Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Front groups badge.png

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) claims to be "a non-partisan education and research organization which works on free enterprise studies, public policy research, book publishing, conferences, white papers, and media outreach." According to their website, they track "threats to free markets, property rights and limited government." CDFE sponsors seminars, conferences and appears on radio programs focusing on the "threats" posed by environmentalism. It also sells training videos, books and distributes newsletters teaching supporters how to "fight back" against environmentalists.

Executive Vice-President Ron Arnold has frequently testified before Congress on topics such as the threats of eco-terrorism. A term he claimed credit for coining in a 1982 Reason Magazine article. [1] He is considered the father of the Wise Use movement.

CDFE maintains Undue Influence and its Green Tracking Library, an online database "to make the money, power, politics, and undue influence of the environmental movement transparent." [2]

Documents Contained at the Anti-Environmental Archives
Documents written by or referencing this person or organization are contained in the Anti-Environmental Archive, launched by Greenpeace on Earth Day, 2015. The archive contains 3,500 documents, some 27,000 pages, covering 350 organizations and individuals. The current archive includes mainly documents collected in the late 1980s through the early 2000s by The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), an organization that tracked the rise of the so called "Wise Use" movement in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency. Access the index to the Anti-Environmental Archives here.


Since the late 1980's, CDFE has been at the center of the Wise Use movement. It was originally founded by Alan Gottlieb on July 4, 1976, "the bicentennial of the American Revolution" as CDFE points out in its statement of purpose:

"The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise's programs include research, publication, conferences, consulting, training and media awareness on threats to free enterprise. We operate a book publishing division, the Free Enterprise Press, to disseminate important investigative and analytical research, and have a variety of programs to help individuals and businesses face free enterprise-related crises.
"CDFE has received national recognition for its programs and services, particularly in tracking the money of non-profit groups opposing free enterprise. Although we receive no government funding, we are dedicated to providing information and assistance to those struggling with government interference and civilian opposition to free enterprise." [3]

CDFE Activities

At CDFE's website you can also read the:

"rave reviews of Paul Driessen's new book Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death that exposes the green racist agenda to withhold malaria control and life-saving GMO crop from Africa and other developing nations. A horrifying account of green genocide."

They fail to mention that the supposed ban on DDT in some third world countries, used to control malaria, is a myth. [4] [5] They also don't mention the known and significant hazards presented by GMO foods and that most countries, including African countries, have banned them. See also Food and Drug Administration.

In February 2004, Mr. Driessen appeared before the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, as a senior fellow representing three think tanks; the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and CDFE. He also claimed that the Economic Human Rights Project, which he was a director of, "was an initiative of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, in cooperation with the Congress of Racial Equality. According to Mr. Driessan:

"Reflecting its belief that 'Economic rights are human rights' the growing coalition is dedicated to correcting prevalent environmental myths and misguided policies that help perpetuate poverty, misery, disease and early death in developing countries. [6]

CDFE & Animal Rights

See also Conservatives target the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Interviews & Quotes

According to CDFE Executive VP, Ron Arnold in a December 1991 article in the New York Times by reporter Timothy Egan:

"We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members." [7]
"We (CDFE) created a sector of public opinion that didn't used to exist. No one was aware that environmentalism was a problem until we came along."

While CDFE's IRS return states that Mr. Arnold works 20 hours a week without any compensation, Mr. Egan reported that in 1991 he charged $3,000 a day as a speaker or organizer of anti-environmental groups. For conservative fundraisers like Mr. Gottlieb, the enemies were Senator Edward M. Kennedy and gun control. However, he realized the potential financial rewards of opposing environmentalism:

"For us" said Mr. Gottlieb... "the environmental movement has become the perfect bogeyman." [8]

In June 1993, Mr. Arnold told Washington Times reporter Valerie Richardson that "since the Democrats got into power, our income has doubled." [9]

CDFE and Ron Arnold, are considered by many to be the founding and principle strategy-setting forces in the grassroots anti-environmental movement. In his essay "Overcoming Ideology" he depicts environmentalists as "eco-ideologists" whose stand

"against promoting economic growth, technological progress and a market economy" stands in sharp contrast to the wise use movement's actual stewardship of the land, the water and the air." Environmentalists are portrayed as "eco-fetishists" whose moral self-righteousness is "about the people, but not by or for them."

The CDFE headline declares this essay is "regarded by many as the seminal expression of the ideas that have evolved into the richly diverse wise use movement."[10]

The Environmental Working Group, in a Wise Use group analysis, says it is ironic that the CDFE website purports to represent a credible, rational opposition to environmentalism, given Arnold's role:

"in developing the radical, polarized and extreme early version of 'wise use' that vilified environmentalism and environmental activists."

In a May 30, 1993 interview with CNN, he described the role of a wise user as akin to a warrior weilding a sword. "And that sword has two purposes: to carve out a niche for your agenda, to reshape the American law in your image; and, kill the bastards." [11]

Then again, Arnold has also been quoted as having said that "Facts don't matter. In politics, perception is reality." [12], , [13]

In June 2004, the CDFE posted a commentary article from a Canadian newspaper objecting to environmental campaigns against the seal hunting to its website. The accompanying note summarized what CDFE thought of environmental groups.

