Aspen Institute



Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2017):

Revenue: $129,329,186
Expenses: $136,995,834
Assets: $333,208,129

Aspen Institute is a think tank focusing on leadership, common ground, and exchanging discussions in a non-partisan and non-ideological manner. Aspen Institute operates Aspen Strategy Group, a group for former lawmakers, journalists, academics, and business leaders to discuss foreign policy and national security; Aspen Center for Physics, a non-profit focused on physics research including a summer retreat for physics academics; and a Communications and Society program. Aspen Institute also hosts Aspen Music Festival and co-hosts Aspen Ideas Festival along with the left-of-center publication The Atlantic. 1

The current CEO is Daniel R. Porterfield, former president of Franklin and Marshall College and former Georgetown University administrator. 2


Aspen Institute was founded in 1949 as the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies by Chicago business leader Walter Paepcke. In 1945, Paepcke traveled to Aspen to visit the home of prominent architect Herbert Mayer. Inspired by the Great Books program at the University of Chicago for whom he served on their Board of Trustees, Paepcke and Mayer envisioned Aspen as a place for business leaders to run their companies based on higher values allowing “the human spirit to flourish.” 3

In 1949, Paepcke launched the Aspen Institute with a 20-day celebration of the 200th birthday of German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later in the year, he launched the Aspen Music Festival to showcase classical musicians and along with Herbert Mayer and oil tycoon Robert O. Anderson launched the International Design Conference. Alongside Anderson, Paepcke created the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar specifically for business leaders. 456

In 1951, Aspen Institute sponsored a national photography contest conference attended by left-leaning environmentalist photographer Ansel Adams and left wing artist Ben Shahn. 7

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Aspen hosted countless conferences on topics ranging from philosophy, environment, race, business, foreign affairs, and numerous other topics. It was during this time that the Aspen Strategy Group and Aspen Center for Physics was founded. 8

In 2013, Aspen Institute joined with The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop the Aspen Ideas Festival which is hosted annually. The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies sponsor the website CityLab, which focuses on ideas to address concerns surrounding urbanization. 9

Controversies and Criticism

COVID-19 Federal Small-Business Loan Controversy

In 2020, Aspen Institute obtained more than $8 million in federal small-business loans. Currently, the Aspen Institute qualifies to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program since the organization’s staff number falls below the 500-employee threshold. 10

The Paycheck Protection Program is a program supported by the Small Business Administration that provides loans to small businesses to incentivize them to keep workers on their payroll. The Small Business Administration forgives the loans of small businesses if all employees remain on the payroll for eight weeks and the business’ money is used for rent, payroll, mortgage interest, or utilities. 11

The organization’s decision to accept the loans created a division among the fellows and moderators who run programs at the Aspen Institute, since many other organizations that received money returned it with their executives admitting that they had spare funds that smaller businesses do not. Many have criticized Aspen Institute’s decision to keep the loan as contradicting the organization’s mission statement in fostering service-oriented leadership to serve the public good. They claim that Aspen Institute can draw its funds instead from its network of fellows, trustees, and philanthropists without relying on a government bailout loan during the coronavirus pandemic. 12

Aspen Institute’s most recent tax filing indicates that it had an endowment of over $115 million in 2018. The organization stated that it received board approval to access its endowment fund for $7.5 million but that 80 percent of these funds are restricted and could not be used to facilitate the operation of the company.

According to the organization’s leadership board led by President and CEO Daniel R. Porterfield, the organization is projecting a loss of between $14 to $17 million for the year 2020 due to the cancellation of company conferences and forums from which it derives a majority of its annual income. 13

Disinformation Commission

In 2021, the Aspen Institute launched the Commission on Information Disorder to counter “malicious” actors “undermining trust and sowing discord in civil society” by spreading false information. 14

The commission has been criticized for its left-of-center political bias, criticism of conservatives and President Donald Trump, and support from leading liberals. Some of the commission’s liberal advisors have been accused of censoring news critical of the Democratic Party and left-wing interests.

