Non-profit

Niskanen Center

Website:

niskanencenter.org

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

45-5308952

Budget (2015):

Revenue: $1,954,786
Expenses: $1,665,531
Assets: $667,380

Formation:

January 2015

Type:

Environmentalist Think Tank

President:

Jerry Taylor

The Niskanen Center is a nominally libertarian 501(c)(3) environmental think tank with ties to center-left environmental groups. The Center was created in January 2015 and is headed by Jerry Taylor, a global warming advocate and environmental activist who authored a 2015 report The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax. [1] The Center is named for William Niskanen, a senior economic aide to President Ronald Reagan who died in 2011. [2]

The Niskanen Center for Public Policy is the 501(c)(4) lobbying arm of the Niskanen Center.

Carbon Tax Advocacy

The Niskanen Center is a major proponent of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. The group is credited with assisting then-Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) with introducing a carbon tax bill in 2018; the bill was rejected by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, which later introduced a successful resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy.” [3] [4]

Controversies

ExxonMobil/Suncor Lawsuit (2018)

In April 2018, the City of Boulder, Colorado and County of San Miguel, Colorado filed a lawsuit against oil and natural gas companies ExxonMobil and Suncor, accusing them of being “fossil fuel-producing corporations” which negatively impact the climate. [5] The Colorado communities were represented in the lawsuit by a joint climate group which included Hannon Law Firm, a group that litigates environmental lawsuits and whose founder Kevin Hannon served as chief outside legal counsel, the environmentalist nonprofit EarthRights International, and the Niskanen Center. [6] [7] The joint climate group claimed that ExxonMobil and Suncor were culpable for over $100 million in climate damages—including wildfires, flooding, road maintenance, landscaping, and individuals work efficiency.[8]

According to two environmental experts, Randal O’Toole and Robert Bradley Jr., individuals who had known William Niskanen, the Center’s involvement in the lawsuit went directly against the memory of Niskanen and what he believed with regards to climate-policy. [9] William Niskanen stated that “the case for a global warming treaty is shockingly weak” and also that he had “never bought into climate alarmism.” [10]

Criticism of Pro-Abortion Legislation

In May 2019, Niskanen Center’s Vice President for Research Will Wilkinson criticized a pro-life bill passed by Republican lawmakers in Georgia, calling it “so unconstitutional in so many ways.” [11] [12] Commonly referred to as a “heartbeat bill,” the law prohibits performing abortions if the doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat (usually occurring six weeks into the pregnancy), except in cases of rape and incest or where an abortion could prevent the mother from dying in childbirth. [13] Wilkinson claimed that the bill was not designed to successfully take on the 1973 Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision and restore decision making on abortion laws to the state level, but was rather purposely designed to get overturned so Republicans could energize their base and keep voter turnout high indefinitely. [14]

Criticism of Trump Judicial Nominees

In May 2019, the Washington Post published an article about Trump administration judicial nominees refusing to comment on whether they support Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in schools, or any other court cases in order to avoid being led down the slope that would obligate them to answer if they support Roe v. Wade. [15] In a tweet, Niskanen Center president Jerry Taylor shared the article and characterized Republican judicial nominees as intentionally not supporting Brown v. Board, stating that any nominee who does not support that decision “has no business being on the court.” [16]

El Paso v. Trump (2019)

In May 2019, a lawsuit against President Trump entitled El Paso v. Trump was filed in the Western District of Texas by El Paso County and left-of-center nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights. The suit was intended to oppose the use of emergency funds for border wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Niskanen Center joined the plaintiffs’ counsel team, which included Protect Democracy, Laurence Tribe, and Stuart Gerson.

Protect Democracy is left-of-center litigation nonprofit organization created by a former staffer in the Obama administration to oppose the policies of President Trump. [17] Laurence Tribe is a distinguished Harvard legal professor who has become well-known on Twitter for his fevered opposition to Trump, having shared multiple fabricated conspiracy theories about the President. [18] Stuart Gerson was assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush and was acting attorney general under President Bill Clinton. Gerson currently works at a law firm representing clients in the health care industry. [19]

Niskanen Center for Public Policy

The Niskanen Center for Public Policy is the 501(c)(4) lobbying arm of the Niskanen Center created in 2016. The Center for Public Policy is also headed by Jerry Taylor.

