Institute for Free Speech

Institute for Free Speech

Background

The Institute for Free Speech (IFS), founded under the name Center for Competitive Politics, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit describing itself as “the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political speech rights.” [1], [2]

IFS has consistently argued against laws that would increase donor transparency in politics. It supports Super PACs, and opposes spending limits on political campaigns. For example, in 2019, IFS has fought against Bill H.R. 1, which “expands voter registration and voting access, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and limits removing voters from voter rolls.” [3], [4]

The Center for Competitive Politics was founded by former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith and Stephen M. Hoersting, campaign finance attorney and former general counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in November, 2005. [5]

In 2012, CCP assisted David Keating's pro-First Amendment organization, SpeechNow.org. “As a result, the Institute became co-counsel and won the landmark case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, creating the entities now known as 'super PACs.'” The Institute's history page notes. Keating went on to head the Institute in the same year. [6]

The Center for Competitive Politics officially changed its name to the Institute for Free Speech in October 2017. [6]

In its financial statements, CCP/IFS described its major program activities as follows: [7]

1. Litigation - The litigation program of the Center for Competitive Politics pursues strategic litigation and files amicus briefs to defend the First Amendment rights to free political speech, assembly and petition.

2. Research and External Relations - The Center for Competitive Politics publishes research on the effects of laws and regulations on the First Amendment rights to free political speech, assembly and petition. The Center also tracks and analyzes proposed legislation and regulations at the federal and state level that could affect these First Amendment rights.

3. Communication - The Center for Competitive Politics educates its supporters and the public at large of the benefits of the First Amendment rights to free political speech, assembly and petition and the importance of these rights to competitive elections the ensure integrity at all levels of the political process. It communicates this information through published articles in newspapers, websites and magazines, briefings of and interviews with journalists, appearances on television and radio, newsletters and an extensive website and blog.

Stance on Climate Change

IFS does not appear to have made any official statements regarding climate change.

Funding

The following is based on archived data from the Conservative Transparency project, combined with original research of 990 tax forms by DeSmog. 

View the attached spreadsheet for additional information on Institute for Free Speech funding by year (.xlsx). Note that not all values from Conservative Transparency have been individually verified by DeSmog.

Donor Total Contributions
Donors Capital Fund $5,878,480
DonorsTrust $1,901,950
Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust $1,251,250
Searle Freedom Trust $1,000,000
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $725,000
Ed Uihlein Family Foundation $411,000
The Randolph Foundation $175,000
Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking $130,000
DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative $100,000
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation $82,144
Holman Foundation $75,000
Hickory Foundation $75,000
The McWethy Foundation $52,000
The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation $50,000
Castle Rock Foundation $40,000
Adolph Coors Foundation $40,000
Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation $25,000
JM Foundation $25,000
Center for Independent Thought $15,000
Charles Koch Institute $14,000
The Weiler Foundation $10,000
Gilder Foundation $10,000
Bradley Impact Fund $5,000
Chase Foundation of Virginia $2,500
Grand Total $12,093,324

990 Forms

Key People

Board of Directors

Name 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2019 Description
Bradley A. Smith Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Chairman and Founder
Edward H. Crane Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Founder and President Emeritus, Cato Institute
John Snider Y Y Y Y Y Y Y CPA-Retired, Treasurer.
Hunter Bates Y Y Y Y Y Partner, Akin Gump
Stephen Modzelewski Y Y Y Managing Member, Maple Engine LLC.
Eric O'Keefe Y Y Y Y Y Y Chairman of the Board, Citizens for Self-Governance.
Cleta Mitchell Y Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP
Terry Michael Y Y Executive Director, Washington Center for Politics and Journalism
Allison R. Hayward Y Y Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law and the host of SkepticsEye.com
Sean Parnell Y President, Center for Competitive Politics
Stephen M. Hoersting Y Vice President and co-founder, Center for Competitive Politics

