The Manhattan Institute, formed in 1977 and originally named the “International Center for Economic Policy Studies,” was started by Anthony Fisher and William J. Casey to promote free market ideology. Fisher, inspired by F.A. Hayek’s anti-government The Road to Serfdom, was behind various other right-wing think tanks worldwide. Casey later became Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, facing controversies for spying on Americans, “dirty wars” in Central America, backing the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and driving “global covert actions” as part of the Cold War.
Since 2008, conservative hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer has served as the Manhattan Institute’s chairman and has given the group millions of dollars. The Institute’s Board of Trustees also includes billionaires John Paulson and Warren Stephens, billionaire Harlan Crow’s wife Kathy Crow, billionaire Joseph Edelman’s wife Susan Lebovitz-Edelman, and the self-proclaimed “‘defender of billionaires’” Kathy Wylde.
Two of the Manhattan Institute’s billionaire board members — Paul Singer, and Kathy Crow, wife of Harlan Crow — have been involved in the ethical scandals resulting in a full-blown Supreme Court corruption crisis.
Manhattan Institute chairman Paul Singer garnered controversy for gifting Justice Samuel Alito a luxury Alaska fishing trip with private jet travel valued at over $100,000. Singer’s interests routinely come before the Supreme Court, with his hedge fund appearing before the high court “at least 10 times” after the Alito trip. Most notably, Singer’s firm netted $2.4 billion when the Court resolved a “decade-long battle” between his hedge fund and the Argentinian government.
Manhattan Institute board member Kathy Crow is married to Harlan Crow, the conservative “megadonor and developer” embroiled in multiple of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s many corruption scandals. This includes unreported paid trips on Crow’s private jet and megayacht, an undisclosed property sale involving the home where Thomas’s mother still lives, and years of expensive private school tuition for Thomas’s adopted son.
The Institute regularly uses its influence as a prolific filer of amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, submitting 15 in the 2022-23 term alone. In 2023, the Institute filed an amicus brief that could directly benefit its billionaire leaders, urging the Supreme Court to take up a case that could preemptively strike down a wealth tax and “permanently ‘lock in’ the right of billionaires to opt out of paying fair taxes.” One proposed wealth tax on the richest 0.05% of U.S. taxpayers was estimated to generate at least $3 trillion in federal revenue over 10 years.
The “national meltdown” over critical race theory (CRT) — the academic concept that has shown that racism is “embedded in legal systems and policies”— could “easily be traced back to the Manhattan Institute,” which has devoted dozens of articles and videos to CRT.
The Institute’s senior fellow Christopher F. Rufo serves as the director of the group‘s “initiative on critical race theory” and a contributing editor for its flagship publication City Journal. Rufo, the “right’s leading culture warrior,” is said to have been largely responsible for CRT becoming a major concern for conservatives nationwide. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has called Rufo a “right-wing propagandist” driving a “campaign to destroy public education in America.”
The Institute’s biography for Rufo touts him as “a leader in the fight against” CRT in American institutions, claiming he “inspired a presidential order and legislation in 15 states.” Prompted by Rufo’s hyperbolic claim on Fox News that CRT was “‘cult indoctrination’” that “pervaded every institution in the federal government,” former President Donald Trump quickly ordered the federal government to cancel all diversity trainings and issued a related executive order deeming so-called political correctness a “malign ideology.”
Rufo has also played an integral part in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to transform Florida’s universities. This includes an effort to “nearly instantly alter the character and curriculum” of the state’s progressive New College — where DeSantis appointed Rufo as a trustee — by eliminating the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and to “start firing people.” After Rufo dismantled the New College’s gender studies program, he said the ban was meant to “‘rebalance the ratio of students’ by driving some women out” of the school.
The “corporate-funded” Manhattan Institute has loudly defended corporations from arguments that they drove inflation by price-gouging consumers — though, as one Wall Street Journal columnist put it, “‘greedflation’ is real.” In 2022, the Institute’s City Journal published an article titled “corporate greed isn’t driving inflation,” suggesting that it was “demagoguery” to point to profiteering as a source of inflation. Months later, an Institution senior fellow wrote an article titled “The Democrats’ Cynical ‘Greedflation’ Narrative,” claiming Democrats were “scapegoating greedy businesses for inflation.”
The Institute claims that its “flagship publication,” City Journal, is the “nation’s leading urban-policy magazine.” The Institute and City Journal popularized the racist “broken windows” policing in New York City through its close connection to Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s and 90s. The broken windows theory calls for a hypervigilant, hyper-punitive police force that, in practice, led to the violent harassment and over-policing of minority communities.
