American Enterprise Institute

AEI is one of the oldest and most influential conservative think tanks across the country, advocating for limited government policies that would benefit the wealthy while burdening low-income individuals and families.

About American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a nonprofit conservative think tank that produces research promoting free market policies. Founded in 1943 by industrialist Lewis Brown, AEI is one of the oldest and most influential conservative think tanks across the country. The organization was originally named the American Enterprise Association and was founded  to oppose government intervention in the economy. Now, the organization advocates for limited government policies that would benefit the wealthy while burdening low-income individuals and families, from advocating for weakening public assistance programs to supporting lower taxes on the wealthy to opposing raising the minimum wage.

AEI is led by business and financial executives who would themselves benefit from AEI’s limited government policy proposals. The organization’s board is also “composed of leading business and financial executives who stand to gain from AEI’s proposals, such as lowering corporate and capital gains taxes.

AEI’s political influence is a direct result of the organization’s strategy to place their staff in Republican administrations and later offer former officials and advisors a soft place to land after their public service stint. Former advisors in the Trump, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush administrations have taken advantage of AEI’s benefits. President Reagan put AEI on his “best friends list,” and President Ford said he had “an excellent relationship with AEI.”

Daniel A. D’Aniello, Chairman of Board of Trustees 

The American Enterprise Institute’s board chair Daniel A. D’Aniello is also the co-founder of the private equity firm Carlyle Group. Before founding Carlyle Group, D’Aniello was an executive at the Marriott Corporation for eight years. He is also the chairman of the Wolf Trap Foundation for Performing Arts, co-chairman of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 


Robert Doar, President

Robert Doar, known as a “a mild-mannered Republican known for his conservative bent on policy,” became AEI’s president in 2019. Doar has criticized progressives for efforts to “achieve a secure middle-class existence for all.”  

Before joining AEI, Doar was a government administrator in the public assistance offices for New York City and the State of New York. He previously worked for former New York Governor George Pataki (R), as well as then-independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In a 2022 op-ed on racism, Doar slammed the notion of “equity,” complaining that “today’s progressives” aren’t satisfied with “all of this progress” the United States has made. Doar, a white man, claimed a “personal stake in this argument” because his father participated in the American civil rights movement. Doar has also asserted that Black Americans have secured the same legal and voting rights and economic opportunities as white Americans.

Doar has posited  that anti-poverty efforts are a failure because those who rely on public assistance programs are “not earning their way out of poverty” and are instead “leveraging these transfer payments off the government.”


John K. Hurley, Board of Trustees

Financial manager and Republican donor John Hurley sits on AEI’s board. Hurley is the managing partner and chief investment officer at Cavalry Asset Management, a San Francisco-based investment firm. Hurley has used his financial success to boost Republican candidates across the country, contributing $1.6 million over his lifetime to Republican federal candidates, committees, and PACs. His donation history includes: 

  • Nearly $1,000,000 to the RNC and affiliated committees
  • Over $15,000 to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Nearly $40,000 to Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and his leadership PAC


Peter H. Coors, Board of Trustees 

Peter H. Coors, heir to the Coors Brewing Company fortune, sits on AEI’s board. Coors is a prolific donor to Republicans, their affiliated PACs, and conservative organizations, giving over $2.7 million over his lifetime. His donation history includes: 

  • Nearly $1 million to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republican National Committee, and National Republican Congressional Committee combined 
  • $100,000 to Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s fundraising committee Take Back The House 2022
  • $100,000 to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads

Coors is also president and chairman of the Adolph Coors Foundation, a family foundation that contributes to political and charitable causes. In 2021, the organization gave:

  • $75,000 to the Federalist Society
  • $75,000 to the Heritage Foundation
  • $50,000 to the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • $257,000 to the Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank 


Harlan Crow, Board of Trustees 

Billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow sits on AEI’s board. For decades, Crow has been an influential figure in conservative politics as a Republican donor and close friend to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Recent bombshell reporting revealed that over two decades, Crow provided Justice Thomas and his wife Ginni with a series of unreported gifts, including: 

Over his lifetime, Crow has contributed $11.8 million to federal candidates, committees, and PACs. Crow has contributed an additional $9.1 million to candidates, PACs, and committees in his home state of Texas. 


Dick DeVos, Board of Trustees

Billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sits on AEI’s board. The couple’s foundation has given AEI at least $1.7 million. In 2012, Forbes deemed Dick DeVos the 67th richest American


  • DeVos was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education in 1990 and unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006. He remains an active donor to conservative causes such as the America First Action PAC.
  • DeVos is the heir to the Amway fortune as the son of co-founder Richard DeVos. Amway was one of America’s first multi-level marketing (MLM) companies. Conservative fundraising tactics have been compared to MLM business practices, and The Atlantic conducted an investigation into similarities between far-right movements like QAnon and MLMs.
  • DeVos is the former leader of the Council on National Policy and a former member of the Republican National Committee.


