The “first, and largest, libertarian think tank,” according to the New Yorker, the Cato Institute was founded by Ed Crane and Charles G. Koch as a “public policy research organization…dedicated to the American principles of liberty and limited government.” Cato is well known for advocating limited government and deregulation, especially the privatization of Social Security. Cato has for the most part stuck to libertarian principles, advocating for the elimination of many federal agencies while also supporting the decriminalization of marijuana and opposing bans on gay marriage. Cato is closely associated with the Koch brothers, though not without disputes through the years. In the early 1990s, Charles Koch resigned from the board and withdrew his financial support (David stayed as a member of the board). Twenty years later, however, Charles Koch – who remained a shareholder of the think tank – made a “very serious play to reassert his control of the organization.” After the death of another shareholder, Charles and David attempted to block the transfer of the remaining shares and to effectively take control of the think tank. A compromise was eventually reached, as a result of which Crane stepped down as CEO.

Notable Facts:

  • John Allison, the new CEO of the Cato Institute and an “ardent devotee of Ayn Rand,” is the former chairman and CEO of the BB&T Corporation. Allison has “waged a campaign” to make college students read Rand’s works by bestowing large grants to schools on the condition that they develop and teach courses on Rand.
  • Some conservatives believe the Koch brothers have not given up on moving the Cato Institute into closer alignment with their other political efforts. According to economist and former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett: “It’s clear to me that the Kochs have abandoned libertarianism and essentially thrown in totally with the G.O.P. They are putting in place a structure that will gradually erode Cato’s independence and move it closer to the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.”
  • Along with David Koch, Americans for Prosperity board member Nancy Pfotenhauer serves on Cato’s board of directors.
View Financial Record
Grants In
Grants Out
Total Expenses
12015$72,934,328$36,069,847$34,969,047$773,968$28,246,157View 990
22014$64,520,251$28,350,110$27,386,455$708,851$24,538,565View 990
32013$60,639,117$22,006,365$20,782,297$873,596$26,028,845View 990
42012$67,083,178$33,097,063$31,736,230$246,888$22,344,728View 990
52011$57,206,316$40,410,727$39,253,053$843,602$23,648,195View 990
62010$37,636,959$31,529,336$29,717,643$425,636$21,766,084View 990
72009$27,347,589$20,145,060$19,129,916$702,724$23,244,194View 990
82008$23,990,296$23,740,702$22,189,765$107,073$18,702,714View 990
92007$22,680,917$20,354,008$18,878,487$581,134$19,044,629View 990
102006$21,461,645$6,364,917$6,104,825$1,243,000$5,145,645View 990
112005$15,869,850$22,656,851$21,651,722$146,898$17,065,056View 990
122004$18,341,494$14,530,419$13,537,255$549,000$17,002,063View 990
132003$20,996,283$12,975,701$12,063,401$193,650$15,630,490View 990
142002$21,602,805$16,975,933$15,561,332$515,246$17,582,455View 990

57 transactions on record as a donor.

Ordered By: Year (Newer to Older)

1Cato InstituteDuke University$45,0002010+
2Cato InstituteAmericans for Prosperity Foundation$2,5002008+
3Cato InstitutePew Research Center$23,0002007+
4Cato InstituteAmerican Islamic Congress$27,5002007+
5Cato InstituteIndependent Institute$60,0002006+
6Cato InstituteYankee Institute$68,0002006+
7Cato InstituteVirginia Institute for Public Policy$25,0002006+
8Cato InstituteTexas Public Policy Foundation$100,0002006+
9Cato InstituteTennessee Center for Policy$50,0002006+
10Cato InstituteSutherland Institute$40,0002006+
11Cato InstituteSouth Carolina Policy Education$90,0002006+
12Cato InstituteShow-Me Institute$50,0002006+
13Cato InstituteRio Grande Foundation$50,0002006+
14Cato InstituteOklahoma Council of Public Affairs$50,0002006+
15Cato InstituteNevada Policy Research Institute$50,0002006+
16Cato InstituteMaryland Public Policy Institute$40,0002006+
17Cato InstituteMaine Heritage Policy Center$50,0002006+
18Cato InstituteJohn Locke Foundation$20,0002006+
19Cato InstituteJames Madison Institute$100,0002006+
20Cato InstituteIllinois Policy Institute$50,0002006+
21Cato InstituteGrassroot Institute of Hawaii$40,0002006+
22Cato InstituteEvergreen Freedom Foundation$100,0002006+
23Cato InstituteEthan Allen Institute$50,0002006+
24Cato InstituteCascade Policy Institute$25,0002006+
25Cato InstituteBluegrass Institute$50,0002006+
26Cato InstituteFund for American Studies$10,0002006+
27Cato InstituteAmerican Enterprise Institute$10,0002006+
28Cato InstituteManhattan Institute for Public Policy Research$5,0002006+
29Cato InstitutePhilanthropy Roundtable$5,0002006+
30Cato InstituteAgencia Interamericana$30,0002006+
31Cato InstituteInstitute for Humane Studies$1,0002005+
32Cato InstituteLeadership Institute$1,0002005+
33Cato InstitutePalmer R. Chitester Fund$1,0002005+
34Cato InstituteReason Foundation$1,0002005+
35Cato InstituteManhattan Institute for Public Policy Research$1,0002005+
36Cato InstituteMilton Rose D Friedman Foundation (Now EdChoice)$1,0002005+
37Cato InstituteHeritage Foundation$2,5002005+
38Cato InstituteGeorge Mason University Foundation$5,0002005+
39Cato InstituteGoldwater Institute$5,0002005+
40Cato InstituteCascade Policy Institute$64,5002005+
41Cato InstituteChildren's Scholarship Fund$63,8982005+
42Cato InstituteOxford Hayek Society$1,3002004+
43Cato InstituteAtlas Economic Research Foundation$20,0002004+
44Cato InstituteLeadership Institute$1,0002003+
45Cato InstituteGeorge Mason University Foundation$5,0002003+
46Cato InstituteCascade Policy Institute$57,0002003+
47Cato InstituteMilton Rose D Friedman Foundation (Now EdChoice)$1,0002003+
48Cato InstituteChildren's Scholarship Fund$25,1002003+
49Cato InstituteManhattan Institute for Public Policy Research$1,0002003+
50Cato InstituteReason Foundation$1,0002003+
Contributions from private foundations and other nonprofit entities are based on a review of publicly available Forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. For more information about our methodology, visit our about page.