The Leadership Institute

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Leadership Institute (LI) is a right wing Virginia-based training organization for potential conservative political leaders.

According to the group's website, the Leadership Institute was founded in 1979 by its president, Morton C. Blackwell. "LI provides training in campaigns, fundraising, grassroots organizing, youth politics, and communications. The Institute teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media. The Institute offers 47 types of training schools, workshops, and seminars; a free employment placement service; and a national field program that trains conservative students to organize campus groups. Since 1979, LI has trained more than 183,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students. The Institute's unique college campus network has grown to more than 1,700 conservative campus groups and newspapers."[1]

The Leadership Institute is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network.[2]

State Policy Network

SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of October 2019, SPN's membership totals 162. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million.[3] Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.[4]

In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"[5]

A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.[6]


Campus Leadership Program

According to the organization's website, the program provides grants for activism, speakers, and publications; resource materials and activism ideas; in-person training and personal assistance.[7]

The Leadership Institute identifies, organizes, and trains conservative college students to promote and defend their values on campus. Tomorrow's conservative leaders begin their activism and political careers with the Institute's campus programs today. LI's unique network includes more than 1,884 campus groups in all 50 states.

National Field Program

According to LI:[8]

The Leadership Institute's National Field Program is a unique network of independent conservative campus groups and publications with a presence on colleges in all 50 states. LI's campus network is comprised of more than 1,870 campus groups advocating for their principles on issues like limited government, the free market, traditional values, and national defense. This one-of-a-kind network is supported by LI's experienced team of regional field coordinators -- who are ready at a moment's notice to help conservative students promote and defend their beliefs on campus.

The website is operated by the Leadership Institute. According to the right wing website, "As a watchdog to the nation's higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation's college campuses. Our team of professional journalists works alongside student activists and student journalists to report on the conduct and misconduct of university administrators, faculty, and students. Campus Reform holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity, and public accountability."[9]

The website is operated by the Leadership Institute. Conservatism101 "brings an in-depth exploration of conservative philosophy to your campus or computer -- at no cost to you." The website highlights four areas of conservatism:[10]

  • Traditional Conservatism – focuses on the preservation of tradition and the justifications for the existence of natural law.
  • Libertarianism – focuses on philosophers who advocate for the free market and expansion of liberty through the reduction of government.
  • Social Conservatism – focuses on the defense of Judeo-Christian values, opposition to abortion, and support of traditional marriage.
  • Neo-conservatism – focuses on projecting American values to promote democracy, capitalism, and individual liberty.

Past Students

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $14,566,169
  • Total Expenses: $15,808,115
  • Net Assets: $25,060,978


  • Total Revenue: $24,275,069
  • Total Expenses: $13,908,431
  • Net Assets: $25,982,007


  • Total Revenue: $14,894,507
  • Total Expenses: $13,576,928
  • Net Assets: $16,039,675


  • Total Revenue: $10,981,090
  • Total Expenses: $12,443,201
  • Net Assets: $14,922,074


  • Total Revenue: $11,750,817
  • Total Expenses: $11,954,255
  • Net Assets: $15,112,271


Board of Directors

As of April 12, 2017:[15]

  • Morton Blackwell, President
  • M Dennis Daugherty, 1st Vice President
  • Craig Murphy, Treasurer
  • Ed Corrigan, Secretary
  • Chuck Cunningham, Director
  • Rev. Fred Fowler III, Director
  • John Maxwell, Director
  • Darío Paya, Honorary Director
  • Alexandre Pesey, Honorary Director
  • Ryan Rhodes, Director
  • Michael Rothfeld, Director
  • Fred Sacher, Director Emeritus
  • Charles Thornhill, Director
  • Jade West, Director


As of April 12, 2017:[16]

