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Anatomy of a Washington dinner: Who funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute?

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will headline the Competitive Enterprise Institute's annual dinner Thursday night. (Credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will headline the Competitive Enterprise Institute's annual dinner Thursday night. (Credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post)

People have plenty of conspiracy theories about the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute: that it's merely an extension of the Koch brothers' empire, or a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil Corp.

While the group does not disclose its donors as a general rule, it does reveal which companies and interest groups sponsor its annual fundraising dinner -- which takes place Thursday night at the J.W. Marriott -- along with how much they contribute. CEI provided a copy of its dinner program to the Fix, ranking donors according to the value of five metals -- chromium, tungsten, nickel, copper and tin -- which ecologist Paul Ehrlich bet economist Julian Simon would be more scarce in 2005 than in 1980, the year of the wager. (Ehrlich lost the bet.)

The lineup of sponsors both confirms certain stereotypes about the right-leaning think tank and challenges others. The energy sector donated $110,000 to the event, the same amount given by conservative foundations (three of which are associated with the billionaires Charles and David Koch). But the biggest single donor is Google, which gave $50,000, and Facebook kicked in $25,000.

Lawson Bader, CEI's new president, said the list shows his group has "a pretty diverse group of supporters." The fact that fossil fuel firms -- and a number of rail companies that transport coal and oil -- rank as generous donors makes sense, Bader said, because CEI has "been working on energy and environmental issues longer than other" Washington groups.

At the same time, CEI ranks as a strong defender of privacy and civil liberty. "We are very committed to the idea of free enterprise and individual liberty," he said. "CEI does see itself as more libertarian than conservative."

The dinner's keynote speaker is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose political stock is particularly high at the moment. "I have no doubt that having Rand Paul as the keynote speaker probably helped drive some of the increased interest in the dinner," Bader observed. "It’s hard to test that theory."

Another reason for the impressive turnout may be Bader's own sales skills: he managed to convince both his mother Jeannie and his brother Cole to buy tickets to the event, at $250 each. When asked whether he thought his mother should have made a bigger donation, Bader replied, "No comment."

Want to know who shelled out the most to support CEI's annual fete? Read the gritty details, below, with donors listed according to sector.


Murray Energy Corporation $45,000

Marathon Petroleum $25,000

Devon Energy $15,000

Phillips 66 $10,000

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity $5,000

American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers $5,000

Emerson Electric $5,000


Association of American Railroads $5,000

BNSF Railway $5,000

Canadian National Railway $5,000

CSX Corporation $5,000

Norfolk Southern $5,000

Union Pacific Corporation $5,000

Auto Industry

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. $15,000

Ford Motor Company $5,000

Volkswagen Group of America $5,000


Altria Corporate Services $10,000

American Beverage Association $5,000

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States $5,000

Pepsico, Inc. $5,000

Foundations/Advocacy Groups

JP Humphreys Foundation $40,000

Claws Foundation $25,000

Koch Companies Public Sector $15,000

Charles Koch Foundation $10,000

Dunn’s Foundation $10,000

Americans for Prosperity $5,000

The Beach Foundation $5,000


Comcast-NBC Universal $10,000

National Cable & Telecommunications Association $10,000

News Corporation $10,000

Verizon Communications $7,500

The American Conservative $5,000

Motion Picture Association of America $5,000

White House Writers Group $5,000


Google $50,000

Facebook $25,000

Consumer Electronics Association $10,000

GTECH $5,000

Microsoft Corporation $5,000


PhRMA $25,000

Glaxo-SmithKline $15,000

American Optometric Association $10,000

Generic Pharmaceutical Association $10,000

Biotechnology Industry Organization $10,000


Monsanto $10,000Syngenta $10,000FMC Corporation $5,000

U.S. Chamber of Commerce $5,000

Construction/Real Estate

Miller & Long D.C., Inc. $5,000

Old Boston Restorations $5,000


MasterCard $25,000

Cash America $10,000

Credit Union National Association $25,000

National Association of Credit Service Organizations $7,500

American Bankers Association $5,000

Law Firms/Lobby/Consulting Firms

Bracewell & Giuliani $7,500

Baker & Hostetler LLP $7,500

DCI Group $5,000

Dezenhall Resources $5,000

Wiley Rein LLP $5,000


Ambassador C. Boyden Gray $25,000

Stanford Rothschild $25,000

Stephen Modzelewski $25,000

Fred Young $15,000

Jean Claude Gruffat $10,000

Robert Luddy $10,000

Jack France $7,500

Lester Weindling $5,000

Arcadio Casillas $5,000

James Curley $5,000

Forrest G. Hoglund $5,000

Angelo Puglisi $5,000

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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