Kimberly O. Dennis, Board of Trustees

Kimberly O. Dennis is the president and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust and sits on AEI’s board. Dennis is also the co-founder and chair of Donors Trust, the “dark-money ATM of the right” backing the most influential groups in the conservative movement. In her work with Searle Freedom Trust, Dennis directs millions in contributions to right-wing causes. Dennis directed AEI’s National Research Initiative, a program that was funded by Searle Freedom Trust.

Dennis began her professional career in 1980 as a staffer at the John Olin Foundation, one of the first nonprofits to engage in mass giving to conservative organizations, including the influential Federalist Society. For three decades, Dennis has worked for Searle Freedom Trust, a multi-million dollar private foundation founded by pharmaceutical executive Daniel C. Searle in 1998 to promote “individual freedom and economic liberty.” Dennis currently serves as the trust’s president. Although Searle Freedom Trust has supported myriad conservative causes since its formation, it is perhaps best known for funding Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a right-wing organization that has worked to end affirmative action in higher education. Funding from the Searle Freedom Trust has gone to support SFFA lawsuits, including a 2016 Supreme Court case challenging the University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate admissions policy.

In addition to her work at the Searle Freedom Trust, Dennis directed the National Research Initiative, a Searle-financed program at AEI. Dennis has also served on the boards of Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center and George Mason University, which is well known for its Koch ties.

AEI is a public policy think tank that conducts research in thirteen policy areas, including economics, foreign and defense policy, and politics and public opinion. This research is published on AEI’s website and in traditional media as op-eds, books, articles, and non-traditional media such as podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media posts.


Opposing the Biden Administration 

Since President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, AEI scholars have consistently opposed his administration’s policies. In 2022, AEI economists opposed the Inflation Reduction Act, a significant policy achievement that was projected to reduce the deficit and invest in healthcare and clean energy. In social media posts and op-eds, AEI fellows criticized the administration for its use of the term “Bidenomics” to describe Biden’s economic policies.

In testimony to the House Oversight Committee, senior AEI fellow Adam White accused the Biden administration of increasing the administrative burden on Americans through a rapid expansion of the administrative state. White said the administration’s actions have been “unlawful” but also blamed Congress for failing to reign in pro-regulation agencies. 

In an op-ed, AEI research fellow Max Eden attacked the Department of Education for low student test scores and school-sponsored student groups focused on racial and LGBTQ issues. 


Opposing the Obama Administration 

At the start of Obama’s first term, then-president of AEI published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal pledging to use the organization to lobby for free market solutions to the recession. 

In several reports posted to their website, AEI scholars attacked Obama’s Affordable Care Act. John Calfee, a resident scholar at AEI, critiqued the yet-to-be-passed ACA in a report, calling for incrementalism instead of wholesale reform and encouraging Congress to work more slowly to give members and policy advisors time to “better understand” the breadth of the proposed legislation. 

In a separate report, Alan Viard, a resident scholar at AEI, advocated against increasing taxes on the wealthy to subsidize healthcare for middle and lower-income families. Since the passage of the ACA, studies have shown that repealing the law would have devastating economic consequences. 

Downplaying Climate Change

AEI has been criticized for downplaying climate change, and its scholars frequently deny the effects of human activity on the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists in 2008 argued that AEI has “routinely tried to undermine the credibility of climate science, despite at times affirming that the ‘weight of the evidence’ justifies ‘prudent action’ on climate change.”

Former head of ExxonMobil Lee Raymond was once a member of AEI’s board.

The American Enterprise Institute has taken millions of dollars from dark money groups, foundations, and corporations that support conservative causes.

Right-Wing Donor Groups

Since 2013, AEI has received over $38 million from major right-wing groups such as DonorsTrust & Donors Capital Fund, Bradley Foundation & Bradley Impact Fund, Thomas W. Smith Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and Charles Koch Foundation. Other Koch-affiliated foundations have contributed over $2 million to AEI since 1997. 

Donor Amount Given to AEI Since 2013
Searle Freedom Trust $11,300,000.00
Sarah Scaife Foundation $9,300,000.00
Donors Capital Fund $9,000,000.00
DonorsTrust $7,169,800.00
Charles Koch Foundation $5,766,800.00
Bradley Impact Fund $5,202,507.00
Thomas W Smith Foundation $2,500,000.00

*Citations for amounts above found in appendix.


