Institute for Free Speech




Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2017):

Revenue: $2,433,660
Expenses: $1,939,035
Assets: $3,421,584

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The Institute for Free Speech (IFS; formerly the Center for Competitive Politics) is an activist organization that works to stop perceived threats to freedom of expression and assembly. The institute provides education and training, conducts research, engages in advocacy, and files lawsuits in order to achieve its objectives. IFS claims to be the only organization of its kind that is dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights. 1

IFS primarily focuses on campaign finance laws, which it calls “complex” and “oppressive.” The institute has provided legal support in several Supreme Court cases which succeeded in reducing or eliminating restrictions on advocacy expenditures. These include v. Federal Election Commission, which paved the way for the creation of independent expenditure-only political action committees commonly known as “Super PACs,” and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions. 2


Institute for Free Speech was founded in 2005 as the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) by former Federal Election Commission (FEC) official Bradley A. Smith (R). Smith cites citizens’ confusion over campaign finance laws as his motivation for establishing the center. In 2007, CCP received a request for assistance from David Keating, the former president of the Club for Growth, a right-of-center group advocating for lower taxes and reduced regulation. Keating went on to successfully sue the FEC in v. FEC. In 2012, Keating became president of CCP, and in 2017, the center rebranded as Institute for Free Speech . 3


The Institute for Free Speech frequently assists individuals and organizations with suing state and federal elections authorities.

Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra

In 2010, California began forcing nonprofit organizations raising funds in the state to disclose their donors’ identities to the state attorney general’s office. Since then, several groups including IFS have sued the California attorney general’s office, arguing that their donors have a right to privacy. The institute chose to stop soliciting donations from Californians rather than disclose their donor list. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says the attorney general’s office has previously leaked donor information due to “systematic incompetence.” 4

As of May 2020, IFS’s case had been rescheduled to an unspecified later date. 5

Patriotic Veterans v. Indiana

In 2010, Indiana officials barred the activist group Patriotic Veterans from making automated calls to voters. The group sued, arguing that live calls were not subject to the same restrictions and were significantly more expensive than robocalls, placing a disproportionate burden on organizations with fewer resources. IFS (then CCP) worked with the law firm representing Patriotic Veterans. 6 However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s decision. 7

Libertarian National Committee v. Federal Election Commission

In 2011, a deceased Tennessee man left the Libertarian Party more than $217,000 in his will. This amount exceeded annual limits on individual contributions to political parties, meaning that the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) could only receive the money in annual installments. The LNC sued the FEC, arguing that the “standard justification for contribution limits” – minimizing the risk of corruption – did not apply because the man was deceased and could not expect favors for his contribution. IFS (then CCP) was co-counsel for the LNC. 8 However, the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the contribution limits still applied. 9

Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission

In 2014, the Colorado-based Independence Institute intended to run advertisements encouraging voters to contact their elected representatives and encourage them to support a criminal sentencing reform bill. However, the institute would have had to disclose its donors because the advertisements mentioned the names of legislators who were running for re-election. The advertisements did not support or oppose any candidates. With assistance from IFS (then CCP) the institute sued, arguing that the FEC had failed to account for the fact that legislators could simultaneously be candidates, and that mentioning them in an advertisement did not amount to supporting or opposing their re-election. 10 However, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FEC’s disclosure rules. 11


In September 2020, IFS published a report which concluded that, contrary to many critics’ claims, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission had not increased corruption. The report used the number of public officials charged with corruption before and after the ruling to arrive at this conclusion, though the institute acknowledged that “political corruption is, by its nature, difficult to measure.” IFS cited a decrease in corruption charges as evidence that Citizens United had not led to more corrupt behavior. 12

In December 2020, IFS published an article intended to refute claims that money in politics undercuts the integrity of elections. The institute cited record voter turnout, increased political contributions from women, and the expensive but unsuccessful campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. 13


Bradley A. Smith is the chairman of IFS. He is also a professor at the Capital University Law School. Smith previously served as vice chairman and chairman of the FEC. 14 Several left-of-center groups opposed his appointment to the FEC. In June 1999, heads of the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, and Democracy 21 signed a letter to then-President Bill Clinton urging him not to nominate Smith to a position reserved for an opposition party member. The letter claimed that Smith had an “adamant opposition to the existence of the federal campaign finance laws” which made him “unfit to serve as a Commissioner of the FEC.” 15

David Keating is the president of IFS. He previously served as executive director of the Club for Growth and executive vice president of the National Taxpayers’ Union. 16


Contributions to IFS have steadily increased since 2012 from less than $1.4 million that year to more than $2.5 million in 2018. 17 The institute says that it does not accept government grants in order to maintain its independence and that about five percent of its contributions come from corporations. 18 Major IFS backers have included the Donors Capital Fund, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.


  1. “Our Mission,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  2.             “Our History,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  3.      “Our History,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  4. Ilya Shapiro et al., “Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra,” Cato Institute, January 21, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  5.     “Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra,” SCOTUSblog. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  6.           “Patriotic Veterans v. Indiana,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  7.           “Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. State of Indiana, No. 16-2059,” Justia. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  8.        “Libertarian National Committee v. FEC,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  9.             “Libertarian National Committee v. FEC, No. 18-5227,” Justia. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  10.        “Independence Institute v. FEC,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  11.              “Independence Institute v. FEC,” Campaign Legal Center. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  12.             Alec Greven, “Has Citizens United Increased Corruption? An Examination of Public Corruption Prosecutions,” Institute for Free Speech, September 3, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  13.        Nathan Maxwell, “Top 4 Money in Politics Takeaways from the 2020 Election Cycle,” Institute for Free Speech, December 15, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  14.     “Staff,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  15.    “Joint Letter to President Clinton Regarding Bradley A. Smith’s Appointment to the FEC,” Brennan Center for Justice, June 3, 1999. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  16. “Staff,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  17. “Institute for Free Speech,” ProPublica. Accessed February 3, 2021.
  18.       “How We are Funded,” Institute for Free Speech. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Associated Organizations

  1. American Juris Link (Non-profit)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: March 1, 2006

  • 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 $2,433,660 $1,939,035 $3,421,584 $182,134 N $2,179,442 $220,000 $27,747 $367,402
    2016 Dec Form 990 $2,154,786 $1,815,747 $2,891,323 $146,498 N $2,021,188 $125,000 $217 $352,739
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,956,529 $1,596,794 $2,510,309 $104,523 N $1,999,911 $0 $101 $422,519 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $1,951,006 $1,495,165 $2,138,391 $92,340 N $1,948,931 $300 $108 $407,554 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $1,754,752 $1,545,035 $1,717,372 $127,162 N $1,737,254 $18,000 $0 $333,054 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $1,420,276 $1,252,639 $1,472,971 $92,478 N $1,375,391 $35,532 $553 $294,497 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $1,816,786 $1,577,324 $1,369,684 $156,828 N $1,814,679 $0 $817 $365,699 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Institute for Free Speech

    WASHINGTON, DC 20036-4130