At a 2006 Manhattan Institute award ceremony, disgraced former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told the group “it’s like coming home,” while crediting the group for inspiring his conservative “anti-Great Society” platform. Giuliani admitted: “if there was kind of like a charge of plagiarism for political programs, I’d probably be in a lot of trouble because I think we plagiarized most of them, if not all of them, from the pages of the City Journal and from the thinking and analysis of the Manhattan Institute.”
The Institute’s Adam Smith Society is “the heart of [its] next generation efforts,” with “chapters on top MBA campuses and a robust national network of rising business leaders.” The society was formed in 2011 as an “expansive” effort to argue the “moral, social, and economic benefits of capitalism.” The Adam Smith Society was reportedly formed to have an ideological impact on business schools as widespread as what the right-wing Federalist Society has achieved in the nation’s law schools.
Since 2008, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer has served as the Manhattan Institute’s chairman and has given the group millions of dollars. Singer, who runs the $59 billion Elliott Management Corp., has been called a “doomsday investor” and “the world’s most feared activist investor,” with a reputation for being “aggressive, tenacious and litigious to a fault.” Singer’s firm is considered “a pioneer” in buying countries’ sovereign bonds for cheap and then pursuing their governments for unpaid debts. He is “best known for battling Argentina for 15 years over its debt default,” even impounding an Argentinian battleship as part of the dispute, before the Supreme Court gave his firm a $2.4 billion win in a related lawsuit.
Singer has used his wealth to become one of the Republican party’s “top donors,” resulting in “a powerful influence” on the party. At one point, he was known as a “fundraising terrorist” due to his persistence in leveraging his money over Republican candidates. He spearheaded the American Opportunity Alliance, a “coalition of major donors […] that has worked mostly behind the scenes to shape the Republican Party” since at least 2013.
In 2016, Singer was the biggest donor of the Manhattan Institute’s Board of Trustees, having gifted $525,000 to the organization. At the same time, the Institute’s City Journal reversed its vocal opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy, just as Singer went from warning of “global depression” if Trump won to giving $1 million to Trump’s 2017 inauguration. As Trump put it after meeting with Singer, “he was a very strong opponent, and now he’s a very strong ally.”
As one former City Journal senior writer reported, sources within the publication said Singer pressured the Institute’s then-president to “tighten control” over the journal’s writers and to “steer clear” of sensitive matters such as criticism of the Trump administration or advocating for gun control. The former City Journal writer concluded that Singer was acting as an “activist” donor, consistent with his reputation as an activist investor and “vulture” capitalist who strong-armed firms in which he held stakes.
Manhattan Institute chairman emeritus is Roger Hertog, a “big-time conservative” and one of the founding partners of investment management firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Hertog was also a one-time board member of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a backer of the right-leaning New York Sun newspaper.
Hertog, once affiliated with the discredited neoconservative movement that drove the George W. Bush administration, was referred to as the “one man who has, far more than anyone else, financially enabled [the] movement to exist.” Former Manhattan Institute senior fellow David Frum was a speechwriter for the same Bush administration, helping to write the infamous “axis of evil” line.
Hertog is also the Chairman Emeritus of the Tikvah Fund, a nonprofit that has sought to “increase conservative influence” in U.S. universities and “has helped finance the ongoing rightward shift in Israeli politics.” In 2010, while chairman, Hertog said conservatives had not “invested enough time, energy, and treasure in the many spaces where young minds—and even more mature adults—are influenced.”
Hertog is the former chairman and current board member of the New York Historical Society, to which he gave millions of dollars while leading efforts to expand the society’s influence. During this time, he was scrutinized — along with two other prominent Republican figures — for personally funding what some thought was the society’s “politically motivated” exhibit on Alexander Hamilton.
Reihan Salam has served as the Manhattan Institute’s president since 2019, overseeing the creation of the group’s “Policing and Public Safety Initiative” and recruiting the nation’s leading scholars, journalists, and civic leaders.
Salam was previously a contributing editor at The Atlantic, National Affairs, and National Review. Before that, Salam was the National Review’s executive editor and a National Institute Policy Fellow. Salam also co-authored a book titled “Grand New Party” with Ross Douthat, “America’s favorite conservative commentator,” which argued that conservatives could win over working-class voters with tax cuts.
From 2014 to 2019, Salam served as the executive editor of the National Review. Established by William F. Buckley Jr., a “founder” of the modern conservative movement, the Review has been criticized for “building an intellectual edifice for segregation” and a project to undermine the New Deal early in its history. The magazine was also blamed for having long “empowered” the forces of white grievance that propelled Trump to the presidency.
