Independence Institute

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The Independence Institute is a free-market, libertarian think tank based in Denver, Colorado. The non-profit is a member of the State Policy Network. Independence Institute states its mission as "to empower individuals and to educate citizens, legislators and opinion makers about public policies that enhance personal and economic freedom."[1]

Don't confuse this Coors-funded Independence Institute with the similarly-named Independent Institute.

News and Controversies

Independence Institute Loses Challenge to Colorado's Campaign Disclosure Law

On February 4, 2016, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an Independence Institute challenge to Colorado's campaign disclosure law related to the 2014 governor’s race.[2] The Independence Institute had fought the law because it did not want to have to disclose donors who paid for an ad attacking Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2014.[2]

Tara Malloy, the deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, praised the ruling,

"This ruling marks another resounding victory for disclosure against a nationwide flood of challenges to laws that require the reporting of nothing more than the identity of those spending significant sums on candidate-focused ads shortly before elections."[2]

'Independent' Scholar on Guns at Independence Institute Funded by NRA

David Kopel, the Research Director and Second Amendment Project Director at the Independence Institute, who is often presented as an "independent scholar" on gun rights has received millions in financial backing from the National Rifle Association, according to a report in The Progressive.[3] In the article, Frank Smyth writes, "David Kopel has managed to establish himself as an independent authority on gun policy issues even though he and his Independence Institute have received over $1.42 million including about $175,000 a year over eight years from the NRA."[3] The author also reports that, "Kopel received $1.39 million in grant money from the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund between 2004 and 2011."[3] When asked about the disclosure of NRA money flowing to the Independence Institute and himself, Kopel replied, "If that’s her editorial judgement, that’s fine with me. I’m not going to second-guess an editor.”[3]

Ties to the Bradley Foundation

Between 2004 and 2016 the Independence Institute received $1,535,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.

2016 (Barder Fund): $250,000 to support work on state infrastructure.

Independence president Jon Caldara “would like to do more ‘hyper localized’ training of local grassroots activists around Colorado to participate more effectively in public discourse and policymaking. ‘Small is the new big,’ according to Caldara. Colorado has 3,600 local governments. Not only does the Left exercise its power and coercion through these governments, he and [Independence Institute] believe, but it uses them as farm teams to groom people for higher office. Local government – including its ‘sub strata’ of even more numerous boards, councils and commissions, whether actual or advisory – is the Left’s bench. II wants to build a better bench and lays out a simple four point plan to try to do so. Its two year budget for the effort is $400,000, all of which it is requesting from Bradley… It would coordinate its activities with American Majority, the Centennial Institute and the Leadership Program of the Rockies.”

  • “First, II is already compiling a database of every elected and appointed position in Jefferson County, including zoning boards, urban renewal boards, liquor boards – all of them. The database will include whether the position is elected or appointed, who currently fills it, and their terms of service, among other data points. With further funding, it would enlarge the database to include other areas.”
  • “Second, II wishes to conduct outreach to those in the database who it thinks would be receptive, or even semi receptive, to develop relationships that might be helpful in the near or long term future. Meetings and strategy sessions could result after enough such relationships exist.”
  • “Third, it would engage in active recruitment of others to participate in the project, including through the other normal tools of network building, potentially including micro targeting. This, it says, is the most labor intensive part of the effort.”
  • “Fourth, II and its allies would support and maintain what it hopes to be an enlarged network of these individuals.”

2015: $200,000 to support the Education Labor Project and the Energy Policy Center. The “Education Labor Project was created to support projects aimed at reducing the influence of local and state teacher unions by ending the practices of using public resources to promote their political agenda…The Project’s intensive outreach to individual members of the unions has proven to be successful. Through this means II has been able to persuade many members to ask for that portion of their dues to the union given over to political work to be returned to them.” “The nation needs Colorado—the state that the eco left and EPA hold up as a model—to do its part to maintain fracking and slow down the regulatory juggernaut. In its Caldara inspired aggressive way, II’s EPC is helping Colorado do this, and it’s helping others do so elsewhere.” Money will also be spent to bolster “the infrastructure there (CO), usually in the context of aggressive education reform, and including from several organizations in Denver and nearby Douglas County, Colo., which is south of Denver. These groups include the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Douglas County Educational Foundation, and Jeffco Students First.”

Bradley Files

In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.