In November 2021, it was revealed that commission advisor Yoel Roth, head of site security for the social media company Twitter, blocked access to a New York Times article documenting emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop just weeks prior to the November 2020 election. Had the story not been suppressed by Twitter, critics allege, the controversial laptop likely would have damaged Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s credibility and helped Trump win reelection. 15

Craig Newmark, a tech billionaire who has donated to the Aspen Institute’s disinformation commission and gave the Biden campaign $100,000 in 2020, also paid for a study from New York University which purportedly demonstrated that social media companies such as Twitter aren’t biased against conservatives and asserted that Twitter was correct in blocking the Hunter Biden laptop story. 16

Renee DiResta, also a disinformation commission advisor, reportedly advised the tech company American Engagement Technologies, which “created fake online personas to stifle the Republican vote in the 2017 special Senate election in Alabama” using fake Russian bots. 17


In 2019, the Aspen Institute received $200,000 from the left-leaning LLC Arnold Ventures in order to support that year’s Energy Policy Conference. 18


The current CEO is Daniel R. Porterfield who joined the organization in 2017 resigning as president of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. Prior to his presidency at Franklin and Marshall College, Porterfield was a professor of literature and senior Vice President at Georgetown University. Porterfield was previously a senior aide for Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. 19

Walter Isaacson served as CEO of the Aspen Institute from 2003 to 2018. Issacson was CEO of CNN from 2001 to 2003, where he was criticized for trying to make the network more open to Republican and conservative viewpoints. From 1978 to 1996, he worked for Time magazine eventually becoming managing editor. Upon leaving the Aspen Institute, Isaacson returned to his hometown of New Orleans to teach at Tulane University. 20 21 22 23


  1. “2019 Aspen Ideas Festival.” Aspen Institute. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  2. Caroll, Rick. “ Aspen Institute names Dan Porterfield as president and CEO”. Aspen Times. November 30, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  3. ”About Us.” Aspen Institute. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  4. Saxon, Wolfgang. “Elizabeth Paepcke, 91, a Force in Turning Aspen Into a Resort.” New York Times. June 18, 1994. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  5. Glueck, Grace. “Herbert Bayer, 85, A Designer and Artist of Bauhas School”. New York Times. October 1, 1985. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  6. Hechinger, Fred and Grace. “Aspen: A 4th Decade For Ancestor…Of A Growing Business Breed.” New York Times. August 30, 1981. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  7. ”About Us.” Aspen Institute. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  8. ”About Us.” Aspen Institute. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  9. ”City Lab 2019”. The Atlantic. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  10. O’Connell , Jonathan. “Aspen Institute Think Tank Receives $8 Million Federal Small-Business Loan.” Business. The Washington Post. 13 May 2020.
  11. Paycheck Protection Program. U.S. Small Business Administration.
  12. O’Connell , Jonathan. “Aspen Institute Think Tank Receives $8 Million Federal Small-Business Loan.” Business. The Washington Post. 13 May 2020.
  13. O’Connell , Jonathan. “Aspen Institute Think Tank Receives $8 Million Federal Small-Business Loan.” Business. The Washington Post. 13 May 2020.
  14. “Commission on Information Disorder.” Aspen Institute. Accessed April 28, 2022.
  15. Chuck Ross. “Aspen Disinformation Group Includes Twitter Exec Who Censored Hunter Biden Story.” Washington Free Beacon. Nov. 16, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2022.
  16. Chuck Ross. “Aspen Disinformation Group Includes Twitter Exec Who Censored Hunter Biden Story.” Washington Free Beacon. Nov. 16, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2022.
  17. Chuck Ross. “Aspen Disinformation Group Includes Twitter Exec Who Censored Hunter Biden Story.” Washington Free Beacon. Nov. 16, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2022.
  18. “The Aspen Institute, Inc.” Arnold Foundation. Accessed February 15, 2021.
  19. ”Dan Porterfield Named Next Aspen Institute President and CEO”. Aspen Institute. November 30,2017. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  20. “Walter Issacson to Step Down as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.” Business Insider. March 14, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  21. “New CNN Chief Trying to Please GOP elite”. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. August 15, 2001. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  22. Pogrebin, Robin. “At Work and At Play, Time’s Editor Seeks To Keep Magazine Vigorous At 75.” New York Times. March 9, 1998. Accessed July 17, 2019.
  23. Adelson, Jeff. “Walter Issacson to leave Aspen Institute, plans to teach at Tulane and serve as partner in financial firm.” The Advocate. March 14, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2019.

