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Washington Legal Foundation

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation. Help expose the truth about the tobacco industry.

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) was established 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" [1]. WLF is classified as a national, non-profit, tax-exempt public foundation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.



The foundation states that it has "one goal" which is:

"to defend and promote the principles of freedom and justice." Since it was founded 25 years ago, WLF has developed into the nation's preeminent center for public interest law, advocating free-enterprise principles, responsible government, property rights, a strong national security and defense, and balanced civil and criminal justice system.

Income Statement (FYE 12/2007)

Total Revenue $5,315,759

WLF is a unique institution with three essential cornerstone programs:
  • shaping public policy through aggressive litigation and advocacy
  • publishing timely legal studies
  • educating policy-makers and the public through extensive communications outreach
[...] With this unique approach, litigating precedent-setting issues in the courts and before government agencies, publishing and marketing timely and relevant legal studies, and ensuring maximum exposure for its work with policy-makers and the media, the Washington Legal Foundation is able to shape public policy and work with allies in government and our legal system to strengthen America's free enterprise system."[1]


The foundation has received donations from the tobacco industry and has run quarter-page ads in the New York Times, opposing what it calls "junk science."

Media Transparency report that between 1985 and 2005 WLF have received 73 grants totalling $8,356,000[2]

EIN: 52-1071570 Washington Legal Foundation (unadjusted for inflation) from a range of foundations including:

WLF and Tobacco

Internal tobacco industry documents also reveal that WLF sought and obtained funding from Philip Morris and the now defunct Tobacco Institute. From documents available to date the funding includes:

  • Philip Morris
    • 1995: $250,000 [2]
    • 1996: $275,000 [3]
    • 1997: $275,000 [4]
    • 1998: $250,000 [5]
    • 1999: $200,000 (budgeted) [6]
  • The Tobacco Institute
    • 1995: $35,000 [7]
    • 1996: $35,000 [8]
    • 1997: $35,000 [9]
    • 1998: $20,000 [10]

In 1994, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson (who preceded Mike Leavitt as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the tobacco control functions of federal government) joined the policy advisory board of the Washington Legal Foundation. WLF, which receives funding from the Philip Morris tobacco company (PM), publicly defends 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. Easily recongizeable in the article are many of the tobacco industry's arguments (freedom of speech, the Bill of Rights, "slippery slope" arguments about enacting "prohibition" as well as emotion-laden phrases like "anti-tobacco zealots").[11]

In addition to running this type of ad, the WLF has also repeatedly sued government agencies that oversee public health functions, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Enivronmental Protection Agency, who they sued over workplace smoking policies.

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]..."[12]

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 describing 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.[13]

Attacking IOLTA legal assistance

Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) legislation is enacted in almost all US states and allows the interest on money held by lawyers on behalf of a third party to go to good causes. The system generated over $148 million dollars in 2002, the funds being used to assist poor people in obtaining legal representation.

The WLF began filing suits in a number of states to prevent IOLTA from receiving the interest on lawyer trust accounts. Among the suits was one persued all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States with a potential recovery of $20. The reasoning behind this was outlined in a fundraising letter by the WLF Chairman Daniel Popeo:

"We are finally in a position we've fought more than a decade to reach...a position where we can deal a death blow to the single most important source of income for radical legal groups all across the country"

Among the foundation's adversaries in the litigation, Popeo continues, are radical left-wing groups purporting to represent the interests of the homeless, minorities, and gay and lesbian activism. In that particular instance, the WFL spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate a $20 case to the Supreme Court of the United States because doing so provided it an opportunity to "deal a death blow" to a program that was inconsistent with its principles.

Contact information

Washington Legal Foundation
2009 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-588-0302
Email: info AT

Articles and Resources


  1. "Resources: WLF Mission", accessed December 2007.
  2. "Recipient Grants: Washington Legal Foundation", accessed December 2007.

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Articles

  • Media Transparency, Washington Legal Foundation
  • P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism, "The Outrageous Washington Legal Foundation"

This article may include information from Tobacco Documents Online.

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