What is the Cato Institute? Who funds it? Who has been on its board? What are the connections? What is their agenda?
“My contact with [Cato] was strange. They’re ideologues, like Trotskyites. All questions must be seen and solved within the true faith of libertarianism, the idea of minimal government. And like Trotskyites, the guys from Cato can talk you to death.”
~ Nat Hentoff, columnist
The Cato Institute was founded with Koch money just as the John Birch Society was during an earlier generation. As Koch money turned the Tea Party into astroturf, Koch money has turned the libertarian movement into astroturf. David H. Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, currently sits on the Board of Directors at The Cato Institute. Rupert Murdoch, the worst corporatist and media propagandist in US history, was on the board of the Cato Institute. The ties are numerous between the Cato Institute, the Koch family, and Rupert Murdoch. The Koch’s and Murdoch have been major players controlling the direction of the Libertarian Party, and both participated in creating the Tea Party astroturf. Murdoch took it a step further by using Fox News to align the libertarian ‘movement’ and the Tea Party with the neocon Republican Party.
You might think it’s all about what brings in the advertising dollars for Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox’s parent company, News Corporation. But it runs much deeper than that, involving key players at the Wall Street Journal, News Corp.’s crown jewel. The informal partnership between billionaire David Koch, whose campaign dollars and astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, have fomented the Wisconsin crisis, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is profoundly ideological — the ideology being the exponential enrichment of the two men’s heirs, all dressed up in the language of libertarianism and free enterprise. Together with his brother, Charles — also a big donor to right-wing causes –David Koch runs Koch Industries, the conglomerate that sprang from the oil and gas company founded by his father.
Notice how the Cato Institute has been hiding it’s funding sources for years. Hiding this information implies a dishonest agenda. If they weren’t afraid of the truth, why would they hide it? Why trust a think tank that refuses to disclose basic facts behind its agenda?
Some of the key financial information on the Cato Institute‘s finances, based on returns submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, is:(based on IRS 990 returns)
|Year||Total revenue||Program services||Total Expenses||Net assets|
|1993||6,085,321 ||Not Available||Not Available||Not Available|
|1994||6,421,265||Not Available||Not Available||Not Available|
|1995||9,338,834||Not Available||Not Available||Not Available|
|1996||9,473,622||Not Available||Not Available||Not Available|
Let me clear up one point. As with everything, this issue is complex. It’s not as if the Cato Institute is a front for all big biz. Some of their public positions are actually contrary to the interests of some corporations in some industries (SourceWatch):
“Cato’s corporate fund raising may be hampered by its scholars’ tendency to take positions that are at odds with some of the interests of some large corporations. Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls “corporate welfare,” the practice of funneling taxpayer money to politically well-connected corporate interests. For example, in 2002, Cato president Ed Crane and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope teamed up to write an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the abandonment of the Republican energy bill, arguing that it had become little more than a gravy train for Washington lobbyists. And in 2005, Cato staff Jerry Taylor teamed up with Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club to attack the Republican Energy Bill as a give-away to corporate interests.“
The Cato Institute only represents certain corporations and only defends certain corporate interests. However, there is an undercurrent of corporatism in that Cato is supportive of global warming denialism, near-monopolies, deregulation, nondisclosure, corporate personhood, and the destruction of grassroots democracy. Basically, they are for anything that makes corporations more powerful and makes government (by and for the people) less powerful. Anyway, they certainly don’t lack corporate funding (e.g., energy companies that donate as part of their lobbying effort to stop environmental regulation) and most of the individual donations probably come from the richest of rich (i.e., the plutocratic class).
It’s confusing in the way all politics is confusing. Many corporations will fund a libertarian think tank like Cato Institute while funding a neocon politician. It’s the same reason they’ll fund a neocon Republican while funding a ‘liberal’ Democrat. Corporations like to cover all bases. So, the ‘principled’ rhetoric of a think tank or a politician is meaningless, just nice-sounding fluff, just political spin to obfuscate the issues, just faux ideology to manipulate the public. Political rhetoric is simply what corporations call marketing. Like the corporations it represents, the Cato Institute is selling a product and any means are justified in that agenda. Are there deeper agendas? Of course. But those deeper agendas wouldn’t be publicly disclosed just as their funding isn’t publicly disclosed.
