Capital Research Center is a conservative think tank and research operation established in 1984 to “examine how foundations, charities, and other nonprofits spend money and get involved in politics.”
CRC has been characterized as an organization that “tries to discourage corporations from giving charitable donations to nonprofits that support liberal or anti-business policies” and has been accused of spreading disinformation. Their website also states: “we do have a specific point of view. We believe in free markets, Constitutional government, and individual liberty.”
Willa Ann Johnson, a former senior vice president at the Heritage Foundation, founded the Capital Research Center after working in the Reagan administration. During Johnson’s time at the White House, she worked in the Office of Presidential Personnel as deputy director under E. Pendleton James (a close friend to then-presidential counselor and current CRC fellow Edwin Meese III) and was reportedly put in that position “by conservatives to safeguard ideological purity in national security posts.” As senior vice president at the Heritage Foundation in 1982, Willa Johnson described Heritage to Clarence Pendleton, who Reagan appointed to be the first African American chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as “No. 1 white and No. 2 unabashedly conservative.” Johnson was last publicly identified as Chairman of CRC in a 1992 interview with the Action Institute.
In 2017, with financial backing from the Bradley Foundation, CRC and Berman and Company began publishing InfluenceWatch, a website meant to be an “Encyclopedia of the Left” similar to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch. Two of CRC’s highest ranking leaders, President Scott Walter and InfluenceWatch Editor-In-Chief Kristen Eastlick, are former Berman and Company employees. Influential conservative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute are also collaborators on the project.
In addition to InfluenceWatch, CRC publishes a series of verticals that target various left-leaning causes and institutions: Foundation Watch profiles liberal donors and the foundations they support, Green Watch profiles the climate and environmentalist movements, and Labor Watch profiles the labor movement.
CRC President Scott Walter has notably spread a conspiracy theory about Democrats “taking over” the 2020 elections. In November 2021, Walter went on a podcast hosted by former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell and accused Mark Zuckerberg of hijacking the 2020 presidential election. In April 2022, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast to promote similar conspiracy theories about Zuckerberg and Democratic operatives. Walter was also featured in the 2022 documentary “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump,” which peddled similar claims and, according to Walter, cited Capital Research Center’s research.
Walter is a member of the Council for National Policy, a secretive organization whose membership includes some of the most powerful conservatives across the country. In 2016, Walter was slated to speak alongside David Horowitz at a flagship event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Horowitz is “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements.”
Before CRC, Walter served as vice president of the donor-advised fund Philanthropy Roundtable and worked for Berman and Company, a public relations firm with close links to the Bradley Foundation. Berman and Company operates a network of conservative “front groups,” including a “critical race theory astroturfing campaign” in New York City prep schools. Walter was also a senior fellow at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has been characterized as a “hardline group” at the forefront of the fight against LGTBQ rights.
Matthew Vadum is former Senior Vice President and current writer at CRC. He has ties to groups associated with the “anti-immigrant” movement, such as the Center for Security Policy and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Vadum once authored an article titled “Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American.” In the article, Vadum stated that “registering [the poor] to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals” and that it is “profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population.” Salon’s Alex Pereene wrote that Vadrum’s article “adopts the language of eugenicists”.
Vadum is also a writer for the Epoch Times, a proponent of popular conspiracy theories and a major advocate for 2020 election denial messaging. The Epoch Times has been described by The Atlantic as a “pro-Trump propaganda machine.”
Prior to CRC, Kristen Eastlick spent nearly two decades at Berman and Company, where she served as its chief administrative officer and managed a large trade association account. Eastlick also serves on the American University alumni board. She has represented CRC publicly in her capacity as editor-in-chief of InfluenceWatch, including in an interview with recognized hate group Family Research Council.
Prior to joining CRC in 2017, Michael Hartmann spent nearly 20 years at the Bradley Foundation — one of CRC’s major funders — and served as the organization’s director of research. During his time at the Bradley Foundation, the group bankrolled a lawsuit that successfully struck down “the heart” of the Voting Rights Act, funded “groups opposing climate regulation,” and used a “$200 million influx of cash” to “fund networks of conservative think tanks, legal centers, candidate recruitment organizations, media outlets and advocacy groups in 13 states.” Hartman personally authored pieces critical of unions during his time at the Bradley Foundation.
