Non-profit

R Street Institute

Website:

www.rstreet.org

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

26-3477125

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $8,389,020
Expenses: $6,853,303
Assets: $5,324,052

The R Street Institute is a public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., that was spun off from the right-of-center and Chicago-based Heartland Institute in 2012. [1] R Street’s president and co-founder, Eli Lehrer, was formerly the head of the Heartland affiliate in Washington, D.C. [2] As of 2018, R Street’s budget was $10.5 million and Lehrer was paid a total compensation of $262,000. [3]

R Street promotes a generally free market policy agenda on most issues, such as trade[4], technology[5], and opposition to government subsidies for renewable energy. [6] [7] However, R Street departs from most free market policy organizations by supporting the implementation of a carbon tax and promoting the expansion of left-leaning labor-union affiliated worker centers. [8]

Left-leaning foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the Foundation to Promote Open Society provided 26 percent of R Street’s total contribution and grants revenue between 2012 and 2017 and 71 percent of the organization’s total foundation support during that period. [9] [10] Two of the longest-serving members of the R Street board of directors are the president of the left-of-center Taxpayers for Common Sense and a former official who worked for the Clinton White House and for Clinton Administration HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. [11] [12] [13]

Background

The R Street Institute was founded in 2012 after a conflict arose between the agendas of the right-of-center Heartland Institute (based in Chicago), some of Heartland’s donors, and what was then the staff of Heartland’s satellite office in Washington, D.C.

In the spring of 2012 Heartland unveiled a highway billboard with the image of convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, captioned with the slogan “I still believe in global warming. Do you?” Financial supporters of Heartland’s D.C. office, many of them from the insurance industry, were reportedly offended by the tying of climate policy to Kaczynski and decided to withdraw their support from Heartland. Eli Lehrer, then the head of Heartland’s D.C. operation, arranged what was described as an “amicable” separation from Heartland that preserved the work of the D.C. office and its donor base in a new right-of-center spin-off organization that would not follow Heartland’s policy agenda regarding climate change. [14] [15]

Policy Agenda

R Street characterizes its perspective as “free market,” favoring competition and simplified and light taxation and regulation. It cites as its ideological inspiration libertarian economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. [16] In practice, the R Street policy portfolio frequently conforms to this agenda, but with some exceptions that fall outside right-of-center and even libertarian orthodoxy.

Examples of R Street’s conforming to right-of-center or libertarian policy ideology include:

  • R Street supports free trade and has criticized the administration of President Donald Trump for his tariff policy and “trade wars.” [17]
  • R Street proposes market-based insurance reforms such as the end of government subsidies for reconstructing buildings and homes that have been built in flood and hurricane areas. [18]
  • R Street supported the 2017 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to do away with the federal government’s so-called “net neutrality” regulations on internet service providers. [19]
  • R Street supports criminal justice reform such as alternative sentencing, ending the death penalty, and legalization of cannabis sales in Washington, D.C. [20] [21]
  • R Street supports reasonable regulations (as opposed to harsh restrictions and prohibitions) on “vaping” or “e-cigarette” products, promoting these as safer alternatives to consuming tobacco products. [22]
  • R Street opposes minimum wage hikes to $15 an hour. [23]
  • R Street supports workers rights to choose union membership or not, including supporting right-to-work laws and calling for a new work status for contracted employees. [24]

R Street has departed from right-of-center and libertarian principles in areas such as energy and labor policy.

Labor Policy

In a November 2019 opinion for the right-of-center National Review, R Street president Eli Lehrer argued the Republican administration of President Donald Trump should use his executive branch authority to loosen the federal regulations on “alternative workers’ organizations,” or “worker centers.” Lehrer conceded most free-market policy organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, consider worker centers to be little more than “front groups” for left-leaning labor unions trying to hide from federal regulations that labor unions must normally abide by. Lehrer stated this is a flawed interpretation: “The mere fact that they annoy employers and sometimes promote public policies that conservatives oppose shouldn’t make them subject to burdensome regulations.” [25]

Asserting his idea was a valid free market policy, Lehrer wrote: “A strategy of supporting groups that perform some functions of unions but not all does not mean cozying up to the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters, or any other part of “big labor” — just the opposite, in fact.” Among the examples he cited were the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Freelancers Union, and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. [26]

Critics noted that a number of Lehrer’s examples had significant ties to left-leaning labor unions and organizations. [27] The United Farm Workers (UFW), identified by Lehrer as an “alternative workers’ organization,” is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as a labor union, and UFW belongs to the Change to Win coalition of labor unions founded by the Service Employees International Union and International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center, another of Lehrer’s examples, has staffers and funders affiliated with the United Auto Workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA). And another example, the Freelancers Union, has a founder, Sara Horowitz, who has received a fellowship from the left-of-center MacArthur Foundation and is a co-founder of Demos (a staunchly left-wing public policy organization). [28]

Energy Policy

R Street advocates for creation of a revenue-neutral tax on carbon emissions that would be offset by reductions in federal taxes on income and capital gains. [29] Using the tax code to favor or punish a particular industry or business has traditionally been opposed by proponents of free markets and is sometimes derided by them as central planning and “picking winners and losers” in the marketplace.

