Independence Institute

Independence Institute


The Independence Institute is a libertarian think tank based in Denver, Colorado with a stated mission “to empower individuals and to educate citizens, legislators and opinion makers about public policies that enhance personal and economic freedom. [1]

Former Colorado state senator John Andrews (R), who previously worked as presidential speechwriter for Richard Nixon and chairman of the State Policy Network, founded the Independence Institute in 1985. [2]

The organization is the Colorado affiliate member of the State Policy Network[3]

Koch Ties

According to Greenpeace, the Independence Institute received at least $141,000 in donations from Koch foundations between 2000 and 2006.

According to an archive of its website, the Independence Institute previously offered a summer internship program via the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program, administered by the Institute for Humane Studies and the State Policy Network[4]

Stance on Climate Change

July 2016

A video clip from July 2016 features the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara and Simon Lomax discussing climate investigations initiated by several state attorneys general. Caldara and Lomax mock this accountability tactic and misleadingly portray climate change as an issue up for debate, rather than scientific reality. [5]

December 2012

The Institute’s Energy & Environmental Policy program posted a piece in December 2012 titled “Fossil fuel use protects us from climate-related risks”: [6]

Thanks to the fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and farm machinery enabled by fossil fuels, increased global food production has made droughts less deadly.  Where extreme weather leaves people hungry and injured, fossil-fuel based transportation enables fast delivery of food, medical supplies, and disaster response units,” the piece claimed.

April 30, 2012

Another piece claims that wind farms contribute to global warming. The piece presents a tone of skepticism towards climate change while attacking one form of renewable energy. [7]

February 2008

The Independence institute published a February 2008 report criticizing Colorado’s Climate Change Action Plan claims that programs aimed at GHG emissions reductions would be too expensive and that the plan’s cost-savings estimates are flawed.

The report also slammed Colorado’s governor for “buying into the ‘indisputable science’ side of the global warming discussion,” and for unveiling the Climate Action Plan with “alarming rhetoric.” [8]

September 26, 2000

An Independence Institute paper titled “If You Can’t Stand the Heat…Don’t Blame Global Warming,” offers a misleading take on climate science that dismisses the risk and paints the concept as mere “theory.” [9]


The Independence Institute does not, and is not required to, disclose its donors. The following is based on data compiled by the Conservative Transparency Project combined with information available from publicly available 990 forms. [10]

See the attached spreadsheet for details on the Independence Institute’s funding by year (.xlsx).

Donor Total
Adolph Coors Foundation $2,993,403
Donors Capital Fund $1,781,400
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $1,475,000
National Rifle Association Foundation $1,050,125
DonorsTrust $966,049
Castle Rock Foundation $760,000
Jaquelin Hume Foundation $577,911
Walton Family Foundation $515,000
William H. Donner Foundation $353,000
The Roe Foundation $352,500
State Policy Network $314,463
Schwab Charitable Fund $304,675
National Christian Charitable Foundation $280,500
Ruth & Lovett Peters Foundation $152,000
JM Foundation $95,000
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation $75,000
David H. Koch Charitable Foundation $50,000
Pew Charitable Trusts $40,000
National Philanthropic Trust $25,000
Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation $16,000
Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity $6,750
Windway Foundation $5,000
Center to Protect Patient Rights $5,000
Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking $5,000
American Encore $5,000
Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice $1,000
Tepper Family Foundation $700
Grand Total $12,205,477

NRA Funding*

The Progressive reported in 2014 that the Independent Institute had received over $1.42 million including about $175,000 a year over eight years from the NRA[11]

Partial List of 1985-1990 Funders

According to a 1991 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the Independence Institute was funded in part by the following corporations, organizations, and foundations from 1985 to 1990:[25]

