Center for Independent Thought (CIT)

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The Center for Independent Thought (CIT) is an IRS 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization that serves as a fundraising hub for John Stossel, and the host organization for Stossel TV and Stossel in the Classroom.

CIT is focused on creating content for school teachers to use, which generally promote ideas that are favored by large corporations, wealthy industrialists, and anti-government Libertarians.

The Center for Independent Thought describes of itself is as follows: 

“The Center for Independent Thought seeks to expand awareness of the issues of individual liberty, free markets, and peace. Toward that goal, CIT works with teachers, scholars, and international free-market organizations to develop critical thinking and bring the ideas of liberty to people around the globe.”

The CIT was founded by Howie Rich and his wife, the late Andrea Rich

CIT website list of officers (accessed Nov 2020):

  • Rob Schimenz (President)
  • Andrea Millen Rich (President Emeritus) - deceased, as of 2018
  • John Stossel (Journalist)
  • David Boaz (Executive Vice President, Cato Institute)
  • Anita Anderson (Galima Group)
  • Howard S. Rich (Chairman, U.S. Term Limits)

Revenue Breakdown, from CIT’s IRS 990 filings:

  • $768,067 from contributions and grants (2018)
  • $206,563 from contributions and grants (2017)
  • $302,146 from contributions and grants (2016)
  • $562,949 from contributions and grants (2015)
  • $583,677 from contributions and grants (2014)
  • $527,800 from contributions and grants (2013)
  • $606,201 from contributions and grants (2012)
  • $721,105 from contributions and grants (2011)
  • $689,735 from contributions and grants (2010)
  • $550,185 from contributions and grants (2009)

Expenses Breakdown, from CIT’s IRS 990 filings:

  • $115,800 of $446,741 spent on outgoing grants (2018)
  • $51,650 of $370,819 spent on outgoing grants (2017)
  • $145,125 of $447,381 spent on outgoing grants (2016)
  • $301,125 of $636,670 spent on outgoing grants (2015)
  • $147,650 of $470,136 spent on outgoing grants (2014)

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Evidence: 

CIT Founder Howie Rich

Howie Rich is a New York real estate magnate who “has steered millions of dollars toward the libertarian causes he has long championed, though he has managed to largely remain under the political radar while doing so,” according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Organizations associated with Rich have funneled $7,000,000 into initiatives aiming to limit government involvement.

Since 2008, Rich has contributed at least $188,000 to 38 members of SC House of Representatives. Because SC caps individual donations at $2,000, Rich made gifts through shell companies like Stillrich LLC and Coolcal LLC. These linger from Rich’s time in real estate, where it isn’t uncommon for each property to be its own LLC. These LLCs all trace back to the same address - the address listed for the Center for Independent Thought.

Dick Harpootilan, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said that Rich “owns the whole f***ing state” in an interview with OpenSecrets. There is in-depth information about the millions of dollars that Rich has given to different entities and the many controversies behind them.

Early in his career, Howie Rich was active in the Libertarian Party and worked with Charles Koch to promote small-government, free-market causes. He has made dozens of contributions to predominantly conservative politicians running for elections. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that Rich has poured over $10 million into ballot initiatives (2007) and has funneled millions into his home state by sidestepping campaign finance laws. The late Roy Childs, another close and longtime collaborator of Charles Koch, was also involved with CIT’s operations.

Charles Koch and the Center for Independent Thought:

The CIT received $325,000 from Koch foundations from 2007-2018.

  • Charles Koch Foundation: $185,000 (2012-2018)
  • Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation: $140,000 (2007-2011)

Foundations controlled by Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch provided 6.7% of CIT’s annual grant revenue, on average, over the past five years:

2014: 13.71% of revenue - $80,000 of $583,677 in total grant revenue

2015: No grants from Koch

2016: 13.24% of revenue - $40,000 of $302,146 in total grant revenue

2017: No grants from Koch 

2018: 6.5% of revenue - $50,000 of $768,067 in total grant revenue

Donors Trust dark money grants to CIT:

Center for Independent Thought Funding of Other Groups

The CIT serves as a financial pass-through organization for grants to Koch-affiliated organizations. CIT Donations to Other Anti-Environmental Organizations include:

Cato Institute:

  • $100,000 (2018)
  • $7,000 (2017)
  • $80,000 (2016)
  • $115,000 (2015)
  • $20,500 (2014)

Atlas Network:

  • $10,000 (2017)
  • $25,500 (2016)
  • $27,750 (2015)
  • $23,250 (2014)

Federalist Society:

  • $20,000 (2015)

Reason Foundation:

  • $12,500 (2015)

Students for Liberty:

  • $5,000 (2015)

Conservative Transparency lists more individual donations, reported by CIT to the IRS, to anti-environmental organizations between 2008-2014, totaling $776,025. Some notable examples of recipients include the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Atlas Network (Atlas Economic Research Foundation), and the Fund for Personal Liberty.