American Enterprise Institute


The American Enterprise Institute is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt think tank based in Washington, D.C.


AEI was originally called the American Enterprise Association (AEA), founded in 1938 by a group of New York businessmen led by Lewis H. Brown. AEA’s original mission was to promote a “greater public knowledge and understanding of the social and economic advantages accruing to the American people through the maintenance of the system of free, competitive enterprise.” In 1943, AEA moved to Washington, DC in order to influence policy and promote classical liberal arguments. The early work of AEA included commissioning studies of government policies and distributing legislative analyses to members of Congress.

In 1962, AEA renamed the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The organization experienced financial troubles in 1986, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and was on the edge of bankruptcy after the John M. Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation withdrew funding.

During the George W. Bush administration, AEI was one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the US.

Timeline of AEI Leadership:
1938-1951 Lewis H. Brown
1954-1962 William Baroody Sr., executive vice president
1962-1978 William Baroody Sr., president
1978-1986 William Baroody Jr., president
1986 Paul McCracken., interim president
1986-2008 Christopher DeMuth, president
2008-Now Arthur C. Brooks, president


Ties to the Koch Brothers

Greenpeace published data on AEI’s financial ties to foundations controlled by Charles Koch, David Koch, and other Koch Industries executives.

DeSmogBlog has a detailed spreadsheet that lists out all the AEI’s funding resources, including the amount from Koch Foundation, ExxonMobil, and Donors Capital Fund.

In response to criticism of its financial sources, AEI scholar Mark J. Perry published a blog titled “Here’s how you benefit from Koch brothers,” claiming that, “We should all be grateful to the Koch Brothers and their companies for providing consumer products that make our lives better off and help raise our standard of living.”

AEI President Arthur Brooks is a regular attendee of Charles Koch’s “Freedom Partners” meetings, which happen twice each year. According to Slate, Brooks is a board member of the Charles Koch Institute's “Well-Being Initiative." The initiative appears to advance arguments for de-regulation and anti-tax policies, but describes itself as aiming "to advance our understanding of the meaning, foundations, and drivers of human flourishing.”

In the book Dark Money, reporter Jane Mayer quotes a speech given by Brooks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in which he describes the practial motivation for conservatives to talk more about "well-being" and "happiness." From an excerpt of the book published by the New Yorker:

Brooks told the audience that a single statistic explained why conservatives had lost. In polls, he said, only a third of respondents agreed that Republicans “cared about people like” them. And fewer than half of Americans believed that Republicans cared about the poor. Conservatives had an empathy problem. This was important, Brooks explained, because Americans almost universally believed that “fairness matters.” He went on, “I know it makes you sick to think of that word, ‘fairness.’ ” But Americans, he said, overwhelmingly believed that “it’s right to help the vulnerable.”

In the view of the American public, Brooks said, the Democrats were “the fairness guys.” He added, “They’re the ‘helping-the-poor guys.’ Who are we? We’re the ‘money guys’!”

Ties to Exxon Mobil

According to the latest disclosure provided by ExxonMobil and the ExxonMobil Foundation, AEI received $325,000 from ExxonMobil in 2016. ExxonMobil has supported AEI since 1998. ExxonSecrets shows a total of $3,770,000 of ExxonMobil funding to AEI from 1998 to 2014, according to disclosure provided by ExxonMobil and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

Climate Change Denial

The American Enterprise Institute has played a longtime role in casting doubt over climate change science and solutions to the problem, like increasing renewable energy. Benjamin Zycher, Jonah Goldberg, and Mark J. Perry are the three major scholars who publish articles and opinions on environmental issues.

Benjamin Zycher--theJohn G. Searle Scholar at AEI, Senior Fellow at Pacific Research Institute, and owner of Benjamin Zycher Economics Associates--has a long history of denying climate change. In 2003, Zycher published an article in the Los Angeles Times arguing that “the current effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is unnecessary.” Recently, he primarily promoted the false idea that global temperatures stopped increasing in 1996.

In a 2014 op-ed in The Hill, Zycher cites a variety of sources that have been widely discredited by climate scientists, such as retired TV weatherman Anthony WattsChristopher Monckton--who isn’t a scientist--and Roy Spencer, who was listed as a recipient of payments in Peabody Energy's bankruptcy filings.

A 2014 statement from Zycher repeated a popular myth used by climate science deniers to assert that global temperatures stopped rising: “There has been no temperature trend for well over a decade (or more, depending on how we adjust for the 1998 El Niño and other phenomena). This actual record has belied the predictions of the climate models.”

Zycher has contracted for other organizations that regularly receive funding from Koch family foundations and ExxonMobil. Zycher was listed in IRS 990 tax forms filed by the Manhattan Institute, receiving:

  • $270,000 in 2006
  • $331,220 in 2007
  • $320,149 in 2008.

Zycher's firm also received authors fees from the Pacific Research Institute, according to 990s filed by PRI:

  • $225,858 in 2005
  • $58,000 in 2008

Advocate for oil and gas industries

Mark J. Perry published an op-ed on AEI website advocating for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Perry claims that fracking is a great innovative technology and can sharply reduce carbon emissions, but fails to address its numerous problems and external costs, including methane gas leaks during fracking, the triggering of earthquakes, and the groundwater contamination.

Zycher defended ExxonMobil in a May 17, 2017 op-ed and denied the fact that greenhouse gas emission will lead to global warming and climate catastrophes. One quote directly contradicts the bulk of scientific evidence widely accepted by scientists: “More generally, the temperature record since the late 19th century does not correlate well with increasing GHG concentrations. No one claims, for example, that the warming observed from 1910 to the mid-1940s was caused by man.”

Undermining Trust in Renewable Energy

Mark J. Perry stated that “it takes 79 solar workers to produce same amount of electric power as one coal worker”, trying to apparently arguing that fossil fuels are better than renewable energy because they create less jobs, and thus generate energy more efficiently. Perry was reacting to statistics showing that both the wind industry and the solar industry each employ more people than the coal industry. He cited data from EIA website arguing that the solar industry produced insignificant share of electric power, despite the fact that the employment population was much larger than the coal industry.

Mark Perry co-published an article with Thomas A. Hemphill of The Heartland Institute on wind power, arguing that the full cost of wind power is too expensive that it is the waste of taxpayer’s money. Perry cites research by several other Koch-funded groups, starting with Robert Bryce at the Manhattan Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a fossil fuel front group that was co-founded by Charles Koch and received funding ExxonMobil, API, and Peabody Energy. The article also references wind power cost analysis research done by Utah State University and Strata Policy, which are both heavily financed by the Charles Koch Foundation.

AEI fellow Benjamin Zycher was criticized for misrepresenting data in his work opposing renewable energy. In an April, 2017 post, Zycher accused the Climate Leadership Council (CLC) proposal of gradually rising carbon tax of being “silliness, analytic flaws, political naiveté, and self-refutation that pervade their proposal.”