Corporations & Organizations

  • Amex Corp.
  • American Furniture Warehouse
  • Arapahoe Community College
  • Arco Coal
  • Automated Business Services
  • Bailey Companies
  • Ball Corp.
  • Benson Mineral Group
  • Caim Companies
  • Calcon Constructors
  • Captiva Corp.
  • Celtech Corp.
  • Chevron Oil
  • Ciruli Associates
  • Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry
  • Colorado Association of School Executives
  • Colorado Bar Association
  • Colorado Interstate Gas Co.
  • Colorado National Bankshares, Inc.
  • Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
  • Columbine Venture Fund, Ltd.
  • Cooley Gravel Company
  • Coopers & Lybrand
  • Custom Envelope Corp.
  • David, Graham & Stubbs
  • Deloitte Haskins & Sells
  • Denver Technological Center
  • Denver West, Inc.
  • Dixon Paper
  • DTM Products
  • Duncan Cattle Company
  • Embassy Suites Hotel
  • Equity Syndication
  • Flatiron Companies
  • D.E. Frey and Co.
  • Frontier Oil and Refining
  • G.E. Johnson Construction
  • General Motors
  • Gerald Phipps Inc.
  • Great Southwest Construction Co.
  • Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce
  • Hewlett Packard
  • High Valley Group
  • Home Builders Association of Metro Denver
  • Hyatt Regency Denver
  • Ideal Basic Industries
  • Jostens Inc.
  • Kelmore Association
  • Keystone Resort Inc.
  • King Soopers
  • Koelbel and Co.
  • Louisiana Pacific Corp.
  • Lucas Oil and Gas
  • Martin Marietta
  • Marriott Hotels
  • Mobil Oil Corp.
  • Mountain States Employers Council
  • North Central Life Insurance Co.
  • Oklahoma Publishing
  • One Source Management
  • Peat Marwick Main & Co.
  • Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Denver
  • Phelps, Inc.
  • Gerald Phipps Inc.
  • [Potential Inc.] (illeg.)
  • Presto Print
  • Public Service Co. of Colorado
  • The Pueblo Chieftain
  • Ralston Purina Co.
  • Ready-Mixed Concrete
  • Ridgewood Realty
  • Robinson Dairy
  • Roche Constructors
  • Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association
  • Rocky Mountain Orthodontics
  • Saunders Construction
  • Shuck Corp.
  • Security Life of Denver
  • Step Thirteen
  • Stock Imagery Inc.
  • Storage Technology
  • True Oil
  • United Banks of Colorado, Inc.
  • United Bank of Denver
  • U.S. West Communications
  • Vail Association
  • Vessels Oil and Gas Co.
  • Welbourne Co.
  • Woodford Manufacturing


Koch Funding

According to Greenpeace[12] the Independence Institute received $141,000 in donations from Koch foundations between 2000 and 2006. This includes:

2000: $50,000 from David H. Koch Charitable Foundation

2003: $6000 from Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation

2005: $56,661 from Charles Koch Foundation; $10,000 from Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation

2006: $18,339 from Charles Koch Foundation

Fundraising Sponsors

* Energy Policy Network is listed as a sponsor of the Independence Institute’s fundraising “Founders’ Night” dinners (2016, 2017). EPN appears to be a coal industry front group. Its website promotes misleading “facts” about coal and includes a cartoonish coal mascot “Lumpy” at the bottom of the homepage. [13]

Other Founders’ Night sponsors with fossil fuel industry ties include:

            2016 Sponsors[14]

  • Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development – Champion Sponsor: $5,000
  • Energy Policy Network – Inquiring Sponsor: $2,500
  • Colorado Mining Association – Inquiring Sponsor: $2,500

            2017 Sponsors[15]

  • Bill Barrett Corporation – Champion Sponsor: $5,000
  • Colorado Mining Association – Inquiring Sponsor: $2,500
  • Energy Policy Network – Inquiring Sponsor: $2,500

            2018 Sponsors[16]

Key People

In 2016, Cooke was named to President Trump’s EPA Transition Team. She has worked in energy policy since 2010. According to her bio on the Independence Institute’s website, she “is famous for her provocative messaging like ‘Mothers In Love with Fracking’ and ‘I’m an energy feminist because I’m pro-choice in energy sources,’ which the eco-left called ‘hands down the worst kind of feminism.’” [17]