Dan Thompson is a self-proclaimed long-time Republican operative. Thompson has managed Republican campaigns in nine states and served as the executive director of the Virginia House Republican Campaign Committee from 2004 to 2007. Thompson was also the vice president for advancement at the Family Foundation of Virginia, an anti-abortion organization which opposes efforts to ban conversion therapy for youth and opposes nondiscrimination protections for trans students in public schools.
Christopher Krukewitt has worked at CRC for 20 years and has worked as an accountant at the conservative think tank Tax Foundation since 2001. Prior to his time at CRC, Krukewitt served as a senior legislative assistant in the US House of Representatives and worked at healthcare industry consulting firm The Advisory Board.
Michael Franc has held positions at numerous high-profile conservative think tanks and advocacy groups including the Buckeye Institute, the Hoover Institution and the Heritage Foundation, where he served as vice president of government relations. Franc also served as policy director and counsel to then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–CA).
Edwin Meese III is a former Attorney General from the Reagan administration. He was a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, a distinguished fellow emeritus at the Heritage Foundation, a recipient of the Bradley Prize from the Bradley Foundation (a major funder of CRC), and a former Federalist Society board member. Meese has also been deemed a key figure in establishing the conservative movement’s focus on the Supreme Court and judicial nominations.
While serving as chief of staff for then-Governor Ronald Reagan, Meese was instrumental in calling for a controversial crackdown on student protestors at the University of California, Berkeley which resulted in the death of one student. While serving as attorney general during Reagan’s presidency, Meese was investigated for his role in facilitating the construction of an Iraqi oil pipeline during the Iran-Iraq War and was a notable player in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Meese ultimately resigned from office following an independent counsel investigation into allegations that he improperly used his influence to help an ally win lucrative government contracts. He also drew public ire for his comments suggesting that claims of child starvation in America were “purely political.”
In addition to his role on CRC’s board of trustees, Eric O’Keefe is chairman of the board for the conservative think tank Citizens For Self Governance. The founder of Citizens for Self Governance is also a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, a group that helped plan the rally that led to the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
Tim Winter is the long-time former editor-in-chief of the conservative publication Human Events, which was notably Ronald Reagan’s “favorite reading for years.” Winter serves as treasurer of the Republican PAC Conservative Victory Fund in addition to serving as vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, best known for hosting CPAC, an annual conference that describes itself as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” CPAC has become a key gathering place for the MAGA movement, giving a platform to Trump and other extremists.
CRC counts the Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund as major benefactors. In addition to the Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund, CRC has received donations from other groups known for funding conservative organizations including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and Donors Trust. CRC has also historically been supported by ExxonMobil and Philip Morris, as well as others in the coal and tobacco industries.
In 1990, CRC released a report by James T. Bennett targeting three major health charities for their anti-tobacco work. The report accused the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society of spending less than one-quarter of their income on research. When asked about the tobacco industry’s funding of CRC and whether or not the industry had funded this particular study, then-CRC Chairman Willa Johnson said “even if they were involved, the study would stand on its own merit.”
CRC has a noted history of spreading disinformation, including specific messaging that may benefit its funders.
CRC has sought to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change, saying there is “no basis” for climate change, and helped finance Facebook ads that denied the existence of climate change in 2020. Historically, CRC has been funded by the fossil fuel industry and lobbied against greenhouse gas emission regulations in the early 2000s.
CRC has compared the consensus on climate change science to public attitudes surrounding white supremacy, slavery, and eugenics, and claimed those who deny climate science are unfairly likened to those who express Holocaust denial.
CRC has also accused climate change scientists of being “extremists” who push a “series of hoaxes” to promote and empower “bureaucrats” and “pressure groups.” CRC has alleged that climate change “fearmongering” is a way to “convince Americans to surrender their freedom.”