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Gary Delgado
    Former Board Member
  2. William Budinger
    Lifetime Trustee
  3. Brian Deese
    Member, Economic Strategy Group
  4. Wally Adeyemo
    Member, Economic Strategy Group

Donor Organizations

  1. Abell Foundation (Non-profit)
  2. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Non-profit)
  3. Annie E. Casey Foundation (Non-profit)
  4. Arnold Ventures (For-profit)
  5. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Non-profit)
  6. Bloomberg Family Foundation (Bloomberg Philanthropies) (Non-profit)
  7. Carnegie Corporation of New York (Non-profit)
  8. Case Foundation (Non-profit)
  9. Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (Non-profit)
  10. Commonwealth Fund (Non-profit)
  11. Craigslist Charitable Fund (Non-profit)
  12. Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation (Non-profit)
  13. Dalio Philanthropies (Non-profit)
  14. David and Lucile Packard Foundation (Non-profit)
  15. De Beaumont Foundation (Non-profit)
  16. Democracy Fund (Non-profit)
  17. Douglas H. Phelps Foundation (Non-profit)
  18. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (Non-profit)
  19. Heising-Simons Foundation (Non-profit)
  20. Hopewell Fund (Non-profit)
  21. Hyams Foundation (Non-profit)
  22. JEHT Foundation (Non-profit)
  23. Joyce Foundation (Non-profit)
  24. JPB Foundation (Non-profit)
  25. Kresge Foundation (Non-profit)
  26. Laura and John Arnold Foundation (Non-profit)
  27. Lumina Foundation for Education (Non-profit)
  28. Mastercard Impact Fund (Non-profit)
  29. Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation (Non-profit)
  30. Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (Non-profit)
  31. Northwest Area Foundation (Non-profit)
  32. NoVo Foundation (Non-profit)
  33. Patrick J. McGovern Foundation (Non-profit)
  34. Ploughshares Fund (Non-profit)
  35. Raikes Foundation (Non-profit)
  36. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) (Non-profit)
  37. Rockefeller Brothers Fund (Non-profit)
  38. Rockefeller Foundation (Non-profit)
  39. S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation (Non-profit)
  40. San Francisco Foundation (Non-profit)
  41. Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) (Non-profit)
  42. Skoll Foundation (Non-profit)
  43. Walmart Foundation (Non-profit)
  44. Weingart Foundation (Non-profit)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: February 1, 1951

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $129,329,186 $136,995,834 $333,208,129 $44,332,679 Y $92,261,254 $36,392,294 $500,550 $2,673,411 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $120,298,699 $114,454,026 $296,191,659 $23,279,508 Y $85,321,334 $34,507,947 $222,180 $2,530,397
    2015 Dec Form 990 $142,854,526 $101,379,117 $278,242,256 $19,264,679 Y $111,928,714 $30,455,451 $268,197 $2,827,404 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $96,464,217 $91,362,830 $232,206,093 $16,794,826 Y $68,633,372 $28,384,520 $205,403 $2,619,714 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $93,242,479 $82,126,112 $220,838,386 $14,337,183 Y $68,204,184 $24,769,782 $220,858 $2,742,688 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $95,477,286 $72,751,605 $198,233,363 $12,229,433 Y $71,686,768 $23,406,105 $184,584 $2,638,236 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $73,292,367 $73,880,949 $169,299,444 $11,571,805 Y $49,664,114 $22,627,623 $220,640 $2,538,518 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Aspen Institute

    WASHINGTON, DC 20036-1133