Competitive Enterprise Institute

Competitive Enterprise Institute
Abbreviation CEI
Formation 1984 (1984)
Type Public policy think tank
Headquarters 1310 L Street NW,
Washington, DC 20036
President and CEO
Kent Lassman
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015) $7,811,133[1]

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a non-profit libertarian think tank founded by political writer Fred L. Smith, Jr., on March 9, 1984, in Washington, D.C.

According to the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), CEI is number 59 (of 60) in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[2]

Policy areas

Environmental policy

CEI promotes environmental policies based on limited government regulation and property rights and rejects what they call "global warming alarmism".[3] The organization's largest program, the Center for Energy and Environment, focuses on energy policy, chemical risk policy, Clean Air Act regulation, land and water regulation, the Endangered Species Act, and private conservation policies.

CEI is an outspoken opponent of government action by the Environmental Protection Agency that would require limits on greenhouse gas emissions. It favors free-market environmentalism, and supports the idea that market institutions are more effective in protecting the environment than is government. CEI President Kent Lassman wrote on the organization's blog that, "there is no debate about whether the Earth’s climate is warming", that "human activities very likely contribute to that warming", and that "this has long been the CEI's position".

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."[4]

In May 2006, CEI's global warming policy activities attracted attention as it embarked upon an ad campaign with two television commercials.[5] 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."[6] The other states that the world's glaciers are "growing, not melting... getting thicker, not thinner."[6] It cites Science articles to support its claims. However, the editor of 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.[7]

In 2009, CEI's director of energy and global warming policy told The Washington Post, "The only thing that's been demonstrated to reduce emissions is economic collapse".[8]

In 2014, CEI sued the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy over a video that linked the polar vortex to climate change.[9]

The CEI "is one of a small number of think tanks that have a litigation arm to their organization."[10]

Challenges to the Affordable Care Act

CEI funded and coordinated King v. Burwell and Halbig v. Burwell, two lawsuits that challenged the Internal Revenue Service's implementation of the Affordable Care Act.[11] The strategy of bringing such lawsuits was pioneered by Michael S. Greve, former chairman of CEI's board of directors, an avowed ACA opponent who stated: "This bastard [the act] has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it."[12][13] The King v. Burwell suit alleged that the IRS's implementation violated the statute and sought to block "a major portion of Obamacare: the subsidies that more than 6 million middle-income people, across more than 30 states, now receive to buy health insurance."[11] CEI general counsel Sam Kazman argued in a USA Today op-ed that the disputed IRS rule "raises a basic issue that goes far beyond Obamacare: Do agencies have to follow the laws enacted by Congress, or can they rewrite them?"[14] The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which in a 6-3 decision rejected the challenge and upheld the ACA subsidies.[11]

Challenges to the Dodd-Frank Act and financial regulation

In 2012, the CEI, along with the conservative activist group 60 Plus Association, filed a lawsuit against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CEI's suit alleges that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act's creation of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers.[10][15] The CEI also contends that President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray as CFPB director was unconstitutional[10][16] and that the powers of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, created by Dodd-Frank, are unconstitutional.[10] In 2016, a federal judge rejected the challenge to Cordray's appointment.[15] The CEI's challenge to the constitutionality of CFPB remains pending in the federal courts.[15]

CEI events

Every year CEI hosts an annual dinner gala and presents the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. The Simon award honors the work of the late economist, winner of the Simon–Ehrlich wager. Award winners have included:

CEI projects

Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellowship

In 1991, CEI established the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellowship to identify and train journalists who wish to improve their knowledge of environmental issues and free market economics. In this manner, the program seeks to perpetuate the legacy of Warren Brookes, who was a longtime journalist with the Boston Herald and the Detroit News and a nationally syndicated columnist. and Former and current fellows include:

1993–1994Ronald Bailey
1994–1995Michael Fumento
1995–1996Michelle Malkin
1996–1997James Bovard
1997–1998Jesse Walker
1999–2000Brian Doherty
2000–2001Sean Paige
2001–2002Eileen Ciesla-Norcross
2002–2003Hugo Gurdon
2003–2004Neil Hrab
2004–2005John Berlau
2005–2006Timothy Carney
2006–2007Jeremy Lott
2007–2008Lene Johansen
2008–2009Silvia Santacruz
2009–2010Ryan Young
2010–2011Kathryn Ciano
2011–2012Matt Patterson
2012–2013Matthew Melchiorre
2013–2014Bill Frezza
2014–2015Carrie Sheffield


Bureaucrash was a special outreach and activist project of CEI, described as an international network of pro-freedom activists working to promote a political ideology based on personal and economic freedom. Bureaucrash conducted political activism using new media, creative marketing, and education campaigns. Bureaucrash maintained a website ( and a YouTube channel, Bureaucrash TV, which featured short videos on political topics. Begun as an independent organization, Bureaucrash was absorbed into CEI and, for a time, maintained full-time staff as part of CEI's staff. In mid-2010, coincident with CEI's financial ills, Bureaucrash transferred its only full-time staffer to an open position on CEI's communications staff leaving Bureaucrash itself without any full-time staff.


CEI is funded by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.[17] Donors to CEI include a number of companies in the energy, technology, automotive, and alcohol and tobacco industries.[18]

CEI's revenues for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2015, were $7.5 million against expenses of $7.4 million.[19]

ExxonMobil Corporation was a donor to CEI, giving the group about $2 million over seven years.[20] In 2006, the company announced that it had ended its funding for the group.[21]

In 2015, it was reported that over three years, CEI received $4.3 million from Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund that distributed nearly $120 million to 102 think tanks and action groups skeptical of the science behind climate change between 2002 and 2010.[22]


  1. 1 2 "Competitive Enterprise Institute" (PDF). Foundation Center. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  2. James G. McGann (Director) (December 4, 2017). "2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report". Retrieved February 14, 2015. Other "Top Think Tank" rankings include #43 (of 65) of Environment Think Tanks and #47 (of 75) for Best Advocacy Campaign.
  3. "Energy and Environment". Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  4. "Consequences of Global Warming". NRDC. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  5. Archived December 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. 1 2 Bank, Justin (2006-05-26). "Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research to 'Confuse and Mislead'". Archived from the original on 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2006-05-30.
  7. Archived July 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. "Europe Advises U.S. Officials on Climate". The Washington Post. 2009-03-06. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  9. "US Civil Action No. 14-1806" (PDF). Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 4 McDuffee, Allen (22 June 2012). "Competitive Enterprise Institute files lawsuit against Obama's consumer watchdog". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  11. 1 2 3 Sanger-Katz, Margot (25 June 2015). "Obamacare, Back at the Supreme Court: Frequently Asked Questions". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  12. Toobin, Jeffrey (9 March 2015). "Hard Cases". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  13. Linda Greenhouse. "By Any Means Necessary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  14. "Obamacare rule harms millions: Opposing view". 2015-03-01. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  15. 1 2 3 Barber, C. Ryan (12 July 2016). "Judge Rejects Recess-Appointment Challenge Over CFPB Director". The National Law Journal. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  16. Weinberger, Evan (24 July 2015). "DC Circ. Revives Texas Bank's CFPB Challenge". Law360. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  17. "The Tempest". 2006-05-23. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  18. Eilperin, Juliet (June 20, 2013). "Anatomy of a Washington dinner: Who funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  19. "Competitive Enterprise Institute". GuideStar. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  20. Mufson, Steven (February 10, 2007). "Exxon Mobil Warming Up To Global Climate Issue". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  21. "Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance". 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  22. Goldenberg, Suzanne; Bengtsson, Helena (June 9, 2015). "Secretive donors gave US climate denial groups $125m over three years". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2016.

Coordinates: 38°54′14″N 77°02′35″W / 38.9040°N 77.0431°W / 38.9040; -77.0431

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