Consumers’ Research

Consumers’ Research is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that claims to advance “greater consumer knowledge and freedom.” In reality, the group is a leader in the right-wing anti-ESG campaign against “woke capitalism,” spending millions of dollars to publicly shame Fortune 500 CEOs and pressure firms against taking a stand on social justice and political issues.

About Consumers’ Research

Consumers’ Research was founded in 1929 with a mission to test consumer products and publish their results in a newsletter. In 1935, the group’s workers unionized, and in a split with management, they incorporated a separate entity that branched off from Consumers’ Research called Consumers Union. Consumers Union went on to publish what is now known as Consumer Reports. From its inception, Consumers’ Research had conservative leanings — the founder “suspected labor unions of Communist leanings,” “refused to recognize the rights of workers to unionize,” and was “completely paranoid about Communism” — but took a hard turn to the right in the early 1980s when M. Stanton Evans stepped in to lead the organization.

Stanton Evans ended the group’s practice of product testing and pivoted into advocacy-oriented activities like promoting the tobacco industry, even working to undermine the science of secondhand smoke.

By the early 2000s, the organization’s revenue had dwindled and eventually hit zero. From 2007 to 2013, the organization reported no revenue. Then, in 2013, the organization was revitalized with large grants from the Bradley Foundation. An analysis of leaked emails found that half of a $500,000 grant to the organization from the Bradley Foundation came from Barre Seid, the conservative megadonor behind a $1.6 billion donation to the Leonard Leo-controlled nonprofit Marble Freedom Trust. From 2019 to 2021, Consumers’ Research’s revenue ballooned tenfold from about $750,000 to about $7.9 million. The explosion in funding can be traced to giving from Donors Trust, a conservative donor-advised fund that has been called the “dark money ATM of the right,” and an organization closely associated with Leonard Leo. In 2021 the Leo-controlled Marble Freedom Trust issued a $41 million grant to DonorsTrust.

Will Hild, Executive Director

Will Hild has served as executive director of Consumers’ Research (CR) since 2020. Prior to leading CR, Hild worked as the deputy director of the Federalist Society’s regulatory transparency project and at the Philanthropy Roundtable as the director of external affairs for the Culture of Freedom Initiative.

In his time at CR, Hild has led a campaign against corporate “wokeness” with a particular focus on anti-environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) efforts. The campaign has featured both paid and earned media. Hild regularly speaks at conservative events and with the media about CR’s anti-ESG efforts.

  • Hild spoke on a panel titled “What’s Behind the Drive to Promote ESG Investing and What You Need to Know” at the “Awakening” retreat hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
  • Hild spoke at a workshop titled “ESG State Initiatives” at a policy summit hosted by ALEC.
  • Hild spoke at ALEC’s 2022 Annual Meeting with Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, and Lisa Nelson, CEO of ALEC, in a conversation titled “Politicizing ESG Investing.”
  • Hild spoke at Heritage’s 2022 Resource Bank Meeting on a panel titled “Taking on the ESG Overlords,” alongside John Murante, the state treasurer of Nebraska. The talk was moderated by Andy Olivastro, Vice President of Outreach at the Heritage Foundation.

Beau Brunson, Policy Director

Beau Brunson has been the policy director at Consumers’ Research since June 2017. Prior to joining CR, Brunson was a Congressional staffer, first as an intern for Rep. John Carter and eventually as deputy chief of staff for Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ).

Tom Miller, Senior Research Fellow

Tom Miller is a senior research fellow at Consumers’ Research and a professor of finance at Mississippi State University. Miller holds a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Washington as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Montana.

Miller has written extensively in support of the payday loan industry, which is widely seen as predatory, with a goal of trapping individuals into a cycle of debt.

Paid Media

Consumers’ Research has invested millions of dollars in advertising that directly attacks private companies for so-called “woke capitalism.” The ads are styled as campaign attack ads, complete with ominous voice-overs, grainy photos, and opposition research. The ads often frame “wokeness” as a way for companies to distract from poor performance, high CEO pay, or financial connections to China.

The ads came as Republicans started to openly attack businesses with so-called “woke” policies. In some cases, Consumers’ Research ads echoed exact talking points used by Republican campaigns. Following the 2022 midterms, Republicans in the House continued their attacks, even going after the Pentagon for policies to make military service more inclusive. The following are examples of campaigns Consumers’ Research has run against American corporations:

They attacked American Airlines after its CEO spoke out against a restrictive voter ID law in Texas.