Board of Academic Advisors

Name 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2015 2016 2019 Description
David M. Primo Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor, Associate Professor of Political Science and Business Administration, University of Rochester.
Jeffrey Milyo Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Frederick A. Middlebush Chair in the Social Sciences, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
Joel M. Gora Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School.
Lillian R. BeVier Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Retired. David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Virginia School of Law.
Michael C. Munger Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Director, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program and Professor of Political Science, Public Policy, and Economics, Duke University.
Bruce E. Cain Y Y Y Y Y Professor of Political Science, Stanford University and Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West.
Jay Goodliffe Y Y Y Y Y Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University and Research Scholar, Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
John Coleman Y Y Y Y Y Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota.
Richard M. Esenberg Y Y Y Y Y Founder, President, and General Counsel, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and Adjunct Professor of Law, Marquette University Law School.
Stephen Ansolabehere Y Y Y Y Y Professor of Government, Harvard University.
Herbert E. Alexander Y Y Y Y Y (In Memoriam). Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California and Director, Citizens Research Foundation.
John Samples Y Y Y Vice President and Director, Center for Representative Government, Cato Institute.
Larry J. Sabato Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics, University of Virginia and Director, UVA Center for Politics.
Allison R. Hayward Y Y Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law and the host of SkepticsEye.com
Drew Johnson Y President of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research

Staff

Name 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Description
Bradley A. Smith Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Chairman and Founder
Allen Dickerson Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Legal Director
Zac Morgan Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Attorney
David Keating Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y President
Susan Bradley Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Office Manager
Matt Nese Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Director of External Relations
Luke Wachob Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Communications Director
Tyler Martinez Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Attorney
Eric Wang Y Y Y Y Y Y Senior Fellow
Scott Blackburn Y Y Y Y Y Y Research Director
Alex Kroll Y Y Y Y Director of Development
Owen Yeates Y Y Y Y Attorney
Alex Baiocco Y Y Y Media Manager
Mark D'Ostilio Y Research Intern
Meghan Brandabur Y Research Intern
Mike Columbo Y Senior Fellow
Parker Douglas Y Senior Attorney
Ryan Morrison Y Attorney
Eric Peterson Y Senior Policy Analyst
Alex Cordell Y Research Fellow
Joe Albanese Y Research Fellow
Brian Walsh Y Y Research Fellow
Joe Trotter Y Y Y Y Media Manager
Julie Drinkard Y Y Y External Affairs Director
Anna Mackin Y Y Staff Attorney
Sarah Lee Y Y Communications Director
David Silvers Y Staff Attorney
Tom Swanson Y External Relations Associate
Allison R. Hayward Y Y Y Vice President of Policy
Jason Farrell Y Research Fellow
Erik S. Jaffe Y Y Y Y Y P.C., Litigation Consultant
Sean Parnell Y Y Y Y Y President
Stephen M. Hoersting Y Y Y Y Y Vice President and Co-Founder
Amanda Robey Y Y Y External Relations Director 
Benjamin Barr Y Y Y Of Counsel
April Owens Y Y Office Manager
Laura Renz Y Y Y Government Relations & Research Director
Jeff Patch Y Y Communications Director
Michael Tokarchick Y Y External Relations Assistant
David Scott Y Government & Coalition Relations Associate 
Elizabeth Hopkins Y External Relations Associate
Scott Kenyon Y Communications Associate 
Michael W. Schrimpf Y Y Communications Director
Kathleen Ralston Y Development Director
Michael Darner Y Legal Associate
Trevor Summerfield Y Government & Coalitions Director

Actions

March 27, 2019

IFS Chairman and Founder Bradley A. Smith appeared on Fox News's Hannity to discuss allegations against Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez regarding campaign finance. [8]

“I've got to tell you: I've been in this business 25 years, I look at it, it looks like a shell game and certainly merits a major investigation by the FEC,” Smith said.