Find the series here at

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

The Independence Institute has ties to ALEC through membership in "task forces." Barry Poulson, a senior fellow at the institute's Fiscal Policy Center, is an advisor to ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.[4][5] Mr. Poulson participates in the Public Pension Reform Working Group. He gave a report on their behalf to the task force at the 2011 Annual Meeting.[6]

Another senior fellow, Rob Natelson, is member of the International Relations Task Force. He is listed as an "advisor" to the Federal Relations Working Group on the agenda from the ALEC Nation and State Policy Summit in 2010, where he spoke about convening an Article 5 convention .[7] At ALEC's 38th Annual Meeting in 2011, Natelson gave another presentation to the Federal Relations Working Group titled "Where’s the Line? How States Protect the Constitution," along with Representative Ken Ivory (UT).[8]

Ben DeGrow, a public policy analyst at the Independence Institute, represents the think tank on on ALEC's Education Task Force. He sponsored amendments to ALEC’s “Open Enrollment Act” and gave a presentation entitled “Collective Bargaining Transparency” at the 2010 States and Nation Policy Summit.[9]

Former University of Montana constitutional scholar Rob Natelson, a fellow at the Independence Institute, wrote an amendment convention handbook for ALEC.[10]

The institute also has ties to ALEC through its membership with the State Policy Network which itself is a member of ALEC.

Please see SPN Ties to ALEC for more.

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's, and check out breaking news on our site.

Ties to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

The Independence Institute has hosted writers from the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which screens potential reporters on their “free market” views as part of the job application process.[11] The Franklin Center funds reporters in over 40 states.[12] Despite their non-partisan description, many of the websites funded by the Franklin Center have received criticism for their conservative bias.[13][14] On its website, the Franklin Center claims it "provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide."[15]

Franklin Center Funding

Franklin Center Director of Communications Michael Moroney told the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in 2013 that the source of the Franklin Center's funding "is 100 percent anonymous." But 95 percent of its 2011 funding came from DonorsTrust, a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable that functions as a large "donor-advised fund," cloaking the identity of donors to right-wing causes across the country (CPI did a review of Franklin's Internal Revenue Service records).[16] Mother Jones called DonorsTrust "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement" in a February 2013 article.[17] Franklin received DonorTrust's second-largest donation in 2011.[16]

The Franklin Center also receives funding from the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation,[18] a conservative grant-making organization.[19]

The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM),[20] a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM gets funding from the State Policy Network,[21] which is partially funded by The Claude R. Lambe Foundation.[22] Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation.[23] SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.


The Independence Institute is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings of those foundations.

Partial List of 1995-2015 Funders

Partial List of 1985-1990 Funders

According to a 1991 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the Independence Institute was funded in part by the following corporations, organizations, and foundations from 1985 to 1990:[25]

  • Corporations & Organizations:
    • Amex Corp.
    • American Furniture Warehouse
    • Arapahoe Community College
    • Arco Coal
    • Automated Business Services
    • Bailey Companies
    • Ball Corp.
    • Benson Mineral Group
    • Caim Companies
    • Calcon Constructors
    • Captiva Corp.
    • Celtech Corp.
    • Chevron Oil
    • Ciruli Associates
    • Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry
    • Colorado Association of School Executives
    • Colorado Bar Association
    • Colorado Interstate Gas Co.
    • Colorado National Bankshares, Inc.
    • Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
    • Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
    • Columbine Venture Fund, Ltd.
    • Cooley Gravel Company
    • Coopers & Lybrand
    • Custom Envelope Corp.
    • David, Graham & Stubbs
    • Deloitte Haskins & Sells
    • Denver Technological Center
    • Denver West, Inc.
    • Dixon Paper
    • DTM Products
    • Duncan Cattle Company
    • Embassy Suites Hotel
    • Equity Syndication
    • Flatiron Companies
    • D.E. Frey and Co.
    • Frontier Oil and Refining
    • G.E. Johnson Construction
    • General Motors
    • Gerald Phipps Inc.
    • Great Southwest Construction Co.
    • Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce
    • Hewlett Packard
    • High Valley Group
    • Home Builders Association of Metro Denver
    • Hyatt Regency Denver
    • Ideal Basic Industries
    • Jostens Inc.
    • Kelmore Association
    • Keystone Resort Inc.
    • King Soopers
    • Koelbel and Co.
    • Louisiana Pacific Corp.
    • Lucas Oil and Gas
    • Martin Marietta
    • Marriott Hotels
    • Mobil Oil Corp.
    • Mountain States Employers Council
    • North Central Life Insurance Co.
    • Oklahoma Publishing
    • One Source Management
    • Peat Marwick Main & Co.
    • Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Denver
    • Phelps, Inc.
    • Gerald Phipps Inc.
    • [Potential Inc.] (illeg.)
    • Presto Print
    • Public Service Co. of Colorado
    • The Pueblo Chieftain
    • Ralston Purina Co.
    • Ready-Mixed Concrete
    • Ridgewood Realty
    • Robinson Dairy
    • Roche Constructors
    • Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association
    • Rocky Mountain Orthodontics
    • Saunders Construction
    • Shuck Corp.
    • Security Life of Denver
    • Step Thirteen
    • Stock Imagery Inc.
    • Storage Technology
    • True Oil
    • United Banks of Colorado, Inc.
    • United Bank of Denver
    • U.S. West Communications
    • Vail Association
    • Vessels Oil and Gas Co.
    • Welbourne Co.
    • Woodford Manufacturing
  • Foundations:

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $2,230,351
  • Total Expenses: $2,782,204
  • Net Assets: $4,060,566


  • Total Revenue: $1,660,315
  • Total Expenses: $1,293,943
  • Net Assets: $4,614,191


  • Total Revenue: $2,128,106
  • Total Expenses: $2,907,995
  • Net Assets: $4,243,416


  • Total Revenue: $2,716,740
  • Total Expenses: $2,621,981
  • Net Assets: $5,024,988


  • Total Revenue: $2,906,044
  • Total Expenses: $2,995,352
  • Net Assets: $4,927,653


  • Total Revenue: $2,570,000
  • Total Expenses: $2,255,566
  • Net Assets: $5,016,961

Grants Distributed

  • Daily Caller News Foundation: $10,000


  • Total Revenue: $1,965,509
  • Total Expenses: $1,963,635
  • Net Assets: $2,417,013


  • Total Revenue: $1,965,509
  • Total Expenses: $1,963,635
  • Net Assets: $2,417,013


  • Total Revenue: $1,469,690
  • Total Expenses: $1,527,047
  • Net Assets: $2,403,353



As of Sept 2019:[35]

  • Jon Caldara, President
  • Amy Oliver Cooke, Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center
  • Pam Benigno, Education Policy Center Director
  • Laura Carno, Faster Training
  • Kathleen Chandler, Coalitions Manager former Project Coordinator, Local Government Project
  • Linda Gorman, Health Care Policy Center Director
  • Shari Hanrahan, Director of Investor Opportunities
  • Tracy Kimball Smith, Creative Labs
  • Michelle Knight, Executive Assistant, Investor Relations
  • David Kopel, Research Director and Second Amendment Project Director
  • Mike Krause, Complete Colorado Editor-in-Chief, former Director of Public Affairs
  • Justin Longo, Communications/Creative Labs/Complete Colorado
  • Maty Macfarlane, Grants & Outreach Manager
  • Shayne Madsen, Director, Political Law Center
  • Tyler Massey, Creative Labs/Digital Assets Manager
  • Brit Naas, Future Leaders Program
  • Robert Natelson, Senior Fellow, Constitutional Jurisprudence
  • Randal O'Toole, Transportation Policy Center Director
  • Wojciech Owczarek, Education Policy Analyst
  • Sherrie Peif, Education Reporter
  • Dennis Polhill, Senior Fellow, Public Infrastructure
  • Paul Prentice, Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
  • Damon Sasso, Vice President, Operations and Creative Labs
  • Josh Williams, Donor Relations Manager

Former Staff

  • Megan Polston, Administrative Assistant
  • Rachael Kaiser, School Choice for Kids Database Manager
  • Michael Sandoval, Energy Policy Analyst and Investigative Reporter
  • Todd Lubas, Director of Strategic Partnerships
  • Cherish Shaffer, Special Projects
  • Todd Shepherd, Investigative Reporter
  • Erick Valencia, Outreach and Communications Coordinator, Education Policy Center
  • Angelica Malik, Development Manager
  • Simon Lomax, Associate Energy Policy Analyst
  • Tom Tancredo - Sixth Congressional District of Colorado. Former President of the Independence Institute.
  • John Andrews - Colorado State Senate Minority Leader and founder of the Independence Institute.
  • Rob Fairbank - Colorado House Republican Caucus Chair Third-ranking Republican in the Colorado House. Former Office Director.
  • Shawn Mitchell - Colorado State Representative - Chair, House Information and Technology Committee. Former Senior Fellow.
  • Ted Harvey - Colorado State Representative - Former Office Director.
  • Rick Grice - Director Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation. Former Senior Fellow
  • Jack McCroskey - Regional Transportation District Director. Former Senior Fellow.
  • Paul Danish - Boulder County Commissioner. Former Senior Fellow.
  • Greg Bledsoe - Colorado Counties. Legislative Liaison for agricultural, wildlife and rural affairs issues
  • Wendell Cox
  • Jay Ambrose, Contributing Columnist
  • Christina "CJ" James Buchanan, Development
  • Ben DeGrow, Policy analyst, Education Policy Center
  • Marya DeGrow, Research Associate, Education Policy Center
  • Joanne D. Eisen, Senior Fellow, Criminal Justice
  • Susan Evans, Director of Major Gifts
  • Barry Fagin, Senior Fellow, Technology
  • Paul Gallant, Senior Fellow, Criminal Justice
  • Raaki Garcia-Ulam, Hispanic outreach coordinator, School Choice for Kids
  • J. Craig Green, Senior Fellow, Water Policy
  • Mark Hillman, Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
  • Fred Holden, Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
  • Krista Kafer, Senior Fellow, Education Policy Center
  • Kait Lochner, Assistant to the Vice President of Operations
  • Mary MacFarlane, Development Associate
  • Julie Mallon, Vice President of Development
  • Randal O'Toole, Center for the American Dream Director
  • Penn Pfiffner, Fiscal Policy Center Director
  • Barry Poulson, Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Center
  • Brian Schwartz, Research Associate, Health Care Policy Center
  • William Yeatman, Policy Anaylst, Energy Policy Center
  • Karen Zuppa, Accountant

