The Searle Freedom Trust is a private foundation created by Daniel C. Searle, chief executive officer with G.D. Searle, a pharmaceutical company. The trust, which primarily funds center-right public policy organizations, is scheduled to terminate in 2025.
Daniel C. Searle
Daniel C. Searle was the great-grandson of Gideon Daniel Searle, founder of pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle. Searle became president of G.D. Searle in 1966 and CEO in 1970. In 1977, he hired Donald Rumsfeld, a former U.S. Representative and Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration, to replace him as Searle CEO. G.D. Searle was bought by biotechnology conglomerate Monsanto in 1985. 1
After his death in 2007, National Review wrote that “no individual had given more to the American Enterprise Institute in the past twenty years” than Searle. 2 In 1998, Searle endowed the John G. Searle Chair in Economics at AEI that has been held by Michael Strain since 2017. 3
In 2001, Searle created the Chicago Biomedical Consortium, a joint venture of Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois-Chicago to encourage collaboration between the three universities on biomedical research. The consortium is now supported by the Searle Funds, a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust. 4
The Searle Freedom Trust was created in 1999. In a 2021 article for the Philanthropy Roundtable, Trust president Kimberly O. Dennis wrote that she worked with Daniel Searle over six months to draft the Trust’s mission statement. Dennis provided Searle with “mission statements from other foundations that had successfully preserved donor intent, such as the Bradley Foundation” and consulted “with representative from freedom-advocating think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute. Dennis said the process of creating a mission statement helped her understand Searle’s intentions. 5
The statement says the goal of the trust is to “foster those underlying values and attitudes that enable the free market and democratic systems to both function and flourish.” 6
The Searle Freedom Trust is scheduled to spend itself out by 2025. “By requiring the foundation to spend itself out of existence by 2025, I seek to ensure that the foundation will always remain in the hands of people who understand my intentions and are committed to carrying out the foundation’s mission,” Searle declared. 7
Kimberly O. Dennis
Kimberly O. Dennis has been president of the Searle Freedom Trust since 1999. She graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in sociology and began to work for the Maine Department of Social Services in Caribou, Maine. Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote that Dennis’s experience as a social worker “made her skeptical of the power of government to solve people’s problems.” Dennis told Schaefer Riley that her work investigating claims of child abuse led to a feeling that “we were prying into people’s lives.” 8
Endowed Think Tank Chairs
The Searle Freedom Trust has endowed several chairs at public policy organizations, including one held by Robert Poole at the Reason Foundation. 14 In the past the trust endowed positions for Nicole Gelinas at the Manhattan Institute 15 and Clifford Winston at the Brookings Institution. 16
Higher Education Grantmaking
In 2014, the Chronicle of Higher Education said that between 1995-2013 the Searle freedom Trust was the third-largest donor to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, with contributions of $491,400 during this period, behind the Olin Foundation ($500,000) and the Bradley Foundation ($1.5 million). 17
The New York Times reported in 2017 that the Searle Freedom Trust was the primary backer of Students for Fair Admissions, a group that has brought several lawsuits before the Supreme Court challenging affirmative-action policies at colleges and universities. Tax records obtained by the Times and Kimberly Dennis in an interview stated that up to 2017 the trust has donated $2.9 million to Students for Fair Admissions, using DonorsTrust as a pass through. 18
In 2019 the Harvard Crimson reported that in 2016, the Searle Freedom Trust had donated $500,000 to Students for Fair Admissions while DonorsTrust had donated $250,000. In that year, Students for Fair Admissions had a budget of $1.1 million. Kimberly Dennis said the Searle Trust grants were exclusively for lawsuits against the affirmative action policies of the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina, and that the Trust had declined to support a lawsuit against Harvard. 19
Support for Environmental Organizations
In 2022 the left-wing group Center for Media and Democracy stated that the Searle Freedom Trust had donated $6.3 million to free-market environmental-policy organizations between 2014-20, including $3.4 million to the Competitive Enterprise Institute and $2.2 million to the Property and Environment Research Center. 20
- For an obituary, see “Trevor Jensen, “Daniel C. Searle, 1926-2007,” Chicago Tribune, November 6, 2007.
- “The Week,” National Review, December 3, 2007.
- “AEI Director of Economic Policy Studies Michael Strain Named To John G. Searle Chair,” press release from the American Enterprise Institute, September 27, 2017.
- “Chicago Biomedical Consortium—History,”
- “Hoe Dan Searle Protected His Donor Intent with A Mission Statement,” Philanthropy Roundtable, December 23, 2021, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/resource/how-dan-searle-protected-his-donor-intent-with-a-mission-statement/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- Joanne Florino, “Going for Broke,” Philanthropy, Fall 2015, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/magazine/fall-2015-going-for-broke/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- “Sunset FAQs,” Searle Freedom Trust, https://www.searlefreedomtrust.org/sunset-faqs (accessed September 12, 2022)
- Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Can Big Data Help Save Abused Kids?” Reason, February 2018.
- “Board of Visitors,” Federalist Society, https://fedsoc.org/board-of-visitors (accessed September 12, 2022)
-  “Board of Trustees,” American Enterprise Institute, https://www.aei.org/about/board-of-trustees/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- “Our People,” https://www.perc.org/about-us/people/ (accessed September 12, 2022).
- “Board of Directors,” DonorsTrust, https://www.donorstrust.org/who-we-are/directors-and-staff/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- “CEI Board of Directors,” Competitive Enterprise Institute,” https://www.donorstrust.org/who-we-are/directors-and-staff/ (accessed September 12, 2022).
- “Robert Poole,” https://reason.org/author/robert-poole/ (Accessed September 12, 2022)
- “Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas to Discuss Free-Market Capitalism,” press release from Virginia Tech, August 19, 2015.
-  “Privatization—Public and Private Sectors Find Issues with Contracting,” press release from Wake Forest University, November 2, 2013.
- Jack Stripling, “A Higher-Ed Needler Finds Its Moment,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 15, 2016.
- Anemona Hartacollis, “A One-Man Legal Factory Fights Harvard Over Affirmative Action,” New York Times, November 20, 2017.
- Camille G. Caldera and Sahar M. Mohammadzadeh, “Public Filings Reveal SFFA Mostly Funded by Conservative Trusts,” Harvard Crimson, February 7, 2019. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/2/7/sffa-finance/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- Alex Kotch, “Exposed: The Biggest Non-Profit Funders of Climate Denial,” Common Dreams, March 23, 2022,, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/03/23/exposed-biggest-non-profit-funders-climate-denial (accessed September 12, 2022)
- Searle Freedom Trust, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2019, Part XV Line 3 https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/367244615/05_2021_prefixes_36-38%2F367244615_201912_990PF_2021050518064296