  • They attacked Coca-Cola after the company spoke out against Georgia’s election reform legislation which severely curtailed voting rights. A second ad blitz attacked the company after reporting found it hosted a diversity training featuring a “Confronting Racism” course offered by LinkedIn Education.
  • They attacked Nike for being “constantly political,” featuring images depicting the company’s sponsorship deal with Colin Kaepernick.
  • They attacked Ticketmaster for “going woke” after its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, signed on to a joint ad featuring over 500 companies and CEOs opposing restrictive voting laws.
  • They attacked the MLB after commissioner Rob Manfred moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver following the passage of new voting rights restrictions in Georgia.
  • They attacked Levi’s after its brand president was pressured to leave the company following comments against school closures during the pandemic.
  • They attacked Uber after it pledged to help cover legal fees for drivers if sued for assisting women seeking an abortion under restrictive abortion bans in certain states.
  • They attacked State Farm with a multi-pronged advertising and media attack that featured multiple TV spots, digital ads, and two landing pages exposing internal emails. The emails described a program that would provide State Farm agents with books from the Gender Cool Project to distribute within their communities. Agents who decided to participate were encouraged to promote the program and their commitment to diversity on their social media pages. The second landing page included a petition to State Farm in regard to this book donation initiative.

Attacks Against BlackRock and Antisemitism

BlackRock has been on the receiving end of an aggressive attack launched by Consumers’ Research. In several ads across TV, radio, and digital, CR attacked BlackRock over the firm’s use of ESG investing strategies. CR reportedly spent $4 million on an ad campaign that directly targeted BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. CR also published two websites targeting BlackRock; one was a landing page featuring a graphic of Larry Fink with Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng and Russian President Vladimir Putin, while the second issued a “warning” about BlackRock and featured CR’s digital and TV ads.

Consumers’ Research’s attacks on BlackRock and Larry Fink invoked an ominous future of high energy prices, an emboldened China, and a less free America. On Twitter, CR executive director Will Hild framed BlackRock and Larry Fink as members of a “cabal of global elites,” as a “cabal of woke activists,” and as “globalist stakeholders.” Both the terms “cabal” and “globalist” and the portrayal of elite bankers being anti-American globalists have deep antisemitic roots.

The words cabal and globalist are featured in the American Jewish Committee’s Hate Glossary.

The Washington Post noted CR’s deployment of antisemitism in a 2023 profile of the group: “It’s a familiar playbook, similar to the one the right uses against progressive billionaires George Soros and Mike Bloomberg: Elitist globalists expand their power by taking away your freedom. Like Fink, those two men are Jewish.” CR Executive Director Will Hild denied that the campaign was antisemitic, saying his wife and children were Jewish.

Additional examples of Hild’s antisemitic framing include:

In addition to Hild’s tweets, Hild has vocally praised former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who “embraced” extreme white supremacist views and enjoyed a “symbiotic relationship with the

far-right.” Hild said Carlson helped shine a light on a myriad of important issues, including the ESG scam.” And Hild even suggested that Larry Fink was behind Carlson’s firing, tying it to Fink’s efforts to “push his progressive ESG agenda.”

Attack Against Bank of America

Hild announced an upcoming Consumers’ Research campaign targeting Bank of America based on their attacks on BlackRock. Hild said the campaign against BofA would not be a “one-off hit.” Bloomberg Law reported that the campaign would involve “ads on cable news networks pressing the issue, and drive mobile billboards around Bank of America’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, its offices in midtown Manhattan and some of its busiest branches in states from Arizona to Florida.”

“Woke Alerts”

In April 2023, Consumers’ Research launched a texting program to alert users to so-called “woke capitalism.” The “woke alerts” program employed political campaign-style tactics to drive messaging and engagement. CR reportedly put over $100,000 into the campaign. The alerts focus on culture war issues, including opposition to corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and have echoed far-right warnings against the indoctrination of children. Examples of corporate “woke alerts” include:

  • Attacking Bud Light over its beer cans that featured trans activist Dylan Mulvaney.
  • Attacking Target for an “LGBTQ+ kids clothing collection” and selling books that “indoctrinate kids” during Pride Month.
  • Attacking Kroger for allegedly firing employees who refused to wear aprons with rainbow hearts during Pride Month. The alert also critically noted that Kroger had previously recalled pro-American merchandise from stores, and that it offered to pay travel expenses for employees seeking abortions following the Dobbs decision.
  • Attacking Jack Daniels after an ad featuring three drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race promoted the whisky brand. The 2021 ad resurfaced as the culture war surrounding LGBTQ+ activism intensified.