Corporate libertarianism (AKA establishment libertarianism, libertarianism for the privileged) is a lot closer to neocon politics than it is to grassroots libertarianism. There are some very basic shared interests. For example, take the close connection between the libertarian Cato Institute and the neocon Heartland Institute:
Lindzen and Singer are both associated to the Heartland institute and Cato Institute, extreme-rightist think-tanks and eager defenders of the big coal, oil, tobacco, arms, chemicals and asbestos industry – and funded by these. Heartland institute promotes the extreme neo-conservative approach to economy and regards any efforts by the government to restrict free market forces and big (American) multinational corporations as a nuisance, and perceives e.g. President Obama as a kind of a muslim communist. Government is regarded as an evil force that intrudes on private citizens and puts restrictions on private initiatives (read American multinational corporations). Governments should therefore be kept as small as possible to ensure “freedom”.
Some of the scientists associated to Heartland institute and other similar think tanks were witnesses for the American tobacco industry, claiming that it was not possible to prove a clear connection between lung cancer and smoking. The parallell between the tobacco industry and the big coal and oil industry is striking. It is now evident that smoking cigarettes is addicting and deadly. When the tobacco corporations understood in the 1980’s that they were facing a court trial with compensation claims to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, they invented the term ‘Junk science” about mainstream medical science, and mobilised “the merchants of doubt”. They had previously bought medical doctors to recommend cigarette smoking, and to claim that the purported hazards of smoking were hysterical. They bought spin doctors and connected these to PR-firms and think tanks. They gave the impression that the government is scaring the public to accept taxes on tobacco by making the warning texts on tobacco products mandatory. The message is that the government just pretends to protect us while in reality they manipulate us and extort our money.
– Again we see that the American coal and oil industry repeat history. – Even according to president George Bush, we all “are addicted to oil”. Lindzen and Singer defended the tobacco industry 20 years ago and still do, e.g. by claiming that passive smoking is harmless. They claim that the government is again trying to scare us through their “hysterical doomsday prophecies” – in reality just to increase taxes. Again scientists are bought and spin-doctors allied with PR-firms and lobbyists are deceiving the public: “there is no danger! Everything is natural! The big government and the UN are just after more taxes”.
-These persons act more like lawyers than scientists, defending their clients by any means.
It seems that if you are a very big polluter making very big money, spin-doctors from the Heartland-, Cato-, and George Marshal institutes will be there to defend you.
George Marshall Institute, Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, “Americans for prosperity” are all financed by oil-multibillionaires such as the Koch brothers, media moguls like Robert Murdoch with Fox news and other media forming his empire. In addition these think tanks have financial support from Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Philippe Morris and other tobacco giants and the big American coal industries:
- Defending tobacco
- Defending DDT
- Defending asbestos
- Maccracken on Lindzen
- Do cosmic rays cause clouds?
- See: Merchants of doubt (Naomi Oreskes)
- Rupert Murdoch and David Koch Collude Against Wisconsin Workers
- Must see Naomi Oreskes talk on Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth about Climate Change.
- The story of citizens vs corporations. Why democracy only works when people are in charge
The typical climate skeptic prefers to present himself as the underdog; the small, ordinary but concerned person, taking a stand against impersonal and corrupt bureaucracies, the “mighty UN” and oppressing, big governments that will do anything to increase taxes. (That there is a tremendous, ongoing transfer of power and capital from democratically elected representatives to closed boardrooms in multinational corporations is of no concern). He prefers being perceived as David fighting the Goliaths. However, when checking his sources of information – and money – you usually end up with ideas and support from wealthy American ultra-right think tanks, PR groups financed by big multinational corporations in coal, oil, tobacco, arms, GMOs, chemicals etc and lobbyist groups financed by the Arab-American-Canadian oil and coal cartels. For some reason the typical skeptic has never read the IPCC reports he claims to be so skeptical to, and he is never skeptical to the “information” disseminated by the Heartland institute.