He went on to criticize Cortez for her upcoming vote on bill H.R. 1 which would expand voting access and make Election Day a federal holiday, among other changes:

“Ocasio-Cortez is going to vote with all the Democrats in the House on Friday for this H.R. 1 to put more restrictions on ordinary Americans, but they don't want to abide by the restrictions already in place.”

February 2019

Bradley A. Smith, chair of the Institute for Free Speech, testified on February 6 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to oppose Bill H.R. 1: Strengthening Ethics Rules for the Executive Branch. [3]

David Keating, president of IFS, similarly testified on February 14 before the Committee on House Administration. [9]

“Despite the 'For the People' title of H.R. 1, the bill would, in fact, greatly harm the ability of the people to freely speak, publish, and organize into groups to advocate for better government,” Keating said in a statement that would later be repeated by Smith nearly word-for-word. [9]

“More appropriately labeled the 'For the Politicians Act,' H.R. 1 would make radical changes to the long-held ability of Americans to speak and associate with other Americans on the issues about
which they are passionate,” Keating added. [9]

October 5, 2018

IFS filed a complaint against South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, arguing that the state's definition of “independent communications expenditure” under S.D. Codified Laws § 12-27-1(11) do not conform with First Amendment rights in the US Constitution. [10]

Specifically, IFS worried the law would limit their plans on two ballot measures:

“South Dakota Laws are vague regarding whether they apply to the IFS’s planned educational publications about the constitutional and practical issues of two ballot measures. IFS intends to publish an analysis of two South Dakota ballot measures – proposed Constitutional Amendment W and Initiative 24 – with an emphasis on the ways in which those measures will impact citizens’ First Amendment rights.”

”[…] IFS also wishes to make substantially and materially similar communications, across a range of media, within 90 days of future South Dakota general elections.” [10]

IFS further ads that part if its concern is that it would be required to identify its donors: [10]

“South Dakota Laws place IFS in the uncertain position of wondering if publishing its analysis will force illegal and burdensome donor disclosure and compelled speech requirements on IFS or have IFS risk criminal liability”

October 2017

The Center for Competitive Politics changed its name to the Institute for Free Speech, revamping its website and logo. “While our name is new, our mission hasn’t changed. We go to court to help clients protect their rights and set new precedents. We work with government officials to craft laws that expand free political speech rights consistent with the Constitution,” an article on ifs.org noted. [11]

“Our old name often confused people about our objectives, especially those who are not familiar with our work. The name Institute for Free Speech clearly conveys our mission to longtime supporters and newcomers alike.” [11]

According to IFS's history page, the name change occurred in October of 2017. [6]

April 2015

The Center for Competitive Politics, including Bradley A. Smith, Allen Dickerson, and Zac Morgan, stepped in as amicus curiae supporting the anti-abortion 501(c)(4) group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA). SBA had promoted Rep. Steven Driehaus’s vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) as a vote to publicly fund abortions. Taking issue with that criticism, Congressman Driehaus filed a formal complaint against SBA. [12]

The CCP brief lamented the misfortunes this caused for SBA: “SBA suddenly found itself a defendant in a government proceeding. It necessarily faced public notoriety and the costs of hiring counsel and mounting a defense.” [12]

“Ultimately, a three-member panel of the Commission determined—notably, on a 2-1 party-line vote—that SBA had likely intentionally lied about Driehaus’s position,” the complaint added. [12]

CCP's outlined its stance that this amounted to an effort to stifle free speech under the Constitution. [12]

February 4, 2015

The Center for Competitive Politics released a sheet entitled “Five Misconceptions about 'Dark Money'” arguing dark money should not be viewed in a negative light, and that it is wrong to ask for more donor transparency from nonprofit groups. [13]

“To publicly identify contributing individuals with political expenditures of which they had no advance knowledge and may even oppose is both unfair to members and donors, and misleading to the public. It is 'junk disclosure' – disclosure that serves little purpose other than to provide a basis for official or private harassment, and that may actually misinform the public,” Matt Nese argues in the CCP document. [13]

