Washington Legal Foundation

Washington Legal Foundation (WLF)


The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) was founded in 1977 to fight “activist lawyers, regulators, and intrusive government agencies at the federal and state levels, in the courts and regulatory agencies across the country.” WLF is a national non-profit foundation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  [1]

The Washington Legal Foundation has repeatedly opposed the EPA and the Clean Air Act, having described it as a “power grab.” In 2014 they supported two cases against the EPA, one regarding the Clean Water Act, and one regarding the Clean Air Act. [2]

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) has revised its mission. In 2012, it describes its three essential programs as “shaping public policy through aggressive litigation and advocacy,” “publishing timely legal studies,” and “educating policy-makers and the public through extensive communications outreach.” As of 2015, WLF's new mission statement is “to preserve and defend America’s free enterprise system by litigating, educating, and advocating for free market principles, a limited and accountable government, and individual and business liberties.” [3], [4]

The Washington Legal Foundation has received funding from Koch Family Foundations, oil company ExxonMobil, Scaife Family Foundations, and the tobacco industry as well as numerous other large, conservative foundations. It has represented large oil companies including ExxonMobil, and has worked with large tobacco companies including Phillip Morris — the same companies that provided it millions of dollars in financial contributions.

Stance on Climate Change

“As MIT's Richard Lindzen noted, 'water vapor is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide… .' “

“Given the continuing uncertainties and disputes regarding the causes and possible effects of increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and the effectiveness and economic and societal consequences of any chosen response, Congress has held over 200 hearings, enacted at least a half dozen statutes, and taken other actions establishing a measured course of action for the Nation, designed to address concerns about potential global climate change through a greater understanding of the possible problems and solutions.” [5]

“[G]lobal warming 'liability' presents a nonjusticiable political question.” [6]

“Because of its wide impact, climate change regulation could be extremely costly economically, with most cost estimates of the various bills in Congress running to more than a hundred billion dollars each year. [7]


According to data compiled by the Conservative Transparency project, the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) has received funding from the below sources. Note that not all data has been verified by DeSmogBlog for accuracy. [8]

View attached .xls file for additional funding details.

The Carthage Foundation $2,910,000
American Legal Foundation $2,799,977
John M. Olin Foundation $2,735,000
U.S. Justice Charitable Foundation $2,362,440
Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation $1,605,000
Sarah Scaife Foundation $860,000
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $570,500
Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Foundation $420,625
Exxon Mobil $410,000
The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation $355,000
F.M. Kirby Foundation $217,500
Armstrong Foundation $210,000
Allegheny Foundation $200,000
Sidney A. Swensrud Foundation $185,000
William H. Donner Foundation $160,000
Donors Capital Fund $121,000
The Rodney Fund $71,000
Ed Uihlein Family Foundation $70,000
JM Foundation $60,000
Philip M. McKenna Foundation $34,000
PhRMA $29,500
CIGNA Foundation $25,000
The Weiler Foundation $25,000
Woodhouse Family Foundation $19,000
Arthur N. Rupe Foundation $15,000
William E. Simon Foundation $10,000
Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation $9,000
DonorsTrust $7,500
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation $2,500
Grand Total $16,499,542


According to Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets, Washington Legal Foundation has received at least $375,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. [9]

Koch Funding

Greenpeace's PolluterWatch project found that WLF had received at least $1,605,000 from Koch Foundations between 1997 and 2011. [10]

Tobacco Industry Funding

Internal tobacco industry documents reveal that WLF sought and obtained funding from Philip Morris and the now defunct Tobacco Institute:

Philip Morris

Total: $1,250,000

The Tobacco Institute

Total: $125,000

990 Forms


Key People

Legal Policy Advisory Board (2015)

The following is a snapshot of the Washington Legal Foundation's “Legal Policy Advisory Board” as of September, 2015: [20]

