Competitive Enterprise Institute

Logo of Competitive Enterprise Institute. (link)


Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2016):

Revenue: $7,703,763
Expenses: $7,811,133
Assets: $4,136,116

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a nonprofit libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.  CEI publishes right-leaning research and analysis on a range of policy issues, including energy and the environment, technology, labor, and economic regulation. CEI is a prominent opponent of left-progressive environmentalist policy and what it terms “climate alarmism.” [1]

CEI was founded in 1984 by Fred L. Smith, Jr., a libertarian political writer and columnist. In 2018, CEI received a total of $7.1 million in contributions and grants. [2] In 2020, CEI was listed as number 41 on an annual list of the 50 most influential think tanks in the United States. [3]

Structure and Operations

CEI is comprised of five subsidiary centers: the Center for Advancing Capitalism, the Center for Economic Freedom, the Center for Energy and Environment, the Center for Law and Litigation, and the Center for Technology and Innovation. Each of the centers produces policy papers, engages with lawmakers and the press, publishes books, and sends experts to testify at governmental hearings within its targeted issues areas. [4]

CEI spent $92,448 on lobbying between 2015 and 2018. [5] On its website, CEI claims to “meet regularly with members of Congress and state legislators, legislative staff, department heads and agency leaders, and senior administration officials to engage in direct advocacy.” [6]

Aside from direct lobbying, CEI regularly files lawsuits to advance its advocacy objectives. Allen McDuffee of The Washington Post identifies CEI as “one of a small number of think tanks that have a litigation arm to their organization.” [7]

Policy Advocacy


CEI has long been identified as a leading institution opposed to contemporary left-environmentalism, instead promoting free-market environmental policy. [8] The Washington Post has called CEI “a factory for global warming skepticism.” [9] Former Vice President Al Gore credited CEI with having a “tremendous effect” on the discourse surrounding climate change. [10]

In 1992, CEI helped coordinate “Earth Summit Alternatives” to counter the environmentalist Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. To support the effort, CEI generated anti-environmentalist commentary that appeared in various media outlets and published its first book, Environmental Politics. [11]

In 1994, CEI began working on a book with the Alabama Family Alliance and the Arizona Institute for Public Policy Research under the working title, An Environmental Primer for Parents: How to Talk to Your Children About Environmental Issues. The book was eventually published under the title Facts Not Fear. [12]

CEI came under fire in May 2006 when it launched two television commercials that promoted carbon dioxide as a positive influence on the environment. One advertisement claimed that carbon dioxide is “essential to life. We breathe it out. Plants breathe it in… They call it pollution. We call it life.” The other stated that glaciers are “growing, not melting… getting thicker, not thinner.” The advertisements cited articles from the well-respected publication Science, but the publication’s editors stated that the advertisements “misrepresent the conclusions of the two cited Science papers” by selectively referencing their contents. The author of the articles, Curt Davis, called the advertisements a “deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate.” [13]

CEI regularly files lawsuits against environmentalist regulations, such as fuel economy standards. [14]  In 2014, CEI sued the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for records related to a video featuring Obama White House advisor John Holdren linking the “polar vortex” to climate change. [15]

In 2015, CEI co-sponsored the premier of Climate Hustle, a documentary that denied a substantial human impact on climate change, that occurred in Paris, France at the exact time and setting of the global climate negotiations that resulted in the Paris Climate Accords. [16]

CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment is led by Myron Ebell, a prominent climate change skeptic. CEI and Myron Ebell became key allies of the Trump administration, with Ebell appointed to head the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. [17]

Ebell also leads the Cooler Heads Coalition, which was founded by Consumer Alert, a now-defunct organization that was run by Frances B. Smith, the wife of CEI founder Fred Smith. [18]

Economic Regulation

CEI advocates for deregulation across a range of industries, including energy, finance, labor, technology, transportation, and pharmaceuticals. [19]

In 2006, CEI filed a lawsuit against the federal Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) created by the Sarbanes-Oxley financial regulation law, resulting in the Supreme Court striking down key provisions of the PCAOB as unconstitutional in 2010. The ruling held that the provisions violated the separation of powers within the federal government. [20]

In 2012, the CEI filed a lawsuit against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) alleging that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s creation of the CFPB also violates the constitutional separation of powers. The challenge remains pending in the federal courts. [21]

CEI has opposed calls to raise the federal minimum wage, arguing that the increase in labor costs to employers will force them to make cuts elsewhere in production. [22]

CEI also releases an annual survey of federal regulations entitled “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State.” [23]

Affordable Care Act

CEI supported the challengers in King v. Burwell, a major lawsuit that challenged the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case was struck down in the Supreme Court in a 6–3 decision that upheld federal healthcare subsidies provided by the ACA. [24]

Michael S. Greve, former chairman of CEI’s board of directors, once called the ACA a “bastard” that “has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene.” Greve went on to claim that he did not “care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it, and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.” [25]


CEI has received funding in the past from tobacco and e-cigarette companies, including Altria, Philip Morris, and JUUL Labs. [26] In 1993, CEI founder Fred Smith wrote a letter to the president of Philip Morris thanking him for his support of CEI and pledging to continue to fight for deregulation of the tobacco industry. [27]

In 2011, CEI sued the United States Department of Transportation, arguing that e-cigarettes should not be covered by bans on smoking in airplanes. The lawsuit ultimately failed. [28]


While CEI does not disclose its donors, it is known to be supported by a range of private foundations and public companies. Its corporate donors have included Facebook, Google, Ford, Altria, and Comcast.