"Now it's time to turn the tables and outlaw or de-fund the anti-extraction groups that practice this barbaric brand of deliberate destruction of resource-extracting cultures." [14]

Beyond the 'Wise Use' movement

For all the hype about its plans, CDFE gives the impression of a floundering organisation. The conservative Capital Research Center, which has published several articles by Arnold since 2000 states in its Green Watch database that CDFE "publishes The Private Sector, a quarterly, Advise and Consent, a periodical, and the Wise Use Conservation Memo, a quarterly". However, there is no mention of these publications on the CDFE website.

In its 2002 IRS return CDFE lists only two achievements for the organisation in the preceding year. The first was the creation of "a publicly accessible computer database tracking activities and donations to anti-industry groups." It is a project that emulates what other conservative - and bigger budget -groups are doing. In a 2002 outline, CDFE had planned to:

"Expand existing publicly accessible computer database to track activities and donations of animal rights groups."[15]

Its other achievement for 2001 was the publishing of "an important new book by a widely respected crisis managment executive to aid businesses faced with organized opposition." CDFE also planned to take advantage of the focus on terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorists. As an objective for 2002, CDFE planned to:

"Create an outreach program increasing public awareness of eco-terrorism and how the public can help law enforcement stop anti-business crime."

The CDFE website features categories such as PETA-probe, eco-imperialism, and the latest headlines from Fox News. CDFE also hosts two increasingly dated websites:

While CDFE have made a name for themselves championing anti-environmentalism, their advocacy efforts occasionally take a bizarre twist. In July 2003 Arnold issued a media release calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to prevent a takeover bid of computer software company PeopleSoft by Oracle.

The month before Arnold had dispatched a media release to business editors stating that it had developed a list of major "scandals in the making" and was launching "Scandal-Scan because of recent corporate scandals". In what reads like a pitch seeking support from the business community, CDFE announced that it was "taking action before they can become 'corporate disasters.'" The problems identified weren't corporate accounting standards, but issues such as the activities of the Nature Conservancy and re-insurance contracts. Topping the list was "greenmail". According to the media release:

"Are corporations being coerced into paying off activist organizations in exchange for their no longer accusing them of 'social irresponsibility' or environmental damage? Are such non-profit activist groups subject to Federal Trade Commission rules on anti-competitive acts and collusions with for-profit firms to unfairly manipulate markets and damage competing businesses?" [16], [17], [18]

Funding & Finances

CDFE is a tax-exempt, educational organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States Tax Code. Employer Identification Number (EIN) is 91-0973976. CDFE states that it is a "non-partisan" non-profit that "accepts no government grants". [19]

The Capital Research Center, states in its Green Watch database that CDFE has a "membership" of 75,000. However, this seems overstated given the CDFE finances of recent years have been been modest.

Partial Funding History

  • Coors Foundation
  • Georgia Pacific
  • Louisiana-Pacific
  • MacMillan Bloedel
  • Pacific Lumber
  • Exxon
  • DuPont, Agricultural Products Division
  • Boise Cascade
  • Seneca Sawmills
  • Sun Studs
  • Burkland Lumber
  • F.M. Kirby Foundation

In 2003 ExxonMobil donated $40,000 to CDFE for "global climate change issues". [20]

This contribution represents 47% of the reported "gifts, grants, and contributions received" by the CDFE.

Month Total revenue Total expenses Net assets
1999 26,812 26,947 35,299
2000 64,114 42,048 54,879
2001 142,246 98,881 99,247
2002 76,899 100,702 74,846





Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise 12500 NE 10th Place
Bellevue, WA 98005

Phone: 206.455.5038

Web address:

Articles & Sources

Sourcewatch Articles


  1. The Birth of a Buzz-Word: Eco-Terrorism" (Ron Arnold response to article), Indymedia, September 2007
  2. Website Accessed April, 2010
  3. Nonprofit Report: Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Guidestar, accessed February 2010
  4. Jim Norton The DDT Ban Myth, Infopollution
  5. Jim Norton More DDT myths, Infopollution, accessed February 2010
  6. Paul Driessen Statement of Paul K. Driessen, APR, Esq. Director, Economic Human Rights Project to House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources", February 4, 2004
  7. Timothy Egan Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism, New York Times, pg 2, December 19, 1991
  8. Timothy Egan Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism, New York Times, pg 1, December 19, 1991
  9. Valerie Richardson, "'Wise Use' drive fights environmentalists: grass-roots groups spread across West to defend human, business interests", Washington Times, June 20, 1993
  10. Ron Arnold Overcoming Ideology,
  11. David Helvarg The War Against the Greens: The Wise-Use Movement, The New Right, and the Browning of America, pg 7, May 2004, ISBN 978-1555663285
  12. Outside magazine, December, 1991
  13. William Kevin Burke The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism, The Public Eye, 1993
  14. Canadian seal hunt protests: Eco-colonialism or legitimate concern?", CDFE, June 8, 2004
  15. Nonprofit Report: Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Guidestar, accessed February 2010
  16. 'Foundation Calls on Justice Department to Stop Oracle's Bid to Buy PeopleSoft, CDFE Media Release, U.S. Newswire, July 8, 2003
  17. Ron Arnold, "In Antitrust We Trust", Investor's Business Daily, July 15, 2003
  18. Ron Arnold, "Oracle's bluff", letter to the editor, Chicago Tribune, July 16, 2003
  19. Nonprofit Report: Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Guidestar, accessed February 2010
  20. Corporate Giving Report, ExxonMobil, 2003
  21. IRS 990 Tax Return, CDFE, 2006

External Articles

External Resources

Brian Glick, Abbie Smith War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do about It, South End Press, July 1999, ISBN 978-0896083493