“The term [dark money] evokes an emotional, fearful reaction, and many of the statistics published on the topic aim to mislead rather than enlighten.” [13]

June 19, 2014

The Center for Competitive Politics filed an appeal against Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California, arguing against nonprofit disclosure laws that would require the disclosure of individual donors who contribute over 2 percent of total support received by a charity in a year on 990 tax forms. [14]

“The burden on the charities is not the filing of a different or additional piece of paper, but the disclosure to the State of their most significant donors, and the potential inadvertent or intentional disclosure or misuse of those donors’ information by state employees (and potential harm to donors if their information is disclosed),” the brief argued. [14]

October 2012

The group's Bradley Smith released a video suggesting that Super PACs, which inject massive amounts of money into elections, are good for democracy. The video, which echoes similar written materials released by the Institute for Free Speech, was produced by “Learn Liberty”—a group that describes itself as a project of the Koch-supported Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. [15]

Smith appeared in a number of videos promoted through the Learn Liberty Group, all promoting concepts with similar viewpoints to the Institute for Free Speech: [15]

July 2012

CCP opposed a bill introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), S. 3369, a modified version of the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) originally introduced as S. 2219. According to CCP, the “The legislation is still heavily flawed and severely infringes on First Amendment rights to free speech.” [16]

“While the stated goal of S. 3369 is to increase disclosure of spending to elect or defeat candidates, this radical proposal will chill speech by forcing nonprofits to drastically alter their fundraising and public advocacy efforts, creating a vague new rule defining express advocacy, and introducing new and unnecessary disclosure requirements and definitions,” CCP claimed. [16]

June 13, 2012

Allen Dickerson, legal director of CPP, testified before the Maryland Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law. In his testimony, Dickerson proposed a number of amendments including one to obscure donor information for small campaign contributions, increase direct contribution limits, increase Maryland's aggregate contribution limit, and also increase the committee filing limit. [17]

On the last point, Dickerson lamented: “Under current Maryland law, groups of like political mind are forced to file regular, onerous campaign finance reports once they have raised or spent $1,000 in pursuit of their cause. […] The people hurt are—once again—small-time, grassroots activists.” [17]

May 12, 2011

Bradley A. Smith testified before the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform against an Obama administration proposal that would require bidders on government contracts to disclose their political spending prior to bidding on contracts. [18]

June 13, 2011

Allen Dickerson of the Center for Competitive Politics worked at the attorney representing Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. as well as Champion, Inc. and Montana Sports Shooting Association, Inc. fighting against laws that governed independent expenditures by corporations in the wake of the Citizens United v. FEC case. [19]

Notably, Western Tradition Partnership is the name of a group identified by SourceWatch as reportedly having a hand in a flurry of dark money coordination in Colorado. WTP also appears connected to the Western Tradition Institute, which changed its name to the American Tradition Institute, which more recently morphed into the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), a Koch-connected group that has consistently worked to fight against climate change legislation. [20], [21]

April 5, 2011

Sean Parnell, writing at the Center for Competitive Politics, criticised the “continuing attack against Charles and David Koch.” Parnell described articles criticizing the Koch Brothers' massive infusion of cash into issues like the debate around climate change as a “crusade against the right of private citizens to support causes that are out of favor with the progressive community.” [22]

Parnell attacks a report by the Common Cause and the Center for American Progress (CAP) as “lame” and “little more than a resource for hard-core Koch-haters who are enraged that the First Amendment allows people to disagree with them and even spend money in support of ideas contrary to those held by the folks at CAP.” [22]

February 2009

CCP joined forces with the Independence Institute, National Taxpayers Union, and Sam Adams Alliance to support plantiffs in a case fighting against laws ordering for the disclosure by ballot “issue committees.” [23]

“[M]andatory disclosure of support for or against ballot questions imposes unconstitutional costs and burdens: distracting voters from the ballot measure itself, as well as its merits and faults; providing political opponents with means for personal and professional retaliation against those who associate together and speak out concerning ballot propositions; and exposing citizens and 'issue committees' to legal risk through necessary compliance with a complex and burdensome disclosure regime,” the brief claims.