  • Michael SandovalEnergy policy associate analyst

Michael Sandoval is a contract employee who also works as managing editor for Western Wire, which is “project of Western Energy Alliance, a non-profit regional oil and natural gas association based in Denver, Colorado, and active across 13 states.” [18]

Sandoval previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Heritage Foundation covering “green energy issues” (criticizing renewable energy), and is a 2013 graduate of the Koch Associate Program. [19]


Name 2003 2004 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Description
David Kopel Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Research Director and Second Amendment Project Director
Linda Gorman Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Health Care Policy Center Director
Pam Benigno Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Education Policy Center Director
Jon Caldara Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y President
Amy Oliver Cooke Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center
Dennis Polhill Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Public Infrastructure and Colorado Term Limits
Justin Longo Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Communications/Creative Lab/Complete Colorado
Mike Krause Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Justice Policy
Paul Prentice Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
Rob Natelson Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Constitutional Jurisprudence
Michael Sandoval Y Y Y Y Associate Policy Analyst
Damon Sasso Y Y Y Vice President, Operations and Creative Lab
Ross Izard Y Y Y Senior Fellow, K-12 Education Policy
Shari Hanrahan Y Y Y Director of Investor Opportunities
Sherrie Peif Y Y Y Education Reporter
Tracy Kimball Smith Y Y Y Creative Lab
Randal O'Toole Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Transportation Policy Center Director
Kathleen Chandler Y Y Project Coordinator, Local Government Project
Megan Polston Y Y Administrative Assistant
Shayne Madsen Y Y Director, Political Law Center
Todd Lubas Y Y Director of Strategic Partnerships
Connan Houser Y K-12 Education Research Associate
James Lutack Y Donor Relations Manager
Rachael Kaiser Y School Choice for Kids Database Manager
Mary Macfarlane Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Operations
Todd Shepherd Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Investigative Reporter
Cherish Schaffer Y Y Y Special Projects
Angelica Malik Y Development Manager
Erick Valencia Y Outreach and Communications Coordinator, Education Policy Center
Simon Lomax Y Associate Energy Policy Analyst
Ben DeGrow Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy Center
Marya DeGrow Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Research Associate, Education Policy Center
Barry Fagin Y Y Y Y Y Y Technology Policy
Barry Poulson Y Y Y Y Y Y Economic Policy
Brian Schwartz Y Y Y Y Y Y Research Associate, Health Care Policy Center
Fred Holden Y Y Y Y Y Y Tax and Fiscal Policy
J. Craig Green Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Water Policy
Jay Ambrose Y Y Y Y Y Y Contributing Columnist
Joanne D. Eisen Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Criminal Justice
Julie Mallon Y Y Y Y Y Y Vice President of Development
Karen Zuppa Y Y Y Y Y Y Accountant
Krista Kafer Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Education Policy Center
Mark Hillman Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
Paul Gallant Y Y Y Y Y Y Criminal Justice
Raaki Garcia-Ulam Y Y Y Y Y Y Hispanic outreach coordinator, School Choice for Kids
Tracy Smith Y Y Y Y Y Y Graphic Designer
Kait Lochner Y Y Y Assistant to the Vice President of Operations
Susan Evans Y Y Y Director of Major Gifts
William Yeatman Y Y Y Policy Anaylst, Energy Policy Center
Penn Pfiffner Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
Cherish Shaffer Y Intern Coordinator
Christina “CJ” James Buchanan Y Development
Debi Brazzale Y Y Y Capitol Reporter
Habtamu Dugo Y Y Y Senior Fellow, Civil Rights
Donovan Schafer Y Research Associate, Energy Policy Center
Nancy Miller Y Y Y Director of Publications
Jessica Corry Y Y Director of the Campus Accountability Project and Property Rights Project
Kay Cullar Y Y Office Manager
Jocelyn Armstrong Y IT and Communications Director
Jessica Peck Y Director, Campus Accountability Project
Kathleen Calongne Y Administrative Assistant to the Center for the American Dream
Anne McIntyre Y Volunteer and Ancient Factotum
Jennifer Mamich Y Director of Advancement & Operations
JoAnn Howe Y Advancement and Operations, Administrative Assistant
Matthew Edgar Y Manager of Technical Operations/Web Manager
Terry Nowell Y Executive Assistant to the President