  • Jay B. Stephens — Former Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Raytheon Company
  • Mark A. Behrens — Partner,  Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLPWashington, DC
  • Gregory A. Brower — Partner, Snell & Wilmer, Las Vegas and Reno, NV
  • Carol Elder Bruce — Partner, K&L Gates LLP
  • The Honorable James H. Burnley, IV — Partner, Venable LLPWashington, DC
  • Ralph J. Caccia, Esq. — Partner, Wiley Rein LLPWashington, DC
  • Michael A. Carvin, Esq. — Partner, Jones Day, Washington, DC
  • Drew Clark — Vice President and General Counsel, McKee Foods Corporation
  • Charles Cooper, Esq. — Founding Partner, Cooper & Kirk PLLCWashington, DC
  • Joseph E. diGenova, Esq. — Founding Partner, diGenova & Toensing,  Washington, DC
  • Professor Viet D. Dinh — Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center,  Washington, DC
  • The Honorable John Engler — President, The Business Roundtable
  • The Honorable Tim Fox — Attorney General, State of Montana
  • Richard L. Frank — Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PCWashington, D.C.
  • The Honorable Harold Furchtgott-Roth — President, Furchtgott-Roth Economic Enterprises
  • Kenneth S. Geller, Esq. — Partner, Managing Partner, Mayer Brown LLPWashington, DC
  • Stuart M. Gerson, Esq. — Member of the Firm, Epstein Becker & Green, P.C., Washington, DC; New York, NY
  • Thomas C. Goldstein, Esq. Partner — Goldstein & Russell, P.C.,  Washington, DC
  • Eric Grannon, Esq. Partner —  White & Case,  Washington, DC
  • Professor William F. Harvey — Carl M. Gray Professor of Law Emeritus, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis
  • Coleen Klasmeier — Partner, Sidley Austin LLPWashington, D.C.
  • Philip A. Lacovara, Esq. —  Senior Counsel, Mayer Brown LLPNew York, NY
  • Jay P. Lefkowitz — Partner, Kirland & Ellis LLPNew York, New York
  • Susan W. Liebeler, Esq. — President, Lexpert Research Services,  Los Angeles, CA
  • Daniel M. Mandil — Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, ViacomNew York, New York
  • Arvin Maskin, Esq. — Litigation Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLPNew York, NY
  • The Honorable Rob McKenna — Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLPSeattle, Washington
  • John A. Merrigan, Esq. — DLA Piper
  • Professor John Norton Moore — Walter L. Brown Professor of Law, University of Virginia, School of Law
  • The Honorable Gerald J. Mossinghoff — Senior Counsel, Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, Alexandria, VA
  • The Honorable Theodore B. Olson — Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP,  Washington, DC
  • Carter G. Phillips — Partner, Sidley Austin LLP,  Washington, D.C.
  • Professor Stephen B. Presser —  Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus,  Northwestern University, School of Law
  • Professor George L. Priest — Professor of Law & Economics, Yale University Law School
  • Charles F. (Rick) Rule, Esq. — Partner, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Washington, DC
  • The Honorable Kenneth W. Starr — President, Baylor University, Waco, Texas
  • The Honorable John W. Suthers — Former Attorney General, State of Colorado
  • George J. Terwilliger III, Esq. —  Partner, McGuire Woods LLPWashington, DC
  • Larry D. Thompson —  Former Executive Vice President, Government Affairs, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Pepsico
  • Daniel E. Troy — Senior Vice President and General Counsel, GlaxoSmithKline
  • The Honorable William F. Weld — Partner, Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PCNew York, NY
  • Joe D. Whitley, Esq. — Partner, Baker Donelson, Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA

Legal Policy Advisory Board (2012)

As of February, 2012, the following additional board members (no longer listed in 2015) were listed on WLF's website: [21]

  • Joseph A.  Artabane, Esq. — Artabane & Belden, P.C.
  • Professor Thomas E. Baker — Professor of Law, Florida International University College of Law.
  • Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., Esq. — Partner, Patton Boggs LLP, Washington, DC.
  • Michael K. Brown, Esq. — Partner, Reed Smith, Los Angeles, CA.
  • Richard Duesenberg — Former Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Monsanto Company.
  • Professor Maurice J. Holland — Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon, School of Law.
  • Clarence T. Kipps, Jr., Esq. — Of Counsel, Miller & Chevalier, Washington, DC.
  • The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell — Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Glen D. Nager, Esq. — Partner, Jones Day, Washington, DC.
  • The Honorable Mark Shurtleff — Attorney General, State of Utah.
  • The Honorable Don Stenberg — Former Attorney General, State of Nebraska.
  • Ambassador Robert S. Strauss — Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC.
  • John Thorne — Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Verizon Communications, Inc.
  • Wayne Withers — Of Counsel, Bryan Cave LLP, St. Louis, MO.