  • Morton Blackwell, President
  • Cathy Graham, Executive Assistant to the President
  • Peter Knickerbocker, Editorial Assistant to the President
  • David Fenner, Vice President of Programs
  • Patricia Simpson, Director of Career Programs
  • Paul Alfonse, Intern Coordinator
  • Autumn Campbell, Communications Training Coordinator
  • Ben Woodward, Programs Coordinator
  • Jared Reni, Communications Training Director
  • Angel Chitnatham, Political Training Director
  • Thomas Bingham, Political Training Coordinator
  • Robert Arnakis, Senior Director of Domestic and International Programs
  • Spencer Sullivan, Grassroots Programs Coordinator
  • Dena Espenscheid, Director of Grassroots Coalitions
  • Reynaldo Flores, Grassroots Programs Coordinator
  • Ronald Nehring, Director of International Training
  • Alexa Van Anne, International and Grassroots Program Coordinator
  • Deirdre Hackleman, Director of Events
  • Carol Wehe, Director of External Affairs
  • Kyle Baccei, Communications Manager
  • Abigail Alger, Director of Digital Training
  • Stephen Rowe, Digital Training Coordinator
  • Bryan Bernys, Vice President for the Campus Leadership Program
  • Sterling Beard, Editor In Chief
  • Cabot Phillips, Director of Campus Outreach
  • Peter Fricke, Managing Editor
  • Anthony Gockowski, Investigative Reporter
  • Amber Athey, Investigative Reporter
  • Kristin Dobson, National Field Director
  • Abe Alassaf, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Alex Witoslawski, Regional Field Coordinator
  • John Osborne, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Haley Roddie, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Allen Clarke, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Nathan Fatal, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Joel Watson, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Kelsey Mix, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Samuel Mariscal, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Joshua Platillero, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Hannah Weeks, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Bill Dowhy, Regional Field Coordinator
  • Ivy ElZaatari, Youth Leadership School Coordinator
  • Kaleigh Long, Youth Leadership School Coordinator
  • Morgun Sholty, Youth Leadership School Coordinator
  • Steven Sutton, Vice President of Development
  • John Davis, Director of Donor Communications
  • Karla Bruno, Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations
  • Mitchell Nozka, Deputy Director
  • Bethany Rolando, Regional Development Officer
  • John McGovern, Regional Development Officer
  • Oressa Boelk, Regional Development Officer
  • Aaron Rainwater, Regional Development Officer
  • Clark Vandeventer, Regional Development Officer
  • Rebecca Campbell, Donor Relations Officer
  • Courtney Brown, Donor Communications Coordinator
  • Maggie Ostrowski, Senior Donor Relations Officer
  • Nathan Wirebaugh, Donor Communications Coordinator
  • Hilary Hackleman, Donor Relations Officer
  • Erin Morrissey, Donor Relations Officer
  • Colson Steward, Donor Communications Assistant
  • Laurel Clark, Donor Communications Coordinator
  • Nathan Danielson, Donor Relations Officer
  • Mark Centofante, Vice President for Technology and Operations
  • Phil Natalini, Senior Director of Technology
  • Nicholas Argyle, Director of Systems and Network Operations
  • Lonex Louisdor, Technology Support Technician
  • Hans Schulzke, Web and Database Programmer
  • Ryan Bolyard, Director of Web and Database Operations
  • Daniel Klenck, Director of Building Management
  • Craig Dixon, Director of LI Studios
  • Joseph McGowan, Studio Producer
  • Joseph Metzger, VP of Finance
  • David Hempel, Controller
  • Christopher Bohn, Assistant Controller


Employer Identification Number (EIN): 51-0235174

Leadership Institute
1101 North Highland Street
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 247-2000
Fax: (703) 247-2001
Web: Twitter: @Leadershipinst Facebook:

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Leadership Institute, about us, organizational website, accessed April 12, 2017.
  2. State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, accessed March 17, 2017.
  3. David Armiak, Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million], ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
  4. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  5. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  6. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  7. Leadership Institute, Campus, organizational website, accessed April 12, 2017.
  8. Leadership Institute, NFP, organizational website, accessed April 12, 2017.
  9., about, Leadership Institute, accessed April 12, 2017.
  10. Conservatism101, Curriculum, Leadership Institute, accessed April 12, 2017.
  11. Leadership Institute, [paper copy on file with CMD, 2016 IRS Form 990], Internal Revenue Service, March 28, 2017.
  12. Leadership Institute, 2015 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, April 8, 2016.
  13. Leadership Institute, 2014 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, April 2, 2015.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Leadership Institute, 2013 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, April 16, 2014.
  15. Leadership Institute, Directors, organizational website, accessed April 12, 2017.
  16. Leadership Institute, Staff, organizational website, accessed April 12, 2017.