Competitive Enterprise Institute

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) calls itself "a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government." The Boston Globe has called it "one of Washington's feistiest think tanks." CEI's commentaries frequently appear in media venues such as ABC's 20/20, American Spectator, Christian Science Monitor, Consumers' Research, Crossfire, Forbes, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, Moneyline, New York Times, Policy Review, PBS, Reader's Digest, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Washington Times. It postures as an advocate of "sound science" in the development of public policy. In fact, it is an ideologically-driven, well-funded front for corporations opposed to safety and environmental regulations that affect the way they do business.

CEI says its main activities are media interest group education, coalition building, policy analysis, advocacy, and litigation. It publishes a newsletter, the CEI Update, as well as various reports with titles such as, "Clean Fuels, Dirty Air, Environmental Politics." Ongoing programs include:

  • A Death by Regulation project (sometimes referred to as its "Free Market Legal Program") aimed at "shifting the policy debate" about environmental regulations by making the argument that "government intervention carries its own deadly consequences." It claims, for example, that automobile emissions standards drive consumers to buy smaller, flimsier automobiles, causing more deaths from car crashes. Similarly, it argues that there are "adverse public health effects of medical drug regulation and nutritional labeling." Drug regulations, it says, keep new medications off the market. As for nutritional labeling, it believes that wine makers should be able to advertise that wine consumption prevents heart attacks. However, there should be no requirement for labeling of milk from cows treated with genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone.
  • The Warren T. Brookes Fellowships in Environmental Journalism, named after a now-deceased economist and marketing executive turned conservative newspaper columnist and author of books such as The Individual as Capital and What is Progressive About Taxation? The Brookes Fellowships are "yearly appointments granted to journalists to enable them to research, study and write about private and public approaches to environmental protection. During their Fellowship, appointees are also expected to contribute to the environmental public policy debate through speaking engagements, media interviews and other activities.
  • An Environmental Policy Program, which claims to focus on "the development and promotion of free market approaches to environmental policy."

CEI belongs to various conservative alliances, including the Alliance for America, Get Government Off Our Backs,, the National Consumer Coalition (a pro-corporate front group headed by Frances B. Smith, the wife of CEI founder Fred Smith), and the Environmental Education Working Group (EEWG), a national umbrella group for organizations working to undermine environmental education in schools. It is linked to the UK-based rightwing thinktank, the International Policy Network, via shared staff and an identical US contact address. It also sponsors several other subsidiary organizations, including:

  • The Center for Private Conservation, a green-sounding front group that opposes environmental regulations by claiming that "free market" solutions work better.
  • The Cooler Heads Coalition, chaired by former CEI director Marlo Lewis and directed by Myron Ebell, CEI's Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy. The Cooler Heads Coalition was formed on May 6, 1997, "to dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis." In March 2001, the nonprofit Clean Air Trust named Ebell its "clean air villain of the month," citing his "ferocious lobbying charge to persuade President Bush to reverse his campaign pledge to control electric utility emissions of carbon dioxide."
  • Michael Sanera's Center for Environmental Education Research, based in Washington, D.C.



CEI was founded in March 1984. In 1986, it began its "free market legal program," which seeks to overturn government regulations that the CEI regards as inappropriate, such as regulations pertaining to drug safety, rent control, and automobile fuel efficiency (see the case study, Fuel efficiency standards and the laws of physics).

By 1992, CEI's annual budget had reached $765,000. That year it helped coordinate "Earth Summit Alternatives" to counter the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, generating anti-environmental commentary that appeared on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, National Review, Washington Times, Detroit News, Investor's Daily, Inside EPA's Clean Air Report, CNBC, C-SPAN, CBS Radio and Voice of America. It also published its first book, titled Environmental Politics.

In 1993, Jonathan Adler, CEI's director of environmental studies, wrote "Reforming Arizona's Air Pollution Policy" in conjunction with the Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research, a small think tank headed by Michael Sanera, a former professor of political science at Northern Arizona University and an adjunct scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. The following year CEI began working on a book with the Alabama Family Alliance and the Arizona Institute for Public Policy Research (also founded and headed by Sanera). Tentatively titled An Environmental Primer for Parents: How to Talk to Your Children About Environmental Issues, the book was eventually published under the title Facts Not Fear], with Sanera and Jane S. Shaw listed as the authors. It claims that environmental education in the classroom is a politicized effort to indoctrinate kids into becoming activitists. Sanera was also instrumental in gutting a previously strong environmental education mandate in Arizona. He and CEI have become leading forces behind an ongoing, industry-funded campaign to eliminate funding for environmental education throughout the United States.