Funder of Like-Minded Think Tanks
Aside from its own advocacy efforts, the Cato Institute has become a substantial funder of other “like-minded” think tanks around the U.S. In its 2006 annual report Cato lists 26 organizations and one individual it provided grants totaling $1,243,00 to. Groups the benefited from Cato’s generosity wereAgencia Americana ($30,000 “to help fund study on S.A. corruption”); the Philanthropy Roundtable ($5,000); the Manhattan Institute ($5,000); the American Enterprise Institute ($5,000); the Fund for American Studies ($10,000); the Bluegrass Institute ($50,000); the Cascade Policy Institute($25,000); the Ethan Allen Institute ($50,000); the Evergreen Freedom Foundation ($100,000); the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii ($40,000); the Illinois Policy Institute ($50,000); the James Madison Institute ($100,000); the John Locke Foundation ($20,000); the Maine Heritage Policy Center ($50,000); the Maryland Public Policy Institute ($40,000); the Nevada Policy Research Institute ($50,000); the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ($50,000); the Rio Grande Foundation ($50,000); the Show-Me Institute ($50,000); the South Carolina Policy Council ($90,000); the Sutherland Institute ($40,000); the Tennessee Center for Policy Research ($50,000); the Texas Public Policy Foundation ($100,000); the Virginia Institute for Public Policy ($25,000); the Yankee Institute ($68,000); and the Independent Institute ($60,000). In addition Jim Powell received $25,000 as a Hoiles Fellowship. (note, the Cato annual report refers to the “South Carolina Policy Institute” when the correct name of the think tank is the “South Carolina Policy Council”. Similarly, the Maryland Public Policy Institute was misidentified as the Maryland Public Policy Center.)
[ . . . ]
Call for elimination of ballot referendum disclosure requirements
In March 2007, Cato, along with the Institute for Justice, called for eliminating disclosure requirements for those who contribute funds in support or opposition of ballot measures. One of the primary reasons the two groups cited was the high costs associated with disclosure requirements. At the time, these requirements were already weaker than those required for contributions to a candidate’s political campaign.
Howie Rich, a real estate investor and Cato Board Member, had helped to sponsor sixteen different ballot initiatives in 2006. His major effort was the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or TABOR, which Rich attempted to place on the ballot in eight states. Courts in five of the states ultimately stripped TABOR from the ballot for numerous reasons, including what one Montana judge called a “pervasive and general pattern of fraud” by Rich and others in their campaign to pass the referendum.
The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, an advocacy group in support of ballot initiatives to reach progressive political and policy goals, believe that donor disclosure protects both the voters and the process of direct democracy from secret money and hidden goals. In response to Cato’s position, Kristina Wilfore, the group’s executive director, stated “The problem with being a front group for corporate fat cats like Exxon, Enron, and Howie Rich, is that you are always a little out-of-touch with the public…CATO aligning itself with more corruption in political giving is taking the side of the powerful against the people – and they call themselves libertarian?” 
[ . . . ]
Cato and Climate Change
Patrick Michaels, a former Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and an outspoken global warming skeptic. On its website, Michaels is listed as Cato’s only speaker on global warming. (Three others are also listed in the “Energy and Environment” category — Jerry Taylor on “gas and oil prices, energy policy, energy conservation and regulation”, Peter Van Doren and on “energy regulation, gas and oil prices” and Randal O’Toole on broader environmental policies.) Pat Michaels represented the Cato Institute as a reviewer on Working Group III of the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC
Michaels is Editor of the World Climate Report, a blog published by New Hope Environmental Services, “an advocacy science consulting firm” he founded and runs. (Michaels biographical note on the Cato Institute website does not mention his role with New Hope Environmental Services).
In an affidavit in a Vermont court case, Michaels described the “mission” of the firm as being to “publicize findings on climate change and scientific and social perspectives that may not otherwise appear in the popular literature or media. This entails both response research and public commentary.” In effect, New Hope Environmental Services is a PR firm. Michaels’ firm does not disclose who its clients are, but in 2006 a leaked memo revealed that Michaels firm had been paid $100,000 by an electric utility, Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), to counter concern about global warming. An affadavit by Michaels also stated that “public disclosure of a company’s funding of New Hope and its employees has already caused considerable financial loss to New Hope. For example, in 2006 Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc., an electric utility, had requested that its support of $50,000 to New Hope be held confidential. After this support was inadvertently made public by another New Hope client, Tri-State informed me that it would no longer support New Hope because of adverse publicity.”
On a 2007 academic CV, Michaels disclosed that prior to creating his firm he had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and the Western Fuels Association. He has also been a frequent speaker at events organized by leading coal and energy companies as well as coal and other industry lobby groups.
In 2009, Bob Burton noted that “in its returns, Cato reports that since April 2006 they have paid $242,900 for the ‘environmental policy’ services of Michaels’ firm. (In preceding years, New Hope Environmental Services was not listed amongst the five highest paid independent contractors supplying professional services to Cato.) In response to an email inquiry, Michaels stated that the Cato funding “largely supported the extensive background research for my 2009 book, ‘Climate of Extremes,’ background research on climate change, mainly in the areas of ice melt and temperature histories, and background research required for invited lectures around the world.” (Climate of Extremes was published by the Cato Institute in January of this year .) Asked whether the funding came from a specific company, donor or foundation, Michaels wrote via email that there wasn’t “for this or for any of my activities.” (In case the Cato Institute knew of dedicated funding sources for Michaels work that he was unaware of, I also emailed an inquiry to the think tank’s media office. They did not respond.)”