Google came under fire for its support of CEI in 2019. A Google spokesperson defended the donations, saying, “We’re hardly alone among companies that contribute to organizations while strongly disagreeing with them on climate policy.” [29]

CEI has also received funding from right-of-center organizations, including the Charles Koch Foundation. [30] In 2018, CEI disclosed $71,789 in revenue received from the Koch Associate Program, an initiative of the Charles Koch Institute that invests in “rising leaders.” [31] Through 2016, CEI received $2,280,040 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. [32]

ExxonMobil Corporation was once a prominent donor to CEI, giving the group about $2 million over seven years. [33] In 2006, the company announced that it had ended its funding for CEI. [34]


  1. “Energy and Environment.” Competitive Enterprise Institute. Accessed March 1, 2021. ^
  2. Form 990, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax. Competitive Enterprise Institute. 2018. ^
  3. “The 50 Most Influential Think Tanks in the United States.” August 6, 2020. Accessed March 1, 2021. ^
  4. “The 50 Most Influential Think Tanks in the United States.” August 6, 2020. Accessed March 1, 2021. ^
  5. Form 990, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax. Competitive Enterprise Institute. 2018. ^
  6. “About.” Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  7. McDuffee, Allen. “Competitive Enterprise Institute files lawsuit against Obama’s consumer watchdog.” The Washington Post. June 22, 2012. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  8. John S. Dryzek; Richard B. Norgaard; David Schlosberg (18 August 2011). The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Page 147. ^
  9. Achenbach, Joel. “The Tempest.” The Washington Post. May 28, 2006. Accessed on March 4, 2021. ^
  10. Quote scroll on the About page. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  11. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  12. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  13. “The Competitive Enterprise Institute runs ads saying ‘The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker.’ A professor objects, saying CEI deliberately misrepresents his research.” May 26, 2006. Accessed using web archives at the Wayback Machine. ^
  14. Kazman, Sam. “CEI Files New Challenge to the Administration’s Fuel Economy Standards.” May 1, 2020. Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  15. “CEI Lawsuit Targets White House Polar Vortex Documents.” Competitive Enterprise Institute, October 29, 2014. ^
  16. Kasper, Matthew. “Climate Hustle, Latest Global Warming Denial Documentary, Set For World Premiere In Paris During COP21.” Republic Report. November 13, 2015. Accessed February 21, 2021. ^
  17. Boghani, Priyanka. “Meet Myron Ebell, the Climate Contrarian Leading Trump’s EPA Transition.” November 14, 2016. Accessed February 21, 2021. ^
  18. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  19. “About.” Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  20. Competitive Enterprise Institute press release. “Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Sarbanes-Oxley Provisions; CEI Co-Counsel Hail Decision.” PRNewswire. Jun 28, 2010. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  21. McDuffee, Allen. “Competitive Enterprise Institute files lawsuit against Obama’s consumer watchdog.” The Washington Post. June 22, 2012. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  22. Higgins, Sean. “Federal Minimum Wage Hike will Force Cuts Elsewhere.” February 26, 2021. ^
  23. “Ten Thousand Commandments.” Accessed March 2, 2021. ^
  24. Sanger Katz, Margot. “Obamacare, Back at the Supreme Court.” New York Times. June 25, 2015. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  25. Greenhouse, Linda. “By Any Means Necessary.” New York Times. Aug. 20, 2014. Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  26. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” February 7, 2020. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  27. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents. February 9, 1993. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  28. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” February 7, 2020. Accessed March 4, 2021. ^
  29. “Google Defends Funding of Climate Change-Denying Think Tanks.” October 14, 2019. Accessed on March 4, 2021. ^
  30. Eilperin, Juliet. “Anatomy of a Washington dinner: Who funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute?” The Washington Post. June 20, 2013. Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  31. Form 990, Return of an Organization Exempt from Income Tax. Competitive Enterprise Institute. 2018. ^
  32. “Profile: Competitive Enterprise Institute.” Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  33. Mufson, Steven. “Exxon Mobil Warming Up To Global Climate Issue.” The Washington Post. February 10, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
  34. Ball, Jeffrey. “Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance.” The Wall Street Journal. January 11, 2007. Accessed March 3, 2021. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: September - August
  • Tax Exemption Received: September 1, 1984

  • 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
    2016 Sep Form 990 $7,703,763 $7,811,133 $4,136,116 $1,893,531 N $6,903,266 $945,550 $10,648 $744,611
    2015 Sep Form 990 $7,444,817 $7,356,910 $2,854,282 $504,171 N $7,605,353 $10,400 $9,779 $748,362 PDF
    2014 Sep Form 990 $7,009,846 $6,427,052 $2,913,637 $651,433 N $7,105,791 $10,500 $10,120 $817,095 PDF
    2013 Sep Form 990 $6,344,624 $7,749,317 $2,769,236 $1,089,930 N $6,470,211 $0 $10,824 $795,950 PDF
    2012 Sep Form 990 $6,354,832 $5,385,796 $3,520,366 $219,592 N $6,291,729 $0 $12,241 $915,800 PDF
    2011 Sep Form 990 $5,349,662 $4,863,897 $2,560,594 $170,683 N $5,224,185 $0 $14,485 $901,082 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Competitive Enterprise Institute

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