In 1995, CEI joined several other think tanks in attacking Our Stolen Future, the book about environmental endocrine disruptors by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and Peter Myer. Just prior to the book's release, CEI released two separate studies belittling "the hypothetical risks to human health" discussed in Colborn's book. On the same day that CEI's reports came out, Consumer Alert (run by Frances B. Smith, the wife of CEI founder Fred Smith) issued its own news release labeling the book "a scaremongering tract."

In March 1996, CEI's Michelle Malkin and Michael Fumento published "Rachel's Folly," which claims that dioxin is good for you. CEI's Jonathan Tolman (who holds a bachelor's degree in political science), published a study that month titled "Nature's Hormone Factory," claiming that naturally-occurring chemicals produced by plants and other living organisms are as dangerous as industrial chemicals. In December of that year, CEI submitted comments opposing the EPA's proposed air quality rule to limit particulate emissions, claiming that "the EPA has failed to consider whether the proposed standard may actually increase mortality due to reductions in disposable income that compliance efforts may produce. ... At all times regulation imposes costs that mean less real income to individuals for alternative expenditure. That deprivation of real income itself has adverse health effects, in the form of poorer diet, more heart attacks, more suicides."

In 1997, CEI's Adler lobbied Congress to cut off federal funding for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In July, it participated in an anti-environmental summit sponsored by the conservative Western States Coalition in Spokane, Washington. Under the theme of "Responsible Legislation Through Education: Solutions That Work," the conference showcased Michael Sanera's attacks on environmental education. Ironically, while much of the conference focused on the alleged indoctrination of school children by environmentalists, the event featured a "trade show" of industry-sponsored K-12 curricula and materials.

CEI was also active in opposing the 1997 international global warming negotiations in Kyoto. CEI staff including Fred Smith, James Sheehan, Jonathan Adler and Marlo Lewis featured prominently in a list of "experts" provided to reporters by the industry-funded Global Climate Coalition. "The campaign against the 1997 Kyoto global warming treaty waged by right-wing think tanks has been another area where corporate America has heavily invested in right-wing policy groups that advance its interest" noted author David Callahan in 1999."The Competitive Enterprise Institute has been a particularly aggressive advocate of the notion that global warming is a 'theory not a fact.' Since 1991, CEI's budget has grown from less than $1 million to over $ 4 million." Callahan also noted that although the extent to which conservative think tanks rely on corporate funding support varies widely, CEI and the American Enterprise Institute "have two of the highest levels of corporate support, with both getting roughly 40 percent of their 1996 revenues from corporations."

CEI's flacktivism on global warming continued in 1998, with its executive director, Marlo Lewis, Jr., appearing before the Small Business Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to testify against proposed regulatory action that would have reduced the risk of climate change. "Where per capita energy consumption is high, per capita income is also high; and where per capita energy consumption is low, per capita income is also low. Thus, if we are to rescue mankind from the perils of poverty, we must dramatically increase global energy consumption. We must push down on the accelerator," Lewis testified. "Inflating 'Safety First!' from a mere rule of thumb into a categorical imperative ... is a recipe for paralysis and stagnation, perhaps the riskiest condition of all."

In October 1998, CEI staff figured prominently in a press advisory sent to reporters by the conservative Media Research Center, offering them as "credible sources" who can show that "many scientists are skeptical of climate change theories," "a warmer earth may be a prosperous earth," "global warming policies would harm the US economy," and "the Kyoto protocol could undermine US national security." In October 2000, CEI sued the Clinton administration over a National Assessment on Climate Change produced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. A news release announcing the lawsuit claimed that various procedural rules had been violated during the process of developing the report, labeling it "junk science" and a "$14 million compilation of global warming scare stories."

On October 29, 1999, CEI and Consumer Alert submitted comments opposing a proposed rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms banning makers of alcoholic beverages from labeling their products with statements about the alleged benefits of "moderate consumption" of alcohol. In March 2001, CEI joined other similar think tanks and experts for hire (including the American Council on Science and Health, Steven J. Milloy, Dennis Avery, Consumer Alert and the National Council on Public Policy Research) in an open letter criticizing Starbucks for its decision to serve milk products only from cows not treated with genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone."Your action is unfounded, and harms consumers and the environment," they stated.

CEI has also worked to cultivate a relationship with John Stossel, the controversial correspondent for ABC-TV's 20/20 program. When Stossel came under fire in August 2000 for citing nonexistent scientific studies on a 20/20 segment bashing organic foods, CEI set up a "Save John Stossel" website to help him keep his job. Stossel returned the favor the following year by working with Michael Sanera to put together a program titled "Tampering With Nature" that focused on attacking environmental education. In March 2001, a pesticide industry front group known as Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) sent out an action alert memorandum to its members. "Mr. Sanera has been contacted by ABC News," the memo stated." A producer for John Stossel is working on a program on environmental education. He needs examples of kids who have been 'scared green' by schools teaching doomsday environmentalism in the classroom. ... He has some examples, but needs more. Would you send out a notice to your group and ask if they know of some examples. Then contact Mr. Sanera ... Let's try to help Mr. Stossel. He treats industry fairly in his programs."

