil $110,000 2001-2006
Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice $29,500 2004-2005
Friedmann, Philip M. Family Charitable Trust $180,000 Recycled Paper Greetings company 2002-2006[97][98][99][100][101]
George Edward Durell Foundation $290,000 2009-2012
Gilder Foundation $375,000 1999-2006
Goodrich, Pierre F. and Enid Foundation $335,000 2001-2013
Hansen, Robert and Marie Foundation $225,000 2003-2007
Herrick Foundation $489,050 2005-2011
Holman Foundation $430,708 2001-2012
Jaquelin Hume Foundation $150,000 1999-2000
JM Foundation $150,000 1995-2011
John Dawson Foundation $200,000 2002-2008
John M. Olin Foundation $832,500 1985-2000 (foundation closed in 2005)
John Templeton Foundation $150,920 2006-2007
John William Pope Foundation $55,000 2010-2013
Kirby, F.M. Foundation $330,000 1998-2012
Koch, Charles G. Charitable Foundation $34,400 Koch Industries family foundation 2008-2012
Koch, David H. Charitable Foundation $4,043,240 Koch Industries family foundation 1986-2001
Krieble, Vernon K. Foundation $79,000 2001-2011
Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation $40,000 2002-2011
Lowndes Foundation $339,950 2004-2012
McWethy Foundation $40,000 2006-2012
Neal and Jane Freeman Foundation $40,000 2004-2010
Opportunity Foundation $427,690 2001-2012
Randolph Foundation $33,200 2003-2012
Reams Foundation $290,000 2006-2012
Robertson-Finley Foundation $25,500 2004-2012
Rodney Fund $997,877 1998-2012
Roe Foundation $92,500 1998-2011
Rotella, Robert P. Foundation $200,000 2003-2012
Rumsfeld, Joyce and Donald Foundation $1,000 2012
Sarah Scaife Foundation $2,207,500 1986-2012
Searle Freedom Trust $1,300,000 2001-2012
Smith Richardson Foundation $50,000 2005
Stiles-Nicholson Foundation $11,000 2010-2012
Weiler Foundation $25,000 2012-2013
Whitcomb Charitable Foundation $15,000 2010-2012
Walton Family Foundation $39,000 Walmart fortune 1998-2011

In their 1996 book No Mercy, University of Colorado Law School scholars Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado describe a shift in Cato's patron base over the years. "Early on," they wrote, "Cato's bills were largely paid by the Koch family of Wichita, Kansas. Today, most of its financial support is from entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation."[102] Koch Industries amassed most of its fortune in oil trading and refining.[103] However, it is not clear what proportion of Cato's current revenue is provided by the Koch family fortune.

Cato Funds 25+ "Like-Minded" Think Tanks

Aside from its own advocacy efforts, the Cato Institute has become a substantial funder of other "like-minded" think tanks around the U.S.

In its 2006 annual report, Cato lists 26 organizations and one individual to whom it provided grants totaling $1,243,00. Groups the benefited from Cato's generosity were Agencia Americana ($30,000 "to help fund study on S.A. corruption"); the Philanthropy Roundtable ($5,000); the Manhattan Institute ($5,000); the American Enterprise Institute ($5,000); the Fund for American Studies ($10,000); the Bluegrass Institute ($50,000); the Cascade Policy Institute ($25,000); the Ethan Allen Institute ($50,000); the Evergreen Freedom Foundation ($100,000); the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii ($40,000); the Illinois Policy Institute ($50,000); the James Madison Institute ($100,000); the John Locke Foundation ($20,000); the Maine Heritage Policy Center ($50,000); the Maryland Public Policy Institute ($40,000); the Nevada Policy Research Institute ($50,000); the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ($50,000); the Rio Grande Foundation ($50,000); the Show-Me Institute ($50,000); the South Carolina Policy Council ($90,000); the Sutherland Institute ($40,000); the Tennessee Center for Policy Research ($50,000); the Texas Public Policy Foundation ($100,000); the Virginia Institute for Public Policy ($25,000); the Yankee Institute ($68,000); and the Independent Institute ($60,000). In addition Jim Powell received $25,000 as a Hoiles Fellowship.[104] (note, the Cato annual report refers to the "South Carolina Policy Institute" when the correct name of the think tank is the "South Carolina Policy Council". Similarly, the Maryland Public Policy Institute was misidentified as the Maryland Public Policy Center.) Many of these state-based groups are members of the ALEC-allied State Policy Network. See the State Policy Network portal and for more.


Peter N. Goettler is the current President and CEO of the Cato Institute. Like the previous President and CEO John Allison, Goettler is a former Banking executive. Allison was the former chairman of BB&T Bank, who replaced Ed Crane as CEO in 2012.[105] A June 2012 article in New York Magazine discussed how the appointment of a former banking chairman is consistent with the trend in the libertarian movement to focus less on social issues in order to remain consistent with the G.O.P platform:

"Allison's ascension is in keeping with the general trend of the Washington libertarian movement to define itself mainly in economic terms. (The trend has been opposed by a handful of libertarian dissidents, the most prominent of whom have been purged.)"[105]

Executive Staff

As of July 2016:[95]

  • Peter N. Goettler, President & CEO
  • David Boaz, Executive Vice President

Board of Directors

As of July 2016:[106]

Former board members include:

For a full list of the current policy scholars at the Cato Institute, visit here.

Notable Personnel in the Media

Penn Jillette of "Penn and Teller" is the H.L. Menken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute.[107] Jillette writes the "Final Word" column for Regulation magazine. He and Raymond Teller host of the Showtime Network television show Penn and Teller: Bullshit!. A profile of Penn on the Cato Institute website describes it as a program that "looks to debunk junk science, scares and scams with reason and logic."[108]

Scandal-ridden Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch previously served on the board of directors of Cato.[109]

Andrei Illarionov, former chief economic advisor to Vladimir Putin, is a senior fellow.[110]

William Niskanen served on the board until his death in 2011.

Contact Information

Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20001-5403
Phone: (202) 842-0200
Fax: (202) 842-3490

Other Cato Websites

Articles and Resources

Related Sourcewatch Articles

External Articles

External Resources

  • International Forum on Globalization, KOCH CA$H website.

<tdo>search_term="Cato Institute" confidential</tdo>


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