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.
- 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.