Think Freely Media
Think Freely Media (TFM) is a right-wing 501(c)3 media organization. According to its website, the organization believes: "Individual freedom and free enterprise are the greatest forces for good ever created in the human sphere. The world has lost sight of that. We use our resources to help bring these ideas back into the light. We extend our counsel, grants, and programs to promote and help like-minded organizations to do the same."
TFM was established in 2009 by John Tillman, Chairman of the Board at TFM and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute. Think Freely Media is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as "think tanks" and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.
- 1 News and Controversies
- 2 Funding
- 3 Core Financials
- 4 Personnel
- 5 Contact Details
- 6 Articles and Resources
- 7 References
News and Controversies
Gave Zero-Interest Loan to Private Company tied to John Tillman
In February 2018, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether a series of financial deals improperly benefited TFM Board Chair John Tillman and other leaders of the Illinois Policy Institute. Tillman allegedly took advantage of tax exemptions for non-profits to improperly channel money to for-profit businesses. ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out that Think Freely Media gave a zero-interest $49,400 loan to Crowdskout, a for-profit company. Think Freely Media also gave $60,000 in interest-bearing loans to Crowdskout and gave grants to nonprofit organizations that hired Crowdskout.
Great Communicators Summit
In October 2019, TFM held its inaugural "Great Communicators Summit" as part of State Policy Network's annual meeting. According to TFM's website, "This summit is tailored to CEOs and leaders of free market policy organizations. We will bring together exciting speakers who will talk about the latest ways they've been successful using marketing to advance the movement."
The 2019 Great Communicators Summit featured, among others, Atlas Network Vice President of Communications Melissa Mann and Executive Vice President of Foundation for Economic Education Richard Lorenc.
Great Communicators Tournament
Since 2014, TFM has held the Great Communicators Tournament, a video submission contest "to identify and promote individuals who can effectively and persuasively discuss and defend the free market and the benefits of individual freedom." In 2019, Students for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty, and State Policy Network all hosted semi-final contests, the winners of which advanced to a final tournament at the Atlas Network Liberty Forum. In 2018 and 2017, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) hosted a Great Communicators Tournament semi-final at its "FEEcon" event.
Brief Attempt At Hispanic and Latino Outreach
In an attempt to reach the Hispanic community in the U.S. with its right-wing ideology, Think Freely Media launched Think Freely Latino in February 2017. Think Freely Latino was described as "an outreach vertical specifically designed to engage U.S. Hispanic and Latino audiences in a meaningful, culturally relevant, and aspirational conversation about how to best empower individuals to thrive, succeed, and make a positive impact in their communities." Sandra Pedroarias, former deputy director and acting director of the Office of International Women’s Issues, Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and former senior advisor to the U.S. Treasurer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, led the organization.
Think Freely Latino followed the lead of other right-wing groups targeting Latinos such as the Kochs' Libre Initiative in trying to promote charter schools, privatized healthcare, and free market capitalism to Hispanics.
Think Freely Latino's website announced "the board and leadership of Think Freely Media (TFM) made the decision to conclude TFM’s Hispanic and Latino outreach project, including Think Freely Latino, at the end of 2017."
Think Freely Media does not disclose its donors, but some of its funding sources are known through other sources' tax filings. TFM's known funders include:
- DonorsTrust gave $915,000 2012-2017.
- Ed Uihlein Family Foundation gave $1.85 million from 2014-2016.
- Illinois Policy Institute gave $1,111,332 from 2012-2017.
- JM Foundation gave $40,000 in 2016.
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation gave $750,000 from 2014-2016.
- Total Revenue: $1,633,437
- Total Expenses: $777.188
- Net Assets: $948,148
- Total Revenue: $1,639,498
- Total Expenses: $1,518,362
- Net Assets: $91,799
- Total Revenue: $1,034,377
- Total Expenses: $1,844,391
- Net Assets: -$29,337
- DonorsTrust: $100,000
- Total Revenue: $1,396,996
- Total Expenses: $1,173,757
- Net Assets: $874,590
- Total Revenue: $1,125,056
- Total Expenses: $1,037,676
- Net Assets: $557,438
- Total Revenue: $765,308
- Total Expenses: $253,641
- Net Assets: $470,058
- Commonwealth Foundation: $25,000
- Total Revenue: $685,038
- Total Expenses: $726,747
- Net Assets: -$41,609
As of February 2020:
- Eric Tubbs, President
- Mike Demkovich, Senior Advisor
- Karen Lindberg-Ventura, External Relations Officer
Board of Directors
- John Tillman, Chairman
- Eric Tubbs, Secretary/Treasurer
- Barry Burdiak
- Scott Barbee (Atlas Network board member as of 2016)
- Carol Winfrey
Think Freely Media
1101 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990s
- Atlas Network
- Commonwealth Foundation
- Ed Uihlein Family Foundation
- John Tillman
- Internal Revenue Service
- Illinois Policy Institute
- Foundation for Economic Education
- Liberty Justice Center
- Libre Initiative
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
- Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
- SPN Members
- State Policy Network
- Students for Liberty
- Young Americans for Liberty
- Think Freely Media, About Us, nonprofit website, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Center for Media and Democracy, "EXPOSED:The State Policy Network", AlecExposed report, November 2013, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Mick Dumke and Tina Sfondeles, Congressman Calls For Investigation Of Conservative Think Tank, Propublica, February 15, 2018, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Sun-Times Editorial Board, "EDITORIAL: Illinois Policy Institute nonprofit tax status begs for FBI probe", Chicago Sun-Times, February 12, 2018, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, "Great Communicators Summit", Think Freely Media Vimeo channel, January 21, 2020, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, Great Communicators Summit, nonprofit website, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, Great Communicators Tournament, nonprofit website, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Foundation for Economic Education, FEEcon Was Phenomenal, think tank website, July 2, 2018, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Foundation for Economic Education, One Event Can Change Everything, think tank website, June 22, 2017, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, Think Freely Media Announces Launch of Think Freely Latino, Think Freely Media, February 9, 2017.
- Think Freely Latino, Think Freely Latino, web archive, 2018, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, 2018 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed February 14, 2020. (Web Archive).
- Think Freely Media, 2017 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, 2016 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, 2015 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed February 11, 2020.
- Think Freely Media, 2014 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed November 16, 2015.
- Think Freely Media, 2013 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed November 17, 2014.
- Think Freely Media, 2012 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed November 13, 2013.