Public Interest Legal Foundation
The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is a right-wing Indianapolis based "public interest law firm" that fights to purge voter rolls and spreads misinformation around voter fraud. Since its founding in 2012, the firm has submitted amicus curiae briefings and litigated on election arguing to fight what it sees as "lawlessness in American elections."
The firm is run by J. Christian Adams, who serves as its president and general counsel. Under his leadership, the group has been focused on the threat of "voter fraud," something most scholars in the field dispute being as widespread of an issue as Adams and the Public Interest Legal Foundation claim it to be.
PILF, which claims to be nonpartisan a nonprofit, was formerly known as the "Act Right Legal Foundation,". Brian Brown is the former Chair of the Board for PILF as well as the Chairman and Founder of Act Right, a conservative action website for giving donations to right-wing candidates and cause. While PLIF was the "Act Right Legal Foundation" it gave grants to conservative causes.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation is a former "associate member" of the State Policy Network.
- 1 News and Controversies
- 2 Ties to Council for National Policy
- 3 Funding
- 4 Core Financials
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Contact Information
- 7 Articles and Resources
- 8 References
News and Controversies
Efforts to "Purge" Voter Rolls
PILF, alongside Judicial Watch, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), and True the Vote sent "menacing" letters to 248 local election officials across the United States. The letter, using the PILF letterhead and its "nonpartisan, nonprofit, public-interest" label, "notify" recipients that based on PILF research their "jurisdiction is in apparent violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act."
According to The Brennan Center, "PILF uses an unreliable and inaccurate assessment of voter registration rates" to claim that the recipients of the letters have a higher number of voters than it does members of the voting eligible population. The Brennan Center continues to assert that it "falsely claims these high registration rates alone provide strong evidence that a jurisdiction is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain accurate voter registration databases." After laying out a proposal to address their concerns, PILF has threatened litigation if they suggestions are not followed. "PILF’S letter is part of a larger concerted effort to remove voters from registration lists and further its false and baseless claim that there is widespread voter fraud across the country" according to the Brennan Center.
PILF was criticized as encouraging these purges for partisan Republican gains.
Lawsuit over "Falsely Mislabeling" Individuals
Four individuals initiated a lawsuit against PILF and J. Christian Adams in April of 2018 claiming that they had been “recklessly” listed as labeled as former-voters who had been removed from the rolls as non-citizens on the PILF "Alien Invasion" report. The plaintiffs had their names addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers listed in the report. The four people say that they "have a legitimate concern regarding harassment and physical safety" as a result of online responses to the report. They are suing on the grounds of defamation and allege that PILF violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act.
Ties to the Kobach "Election Integrity" Commission
J. Christian Adams was a member of President Donald Trump's "election integrity commission." It purported to "study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections." According to the Guardian, the commission was "formed in response to the president’s unfounded claim that up to 5 [million] illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election." At the announcement of said commission, Vice President Mike Pence promised that "this bipartisan group will perform a truly nonpartisan service to the American people.” The Washington Post characterized those remarks as "all well and good" until Pence introduced the co-chair of the commission, Kris Kobach. Which was, "a bit like a wolf standing up and giving a speech about how predators and prey will work together to establish peace on the prairie, and then introducing his vice chair, a bobcat." The commission was sharply criticized for Pence's characterization of the commission's lack of "preconceived notions or preordained results."
When Trump appointed PLIF's J. Christian Adams to the commission, the Guardian noted his record as a litigant and activist against racial minority groups.
"Alien Invasion" Research Paper
In 2016 report PILF put out in collaboration with the Virginia Voters Alliance, it alleges that there were "1046 aliens who registered to vote illegally" in Virginia and that the National Voter Rights Act has "increased the number of ineligible voters on state voter rolls." 
This report was criticized by election officials and scholars who said that the methodology of the report was flawed. Providers of the election data to PILF allege that the firm was purposefully misusing it. According to Mother Jones, "a likelier explanation for many of the discrepancies may be simple human error in checking the wrong box on a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles." A federal judge called PILF's methodology “misleading.”
In an overarching report on claims of illegal immigrants voting, the Brennan Center at New York University School of Law, found no indication of widespread voter fraud, which went along with the "wide consensus among scholars, journalists and election administrators: voter fraud of any kind, including noncitizen voting, is rare."
Ties to Council for National Policy
As of September 2020, PILF's president J. Christian Adams and chairman of the board Cleta Mitchell are "Board of Governor's Members" of the Council for National Policy. Adams spoke at a CNP meeting in 2020, telling attendees, "Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor, you’re a racist and so forth."
|Council for National Policy|
The Council for National Policy (CNP) is a secretive, Christian Right organization of funders and activists founded in 1981 by activist Morton Blackwell, commentator Paul Weyrich, direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly and Left Behind author Tim LaHaye. Anne Nelson's book about CNP, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, describes how the organization connects "the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives.”
CNP membership as of September 2020 is available here.