R Street’s carbon tax policy was criticized in 2014 by Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Association. Pyle wrote that the carbon tax would harm the economy and kill jobs, and that supporting it conflicted with R Street’s supposed advocacy of “consumer choice; low, flat taxes; …and systems that rely on price signals rather than central planning.” Noting the financial support R Street had received from the left-of-center Energy Foundation, Pyle accused R Street of being a “sword-for-hire in the climate activists’ battle against American families and small businesses.” [30]

In a rebuttal to Pyle, R Street listed several of its free market policy positions and made the following criticism of the American Energy Association:[31]

“If you can’t imagine a world in which you would say or do things that don’t comport 100 percent with the wishes of your donors, perhaps that says more about you than it does about us. The identity of our donors is no more material to the substance of debates over energy or other policy than is the identity of AEA’s donors.”

Aside from supporting the carbon tax, the rest of R Street’s energy policy agenda resembles that of most other free market organizations. R Street opposes energy subsidies, including those for so-called renewable fuels, having opposed renewal of the tax credit for wind energy and supported an end to the renewable fuel standard. [32] [33]

In an April 2014 blog post arguing for elimination of the Wind Production Tax Credit, R Street criticized U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) for supporting the wind subsidy, and implied campaign contributions were influencing their policy choices:[34]

“Similarly, in this case, one doesn’t have to be an investigative journalist to see how the desire for campaign cash is the uniting factor. Grassley, for instance, has been on the receiving end of $5,000 from the wind industry, while one of Udall’s top five contributors throughout his career has been the alternative energy company NextEra Energy, who have given him a total of $42,000 over five years. In the words of Frank Underwood, “when the t—’s that big, everybody gets in line.””[35]

R Street also supported construction of the Keystone XL energy pipeline[36], criticized the Obama-era carbon regulations on power plants as “Death-star governance,”[37] and supported reducing regulations that block the expansion of nuclear energy. [38]

Financials

R Street’s total revenue for calendar year 2018 was nearly $10.6 million, with spending of more than $9.3 million and net assets of more than $5.8 million. Relative to 2016, R Street grew considerably by 2018, with revenue up 78 percent, spending up 90 percent, and net assets up 92 percent. In its founding year of 2012 R Street had total revenue of $792,000, and every year since has increased its revenue by at least $500,000. R Street collected total contributions of $34.7 million for calendar years 2012 through 2018. [39]

Grants from foundations comprised $9 million of the $24.2 million in contributions received by R Street for calendar years 2012 through 2017, or 37 percent of total donations for those years. [40]

Left-of-Center Donors

Of the $9 million in foundation donations received by R Street between 2012 and 2017, nearly $6.4 million (71 percent) was given by foundations with a history of large contributions to left-of-center policy organizations. These left-of-center foundation donors account for 26 percent of the $24.2 million in total donations given to R Street between 2012 and 2017. [41]

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Through 2017 the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation contributed grants totaling almost $2.8 million to R Street, with nearly $1.3 million of this contributed during 2017. [42]

The Hewlett Foundation is a major donor to many left-of-center causes. Examples of its donations in this sector between 2016 and 2019 include the Energy Foundation ($105.3 million), the New Venture Fund ($13.8 million), Climateworks Foundation ($36.8 million), the Bipartisan Policy Center ($3.2 million), the Center for American Progress ($1.5 million), the Brennan Center ($1.3 million), the Third Way Institute ($1.8 million), and the Natural Resources Defense Council ($4 million). [43]

The Hewlett Foundation has a history of smaller giving to right of center organizations. From 2016 through 2019 it gave grants totaling $1.8 million to the Niskanen Center (a nominally libertarian think tank with ties to left-of-center environmental groups), $700,000 to the Christian Coalition, and $500,000 to the Federalist Society. [44]

The Energy Foundation

Through 2017, the Energy Foundation contributed grants totaling almost $1.8 million to R Street, with $460,000 of this contributed during 2017. [45] The Energy Foundation is a left-of-center “pass through” charitable foundation founded by and supported by a network of left-wing organizations.

