Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment

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

The Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) based in Bozeman, Montana, is a prime engine for free market environmentalism in the area of education.

Preaching reliance on market mechanisms and private property rights, rather than on environmental law, for protection of the environment, its chairperson, John Baden (a past member of the National Petroleum Council), stresses decentralization - a shift of control from what he calls "Green platonic despots in D.C." to "local interests." He has written, apparently in all seriousness, that the agenda of FREE is "the norm among progressive, intellectually honest and successful environmentalists."

One of FREE's current projects is the "Charter Forest" scheme, in which the national forests would no longer operate under the "multiple use" mandate. Rather, each forest would be are managed by whatever industry would be able to realize the greatest profit.

For more than ten years, FREE has been offering expense-paid seminars in its philosophy to federal judges. (View a copy of an invitation).

Seminars, held primarily at resorts and private ranches in Montana, with good access to trout streams and golf courses, include such topics as "The Environment: A CEO's Perspective" and "Liberty and the Environment: A Case for Judicial Activism". In the late nineties, FREE boasted that nearly a third of the federal judiciary had either attended or was seeking to attend its seminars, this as the Bush Administration now strives to pack federal benches with rightist judges. The group also offers expense-paid courses for university faculty and students, these reportedly taught on the campus of Montana State University.

Between August 14-19, 2004, FREE hosted the 2004 general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

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.

Ties to Koch brothers

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

FREE has received funding from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, which are both Koch Family Foundations. Between 1998 and 2009, these two foundations reported giving $1.3 million to FREE.

News and Controversies

BP Settlement Controversy

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Clement, a board member of FREE, has supported BP's attempts to suspend compensation payments resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill settlement and has been criticized for not recusing herself from involvement in the BP settlement case. WWL-TV, a New Orleans-area news channel, has described FREE as "backed by Big Oil and used to pay for junkets for judges."[1]

According to the Financial Times, the Fifth Circuit court "has been described by its critics as 'the most corporation-friendly' or 'the most conservative' in the US." The Financial Times described Clement as "the appeals judge who has delivered the most strongly-worded opinion in support of BP."[2] WWL-TV reported that "[t]he federal Judicial Conference ruled in 2010 that it was unethical for federal judges to sit on the foundation’s board, and one judge actually resigned from the board. Clement and two other federal judges did not."[1] FREE Chairman John Baden responded in a March 2014 letter to the editor, in which he claimed that FREE is not a front for Big Oil, receives most of its funding from "independent foundations," and opposes corporate subsidies.[3]



As of June 2014:[4]

Archived Information


FREE has received millions of dollars from roughly the same profile of foundations that fund the PERC. According to FREE's website funding has come from

2002 Corporate Funders

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $462,036
  • Total Expenses: $400,762
  • Net Assets: $1,185,813


662 Ferguson Road
Bozeman, MT 59718
Phone (406) 585-1776
Fax (406) 585-3000

External links

  • 1.0 1.1 David Hammer, More alleged misconduct in BP oilspill settlement program," WWL-TV, January 15, 2014.
  • Ed Crooks, "BP finds friends at US federal appeals court," Financial Times, December 6, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2014.
  • John Baden, "Letter: FREE takes issue with description as Big Oil front," The New Orleans Advocate, March 20, 2014. Accessed June 3, 2014.
  • Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, About page, Our Board, accessed June 3, 2014.
  • Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, 2012 Form 990], organizational IRS filing, May 21, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2014.