July 28, 2015

The Washington Legal Foundation filed formal comments with the Environmental Protection agency, “urging the agency to revise its recent draft report on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to make more explicit its findings that fracking poses no threat to drinking water.” [22]

Related docs:


The Washington Legal Foundation was involved in two cases against the Environmental Protection Agency. The following summaries are taken from WLK's 2014 Annual Report (PDF). [2]

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA.

EPA had sought to expand regulation of greenhouse gases in the wake of the Court’s earlier decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, but WLF’s brief argued that EPA improperly seized on the Court’s narrow earlier ruling to enhance the agency’s regulatory authority

[…] Although WLF would like to have seen the Court cut back even further on EPA’s power grab, the partial victory nonetheless established real constraints on whose emissions EPA may regulate.”

American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA

“In a brief filed on behalf of 39 Members of Congress challenging EPA’s conduct, WLF argues that EPA is exceeding powers delegated to it and violating Congress’ desire for state primacy as expressed in the CWA.”

July 7, 2010

The Washington Legal Foundation filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging it to reject an appeal filed by the Alaskan village of Kivalina, which seeks to revive a lawsuit contending that global warming is destroying the village by melting Arctic sea ice. [6], [23]

The lawsuit was directed at ExxonMobil Corporation among 19 American oil and energy companies.

According to WLF, “allegations are not sufficient to support the imposition of joint and several liability for Kivalina’s alleged damages on this group of Defendants, whose alleged 'contribution' to global warming in 2004, according to Plaintiffs’ own sources, is only approximately 2.68%.”

June 23, 2009

WLF opposed the EPA's proposed endangerment finding which would classify elevated atmospheric concentrations of six GHGs, including carbon dioxide (CO2), as air pollution with the potential to endanger public health and welfare.

Their opposition was on the grounds that it could potentially “encourage a flood of lawsuits against companies that emit greenhouse gases claiming that such activities constitute 'negligence' or a 'nuisance.'” [7]

July 1, 2008

WLF filed comments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on its proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards which would improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

WLF warned against any actions that would “impose undue costs to the industry and consumers,” and “urged NHTSA not to effectively force manufacturers to reduce the weight of their vehicles to meet aggressive fuel economy standards, which would make them less crashworthy.” [24]

Related docs:

April 15, 2008

WLF filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals urging the court to reject an appeal filed by the State of California that had described global warming is a public nuisance that has caused California to suffer beach erosion and other environmental impacts.

California listed the General Motors Corporation and five other major automakers as partially responsible for contributing to the global warming.

WLF concluded that “California mischaracterizes global climate change and its highly complex causes as an actionable public nuisance under federal common law and enlists the federal courts into making nationwide energy and economic policy in the guise of a tort suit. Realizing this, the district court properly dismissed California's claims on the grounds that they raise nonjusticiable political questions.” [25]

Related docs:


WLF filed an amicus brief in Massachusetts v. EPA, 127 S. Ct. 1438, declaring that Congress did not give authority to the EPA under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions for climate change purposes.

WLF argued that a court ordering the EPA to regulate emissions would constitute a “back door” method of implementing the Kyoto Treaty regulating greenhouse gases, and “cause severe harm to our economy.” [26]

Related docs:

May 18, 2007

While petitioners were urging the EPA to increase regulation for mercury emissions from power plants WLF argued that no additional regulations were necessary as “mercury emissions from utilities do not pose a hazard to public health.” [27]

Related docs:

June 10, 2001

In a biweekly “In All Fairness” ad in the New York Times, WLF's Daniel Popeo condemned  “self-anointed consumer protection groups, working closely with profiteering plaintiff lawyers, […] Naderite food police,” and “no-growth activists,” saying that “in the post-September 11 world we can no longer afford to put the narrow agendas of a 'public interest' elite ahead of our own national interests.” [28]


WLF, which receives funding from the Philip Morris tobacco company (PM), publicly defended the tobacco industry.