In 2017 the Energy Foundation funded a wide variety of left-of-center organizations such as Media Matters for America ($100,000), Public Citizen Foundation ($225,000), the Tides Center ($445,000), the BlueGreen Alliance ($430,000), the Consumer Federation of America ($230,000), Earthjustice–formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund ($935,000), and the Natural Resources Defense Council ($2.5 million). [46]

The Tides Foundation

In 2017, the Tides Foundation contributed a grant of $500,000 to R Street. [47] The Tides Foundation is a donor-advised fund provider that was named after a San Francisco Bay Area left-of-center independent bookstore. The particular donor which advised the funds was Google.org; they aimed to support R Street’s Justice for Work Coalition. This was just one organization Google.org has donated to in support of racial and social justice policies. [48]

Democracy Fund

In 2017 the Democracy Fund contributed grants totaling $365,000 to R Street. [49] The Democracy Fund is principally funded by eBay founder and former chairman Pierre Omidyar, and contributes to center-left and left-wing media organizations, groups seeking to infringe on campaign speech rights, and left-of-center-leaning voter registration organizations. [50]

Foundation to Promote Open Society

Through 2017 the Foundation to Promote Open Society contributed grants totaling $270,000 to R Street. [51] Formerly the Open Society Institute, this is part of an international grantmaking network founded by left-wing billionaire George Soros. [52]

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Through 2017 the MacArthur Foundation contributed grants totaling $250,000 to R Street. [53] MacArthur provides significant grants to a large assortment of left-of-center causes, such as Planned Parenthood, the Population Council, the Energy Foundation, the Center For American Progress and the New Venture Fund. [54]

David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Through 2017 the David and Lucile Packard Foundation contributed grants totaling $200,000 to R Street. [55] The Packard Foundation provides grants to a large assortment of left-of-center causes such as New America (New America Foundation), the Tides Center, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. [56]

Foundation for the Carolinas

Through 2017 the Foundation for the Carolinas contributed grants totaling $121,000 to R Street. [57]

The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC) is a donor-advised fund provider. One of its largest known account holders is North Carolina billionaire Fred Stanback, who was characterized in an April 2018 Knoxville News report as a “known proponent of anti-humanist environmentalism [. . .] the belief that protecting the environment hinges on population control.” Thirty-nine percent of FFTC’s donations from 1999-2017 ($825 million) were given to organizations favoring the Stanback policy agenda: left-leaning environmentalism, abortion, population control, or immigration restrictionism. Stanback has been publicly identified as a significant contributor to many large recipients of FFTC donations that conform with his ideological concerns, such as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth), NumbersUSA, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Biological Diversity. [58]

Public Welfare Foundation

In 2016 the Public Welfare Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to R Street. [59] The Public Welfare Foundation is a left-of-center grantmaking organization with a history of donating six-figure and larger grants to left-leaning advocacy groups. Also in 2016 Public Welfare gave to the Bluegreen Alliance Foundation ($100,000), the Center for Popular Democracy ($150,000), the Economic Policy Institute ($150,000), and the New Venture Fund ($975,000). [60]

Other Foundation Donors

The Walton Family Foundation has provided grants totaling nearly $1.2 million to R Street—13 percent of total foundation grants received by R Street through 2017, and 4.9 percent of R Street’s total donations from all sources. [61] Walton is an ideologically centrist foundation, with a history of giving to right-of-center policy organizations such as the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and left-of-center organizations such as the Center for American Progress. [62]

The Linden Trust for Conservation is a foundation focused on conservation and environmental giving that has provided grants totaling $386,000 to R Street through 2017. Linden has been a large donor to the left-of-center Center for American Progress (grants of at least $500,000 since 2014), and the right-of-center American Action Forum (grants of at least $400,000 since 2015). Linden has also been a donor to the libertarian Niskanen Center ($400,000 since 2014), and the notionally right-of-center Alliance for Market Solutions ($1 million in 2016), both supporters of implementing a tax on carbon emissions. [63]

Personnel

While much of the board does lean towards right-of-center, two of R Street’s longest serving members have left-leaning work experience. Ryan Alexander is the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog that receives large grants from left-of-center organizations, while Michael Cohen formerly worked in the Clinton White House and cabinet under the purview of former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. [64][65][66]

Eli Lehrer

Eli Lehrer is president and co-founder of R Street, and in 2018 was paid a total compensation of $262,000. Prior to R Street’s split off from the Heartland Institute in 2012, Lehrer was the vice president for Heartland’s Washington operations. He has also been a reporter for the Washington Times, a senior editor at the American Enterprise Institute magazine, and a speechwriter in the U.S. Senate. [67] [68]

Marni Soupcoff

As of November 2019, Marni Soupcoff was the chair of the R Street board, having held that position since 2015. [69] [70] She is an opinion columnist for the National Post and member of the Canadian newspaper’s editorial board. [71]

Ryan Alexander

Ryan Alexander was a member of the R Street board as of November 2019 and has been a member since R Street’s founding in 2012. [72] [73] She has been the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense since 2006. [74] Taxpayers for Common Sense is an advocacy group concerned with federal budget and taxation issues that has received financial support from major left-of-center foundations. [75]