In January 2022, Ilya Shapiro, then a Georgetown University Law School administrator and senior lecturer, tweeted that President Joe Biden would nominate a “‘lesser Black woman’” to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Shapiro added: “because Biden said he’s only consider [sic] black women for SCOTUS, his nominee will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.” Shapiro then posted a poll asking whether Joe Biden was “racist and sexist for saying his Supreme Court nominee will be a black woman.”
Shapiro, who was poised to take over as executive director for Georgetown Law School’s Center for the Constitution, resigned from the university following a four-month investigation into his posts. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Shapiro said: “the university didn’t fire me, but it yielded to the progressive mob, abandoned free speech, and created a hostile environment.”
Shapiro has multiple ties to right-wing dark money forces. Previously, he was a vice president of the Cato Institute, a prominent libertarian think tank co-founded by right-wing megadonor Charles Koch, and was director of the Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. His own Manhattan Institute biography touts that he “lectures regularly on behalf of the Federalist Society,” known for co-chairman Leonard Leo’s role as the “architect” of the federal judiciary’s far-right shift.
Manhattan Institute senior fellow Peter W. Huber’s decades-long criticism of regulation was “still at the core” of the Institute’s work by the time of his 2021 death. Huber, who the Institute claims was “a leading voice” on regulation, coined the term “junk science” in the 1990s. The phrase, with which Huber made “sound-bite history,” was “an “instant hit” with corporate lawyers and others who were critical of “judicial activism and liberal permissiveness.”
Huber’s “junk science” framing was often used by conservatives to argue that so-called illiterate judges and juries could be blamed for a “host of ills,” including “excessive liability awards,” which were of specific concern to major corporations. By 1994, the Republican party officially adopted Huber’s mission of tort reform.
Huber co-founded corporate law firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, which touts Fortune 100 companies, large banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds among its clients. Following Huber’s death, the firm issued a statement crediting his “direct results” in advancing conservative priorities, stating, “tort reform was adopted; junk science is kept out of courtrooms; the Bell breakup decree was lifted; telecom regulation has been replaced by competition; environmental and energy policy are better informed by Peter’s ideas; and the FDA is beginning to embrace individualized medicine.”
Multiple U.S. senators have criticized the Manhattan Institute for being part of a “web of denial” driven by “fossil fuel-funded groups” working to block action on climate change. The Manhattan Institute has worked to “manipulate the public’s perception of the climate crisis” as part of a concerted campaign by the Koch network, energy companies, and “identity-scrubbing” funding groups like DonorsTrust.
For at least two decades, the Manhattan Institute was a grantee of ExxonMobil — which worked to “downplay” climate change even as it predicted global warming “with precision since the 1970s” — taking over $1.3 million from the oil corporation from 1998 through 2018.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan Institute led the climate change skepticism movement. In 2018, then-senior fellow Oren Cass called the landmark Paris Climate Accords “somewhere between a farce and a fraud.” That same year, the group published a discredited study claiming that gasoline vehicles were cleaner than electric vehicles.
Senior fellow Mark P. Mills has appeared in outlets like the Wall Street Journal with opinion pieces asking “What if Green Energy Isn’t the Future?,” touting “the future of oil and natural gas” while failing to “factor in the cost of doing nothing to curb carbon pollution.” One-time Manhattan Institute senior fellow Robert Bryce was known for “bashing wind energy in the pages of the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and other publications,” even resorting to “wildly overblown” claims that wind turbines kill a vast number of birds.
The Manhattan Institute was considered a “national ally” by the tobacco industry, which had helped fund the Insitute from the 1990s until at least 2015. More recently, the Institute has opposed e-cigarette regulation and balked at CVS’s decision to stop selling cigarettes. In 2022, the Institute published commentary complaining that the Biden administration gave nicotine users “a one-two punch” when it announced its intention to reduce the level of nicotine in cigarettes and force the popular e-cigarette brand Juul off the market.
The Manhattan Institute’s ties to the industry go back decades. In a 1990 memo urging continued corporate support of the Institute, R.J. Reynolds executives credited the group for doing “much to stimulate thought at policy-making levels” about “the product liability situation.”
In one 1995 memo, an R.J. Reynolds executive suggested that he and executives from two other major tobacco companies “each send a check for $30,000” to the Manhattan Institute so it can be “fully aware” that the companies are jointly supporting its efforts. In another strategy memo about how to “humanize” the tobacco industry, R.J. Reynolds considered working with the Manhattan Institute to produce a television show putting the risk of tobacco products “in perspective.”