PILF is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings and annual reviews. Here are some of the known funders:
- Bader Family Foundation: $54,000 (2016-2018)
- Bradley Impact Fund: $65,553 (2018)
- DonorsTrust: $500,000 (2013-2014)
- Greater Houston Community Foundation: $50,250 (2018)
- John William Pope Foundation: $350,000 (2014-2018)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $1,650,000 (2015-2019)
- National Philanthropic Trust:$150,000 (2018)
- Robertson Finley Foundation: $1,000 (2018)
- Sarah Scaife Foundation: $600,000 (2016-2018)
- Total Revenue: $1,469,765
- Total Expenses: $1,138,607
- Net Assets: $994,168
- Total Revenue: $1,170,952
- Total Expenses: $1,039,275
- Net Assets: $663,010
- Total Revenue: $1,042,145
- Total Expenses: $892,089
- Net Assets: $531,333
- Total Revenue: $561,867
- Total Expenses: $761,741
- Net Assets: $381,278
- Total Revenue: $1,914,588
- Total Expenses: $1,775,147
- Net Assets: $679,382
- Susan B. Anthony List: $709,470
- National Org. for Marriage: 27,128 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- Total Revenue: $1,669,539
- Total Expenses: $1,218,054
- Net Assets: $539,942
- Susan B. Anthony List: $180,424
- Charitable Allies: $132,424 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- National Organization for Marriage: $37,575 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- National Org. for Marriage Ed Fund: $5,169 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- Family PAC: $8,288 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- ActRight Education Trust Fund: $21,217 (grant listed in the form of "non-cash assistance")
- Total Revenue: $1,255,825
- Total Expenses: $1,168,959
- Net Assets: $86,866
- Susan B. Anthony List: $336,249
As of October 22, 2020:
- J. Christian Adams, president, general counsel
- Kaylan L. Phillips, litigation counsel
- Noel H. Johnson, litigation counsel
- Sue Becker, litigation counsel
- Joseph A. Vanderhulst
Board of Directors
- J. Christian Adams, president, general counsel
- Cleta Mitchell, chairman
- William Davis, director
- Dr. John Eastman, director
- Hans von Spakovsky, director
- Neil Corkery, treasurer
- Shawna L. Powell, secretary
- Brian Brown, director
Public Interest Legal Foundation
32 East Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204-3594
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
- PILF About Us organizational website, accessed July 2018
- Myrna Pérez Public Interest Legal Foundation Paper Appears to Undermine Its Own Central Claim Brennan Center for Justice, Sept 12. 2017
- PLIF About Us| team organizational website, accessed July 2018
- PILF 141 Counties Have More Registered Voters Than People Alive Press Release, August 27, 2015
- Act Right About Us organizational website, accessed July 2018
- Act Right Legal Foundation 2013 Form 990, organizational tax filing.
- Christopher Deluzio and Myrna Pérez With Midterms Looming, Conservative Groups Push Aggressive Voter Purges Brennan Center for Justice, June 25, 2018
- Michael Wines Culling Voter Rolls: Battling Over Who Even Gets to Go to the Polls The Washington Post Nov. 25, 2017
- PILF Sample Letter Public Interest Law Firm, Sept 15 2017
- Brennan Center Civil Rights Groups Launch National Effort to Combat Alarming Voter Purge Attempt Press Release, Nov 22, 2017
- Tierney Sneed Lawsuit Filed Against Ex-Voter Fraud Commissioner For ‘Reckless’ Claims Talking Points Memo, April 12 2018
- Ben Jacobs Controversial rightwing activist to join Trump's election integrity commissionThe Guardian, July 11, 2017
- Phillip Bump Pence tries his best to keep unsaid what Trump then says about election integrity The Washington Post July 19 2017
- PILF & VVA Alien Invasion in Virginia PDF Report, Sept. 30 2016
- Pema Levy Trump Election Commissioner Used Dubious Data to Allege an “Alien Invasion” July 18, 2017
- Tierney Sneed Leading Purveyors Of Bogus Voter Fraud Claims Lose Big Case In FL Talking Points Memo, March 30, 2017
- Christopher Famighetti, Douglas Keith and Myrna Pérez [https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/2017_NoncitizenVoting_Final.pdf NONCITIZEN VOTING: THE MISSING MILLIONS] The Brennan Center, 2017
- Robert O'Harrow, Videos show closed-door sessions of leading conservative activists: ‘Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor’, Washington Post, October 14, 2020.
- PILF, 2018 990, PILF, October 20, 2019.
- PILF, 2017 990, PILF, October 31, 2018
- PILF, 2016 990, PILF, July 28, 2017.
- Public Interest Legal Foundation 2015 Form 990, organizational tax filing.
- Public Interest Legal Foundation 2014 Form 990, organizational tax filing.
- Act Right Legal Foundation 2012 Form 990, organizational tax filing.
- PILF, About Us, PILF, October 2020.