[ . . . ] In their 1996 book No Mercy, University of Colorado Law School scholars Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado describe a shift in Cato’s patron base over the years. “Early on,” they wrote, “Cato’s bills were largely paid by the Koch family of Wichita, Kansas. Today, most of its financial support from entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation.” Though diversified, Koch Industries amassed most of its fortune in oil trading and refining. 
See the interactive map at the following link:
People related to Cato Institute:
Other current Cato Institute relationships:
State Policy Network – associate member
Cato Institute past relationships:
Whitney L. Ball – director of development
Examples of Mainly Corporate Funded Think Tanks: Cato Institute
Founded in 1977 the Cato Institutes 1998 budget made up US$ 11 million. Its funding consists of corporate and private donations (especially from corporations and executives in the highly regulated industries of financial services, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals industries) and sales of publications.
Catos corporate donors include tobacco firms: Philip Morris (Rupert Murdoch sits on Philip Morris board of directors) and R.J. Reynolds. Financial firms: American Express, Chase Manhattan Bank, Chemical Bank, Citicorp/Citibank, Commonwealth Fund, Prudential Securities and Salomon Brothers. Energy conglomerates: Chevron Companies, Exxon Company, Shell Oil Company and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, AmocoFoundation and Atlantic Richfield Foundation. Furthermore the Cato Institute is funded by pharmaceutical firms: Eli Lilly & Company, Merck & Company and Pfizer, Inc.,foundations, like Koch, Lambe and Sarah Scaife and companies from the telecommunications sector: Bell Atlantic Network Services, BellSouth Corporation, Microsoft, NYNEX Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Viacom.
Manufacturing a Crisis – Kevin Drum
Republican Governor Deliberately Spent Wisconsin Surplus To Pick Fight With Unions – Susie Madrak
“Labor unions play a diminishing role in the private
sector, but they still claim a large share of the public-sector
workforce. Public-sector unions are important to examine
because they have a major influence on government
policies through their vigorous lobbying efforts. They are
particularly influential in states that allow monopoly
unionization through collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is a misguided labor policy
because it violates civil liberties and gives unions
excessive power to block needed reforms. To provide
policymakers with greater flexibility and to improve
government efficiency, states should follow the lead of
Virginia and ban collective bargaining in the public sector.”
I would expect that there will be other conservative governors, from states other than Wisconsin, that will be trying to do away with collective bargaining too. There have been protests in Ohio and Indiana has a bill very similar to Wisconsin’s, See Indiana Senate Bill 0273.
“In Tennessee, a law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers passed a State Senate committee this week despite teachers’ objections. Indiana is weighing proposals to weaken unions. Union members in Pennsylvania, who are not necessarily facing an attack on their bargaining rights, said Friday that they planned to wear red next week to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin.”
“In many states, Republicans who came to power in the November elections, often by defeating union-backed Democrats, are taking aim not only at union wages, but at union power as they face budget gaps in the years ahead.”
“FreedomWorks, a Washington group that helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters for a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions — not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well.”
Criticisms of the Cato Institute.
Last updated 08/27/10.
A “libertarian” quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders. Cato is an astroturf organization: there is no significant participation by the tiny libertarian minority. They do not fund it or affect its goals. It is a creature of corporations and foundations.
The major purpose of the Cato Institute is to provide propaganda and soundbites for conservative and libertarian politicians and journalists that is conveniently free of reference to funders such as tobacco, fossil fuel, investment, media, medical, and other regulated industries.
Cato is one of the most blatant examples of “simulated rationality”, as described in Phil Agre’s The Crisis of Public Reason. Arguments need only be plausibly rational to an uninformed listener. Only a tiny percentage will notice that they are being mislead. That’s all that’s needed to manage public opinion.
- A Critical Assessment of “Lies, Damned Lies, & 400,000 Smoking-Related Deaths”.
- The Cato Institute, heavily funded by tobacco companies, hired Levy and Marimont to denounce statistics about smoking related deaths. This article refutes their key arguments, finding them unscientific and inflammatory.