Board of Trustees [20]

Name 2016 2017 2018
Catherine Shopneck Y Y Y
Debbie Donner Y Y
Jeff Coors Y Y Y
Joe Ignat Y
Jon Caldara Y Y Y
Joseph Smith Y Y Y
Katherine Whitcomb Y Y Y
Mike McCarty Y Y Y


May 9, 2019

The Independence Institute, represented by Amy Oliver Cooke, signed on to an open letter organized by the American Energy Alliance designed to fight against an electric vehicle tax credit. [29]

The American Energy Alliance has organized a coalition to proclaim in one unified voice that there should be no expansion of the misguided electric vehicle tax credit,” Thomas Pyle wrote in a statement, quoted at The Daily Caller. There is no question that the electric vehicle tax credit distorts the auto market to no gain.” [30]

According to Pyle and others who signed the letter, electric vehicle tax credits “overwhelmingly benefit the rich.” DeSmog's Koch vs. Clean project has systematically debunked this, among other well-rehearsed talking points and misinformation put forward by industry about electric vehicles. [30]

The letter cites research by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a group that has received over $600,000 from ExxonMobil and millions from “dark money” groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund

August 30, 2018

A blog piece on the Institute’s website rails against Xcel Energy’s Colorado Energy Plan recently approved by the Public Utilities Commission. The plan seeks to replace coal generation with wind and solar, halving carbon emissions and saving ratepayers $215 million. But the blog piece, written by a former coal executive at Xcel, argues that ratepayers will pay more under this plan.

The author claims any customer savings would be “several decades away” and points to coal jobs that would be lost. Contrary to these complaints, the economics are actually favorable to renewable energy. As an Xcel resource planning executive told Greentech Media, “In many areas, the incremental cost of renewable generation is currently less than the embedded cost of existing generation.” The author of the blog piece, Duane Richards, is a former Director of Coal for Xcel Energy. [21]

This piece appears to be part of a new campaign started in 2018 to push back against Colorado and its largest utility Xcel Energy’s transition to clean energy. The “Coalition of Ratepayers” is an Independence Institute-led attack on the Colorado Energy Plan, though it presents itself as a “nonprofit” standing up for “small business and residential ratepayers that otherwise have no advocate and no voice.” [22]

Based on the Coalition’s PR materials, however, the group appears to be a front for dirty energy interests, particularly coal. A March 2018 op-ed in The Hill, for example, clearly presents the Coalition as a pro-coal sympathizer.

Besides building out industrial wind and solar, the $2.5 billion CEP would retire prematurely 660 megawatts (enough to power roughly 660,000 homes) of relatively young, low-cost, highly-utilized, environmentally state-of-art coal-fueled power plants,” Amy Oliver Cooke, director of energy and environmental policy at the Independence Institute, writes. Further down in the op-ed, she floats the idea that the next Colorado governor could, perhaps, issue a call for “100 percent coal.” [23]

April 2018

Independence Institute again celebrated Earth Day with a “Fossil Fuels Poster Contest,” with the theme of “Modern Life: Made Possible by Fossil Fuels.”

According to the contest description: “We want to highlight the work horses of the energy world — fossil fuels…The choice of energy sources and how they are utilized should come from the demands of an innovative and free market with fossil fuels, wind, and solar competing on an even playing field.” [24]

Independence Institute fails to mention that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized to the tune of billions of dollars annually, not to mention the external costs of dirty energy in terms of climate and health costs. The hypocrisy of the contest itself and the explanation behind it could not be clearer.

February 27, 2018

This video clip from “Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” features Caldara discussing Boulder, Colorado’s plan to take legal action against oil and gas companies with Michael Sandoval. Caldara and Sandoval dismiss the climate damage that drives the climate liability lawsuits and trumpet the fossil fuel industry talking point that these suits are solely about lining the pockets of the plaintiff attorneys.

