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Competitive Enterprise Institute

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a advocacy group based in Washington DC with long ties to tobacco disinformation campaigns. It calls itself "a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. We believe that individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace."[1]

Until August 2007 CEI's website CEI stated that it served "as both a think tank—creating intellectual ammunition to support free markets—and an advocacy organization—putting that ammunition to use in persuasive ways."[2]

It postures as an advocate of "sound science" in the development of public policy. However, CEI projects dispute the overwhelming scientific evidence that human induced greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change. They have a program for "challenging government regulations", push property rights as a solution to environment problems, opposed US vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and spin for the drug industry.

Many of its claims have been debunked. Here are a few examples related to climate change:

  • Annenberg Political Fact Check, "Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To "Confuse and Mislead," May 26, 2006.
  • "Thank you for emitting", Real Climate, May 18, 2006
  • News Bureau, University of Missouri-Columbia, "MU Professor Refutes National Television Ads Downplaying Global Warming: Engineering Professor Curt Davis says TV Spots are Misrepresenting His Research," May 19, 2006.

See also:



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 1992, Jonathan Adler, CEI's director of environmental studies, wrote Implementing the U.S. Clean Air Act in Arizona 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.[3] The following year they wrote another report "Reforming Arizona's Air Pollution Policy".

In 1994 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 activists. 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.[4]

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."[5]

In March 1996, CEI's Michelle Malkin and Michael Fumento published "Rachel's Folly," which claims that dioxin is good for you.[6] 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.[7] 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."[8]

In 1997 Boston Globe reporter Jeff Jacoby described CEI as "one of Washington's feistiest think tanks." The same year CEI's Adler lobbied Congress to cut off federal funding for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.[9]

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.[10]

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."[11] 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."[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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."[15]

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 reported 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.[16]

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.


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 think tank, 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 employs approximately 40 office people, including support staff and in-house and adjunct policy analysts. The personnel list is so extensive it has been shifted to Competitive Enterprise Institute/Personnel.


CEI's Budget

Since 1991, CEI's budget has grown from less than $1 million to over $ 4 million." David 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." [1]

In its IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2004, CEI reported revenues totalling $2,919,537 almost all of which were in the form of contributions from unspecified sources. Its net assets were $1,670,808. [2] (Pdf)

CEI's Foundation Funders

Media Transparency lists CEI as receiving a total of $4,296,645 (unadjusted for inflation) in 123 grants from a range of foundations in the period 1985 through to 2004. [3]

Other Funding Sources

The Capital Research Center (CRC) formerly had a profile on CEI in its database on non-profit groups which listed corporate foundations and other groups not identified by Media Transparency. [4] However, since its profile was linked to this page in 2004, the profile on CEI has been removed from the database.

CEI does not publish a list of its institutional donors. However, in a CEI report sent to Philip Morris, the think tank identified a range of companies and foundations as having given $10,000 or more. [5] Contributors included:

In a 2006 profile of CEI and other global warming skeptics, Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach noted that "the most generous sponsors" of CEI's 2005 annual dinner were "the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pfizer. Other contributors included General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal." [6]

Tobacco Industry Funding

A listing of documents specifically about contributions and support from tobacco companies to CEI:

  • 1991 - $10,000 donation to CEI from Philip Morris (PM) [7]
  • Feb. 9, 1993 - letter from Fred Smith of CEI to Thomas Borelli at PM thanking PM for support.[8]
  • 1995: PM gives $200,000 grant to CEI for "general operating support" [9]
  • 1995 : PM gives another $10,000 to CEI [10]
  • 1997: PM gives $120,000 to CEI [11]
  • 1998 PM Public Policy Contributions list. Says PM paid CEI $25,000 via check no. 390006 [12]
  • (Non-financial item) 1998: Activity Report of Beverly McKittrick of PM states, "Worked on plan for mobilization of third--party conservative groups. Met with CSE, ATRA, Chamber of Commerce,Frontiers of Freedom, and Competitive Enterprise Institute." [13]
  • 1999 Public Policy Contributions (PM): $5,000 paid via check No. 20601 [14]
  • 1999 Activity report of PM's Thomas Borelli states: "Secured policy group committee funding to support the Competitive Enterprise Institute dinner" [15]
  • Undated Brown & Williamson document listing pro-business organizations BW contributes to. CEI is on the list: [16] (see top of page 5, "Policy Organizations :Total $325,000")
  • In 1999 PM budgeted $25,000 for CEI: [17]