In 2022, CRC President Scott Walter went on Steve Bannon’s “The War Room” to promote 2020 election conspiracy theories and participated in the documentary “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump,” which promotes a conspiracy theory suggesting that grants made by Mark Zuckerberg to assist local election officials rigged the 2020 election for Biden. CRC has since promoted this theory on its website. As early as August 2020, Walter and CRC characterized Zuckerberg’s grants as “a bunch of Democratic operatives using donations from left-of-center groups to maximize the use of mail-in ballots — subject to rampant fraud — to steer the election Joe Biden’s way.” Walter has since testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he does not believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
CRC reposted an article from former head of media operations Joseph Klein stating that “diversity and inclusion” in the workplace was “actually a euphemism for something else” and suggesting that diversity is used “to promote, rather than end, judging people based on their immutable characteristics.”
In an interview with the Hillsdale Collegian, CRC president Scott Walter alluded to the idea that Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, as well as “leftist” takeovers of “cultural institutions,” were financially supported by the Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and MacArthur Foundations. Walter extended this critique to higher education, stating: “if you endow a chair at the average modern university, it will end up in the hands of radicals.”
CRC senior investigative reporter Hayden Ludwig, published a series of articles titled “Exposing the Wokeism Infecting America’s Private Schools” in early 2022. In one entry titled “Wokeism in Private Schools: Learning ‘Leninthink’,” Ludwig posits that schools are “codifying anti-white hatred through critical race theory, destroying the family and promoting mental illness with transgender and ‘nonbinary’ sexual identity and that American Marxists are ‘obliterating language (‘women’ is now ‘womyn,’ Latino/Latina is ‘Latinx’), fabricating absurd racial categories that abolish the individual (squashing together tens of millions as ‘brown people’), and recasting the United States as a uniquely evil slaveocracy.” Another entry in the series claims that activists “are indoctrinating America’s youth with transgenderism, racial segregation, and other far-left ‘virtues.’”
While receiving funding from tobacco industry in the 1990s, CRC ran a campaign to discredit organizations lobbying for anti-smoking policies. CRC also provided research utilized by Phillip Morris (who described CRC as a “friend”) in their effort to fight back against the public health campaign pushing for industry regulations.
CRC and its writers are known for making offensive, conspiratorial, and inflammatory statements on a wide variety of topics.
CRC published an article in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida arguing that “the real killer was political correctness.” In a separate article, CRC claimed that progressives opportunistically used mass shootings to attack gun rights.
CRC defended Milo Yiannopoulos, who the Anti-Defamation League has referred to as a “misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll,” as a “courageous Anti-Islamofascist.” The Center also employed a staffer, Ashely Rae Goldenberg, who ran a Twitter account that used the far-right “groyper” symbol as its avatar. The so called “groyper army” has been linked to rising white nationalist movements by observers.
CRC president Scott Walter called the Southern Poverty Law Center a “radical group that uses its infamous ‘hate groups’ list to lump together genuine racists like the KKK with mainstream conservative groups.” Walter also pushed back on SPLC’s labeling of political scientist Charles Murray as a white nationalist. Murray is the co-author of the controversial 1994 book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” and Murray has repeatedly defended his claims, as the Washington Post describes them, that “Black Americans, as a group, have lower cognitive ability than White Americans, and […] are more criminally violent than other races and ethnicities.”
Walter also takes issue with SPLC labeling the Family Research Council a designated anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. The New York Times has described the Family Research Council as “front and center in the culture wars over abortion and same-sex marriage.”
FRC is known for its extreme anti-LGBTQ stances including, but not limited to:
Berman and Company, a public relations firm with close links to the Bradley Foundation, operates a network of conservative “front groups” including a “critical race theory astroturfing campaign” in New York City prep schools.
Berman and Company collaborates with CRC in publishing InfluenceWatch, a website meant to be an “Encyclopedia of the Left” similar to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch. Two of CRC’s leaders, President Scott Walter and InfluenceWatch Editor-In-Chief Kristen Eastlick, are former Berman and Company employees.
Heritage Foundation is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization and conservative think tank. Since its founding in 1973, Heritage has become one of the world’s most influential think tanks through its relationships with Republican administrations and its influence in Congress. CRC founder Willa Ann Johnson was formerly senior vice president at Heritage.
Although historically a research institution, Heritage has increasingly ventured into the realm of political advocacy and grassroots organizing through Heritage Action. Both the Foundation and the Action arm have advanced debunked claims of widespread voter fraud that have been used to enact restrictive voting laws across the country following the 2020 presidential election. The organization has also been active in the fight to limit access to abortion, roll back environmental regulations, and curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.