According to one academic study, the Manhattan Institute also worked with Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to “defeat the Clinton Health Plan.”
In 2013, hedge fund “heavy hitters” cut ties with the Manhattan Institute for its calls to abolish defined benefit public pension plans. This came after the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shamed top money managers who solicited investment dollars from pension plans while backing efforts to end public pensions.
Two hedge fund managers stepped down from the Institute’s board, with one vowing to have the group “‘moderate’” its position and the other pulling funding from the group, agreeing to seek “greater alignment” between its financial commitments and the viability of public sector pensions. Meanwhile, another hedge fund manager refused to step down from the Manhattan Institute’s board, calling the AFT “‘bullies.’”
One of the Manhattan Institute’s top funders is the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, the private foundation of Florida hedge fund manager and right-wing philanthropist Thomas Smith. Established in 2015, the foundation has given millions to organizations attacking anti-racism curricula in schools, spending millions more funding conservative academic centers on college campuses. The foundation is run by conservative activists who hold leadership positions at numerous right-wing think tanks and philanthropic organizations.
Another major institute funder is the Searle Freedom Trust, a 501(c)(3) private foundation run by Kimberly Dennis, a longtime operative in the right-wing philanthropy network. The trust has given hundreds of millions to “ultra-free-market” groups, including leading climate denial and anti-affirmative action organizations. Searle coordinates with some of the most influential policy groups in the conservative movement, including the State Policy Network and the American Enterprise Institute.
The Sarah Scaife Foundation, now under the stewardship of right-wing operatives following Richard Mellon Scaife’s passing in 2014, continues to be a major player in the conservative movement and funds the Manhattan Institute. The Sarah Scaife Foundation is the last vestige of Richard Mellon Scaife’s nonprofit empire. Scaife was a billionaire who was described as “funding father of the right.” Scaife was infamous for his brand of conspiratorial politics — particularly his fascination with the anti-Clinton conspiracies — and for his deep ties to the conservative movement. Scaife leveraged his nonprofits to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement” in the post-Nixon era, according to historians.
DonorsTrust, dubbed the “dark-money ATM of the right,” and its affiliate organization, Donors Capital Fund, are two of the most influential conservative donor-advised funds in contemporary American politics and have been major funders of the Manhattan Institute. Over the years, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund have financed numerous organizations advancing a number of conservative and far-right causes. They include groups associated with the conservative activist Leonard Leo, groups advancing white nationalism and anti-immigration policies, and groups spreading election conspiracy theories like True The Vote and the Claremont Institute.
|Grantmaker||Grantmaker Tax Year||Grantmaker Tax Period End||Amount|
|Thomas W Smith Foundation||2021||2021-12||$1,450,000|
|Paul E Singer Foundation||2020||2021-11||$1,100,000|
|Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund||2021||2022-06||$1,065,955|
|Searle Freedom Trust||2021||2021-12||$700,000|
|Sarah Scaife Foundation||2021||2021-12||$570,000|
|National Philanthropic Trust||2021||2022-06||$518,500|
|Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program||2021||2022-06||$436,500|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||2022||2022-06||$310,875|
|Walton Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$300,000|
|Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation||2021||2021-12||$250,000|
|Achelis and Bodman Foundation||2021||2021-12||$229,000|
|Achelis and Bodman Foundation||2021||2021-12||$229,000|
|The Ohnell Family Foundation||2022||2022-12||$225,000|
|The Margaret and Daniel Loeb Foundation||2021||2021-12||$225,000|
|Bader Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$205,000|
|Paulson Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$200,000|
|Robert and Ardis James Foundation||2021||2021-12||$150,000|
|The Ayco Charitable Foundation||2021||2021-12||$141,500|
|John William Pope Foundation||2021||2022-06||$125,000|
|M J Murdock Charitable Trust||2021||2021-12||$125,000|
|The Kleinschmidt Family Foundation||2022||2022-12||$105,970|
|California Community Foundation||2021||2022-06||$100,000|
|Gleason Family Foundation||2021||2022-03||$100,000|
|Ambrose Monell Foundation||2021||2021-12||$100,000|
|Blake Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$100,000|
|John S. and James L. Knight Foundation||2020||2020-12||$100,000|
|FM Kirby Foundation||2022||2022-12||$85,000|
|Columbus Jewish Foundation||2021||2022-06||$75,000|
|Charities Aid Foundation of America||2021||2022-04||$75,000|
|Fred Maytag Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$75,000|
|Zegarac-Pollock Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$75,000|
