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Competitive Enterprise Institute

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., to advance principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. CEI focuses on a number of regulatory policy issues, including energy, environment, business and finance, labor, technology and telecommunications, transportation, and food and drug regulation. 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". Academic research has identified it as one of the Conservative think tanks central to promoting climate change denial.

regulatory policy climate change think tank

1. Policy Areas

1.1. Energy and Environment

Academic research has identified CEI as one of a group of Conservative think tanks funded to overturn the environmentalism of the 1960s, central to what has been called the climate change denial machine. It was involved in assisting the anti-environmental climate change policy of the George W. Bush administration.[1] CEI promotes environmental policies based on limited government regulation and property rights and rejects what they call "global warming alarmism".[2] 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".[3]

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, 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]

1.2. Regulatory Reform

CEI advocates for regulatory reform on a range of policy issues, including energy, environment, business and finance, labor, technology and telecommunications, transportation, and food and drug regulation.[10]

Its annual survey of the federal regulatory state entitled Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State, documents the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, and how the U.S. regulatory burden affects American consumers, businesses, and the economy.[11]

CEI's Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. coined the phrase "regulatory dark matter," referencing astrophysics to distinguish between ordinary government regulations or "visible matter," and “regulatory dark matter,” which consists of “thousands of executive branch and federal agency proclamations and issuances, including memos, guidance documents, bulletins, circulars and announcements with practical regulatory effect.” [11]

1.3. Tech and Telecom

In 2015, CEI filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in U.S. Telecom v. FCC. The brief argued that, "Congress did not authorize the FCC to regulate the Internet when it enacted Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act and, in fact, placed it outside the scope of the FCC’s rulemaking authority.” [12]

CEI was one of several free market think tanks who publicly supported the Federal Communication Commission's Restoring Internet Freedom Order in 2017, which repealed net neutrality regulations implemented under the Obama Administration.[13]

CEI has argued against using antitrust regulation to break up big technology companies such as Facebook and Google.[14][15]

2. Legal Advocacy

The Competitive Enterprise Institute "is one of a small number of think tanks that have a litigation arm to their organization."[16]

2.1. Center for Class Action Fairness (Former Project)

From 2015 to 2019, the Center for Class Action Fairness (CCAF) was part of CEI. It has since spun off as part of the new Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, a free-market nonprofit public-interest law founded by Frank and his CCAF colleague Melissa Holyoak.[17] CCAF represents class members against what it calls, "unfair class action procedures and settlements."[18]

CEI argued Frank v. Gaos before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 31, 2018, opposing a proposed class action settlement involving Google, who paid out an $8.5 million settlement including $6 million in cy-près funds and more than $2 million for class action lawyers. Class members were not awarded any part of the settlement.[19]

In 2015, CEI successfully appealed a class action settlement in a case about the length of Subway's "footlong" sandwiches. CEI argued that the proposed settlement benefited only nine people in the class but awarded more than half a million dollars to the class attorneys. The Seventh Circuit's ruling rejected the settlement in the Subway case that would have paid plaintiffs' attorneys $525,000 and left the class with nothing. The court's decision included the statement that "[a] class settlement that results in fees for class counsel but yields no meaningful relief for the class is no better than a racket."[20]

2.2. 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.[21] 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."[22][23] 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."[21] 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?"[24] The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which in a 6-3 decision rejected the challenge and upheld the ACA subsidies.[21]

2.3. 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.[16][25] The CEI also contends that President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray as CFPB director was unconstitutional[16][26] and that the powers of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, created by Dodd-Frank, are unconstitutional.[16] In 2016, a federal judge rejected the challenge to Cordray's appointment.[25] The CEI's challenge to the constitutionality of CFPB remains pending in the federal courts.[25]

3. 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:

  • 2018: Hernando de Soto
  • 2017: Dr. Pierre Desrochers
  • 2016: Dr. Bruce Yandle
  • 2015: Vernon L. Smith
  • 2014: John Tierney
  • 2013: Deirdre McCloskey
  • 2012: Matt Ridley
  • 2011: Robert J. Smith
  • 2010: Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (joint award)
  • 2009: Richard Tren
  • 2008: Václav Klaus
  • 2007: Indur Goklany
  • 2006: John Stossel
  • 2005: Barun Mitra
  • 2003: Bjørn Lomborg
  • 2002: Robert L. Bradley Jr.
  • 2001: Stephen Moore

4. CEI Projects

4.1. 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:

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

4.2. Bureaucrash

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 Bureaucrash transferred its only full-time staffer to an open position on CEI's communications staff leaving Bureaucrash itself without any full-time staff.

5. Funding

CEI is funded by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations.[27] Donors to CEI include a number of companies in the energy, technology, automotive, and alcohol and tobacco industries.[28]

CEI's revenues for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2015, were $7.5 million against expenses of $7.4 million.[29]

ExxonMobil Corporation was a donor to CEI, giving the group about $2 million over seven years.[30] In 2006, the company announced that it had ended its funding for the group.[31]


  1. John S. Dryzek; Richard B. Norgaard; David Schlosberg (18 August 2011). The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. OUP Oxford. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-0-19-956660-0. 
  2. null
  3. Lassman, Kent (April 13, 2016). "CEI Will Surmount Crimethink Persecution". Competitive Enterprise Institute. 
  4. "Consequences of Global Warming". NRDC. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  6. 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. [1]
  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". 
  10. "About | Competitive Enterprise Institute". Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  11. "Trump’s team has detected the ‘dark matter’ of government regulation, meaning you ain’t seen nothing yet". The Washington Post. 2017-02-01. Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  12. "Amicus Brief: Congress Has Never Given FCC the Authority to Regulate the Internet | Competitive Enterprise Institute". 2015-08-06. Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  13. Elizabeth Harrington (2017-05-17). "Report: Net Neutrality Leads to Higher prices, Less Innovation - Washington Free Beacon". Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  16. McDuffee, Allen (22 June 2012). "Competitive Enterprise Institute files lawsuit against Obama’s consumer watchdog". Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  17. Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle (7 January 2019). "Serial Adversaries at SCOTUS - Ted Frank's New Gig". Supreme Court Brief. Retrieved 26 March 2019.  "Announcing Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute". Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute. 17 December 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2019. 
  18. "Class Action Fairness | Competitive Enterprise Institute". Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  19. "Supreme Court Weighs Google Settlement That Paid Class Members Nothing - The New York Times". Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  20. Gilbert, Sarah (2018-10-24). "INSIGHT: Before You Settle That Class Action, Remember the Footlong". Retrieved 2019-01-15. 
  21. Sanger-Katz, Margot (25 June 2015). "Obamacare, Back at the Supreme Court: Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  22. Toobin, Jeffrey (9 March 2015). "Hard Cases". Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  23. Linda Greenhouse. "By Any Means Necessary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-11. 
  24. "Obamacare rule harms millions: Opposing view". 2015-03-01. Retrieved 2015-03-11. 
  25. Barber, C. Ryan (12 July 2016). "Judge Rejects Recess-Appointment Challenge Over CFPB Director". Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  26. Weinberger, Evan (24 July 2015). "DC Circ. Revives Texas Bank’s CFPB Challenge". Retrieved 16 April 2018. 
  27. "The Tempest". 2006-05-23. Retrieved 2015-03-11. 
  28. Eilperin, Juliet (June 20, 2013). "Anatomy of a Washington dinner: Who funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  29. "Competitive Enterprise Institute". GuideStar. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  30. Mufson, Steven (February 10, 2007). "Exxon Mobil Warming Up To Global Climate Issue". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  31. "Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance". 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
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