Senior Staff Salaries

Salaries and benefits to its top employees for the year to September 30, 2004 were reported as follows:

Environmental Issues

Global Warming

For more information, see Competitive Enterprise Institute And Global Warming.
CEI is an outspoken anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change skeptic and an opponent of government action that would require limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It favors free-market environmentalism, claiming that market institutions are more effective in protecting the environment than is government In March 1992, CEI’s founder Fred Smith said of anthropogenic climate change: "Most of the indications right now are it looks pretty good. Warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding, sounds to me like we’re moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture." [19]

In May 2006, CEI's global warming policy activities attracted attention as it embarked upon an ad campaign with two television commercials. These ads promote carbon dioxide as a positive factor in the environment and argue that global warming is not a concern. One ad focuses on the message that CO2 is misrepresented as a pollutant, stating that "it’s essential to life. We breathe it out. Plants breathe it in... They call it pollution. We call it life."[17] The other states that the world's glaciers are "growing, not melting... getting thicker, not thinner."[17] The other states that the world's glaciers are "growing, not melting... getting thicker, not thinner." It cites Science articles to support its claims. However, the editor for Science stated that the ad "misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers... by selective referencing". The author of the articles, Curt Davis, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said CEI was misrepresenting his previous research to inflate their claims. "These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate," Davis said.[20]

Some of CEI's work on global warming policy includes:

  • *Participating in (and reporting on) the UNFCCC negotiations in Montreal as an NGO in December 2005.
  • A letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2006, after the Archbishop urged Christians to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The CEI wrote that reducing these levels, even in "baby steps," would "result in the deaths of more people in the U.S. than global warming would worldwide."[21]
  • The Cooler Heads Coalition, which operates the website The chairman is Myron Ebell, the Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy at CEI.
  • In 2010, coincident with CEI's financial ills, the pace of CEI's work on climate change slowed significantly: national advertising campaigns ceased and, through the first half of the year, CEI's only studies on the topic were two letters written to regulators. and a disingenuous attack on mountaintop removal regulation.

Mountaintop removal

In January 2011, William Yeatman, an energy policy analyst with the the Competitive Enterprise Institute, charged that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) revocation of a permit for a West Virginia mountaintop removal mining operation - Spruce 1 Mine - "would trade jobs for protection of an insect that lives for a day and isn't even an endangered species."[18] The EPA, however, did not veto the permit because of a bug, but because the operation would have "buried more than six miles of high-quality streams" and "polluted downstream waters as a result," with inadequate mitigations offered by petitioner Arch Coal.[19]

Case Studies

Contact Information

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

Articles and Resources


  1. Competitive Enterprise Institute, "About CEI", accessed March 2008.
  2. Competitive Enterprise Institute, "Economic Liberty", August 2007.(This page was on CEI's website between February 2005 and August 2007.)
  3. "Implementing the U.S. Clean Air Act in Arizona", Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research, 1992. ASIN B0006RW03C.
  4. John Stauber, "Facts Not Fear Wants to Make the World Safe for Styrofoam", PR Watch, Second Quarter 2000, Volume 7, No. 2.
  5. David Helvarg, "Poison Pens: When science fails, try public relations: the chemical industry's attempt to discredit Our Stolen Future", Sierra, Volume 82, Number 1, Januray/February 1997.
  6. Michael Fumento, Rachel's Folly: The End of Chlorine, Competitive Enterprise Institute, February 29, 1996.
  7. Jonathan Tolman, "Nature's Hormone Factory: Endocrine Disrupters in the Natural Environment", Competitive Enterprise Institute, January 31, 1996.
  8. Comments of the Competitive Enterprise Institute on the Environmental Protection Agency's Proposed Rule Changing the Ambient Air Quality Standards For Particulate Matter", NAAQS on the Web, December 13, 1996.
  9. Written Testimony of Jonathan H. Adler, Director of Environmental Studies for the Competitive Enterprise Institute", Submission to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, September 25, 1997.
  10. Western States Center, " Western States Coalition Summit VIII: The Anti-Environmental Lobby and Environmental Education", Western States Center, Jult 1997 (approx).
  11. 11.0 11.1 David Callahan, "The Think Tank As Flack: How Microsoft and other corporations use conservative policy groups", Washington Monthly, November, 1999.
  12. "Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Consumption to Get Their Day in Court", Competitive Enterprise Institute, June 11, 2001.
  13. "Consumer Groups Protest Starbucks Decision Not to Serve Milk From Growth-Hormone Supplemented Cows", Media Release, March 20, 2001.
  14. "More Than 1,200 Sign Petition Supporting Stossel", Competitive Enterprise Institute, August 22, 2000.
  15. 'Message from Allen James to RISE Members Alerts Team", March 27, 2001.
  16. Cheryl Seal, "Scared Green: How John Stossel, ABC, Rightwing Think Tanks and the Chemical Industry Are Colluding to Trash Environmental Education",, May 13, 2001.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bank, Justin (2006-05-26). Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To "Confuse and Mislead". Retrieved on 2006-05-30.
  18. Edward Flattau, "Corporate Hyperbole" HuffPo, Jan. 21, 2011.
  19. Ken Ward Jr., "Breaking news: EPA vetoes Spruce Mine permit" Coal Tattoo, Jan. 13, 2011.