Related Organizations

  • Center for Competitive Politics — Former name for Institute for Free Speech.
  • SpeechNow.org — Assisted in the case SpeechNow.org v. FEC. David Keating of SpeechNow went on to head the Institute for Free Speech. [6]

Contact & Address

The following address is listed in the footer of the IFS website[2]

124 S. West Street, Suite 201
Alexandria, VA 22314

Social Media

Resources

  1. Welcome to the Institute for Free Speech,”Institute for Free Speech, October 17, 2018. Archived June 26, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/wpaZb

  2. Our Mission,” Institute for Free Speech. Archived June 26, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/FLmCk

  3. H.R. 1: Strengthening Ethics Rules for the Executive Branch: Testimony of Bradley A. Smith” (PDF), Institute for Free Speech, February 6, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  4. Luke Wachob. “Super PACs: Expanding Freedom of Speech” (PDF), Institute for Free Speech, October 30, 2017. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  5. About Center for Competitive Politics,” Center for Competitive Politics, January 24, 2009.

  6. Our History,” Institute for Free Speech. Archived June 26, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/FLmCk

  7. THE CENTER FOR COMPETITIVE POLITICS: FINANCIAL STATEMENTS AND SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION” (PDF), Renner & Company, December 31, 2016. Retrieved from ifs.org. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  8. IFS Chairman Bradley A. Smith on Hannity: FEC Complaint Against AOC,” YouTube video uploaded by user “Institute for Free Speech.” Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

  9. “For the People: Our American Democracy” (PDF), Institute for Free Speech, February 14, 2019.

  10. INSTITUTE FOR FREE SPEECH, Plaintiff, v. MARTY JACKLEY, in his official capacity as South Dakota Attorney General, and SHANTEL KREBS, in her official capacity as South Dakota Secretary of State” (PDF), October 5, 2018. Retrieved from ifs.org. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  11. Welcome to the Institute for Free Speech,” Institute for Free Speech. Archived November 12, 2017. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/MHJGD 

  12. Susan B. Anthony List, et al. Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Steven B. Driehaus, et al., Defendant-Appellant” No. 14-4008 in the United Stated Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Filed April 6, 2015. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  13. Matt Nese. “Five Misconceptions about 'Dark Money'” (PDF), Center for Competitive Politics, February 4, 2015. Archive .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  14. No. 14-15978 IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT (PDF), June 19, 2014. Archived June 28, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  15. Who is Learn Liberty?Learn Liberty. Accessed June 28, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/9SJSy

  16. “S. 3369 – The DISCLOSE Act” (PDF), Legislative Brief (Center for Competitive Politics), July 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  17. Testimony of Allen Dickerson before the Maryland Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law,” Center for Competitive Politics, June 13, 2012. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  18. “Politicizing Procurement: Will President Obama's Proposal Curb Free Speech & Hurt Small Business?” (PDF)Center for Competitive Politics, May 12, 2011. Retrieved from Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  19. IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA NO. DA 11-008” (PDF), June 13, 2011. Retrieved from ifs.org. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  20. Documents Found in Meth House Bare Inner Workings of Dark Money Group,” ProPublica, October 29, 2012.

  21. Sue Sturgis. “SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Who's behind the 'information attacks' on climate scientists?” Institute for Southern Studies, October 31, 2011. Archived July 8, 2015.

  22. Sean Parnell. “Center for American Progress releases latest lame attack on Koch brothers,” Institute for Free Speech, April 5, 2011. Archived June 28, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/u2ytF

  23. KAREN SAMPSON, NORMAN FECK, LOUISE SCHILLER, TOM SORG, WES CORNWELL, and BECKY CORNWELL, Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, v. BERNIE BUESCHER, Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant” (PDF), February 27, 2019. Nos. 08-1389 & 08-141 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Other Resources