Apparently neither Stossel nor CEI applied similar standards of fairness toward the schoolteachers and students they interviewed. Prior to the program's air date in July, several California parents of children interviewed by Stossel filed a complaint with ABC, stating that they had been misled about the nature of the program and the types of leading questions their kids would be asked. Seattle teacher John Borowski also being approached by ABC producer Ted Balaker, who attempted to trick him into appearing on camera by claiming that he was making a documentary about Earth Day, while denying that he was working with Stossel and Sanera.


CEI employs approximately 40 office people, including support staff and in-house and adjunct policy analysts. The following individuals are current or past CEI employees:

In 1992, CEI established the Warren T. Brookes Fellowships in Environmental Journalism. Brookes Fellows have included:

CEI's board members are:


In its IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1999, CEI reported revenues totalling $2,986,777, almost all of which were in the form of contributions from unspecified sources. Its net assets were $1,649,949. Salaries and benefits to its top employees were reported as follows:

CEI does not publish a list of its institutional donors, but the following companies and foundations are known to have given $10,000 or more:

Other known CEI funders include:

  • American Petroleum Institute
  • ARCO Foundation
  • Armstrong Foundation
  • Burlington Northern Railroad Co.
  • Cigna Corporation
  • Detroit Farming Inc.
  • Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation
  • Dow Chemical
  • EBCO Corp.
  • General Motors
  • IBM
  • Jacqueline Hume Foundation
  • JM Foundation
  • Vernon K. Krieble Foundation
  • John William Pope Foundation
  • Smith Richardson Foundation
  • Roe Foundation
  • Alex C. Walker Foundation

Additonal funding data on CEI is available from the Capital Research Center [2] and Media Transparency [3]

Case Studies

Contact Information

Competitive Enterprise Institute
1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1250
Washington, DC 20036
phone: (202) 331-1010
fax: (202) 331-0640

Related articles

External links

Related Resources

  • Show Me the Science. The Clearinghouse for Environmental Education, Advocacy and Research (CLEAR) takes a look at a directory of "environmental experts" supplied by the CEI and other conservative think tanks. "Despite the claim that the directory is intended to provide a listing of scientists and economists to counter the prevalence of environmentalist political activists posing as self-appointed experts, over half of the people listed in the directory are described not as 'scientists' or 'economists,' but as 'public policy experts," CLEAR observes. Moreover, "their field of 'experts' is so thin that most of them need to 'specialize' in numerous policy fields in order to cover their bases." For example, CEI's Ike Sugg (whose academic credentials consist in their entirety of a bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science) "is listed as an expert in 5 different fields including animal rights, endangered species, innovative environmental solutions, land issues, and wilderness issues."
  • Fear Not Facts. PR Watch reviews Facts Not Fear, a book trashing environmental education by CEI's Michael Sanera.
  • The Think Tank Spectrum. FAIR/Extra studied the influence of think tanks on the media by doing a Nexis database search of major newspapers and radio and TV transcripts for 1995. It found a strong bias in favor of conservative think tanks like CEI, which were cited 7,792 times in news stories, compared to 6,361 citations for centrist think tanks, and only 1,152 for progressive think tanks.
  • David Callahan, "The Think Tank as Flack," Washington Monthly, Vol. 31, No. 11, November 1, 1999, p. 21. Historical overview and analysis of the rise of corporate-funded think tanks as PR vehicles for corporate interests.
  • Barbara Ruben, "Getting the Wrong Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks," Environmental Action Magazine, Vol. 27, no. 1, March 22, 1995, p. 21. This article provides an excellent overview of the funding, ideology and strategies of CEI and several other leading conservating think tanks in the United States.
  • INFACT, "Pulling Out All the Stops: Philip Morris' Fight to Block Regulation of Tobacco," March 21, 2000. This report shows how the tobacco industry coordinated lobbying, lawsuits and advertising with media attacks on the Food and Drug Administration by the CEI and other tobacco-funded front groups.
  • Timothy Noah and Laurie McGinley, "Tobacco Industry's Figures on Political Spending Don't Reflect Gifts to Think Tanks, Other Groups," Wall Street Journal, March 25, 1996.
  • John Canham-Clyne, "Following the Money," Public Citizen newsletter, Fall 1996.
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