Corporate and Other Funding Sources

AEI’s financial ties to the tobacco, oil and gas industries have been scrutinized in light of the organization’s history of disputing climate science. ExxonMobil has given AEI at least $4.4 million total, according to DeSmog. In 2021, Exxon gave AEI $100,000.

In 2014, Daniel A. D’Aniello, co-founder of investment firm The Carlyle Group and vice-chair of AEI’s board at the time, donated $20 million to the organization to support its move to a new office.

Trump Administration

American Enterprise Institute was deemed “an informal farm team for the Trump administration” by the Washington Post in 2019.

  • Among other Trump staffers, former national security adviser John Bolton and White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett previously worked at AEI. 
  • Billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sits on AEI’s board.


Other Presidential Administrations


Conservative Megadonors

AEI’s staff and board has included some of the most influential conservative donor groups and individuals.

  • GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein previously sat on the National Council of the American Enterprise Institute’s board, though he has since been removed from the webpage.
  • President and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust and chair of DonorsTrust Kimberly O. Dennis sits on AEI’s board. Dennis also directed the AEI’s National Research Initiative, a program funded by Searle Freedom Trust.
  • Billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, the husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sits on AEI’s board. The couple’s foundation has given AEI at least $1.7 million.
  • Billionaire and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow sits on AEI’s board. The billionaire benefactor to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has donated $11.8 million to federal candidates and $9.1 million to candidates in Texas. 


State Policy Network

AEI is a member of the State Policy Network, a coalition of over one hundred right-wing advocacy organizations, think tanks, and funding groups seeking to influence policy at the state-level. 


Year Donor Amount Notes
2019 Sarah Scaife Foundation $1,975,000
2021 Sarah Scaife Foundation $1,950,000
2015 Donors Capital Fund $1,840,000
2013 Donors Capital Fund $1,823,540
2014 Donors Capital Fund $1,816,970
2016 Donors Capital Fund $1,643,834
2015 Searle Freedom Trust $1,500,000
2014 Searle Freedom Trust $1,500,000
2013 Searle Freedom Trust $1,500,000
2018 Sarah Scaife Foundation $1,475,000
2020 Searle Freedom Trust $1,250,000
2021 Searle Freedom Trust $1,250,000
2019 Searle Freedom Trust $1,250,000
2016 Searle Freedom Trust $1,250,000
2018 Searle Freedom Trust $1,000,000
2013 Charles Koch Foundation $910,000
2020 DonorsTrust $843,100
2017 Searle Freedom Trust $800,000
2017 Sarah Scaife Foundation $775,000
2017 DonorsTrust $769,000
2015 Sarah Scaife Foundation $750,000
2018 Thomas W Smith Foundation $750,000
2016 Sarah Scaife Foundation $675,000
2020 Thomas W Smith Foundation $675,000 Future Payment
2013 Sarah Scaife Foundation $625,000
2018 DonorsTrust $578,500
2014 Sarah Scaife Foundation $575,000
2021 Sarah Scaife Foundation $500,000 Future Payment
2014 Bradley Foundation $400,000
2019 DonorsTrust $391,500
2016 Bradley Foundation $350,000
2017 Charles Koch Foundation $317,500
2017 Bradley Foundation $300,000
2021 Thomas W Smith Foundation $300,000
2020 Thomas W Smith Foundation $275,000
2015 Bradley Impact Fund $252,000
2019 Bradley Impact Fund $219,826
2018 Bradley Impact Fund $213,909
2021 Bradley Foundation $200,000
2020 Bradley Foundation $200,000
2019 Bradley Foundation $200,000
2020 Bradley Impact Fund $200,000
2019 Thomas W Smith Foundation $200,000
2017 Bradley Impact Fund $172,135
2016 Bradley Impact Fund $162,000
2017 Thomas W Smith Foundation $150,000
2016 Thomas W Smith Foundation $150,000
2019 Charles Koch Foundation $137,500
2013 Bradley Foundation $130,000
2019 Donors Capital Fund $127,932
2016 DonorsTrust $122,000
2018 Charles Koch Foundation $105,000
2015 DonorsTrust $104,300
2014 Bradley Impact Fund $103,500
2018 Bradley Foundation $100,000
2015 Bradley Foundation $100,000
2013 Bradley Impact Fund $100,000
2013 DonorsTrust $70,750
2014 DonorsTrust $69,750
2014 Charles Koch Foundation $30,710
2018 Donors Capital Fund $30,000
2017 Donors Capital Fund $30,000
2015 Charles Koch Foundation $23,257
2021 Bradley Impact Fund $221,00
2016 Charles Koch Foundation $15,000
TOTAL $38,303,513

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