In 1998, the WLF ran an inflammatory, pro-tobacco advertisement titled “In all Fairness: A Constitutional tragedy in the making” in several large papers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the National Journal, the CongressDaily AM, and others. [29]

An April 1994 activity report by Philip Morris employee Roy E. Marden states he was “Working with the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF)in the development of a strategy to counteract and attack the efforts of the antis [public health advocates]…” [30]

WLF was listed as a think tank housing “policy analysts sympathetic with our views” in a February 25, 1999 memo from BSMG Worldwide to Philip Morris. The memo describes strategies to “support a full court press to thwart the filing of a federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry in order to force the industry to settlement.”

The objective of the strategy was to “[Enlist] allies and other potential third parties to help provide a “echo chamber” of opinion in local, regional,and national media, consistent with our messages.” [31]

Related Organizations

Washington legal foundation has coordinated on issues with other Washington-based think tanks including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation[32]


  1. WLF at-a-glance,” wlf.org. Archived September 2, 2008. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  2. WLF 2014 Annual Report (PDF), Washington Legal Foundation. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  3. WLF Mission,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 23, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6blscljBn

  4. WLF Mission,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived March 7, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  5. PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, ex rel. EDMUND G. BROWN, JR., ATTORNEY GENERAL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.” No. 07-16908 (PDF)Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  6. NATIVE VILLAGE OF KIVALINA and CITY OF KIVALINA, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. EXXONMOBIL CORPORATION et al (PDF). Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.


  8. Washington Legal Foundation,” Conservative Transparency. Accessed September, 2015.

  9. ExxonSecrets Factsheet: Washington Legal Foundation, WLF. Accessed September 24, 2015.

  10. Washington Legal Foundation (WLF),” Greenpeace. Archived September 24, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6blotuXhd

  11. “Public Policy Review Committee Meeting,” Document ID: 2073204303/2073204305. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site. Archived .pdf on File at DeSmogBlog. 

  12. PM, PHILIP MORRIS,PARRISH,SC. March 21, 1996. Philip Morris. Retrieved from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents library. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog. 

  13. “Public Policy Recommendations for 970000 with Paid Status,” Document ID: 2063351196/2063351220. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site.  Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog. 

  14. “Public Policy Review Committee Meeting” (1998), Document ID:2073204303/2073204305. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  15. “Public Policy Review Committee Meeting” (1999), Document ID2073204303/2073204305. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  16. “960000 Proposed Budget,” Document ID2041212088/2041212216. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  17. THE TOBACCO INSTITUTE 970000 PROPOSED BUDGET. 1996 December 11. Lorillard. Bates Number 83615497-83615578.  Retrieved from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents library. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  18. THE TOBACCO INSTITUTE 980000 BUDGET,” Document ID: 2063674178/2063674294. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  19. THE TOBACCO INSTITUTE 990000 PROPOSED BUDGET,” Document ID: 2063525895/2063526016. Retrieved from PhillipMorris USA Public Document site.  Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.

  20. Legal Policy Advisory Board,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 24, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6bmuCuVQu

  21. Legal Policy Advisory Board,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived February 19, 2012.

  22. Case Detail: In re EPA Report on Hydraulic Fracturing,” Washington Legal Foundation, July 28, 2015. Archived September 24, 2015. 

  23. Case Detail: Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp, Washington Legal Foundation.

  24. Case Detail: In re Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 24, 2015.

  25. Case Detail: California v. General Motors,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 24, 2015.

  26. Case Detail: Massachusetts v. EPA,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 24, 2015. 

  27. Case Detail: New Jersey v. EPA,” Washington Legal Foundation. Archived September 24, 2015.

  28. John Stauber. “Cold War Rhetoric Fuels Global Warming,” Pr Watch, July 9, 2001. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6bmw4xHab

  29. IN ALL FAIRNESS A CONSTITUTIONAL TRAGEDY IN THE MAKING,” Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, Bates Number 2060567856.

  30. REM MONTHLY REPORT, 940400,” Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Bates Number 2078212287/2288.

  31. COMMUNICATIONS PLAN - SUPERSIZED,” Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Bates Number 2077085684/5692.

  32. Washington Legal Foundation Seminar on Free Enterprise & Criminal Law: Transcript Summary,” White&Case, March 17, 2010. Archived June 25, 2011. 

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