According to a 2019 donation history document on Niskanen Center’s website, the Center for Public Policy reported three grants from funding groups on the political Left for advocacy: [20]

Additionally, the left-wing Environmental Defense Action Fund reported a $10,000 grant to the Niskanen Center for Public Policy in 2015. [21]

Funding

Financial Overview

The Niskanen Center’s financial overview from 2015 to 2017 is available below: [22]

Niskanen Center: Financials (2015-2017)
Total:$7,735,057$7,393,826$1,847,386
YearRevenuesExpendituresNet Assets
2015$1,954,786$1,665,531$664,007
2016$2,250,594$2,447,205$467,396
2017$3,529,677$3,281,090$715,983

Contributors

The Niskanen Center has received grants from a number of center-left foundations, funding groups, and donor-advised fund providers. [23]

Niskanen Center: Contributors (2014-2017)
Grand Total:$3,501,139
ContributorsRangeTotal
Alex C. Walker Educational and Charitable Foundation2016-2017$30,000
Beach Foundation2015$25,000
Claws Foundation2014-2015$200,000
Community Foundation for Eastern Shore Inc2015$20,000
Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Foundation Inc2016$15,889
Goyanes Family Foundation Inc2015$25,000
Linden Trust for Conservation2014-2016$400,000
Litterman Family Foundation2014-2016$160,000
Northern Piedmont Community Foundation2017$10,000
Rockefeller Brothers Fund Inc2016$85,000
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc2016$50,000
Sant Charitable Foundation Inc2016$50,000
Schwab Charitable Fund2017$50,250
Silicon Valley Community Foundation2015-2017$610,000
The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region2016$50,000
The Energy Foundation2015-2016$350,000
The Steve & Lana Hardy Foundation2014$20,000
The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation2016-2017$1,350,000

A 2019 donation history published by the Niskanen Center noted $5.3 million in grants to the Center between 2017 and 2019. Major grantors included the Hewlett Foundation, Arnold Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Sall Family Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Foundation[24]

Niskanen Center: Grantors (2017-2019)
Grand Total (2017-2019):$6,050,000
FunderYearAmountGrant Description
GENERAL SUPPORT
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation2018$400,000General operating support
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation 2019$1,000,000General operating support
William B. Wiener Jr. Foundation2018$20,000General operating support
Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Foundation2018$25,000General operating support
Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Foundation 2019$50,000General operating support
Phil Harvey 2018$50,000General operating support
Democracy Fund2018$100,000General operating support
Litterman Family Foundation2018$100,000General operating support
Facebook2018$25,000General operating support and technology policy
Bob Jones2018$5,000General operating support
KHD Charitable Fund 2018$20,000General operating support
Democracy Fund2018$15,000General operating support
William S. and Ina Levine Foundation 2019$25,000General operating support
Lodestar Foundation2019$25,000General operating support
Pivotal Foundation2019$25,000General operating support
Lonsdale Family Philanthropic Fund2019$10,000General operating support
Roger and Vicki Sant Foundation2019$50,000General operating support
Open Society Foundations2019$300,000General operating support
Anonymous via New York Community Trust2019$100,000General operating support
Anonymous2019$75,000General operating support
CAPTURED ECONOMY PROJECT
Google Foundation2018$100,000Captured Economy project: intellectual property
Smith Richardson Foundation2018$50,000Captured Economy project
CLIMATE POLICY, LITIGATION
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation 2017$600,000Climate Policy, Eminent domain and pipeline litigation project
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation2017$300,000Climate Policy Department
Generation Foundation2018$200,000Climate Policy Department
Rockefeller Brothers Fund2018$200,000Eminent domain and pipeline litigation project
Sant Family Foundation 2018$50,000Climate Policy Department
Anonymous Foundation2018$100,000Climate Policy Department
Tortuga Foundation2018$25,000Eminent domain and pipeline litigation project
Park Foundation 2018$40,000Eminent domain and pipeline litigation project
Rockefeller Family Fund 2018$50,000Eminent domain and pipeline program
Energy Foundation2018$50,000Eminent domain and pipeline litigation project
Linden Trust for Conservation 2018$100,000Climate Policy Department
Sall Family Foundation 2018$200,000Climate Policy Department
David Rockefeller Fund2019$150,000Climate litigation project
Alex C. Walker Foundation 2018$15,000Eminent domain pipeline project; Common law nuisance litigation project
McQuown Trust2019$50,000Climate litigation project
IMMIGRATION
Open Philanthropy Project2018$400,000Immigration Policy Department
Carnegie Corporation of New York2019$150,000Immigration Policy Department
Carnegie Corporation of New York2019$150,000Linda Chavez immigration policy work
OPEN SOCIETY PROJECT
Linden Family Foundation2018$25,000Open Society Project
Anonymous via Silicon Valley Community Foundation2018$250,000Open Society Project
Pritzker Innovation Fund2018$50,000Open Society Project
Paul and Laura Jost2018$50,000Open Society Project
Linden Family Foundation2019$25,000Open Society Project
POVERTY AND WELFARE
Rockefeller Foundation2018$250,000Struggling Regions and Opportunity Zones Project

Leadership

Founder and President

Jerry Taylor is founding president of the Niskanen Center. A self-described “libertarian,” Taylor previously worked in various senior roles with the center-right Cato Institute, a think tank, where he was at various points director of natural resources studies, assistant editor of the Institute’s magazine Regulation, senior fellow, and vice president. Taylor also worked as director for energy and environment at the center-right American Legislative Exchange Center (ALEC). [25]

In March 2015, Taylor authored a report entitled The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax in which he argued that “conservatives should make a carbon tax a centerpiece of their environmental policy agenda” instead of debating the merits of man-made climate change or global warming theory. Taylor wrote: [26]

The political question is not whether government should act to control the emission of greenhouse gases. That question has been settled for the foreseeable future. The relevant political question is how government should control greenhouse gas emissions.