But when you’re talking about damages I think we should focus on the damages that [plaintiffs’ attorneys] are expecting to get out of it, not the actual climate change damages that they’re claiming,” said Sandoval. [25] 

April 2017

The Independence Institute held an “Earth Day Fossil Fuels Art Contest” for the purpose of showcasing “the awesomeness of fossil fuels.” The blatant promotion of fossil fuels fittingly included a fossil fuel reward as its prize – a $100 gasoline gift card.

“It’s time to include fossil fuels in the Earth Day celebration,” Amy Oliver Cooke, executive vice president and director of the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center, told Bloomberg.

As the Bloomberg article points out, Independence Institute has financial ties to fossil fuel interests like Peabody Energy and Koch Industries, and previous donors include entities like Mobil Oil Corp. [26]

March 16, 2017

The Institute hosted an event titled “Inside President Trump’s EPA Transition Team.” The luncheon event featured notable climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute talking about the new direction of the EPA.

The event description described Ebell as an “EPA Transition Team Leader and ‘climate contrarian.’” [27]

Contact & Address

According to the contact info on its website, as of September 2018, The Independence Institute is located in the “Uptown” neighborhood in Denver, at the corner of 16th Avenue and Clarkson Street. [28]

727 E. 16th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

Main phone line: 303-279-6536
Fax: 303-279-4176
Event RSVP line: 303-279-6536 X102

Main and Event E-mail:
Donations: [email protected]
Media/Publications: [email protected]

Related Organizations


  1. About II,Independence Institute. Archived September 12, 2018. Archive URL:

  2. “Independence Institute,” Wikipedia,  (Need alternate citation to Wiki.)

  3. “Independence Institute,” State Policy Network. Archived September 12, 2018. Archive URL:

  4. The Independence Institute's Future Leaders Program,” Independence Institute. Archived April 24, 2013. Archive URL:

  5. You Can Be Sued For Having the ‘Wrong’ Opinion on Climate Change?!” YouTube video uploaded by user “IITV”, July 11, 2016. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSMog.

  6. Fossil Fuel Use Protects Us From Climate-Related Risk,” Independence Institute, December 21, 2012. Archive URL

  7. “Green Energy Causes…Warming?” Independence Institute, April 30, 2012. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  8. Benjamin Powell. “The Faulty Economics of Colorado’s Climate Change Action Plan: A Peer Review,” Independence Institute, February 2008. Retrieved from Scribd. Archive URL

  9. Ron Bain. “If You Can’t Stand the Heat…Don’t Blame Global Warming,” Independence Institute, September 26, 2000. Retrieved from Scribd. Archive URL:

  10. Independence Institute,” Conservative Transparency. Data retrieved September 12, 2018.

  11. Frank Smyth. “The Times Has Finally (Quitely) Outed an NRA_Funded ‘Independent’ Scholar,” The Progressive, April 23, 2014. Archived April 24, 2014.

  12. Independence Institute,” Greenpeace. Accessed September 12, 2018.

  13. Energy Policy Network homepage, accessed September 12, 2018.

  14. Founders’ Night 2016,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  15. “Founders’ Night Dinner 2017,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  16. Founders’ Night 2018,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  17. Amy Oliver Cooke,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  18. About Us,” Western Wire. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  19. Michael Sandoval,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  20. Board of Trustees,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  21. Duane Richards. “The Colorado Energy Plan: A proposal that benefits all but the consumer,” Independence Institute, August 30, 2018. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  22. Coalition of Ratepayers,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  23. Amy Cooke. “Coloradans are taking on the state’s largest monopoly utility,” The Hill, March 7, 2018. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  24. Earth Day Fossil Fuels Poster Contest,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  25. The Latest Attacks on Oil and Gas,” YouTube video uploaded by user “IITV”, February 27, 2018. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

  26. Ari Natter. “Earth Day Art Contest Showcases ‘Awesomeness’ of Fossil Fuels,” Bloomberg, April 13, 2017.

  27. Inside Trump’s EPA Transition Team,” Independence Institute.

  28. Contact,” Independence Institute. Archived September 13, 2018. Archive URL:

  29. Dear Senator Grassley, Senator Wyden, Representative Neal and Representative Brady:” May 9, 2019. Retrieved from The Daily Caller.


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