Bob Inglis

Bob Inglis was an original member of the R Street board in 2012 and was a director as of November 2019. [76] [77] He is a former U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 4th congressional district and the executive director of RepublicEN, a nominally right-leaning environmentalist advocacy organization that promotes taxing carbon emissions and has opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. [78] [79]

Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen was an original member of the R Street board in 2012 and was still a director as of November 2019. [80] [81] He is an executive at Renaissance Reinsurance, and worked in several capacities for the Clinton White House and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-Clinton administration HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. [82]

R.J. Lehmann

R.J. Lehmann is the director of finance, insurance and trade for R Street and as of 2017 was paid a total compensation of $148,000. He co-founded R Street in 2012 and was previously the deputy director of the Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. [83]

Charles Duan

Charles Duan is R Street’s director of technology and innovation policy. As of 2018 his total compensation was $163,000. He was previously employed at Public Knowledge, a technology think tank that promotes so-called “net neutrality” restrictions on internet providers. [84]

James Wallner

James Wallner is a resident senior fellow for governance at R Street. As of 2018 his total compensation was $164,000. His was previously employed at the right-of-center Heritage Foundation and as an aide to several Republican U.S. Senators. [85]

Kevin Kosar

Kevin Kosar is a vice president for policy and research at R Street and has been a senior staffer since at least 2015. His total compensation for 2018 was $192,000. [86]

Erica Shoder

Erica Shoder is a senior vice president for operations at R Street and has held a senior position at the organization since at least 2013. Her total compensation for 2018 was $198,000. [87]

Other Leadership

As of November 2019, there were six persons listed on the R Street website’s “Leadership” staff tab. In addition to Eli Lehrer, Erica Shoder and Kevin Kosar, vice presidents Justina Yee, Tony Mills and Dean Peterson were also included. The salaries of Yee, Mills and Peterson were not listed in the 2018 IRS filing by R Street, but annual compensation for previous R Street employees holding a “vice president” title have exceeded $150,000. [88]

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  63. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc., from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted November 15, 2019; AND “Niskanen Center.” Influence Watch. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/niskanen-center/; AND “Alliance for Market Solutions.” Influence Watch. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/alliance-for-market-solutions/ ^
  64. R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf; R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2012 Accessed November 15, 2019. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2012-990-Public-Disclosure-Copy.pdf ^
  65. “Board of Directors.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/#board-of-directors ^
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  69. R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf;

    R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2017. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2017-R-Street-Form-990-PD.pdf;

    R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2015. Accessed November 15, 2019. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/263477125_201512_990.pdf;

    R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2013. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2013-Form-990_PD.pdf ^

  70. “Board of Directors.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/#board-of-directors ^
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  73. “Board of Directors.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/#board-of-directors ^
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  80. R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2012 Accessed November 15, 2019. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2012-990-Public-Disclosure-Copy.pdf ^
  81. “Board of Directors.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 18, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/#board-of-directors ^
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  84. R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf; AND “Charles Duan.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/charles-duan/; AND “Net Neutrality.” Public Knowledge. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/net-neutrality/ ^
  85. R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf; AND “James Wallner.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/james-wallner/ ^
  86. “Kevin Kosar.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/kevin-kosar/; AND R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf; AND R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2015. Accessed November 15, 2019. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/263477125_201512_990.pdf. ^
  87. “Erica Shoder.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/erica-schoder/; AND R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf; AND R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2013. http://2o9ub0417chl2lg6m43em6psi2i.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2013-Form-990_PD.pdf. ^
  88. “The R Street Team: Leadership.” R Street Institute. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/team/#leadership; AND R Street Institute. IRS Form 990. 2018. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/R-Street-Final-Returns-FY-2018.pdf ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Bob Watkins
    Board Member
  2. Amanda Nguyen
    Board Member
  3. Elizabeth Frazee
    Board Member
  4. Michael Cohen
    Board Member
  5. Pablo Carrillo
    Board Member
  6. Ryan Calo
    Board Member
  7. Ryan Alexander
    Board Member
  8. Bob Inglis
    Board Member
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: April 1, 2009

  • 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 $8,389,020 $6,853,303 $5,324,052 $741,950 N $8,262,264 $0 $1,231 $432,985
    2016 Dec Form 990 $5,946,145 $4,910,677 $3,311,687 $265,302 N $5,887,086 $0 $1,190 $606,774
    2015 Dec Form 990 $4,164,948 $3,471,241 $2,131,906 $120,989 N $4,069,963 $0 $1,051 $396,453 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $2,369,480 $1,845,344 $862,442 $51,199 N $2,353,072 $0 $920 $288,680 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $792,122 $505,015 $314,698 $27,591 N $791,833 $0 $66 $103,682 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990EZ $0 $9,967 $2,349 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    R Street Institute

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