A carbon tax advocate, Taylor has stated his support for a plan proposed by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum which would enact a $65 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions by 2022, rising to $296 per ton in 2045. Taylor has claimed that the total cost to the U.S. economy from this plan “would be less than 0.2 percent of GDP.” [27]

Taylor’s brother, James Taylor, is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at the center-right Heartland Institute. Taylor has described a “‘revenue neutral’ carbon tax [as] a costly myth.” [28] [29]

Advisory Board

According to its 2018 annual report, Niskanen’s advisory board consists of the following individuals: [30]

  • Mindy Finn, Stand Up Republic
  • Evan McMullin, Stand Up Republic
  • George P. Schulz, Hoover Institution
  • David Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic
  • Yuval Levin, National Affairs
  • Reihan Salam, National Review
  • Eli Lehrer, R Street Institute
  • Eliot Cohen, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Relations
  • Anat Admati, Stanford University
  • Brandon Arnold, National Taxpayers Union
  • Radley Balko, Journalist and Author
  • Tom Nichols, Author
  • Virginia Postrel, Author and Columnist
  • Stuart Butler, Brookings Institution
  • William A. Galston, Brookings Institution
  • Benjamin Wittes, Brookings Institution
  • John H. Cochrane, Hoover Institution
  • Tyler Cowen, Mercatus Center
  • J. Bradford Delong, University of California at Berkeley
  • Daniel Drezner, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University
  • Jacob T. Levy, McGill University
  • Alexander McCobin, Conscious Capitalism
  • Mark S. Weiner, Rutgers University
  • Justin Wolfers, University of Michigan
  • Matt Zwolinski, University of San Diego

Documents

The Niskanen Center’s Form 990 IRS filings for 2016 and 2017 are available here:

The Niskanen Center’s 2017-2018 annual report is available here.

References

  1. Jerry Taylor. “The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax.” Niskanen Center. March 23, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2019. Original URL: https://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Conservative-Case-for-a-Carbon-Tax1.pdf. Available: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/05/the-conservative-case-for-a-carbon-tax.pdf
  2. Jonathan Miller. “A place for the GOP to mull life after Trump.” Roll Call. May 1, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019. http://www.rollcall.com/news/congress/place-gop-mull-life-trump
  3. Hayden Ludwig. “The Myth of a Conservative Carbon Tax: Ignoring Basic Tax Policy.” Capital Research Center. October 12, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-myth-of-a-conservative-carbon-tax-part-2/
  4. Jonathan Miller. “A place for the GOP to mull life after Trump.” Roll Call. May 1, 2019. Accessed May 3, 2019. http://www.rollcall.com/news/congress/place-gop-mull-life-trump
  5. “After Months of Silence, Boulder to Hold Rally With Activists to Announce Climate Lawsuit.” EID Climate – A Project of IPAA. April 20, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://eidclimate.org/after-months-silence-boulder-hold-rally-with-activists-announce-climate-lawsuit/.
  6. Cooke, Amy. “High Powered Legal Team for Plaintiffs in the Boulder Climate Lawsuit.” IWF. Accessed November 01, 2018. http://iwf.org/blog/2807807/High-powered-legal-team-for-plaintiffs-in-the-Boulder-climate-lawsuit.
  7. Cooke, Amy. “High Powered Legal Team for Plaintiffs in the Boulder Climate Lawsuit.” IWF. Accessed November 01, 2018. http://iwf.org/blog/2807807/High-powered-legal-team-for-plaintiffs-in-the-Boulder-climate-lawsuit.
  8. Norton, Gale. “Climate Change Lawsuits: Boulder Can Do Better.” The Denver Post. April 20, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.denverpost.com/2018/04/20/climate-change-lawsuits-boulder-can-do-better/.
  9. Cooke, Amy. “Swift Condemnation for Boulder Climate Lawsuit and DC Think Tank.” Independence Institute. May 29, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://i2i.org/swift-condemnation-boulder-climate-lawsuit-and-dc-think-tank/.
  10. Cooke, Amy. “Swift Condemnation for Boulder Climate Lawsuit and DC Think Tank.” Independence Institute. May 29, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://i2i.org/swift-condemnation-boulder-climate-lawsuit-and-dc-think-tank/.
  11. Tweet (@willwilkinson). May 8, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://twitter.com/willwilkinson/status/1126235616100999169

  12. Horgos, Bonnie. “What Alabama’s Abortion Bill Could Mean for the Pro-Choice Movement.” Yahoo! May 16, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/alabamas-abortion-bill-could-mean-120048591.html.
  13. Mazzei, Patricia, and Alan Blinder. “Georgia Governor Signs One of Nation’s Most Restrictive Abortion Laws.” The New York Times. May 07, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/us/heartbeat-bill-georgia.html.