|The Pinkerton Foundation||2021||2021-12||$75,000|
|Jewish Communal Fund||2021||2022-06||$61,030|
|Fleur Harlan Foundation||2020||2021-11||$58,681|
|Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund||2021||2022-06||$51,000|
|Goyanes Family Foundation||2022||2022-12||$50,000|
|Henry E Haller JR Foundation||2021||2021-12||$50,000|
|The Veltri Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$50,000|
|The Alta and John Franks Foundation||2021||2021-12||$50,000|
|The Starr Foundation||2021||2021-12||$50,000|
|Law Enforcement Education Foundation Corporation||2020||2020-12||$49,769|
|William H. Donner Foundation||2020||2021-10||$46,907|
|Farrell Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$32,500|
|Bradley Impact Fund||2021||2021-12||$30,050|
|Marin Community Foundation||2021||2022-06||$30,000|
|Peter G Peterson Foundation (PGPF)||2021||2022-03||$30,000|
|The Norma Pace Foundation||2022||2022-12||$28,000|
|The Andrew Cader Foundation||2021||2022-11||$25,000|
|The Dave H and Reba W Williams Foundation||2021||2022-06||$25,000|
|Madigan Family Foundation||2021||2022-03||$25,000|
|Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund||2021||2022-03||$25,000|
|The Randolph Foundation (TRF)||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|The Carl C Icahn Foundation||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|The Karakin Foundation||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|The Catherine L and Edward A Lozick Foundation||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|Sherrill Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$25,000|
|Holman Foundation Inc.||2020||2020-12||$25,000|
|Sidney A Swensrud Foundation||2021||2021-12||$20,000|
|Pierre F. & Enid Goodrich Foundation||2020||2021-04||$20,000|
|Association of Charles Evans Housing Foundation||2022||2022-12||$15,000|
|Winiarski Family Foundation||2022||2022-12||$15,000|
|The Marc Haas Foundation||2021||2021-12||$15,000|
|American Endowment Foundation||2021||2021-12||$12,000|
|Goldhill Family Foundation||2022||2022-12||$10,000|
|Newman Family Foundation||2021||2022-11||$10,000|
|The Arthur Loeb Foundation||2021||2022-11||$10,000|
|DuPage Community Foundation||2021||2022-06||$10,000|
|Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|G L Connolly Foundation||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|Mark and Anla Cheng Kingdon Fund||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|The Abstraction Fund||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|The Hilibrand Foundation||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|Burch Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
|Brian & Joelle Kelly Family Foundation||2021||2021-12||$10,000|
The Manhattan Institute has disclosed donations from the Koch brothers — and David Koch once served on its board. After David Koch’s death in 2019, one writer detailed his “monstrous legacy” of using “weaponized philanthropy” to build “a powerful conservative network” alongside Charles Koch, a Manhattan Institute contributor and current chair of the Charles Koch Foundation.
The Kochs were notorious for spending billions to “advance a radically free-market vision” and pushing the American government to the right through their right-wing group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Through the AFP Foundation, the Kochs’ “family fortune helped mobilize the tea party movement” during the Obama administration, helping to “seed the ground for Donald Trump” with white nationalism, anti-government rhetoric, and conspiracy theories.
According to Greenpeace, the Manhattan Institute is a “Koch Industries climate denial front group” that took over $2.5 million from Koch foundations from 1997 through 2014.
Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, has been a top donor to the Institute and was listed as one of its trustees until September 2020. Both Mercers gained considerable influence within the Republican Party following the 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed nearly all limits on corporate political giving. The Mercers poured millions of dollars into right-wing causes and political campaigns, becoming prominently known for their spending during the Trump years. All in all, the Mercer Family Foundation has sent tens of millions to influential right-wing organizations since its inception, including DonorsTrust, the Federalist Society, Becket, and the Heritage Foundation.
Rebekah and Robert Mercer together gave over $15 million — twice as much as the next highest donor — in support of Trump’s first presidential campaign. Rebekah Mercer advised Trump to hire white nationalist provocateur Steve Bannon — who she bankrolled while he led far-right Breitbart — as Trump’s campaign chairman. Bannon later became a senior White House adviser, with Mercer named to the executive committee for the Trump transition. In 2017, Bannon told The New Yorker that “the Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution.”
The Manhattan Institute is part of the “right-wing” State Policy Network (SPN), whose membership includes the Heritage Foundation, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, and DonorsTrust, the “dark money ATM of the right.” At its 2022 annual meeting, SPN’s members “spent four days immersed in a far-right agenda of social, political, economic, and culture war issues.”