Related SourceWatch articles

Internal CEI Correspondence With Tobacco Companies

  • Competitive Enterprise Institute, "The Human Cost of Regulation: Reframing The Debate on Risk Management: A Proposal of The Competitive Enterprise Institute", Bates Number: 2047099454/9464, 1994.
  • F.L. Smith Jr, "Letter to Dr Thomas J. Borelli, Director of Scientific Affairs, Philip Morris Management Corporation", Bates Number: 2046558291/8294, May 11, 1994.
  • "CEI Science Policy: Clips and Highlights: January 1993 - April 1994", Bates Number: 2046558295/8296, May 11, 1994. (Pdf)
  • F.L. Smith Jr, "Competitive Enterprise Institute", Bates Number: 2046558088/8099, March 1994.
  • Philip Morris, "Invoice and Copy of Cheque to Competitive Enterprise Institute", Bates Number: 2046557956, July 20, 1994. (Pdf)
  • T.J.Borelli, "Letter to Fred Smith", July 27, 1994. (Pdf)
  • Fred L. Smith, Jr., "Letter to Ms. Maura Payne, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company", Bates Number: 525291068/1069, October 16, 2000. (Pdf)

General external articles

  • Jeff Jacoby "Feds slow to wake up to alcohol's healthful effects", Op-Ed, Boston Globe, January 9, 1996. (Jacoby was a staff reporter).
  • "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."
  • Michael Dolny, ""The Think Tank Spectrum.", FAIR/Extra, May/June 1996. (This report 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • David Helvarg, "Poison Pens:When science fails, try public relations: the chemical industry's attempt to discredit Our Stolen Future", Sierra, Volume 82, Number 1 January/February 1997.
  • 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.
  • John Stauber, "Facts Not Fear Wants to Make the World Safe for Styrofoam"", PR Watch, Volume 7 No. 2, 2nd Quarter 2000.(This is a review of Facts Not Fear, a book trashing environmental education by CEI's Michael Sanera).
  • 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.
  • Lisa DePasquale, "CEI to Launch Ads Exposing Truth about Gore's Movie,", May 16, 2006.
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute, ""CEI Launches Ad Campaign to Counter Global Warming Alarmism; Television Ads to Air in 14 U.S. Cities and on,", News Release, May 17, 2006. (Thus is a news release carried by US Newswire).
  • Faiz Shakir, "Big Oil Launches Attack On Al Gore," Think Progress, May 17, 2006.
  • Josh Marshall, "Big oil astroturf group, Competitive Enterprise Institute, launches new attack on Al Gore," Talking Points Memo, May 17, 2006.
  • Judd Legum, "CEI Founder on Global Warming: 'It Looks Pretty Good… We’re Moving To A More Benign Planet'," Think Progress, May 17, 2006.
  • Tim Lambert, "CO2: We call it life", Science Blogs, May 18, 2006.
  • Eric Pfeiffer, "Ads aired to answer Gore film 'alarmism'," Washington Times, May 18, 2006.
  • Joel Achenbach, "The Tempest: As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback", The Washington Post Magazine, May 28, 2006.
  • Media Mouse, Grand Rapids Think-Tank Brings ExxonMobil Funded Global Warming Skeptic to Town,, February 8, 2007.
  • Media Mouse, Grand Rapids Acton Speaker: Corporations should not do anything other than Generate Wealth,, February 17, 2007.
  • Matt Corley, "Right Wing Launches Dishonest, Misinformed Attacks Against Live Earth," Think Progress, July 7, 2007.
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