Board of Trustees

As of September 2019:[36]

  • Jon Caldara, President
  • Catherine Shopneck, Chairman
  • Katherine Whitcomb, Vice-Chairman
  • Jeff Coors
  • Debbie Donner
  • Mike McCarty
  • Joseph Smith

Former Trustees

  • Joe Ignat – Secretary / Treasurer
  • Gale Norton - Secretary of the Interior. Former Senior Fellow and Board Member of the Independence Institute.
  • Donald Hodel - Secretary of the Interior, 1985-1989. Former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Independence Institute.
  • Bruce Benson - Republican nominee for Governor of Colorado, 1994. Former Board member.
  • Mike Rosen - News Radio 850 KOA talk show host and newspaper columnist. Former Board Member.
  • James MacDougald, Honorary Life Trustee

Contact Information

Independence Institute
727 E. 16th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
Phone: (303) 279-6536

Articles and Resources

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Independence Institute, About, Independence Institute, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 John Frank, Colorado campaign disclosure law upheld by federal appeals court, The Denver Post, February 5, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Frank Smyth, The Times Has Finally (Quietly) Outed an NRA-Funded “Independent” Scholar, The Progressive, April 23, 2014.
  4. "i2i: Barry Poulson", organizational website, accessed October 2012
  5. American Legislative Exchange Council, "Inside ALEC Special Issue: Budget & Taxes", June 2012
  6. American Legislative Exchange Council, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force meeting agenda and materials, October 27, 2011, on file with CMD
  7. American Legislative Exchange Council, International and Federal Relations Task Force meeting and Federal Relations Working Group, meeting agenda and materials, August 4, 2011, on file with CMD
  8. American Legislative Exchange Council, 38th Annual Meeting, agenda and materials, August 4, 2011, on file with CMD
  9. American Legislative Exchange Council, Education Task Force meeting agenda and materials, October 28, 2010, on file with CMD
  10. Michael Wines, Inside the push to amend the Constitution, The Bulletin, August 23, 2016.
  11. Franklin Center, Franklin Affiliates in Your State, organizational website, accessed October 2012.
  12. The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Think tank Journalism: The Future of Investigative Journalism, organizational website, accessed August 19, 2011.
  13. Rebekah Metzler, "Watchdog" website puts a new spin on politics, The Portland Press Herald, October 2, 2010.
  14. Allison Kilkenny, The Koch Spider Web, Truthout, accessed August 19, 2011.
  15. Sara Jerving, Franklin Center: Right-Wing Funds State News Source,, October 27, 2011.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Paul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, organizational report, February 14, 2013.
  17. Andy Kroll, Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement, Mother Jones, February 5, 2013.
  18. Daniel Bice, Franklin Center boss wants apology from Democratic staffer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 8, 2011.
  19. The Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation. Organizational website. Accessed August 19, 2011.
  20. Sam Adams Alliance. Sam Adams Alliance Media Kit. Organizational PDF. Accessed August 19, 2011.
  21. Media Matters Action Network. Sam Adams Alliance. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
  22. Media Matters Action Network. State Policy Network. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
  23. Media Matters Action Network. Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 19, 2011.
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10 American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, Recipient: Independence Institute, Bridge Project conservative transparency website, accessed December 2013.
  25. National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks, organizational report, Spring 1991.
  26. 2017 990], Independence Institute, Nov 8, 2018
  27. 2016 990], Independence Institute, Nov 21, 2017.
  28. Independence Institute,2016 990, Independence Institute, Nov 21, 2017.
  29. Independence Institute,2014 990, Independence Institute, October 8, 2015.
  30. Independence Institute,2013 990, Independence Institute, May 14, 2015.
  31. Independence Institute,2012 990, Independence Institute, May 15, 2014.
  32. Independence Institute, IRS form 990, 2011. GuideStar.
  33. Independence Institute, IRS form 990, 2010. GuideStar.
  34. Independence Institute, IRS form 990, 2009. GuideStar.
  35. Independence Institute, Staff, Independence Institute, 2019
  36. Independence Institute, Board of Trustees, Independence Institute, 2018.