  14. Tweet (@willwilkinson). May 8, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://twitter.com/willwilkinson/status/1126235616100999169
  15. Meckler, Laura, and Robert Barnes. “Trump Judicial Nominees Decline to Endorse Brown v. Board under Senate Questioning.” The Washington Post. May 16, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/trump-judicial-nominees-decline-to-endorse-brown-v-board-under-senate-questioning/2019/05/16/d5409d58-7732-11e9-b7ae-390de4259661_story.html?utm_term=.8cb1880621ed&wpisrc=nl_politics&wpmm=1.
  16. Tweet (@jerry_jtaylor). May 17, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://twitter.com/jerry_jtaylor/status/1129430691614265344
  17. “About.” Protect Democracy. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://protectdemocracy.org/about/.
  18. Bernstein, Joseph. “Why Is A Top Harvard Law Professor Sharing Anti-Trump Conspiracy Theories?” BuzzFeed News. May 11, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/josephbernstein/larry-tribe-why.
  19. “Biography | Stuart M. Gerson.” Epstein Becker & Green. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.ebglaw.com/stuart-m-gerson/.
  20. “Niskanen Center for Public Policy: Donation History.” Niskanen Center. Accessed May 6, 2019. Original URL: https://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Niskanen-Center-donation-history-March-2019-3.pdf. Available here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/05/Niskanen-Center-2019-Donations.pdf
  21. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Environmental Defense Action Fund. 2015. Schedule I, Part II (Grants…).
  22. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990) (multiple). Niskanen Center. 2015, 2016, 2017. Schedule A, Part I. Lines 12, 18, 22.
  23. Information provided by FoundationSearch. Niskanen Center. 2015-2017. FoundationSearch.com.
  24. “Niskanen Center for Public Policy: Donation History.” Niskanen Center. Accessed May 6, 2019. Original URL: https://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Niskanen-Center-donation-history-March-2019-3.pdf. Available here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/05/Niskanen-Center-2019-Donations.pdf
  25. “Jerry Taylor.” Niskanen Center. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://niskanencenter.org/blog/staff/jerry-taylor/
  26. Jerry Taylor. “The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax.” Niskanen Center. March 23, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2019. Original URL: https://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Conservative-Case-for-a-Carbon-Tax1.pdf. Available: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/05/the-conservative-case-for-a-carbon-tax.pdf
  27. Jerry Taylor. “A Conservative Carbon Tax.” Milken Institute Review. January 19, 2017. Accessed May 3, 2019. http://www.milkenreview.org/articles/a-conservative-carbon-tax
  28. “James Taylor.” Heartland Institute. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://www.heartland.org/about-us/who-we-are/james-m-taylor
  29. “A ‘Revenue Neutral’ Carbon Tax is a Costly Myth.” Heartland Institute. February 23, 2019. May 3, 2019. https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/a-revenue-neutral-carbon-tax-is-a-costly-myth
  30. “Niskanen Center Annual Report, 2017-2018.” Niskanen Center. Accessed May 20, 2019. Original URL: https://niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/2018-Niskanen-Annual-Report-v2.pdf. Available here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/05/Niskanen-Center-Annual-Reort-2017-2018.pdf

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. George P. Schultz
    Officer/Board Member
  2. David Bookbinder
    Chief Counsel
  3. Will Wilkinson
    Vice President for Research
  4. R. J. Lyman
    Senior Fellow and Board Member
  5. Robert Litterman
    Board Member
  6. Juleanna Glover
    Board Member
  7. Daniel Drezner
    Board Member
  8. Eliot Cohen
    Board Member
  9. Jerry Taylor
    President
  10. Evan McMullin
    Advisory Board Member
  11. Mindy Finn
    Advisory Board Member
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: September 1, 2014

  • 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
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,954,786 $1,665,531 $667,380 $3,373 N $1,954,786 $0 $0 $405,690 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $647,000 $272,248 $410,860 $36,108 N $647,000 $0 $0 $184,025

    Niskanen Center

    820 1ST ST NE STE 675
    WASHINGTON, DC 20002-8039