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.”
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, 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.”
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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.
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.
American Enterprise Institute was deemed “an informal farm team for the Trump administration” by the Washington Post in 2019.
AEI’s staff and board has included some of the most influential conservative donor groups and individuals.
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.
|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|
|2017||Searle Freedom Trust||$800,000|
|2017||Sarah Scaife Foundation||$775,000|
|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|
|2014||Sarah Scaife Foundation||$575,000|
|2021||Sarah Scaife Foundation||$500,000||Future Payment|
|2017||Charles Koch Foundation||$317,500|
|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|
|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|
|2019||Donors Capital Fund||$127,932|
|2018||Charles Koch Foundation||$105,000|
|2014||Bradley Impact Fund||$103,500|
|2013||Bradley Impact Fund||$100,000|
|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|