- Media Moguls on Board: Murdoch, Malone and the Cato Institute
- An Extra! (the magazine of FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting ) article that describes how media giants use Cato to lobby Congress for corporate welfare and legal monopolization.
- Why Privatizing Social Security Would Hurt Women
- An Institute For Women’s Policy Research rebuttal to Cato Institute proposals and claims about Social Security privatization.
- An Analysis Of The Cato Institute’s “The Case Against a Tennessee Income Tax”
Senate finance panel examines Cato report, recognizes propaganda
- Citizens For Tax Justice lay open the shoddy errors behind this typical example of the claims Cato makes. The Tennessee Senate finance panel also identified a large number of other errors.
- Who knew? The Swedish model is working.
- Paul Krugman points out that CATO and other conservatives were dead wrong in their predictions for Sweden, and that big welfare states do sometimes work well. From The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.
- Libertarian Think Tanks
- Tom Tomorrow’s “This Modern World” gives credit where it is due.
- Do Windmills Eat Birds?
- David Case, executive editor of TomPaine.com, exposes a quotation out of context by CATO in a case of pretend environmental concern.
- Millionaires One and All
- (PDF) Details the fallacies underlying the CATO Social Security Calculator. Under realistic assumptions, you’d accumulate 1/10th to 1/30th of what CATO estimates. Part of The Social Security Network.
- Rethinking the Think Tanks
- Sierra Magazine’s article detailing the corporate financing of anti-environmental propaganda from thinktanks like Cato.
- Internet Bunk: The Junk Science Page
- The CATO Institute is a corporate front that employs Steven Milloy to tarbrush opponents scientific arguments as “Junk Science”. Robert Todd Carroll’s excellent The Skeptic’s Dictionary details Milloy’s unscientific part in this PR campaign.
- Zogby Polling For Cato Institute, Other Clients, Manipulates Findings To Misrepresent Public Opinion About Social Security
- A poll based on spin, rather than real alternatives, yields more spin. From Campaign For America’s Future.
- Cato Institute: “Libertarian” in a Corporate Way
- Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy details how the CATO Institute represents its anti-regulation corporate funders, not libertarian individuals. The goal is to give corporate propaganda an air of objectivity by concealing its source.
- The ‘freest economies in the world’.
- John Berthelsen of the Asia Times points out that the Cato Institute’s ‘economic freedom’ index seems to have no idea of the reality of government intervention and market oligopoly in Hong Kong and Singapore.
- NEW 5/06: Dogmatic Libertarians
- John Fonte (in National Review) writes a conservative response to the dogmatic Cato position on open borders. He points out the obvious that somehow libertarians seem to miss: borders are important to self-governance for basic reasons of security.
- NEW 5/06: The Cato Hypocrisy
- David Brin describes “truly grotesque hypocrisies, putting shame to any pretense that these Cato guys are “libertarians,” let along honest intellects.”
- NEW 1/07: Comments on “Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased”
- Gary Burtless of The Brookings Institution severely criticizes the analysis of Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute in the Reynold’s paper Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased? The answer is yes, contrary to Cato propaganda.
- NEW 3/07: The Denialists’ Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts
- Chris Jay Hoofnagle details the public relations methodology of CATO and other anti-consumer, business-funded organizations. Count how many of these you’ve heard on your favorite topic: global warming, for example.
- NEW 2/08: CFP’s Laffer Curve Video
- Law Professor Linda Beale debunks the latest Laffer Curve propaganda video from the “Center for Freedom and Prosperity” and CATO’s Dan Mitchell.
- NEW 11/08: Politics Compromises the Libertarian Project
- Matthew Yglesias takes the Cato Institute to task for corporate shilling in it’s own “jornal”, Cato Unbound .
- NEW 8/10: Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
- Jane Mayer’s The New Yorker article on Charles and David Koch. They have financed libertarian propaganda with more than 100 million dollars over more than 30 years. They founded and control the major libertarian think tanks Cato, Reason, Mercatus, and others. See: Koch think tanks at SourceWatch.
The links here are to Amazon.com, through their associates program, primarily because of the review information. Books without links are generally out of print, and can often be easily found at AddAll Used and Out Of Print Search. Good sites for bargain shopping for sometimes expensive new books are Online Bookstore Price Comparison and AddAll Book Search and Price Comparison. Both of those list applicable coupons. Another is BookFinder.com.
- Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber “Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future”
- Details of the public relations and brownlash manipulations of CATO, Steven Milloy, and others.
- Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado “No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda”
- (Temple Univ. Press 1996). The influence of Cato and Heritage Foundations.