Pro-Business and Anti-Consumer

In direct opposition to its stated mission to “increase the knowledge and understanding of issues, policies, products, and services of concern to consumers…” Consumers’ Research has a history of promoting the interests of businesses and against the health and safety of consumers. Examples of pro-business positions include:

  • Opposing fuel efficiency standards, the science behind climate change, and rules limiting cancer-causing products.
  • Advocating for the payday lending industry.
  • Opposing the Affordable Care Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Standing with big tobacco and advocating against secondhand smoking regulations.

In 2021, Consumers’ Research received nearly $6 million from DonorsTrust, an influential right-wing donor group dubbed the “dark money atm of the right.” This DonorsTrust donation accounted for roughly 75% of CR’s funding in 2021. The following year, DonorsTrust gave Consumers’ Research over $9 million, making up over 86% of CR’s funding in 2022.

Consumers’ Research Finances From 2019-2022:

2022 2021 2020 2019
Total Assets (Fair Market) $2,731,806 $798,683 $353,908 $368,672
Net Assets (Fair Market) $2,341,076 $431,381 $273,715 $341,658
Total Revenue $10,423,274 $8,022,567 $835,306 $484,745
Total Expenses (Per Book) $8,515,562 $7,864,901 $903,249 $744,546

DonorsTrust Grants To Consumers’ Research From 2019-2022

2022 2021 2020 2019
DonorsTrust Grants to Consumers' Research $9,010,000.00 $5,984,000 $775,000 $475,000

Grants

In 2021, Consumers’ Research granted $150,000 to the State Financial Officers Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting so-called “woke capitalism,” increasing American oil and gas production, and attacking ESG efforts. They went on to give SFOF another $317,500 in 2022.

CRC Advisors and Leonard Leo

CRC Advisors is a consulting and public relations firm led by Leonard Leo – deemed “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” – with influence across the conservative landscape. Originally called CRC Public Relations, the firm first gained mainstream prominence for its role in a smear campaign against John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. The organization has played a key role in supporting Leo’s Supreme Court fights since the nomination of Justice Samuel Alito.

In 2020, Leonard Leo and his longtime associate, Greg Mueller, launched the rebranded CRC Advisors. Leo stepped down as executive vice president of the Federalist Society — though he retained the title co-chairman — to form the new CRC Advisors entity. Leo is best known for operating a “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges and champion right-wing causes through “dark money” campaigns.

In addition to the professional ties between Consumers’ Research and CRC Advisors, Leo has spoken positively about CR to the press. In an interview with the Washington Post, Leo said: “Consumers’ Research and its leader Will Hild are executing the most impactful pushback I know against ESG and other aspects of woke corporate culture.” Consumers’ Research executive director Will Hild has also spoken favorably of Leo, calling him “a good friend and adviser to Consumers’ Research.”

Between 2013 and 2019, Consumers’ Research paid CRC Advisors over $600,000 for public relations work. In 2020, CR paid CRC Advisors nearly $113,000, followed by a whopping nearly $625,000 in 2021.

In October 2022, the New York Times reported that Leo said “the woke capitalism battle is a very high priority for me, and I am very excited about what Consumers’ Research is doing.” The Times went on to report that Consumers’ Research was “resuscitated a decade later as a Republican-aligned group working partly to topple federal environmental laws, using millions of dollars from donors with connections to Mr. Leo,” and that “about two months after” Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust processed a $1.6 billion contribution from right-wing megadonor Barre Seid, “Consumers’ Research began an anti-E.S.G. campaign on which it says it has spent nearly $10 million — more than it had spent in the previous seven years combined.”

Jones Day

Jones Day is one of the largest law firms in the United States, with thousands of attorneys and countless national and international offices. The firm made a name for itself by partnering with some of the worst corporate actors, including cigarette company RJ Reynolds, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, gunmaker Smith & Wesson, and the National Rifle Association. Over the last decade, the firm has placed an increased focus on its political practice and now represents individuals and super PACs across the conservative spectrum, including: former President Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Senator Susan Collins, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Marsha Blackburn, the National Republican Campaign Committee, the Republican National Committee, and the Trump Victory PAC, among others.

In 2021, Consumers’ Research paid Jones Day nearly $1.7 million for “public relations.”

DonorsTrust

DonorsTrust is one of contemporary American politics’ most influential conservative donor-advised funds. In 2013, Mother Jones dubbed DonorsTrust the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Contributions to Donors Trust in 2021 amounted to nearly $1.1 billion, the group’s largest annual intake of donations on record. The income included closely held common stock in a C-corporation with an end-of-year market value of more than $431 million.

DonorsTrust has funneled over $7.2 million to Consumers’ Research over the past three years, accounting for 77% of the organization’s revenue during that time frame.

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