Washington Legal Foundation
The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) is a conservative law and policy center that advocates for a free-market economic system with a mission “to preserve and defend America’s free enterprise system.” The foundation litigates original actions and files briefs before state and federal courts. The law group also acts as a legal PR organization that influences public policy opinion through its legal publications, media briefings, web seminars, advocacy ads and op-ed articles.
Daniel Popeo founded the Washington Legal Foundation and, until his death in 2012, acted as chairman and legal counsel for the organization. A former Nixon and Ford staffer he founded WLF in 1977, and was considered a “a well-known advocate for businesses and free markets. In a 2006 op-ed he accused “obstructionist lawsuits brought by environmental activists” of making the US “dangerously dependent on foreign oil” while “lawyers and judges meddle constantly in our war against ruthless Islamo-fascist terrorists.” Currently former Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburg acts as chairman of WLF’s Legal Policy Advisory Board. Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson also previously served on the board.
WLF has a history of defending big tobacco from—as they described in a 1998 nationally published ad—“anti-smoking zealots in government” and has received funding from Altria, the company that owns Phillip Morris USA, and the R..J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California, San Francisco documents thousands of instances of WLF working with or receiving support from tobacco interests. A 1996 fundraising letter to the director of R.J. Reynold, Don Foreman from WLF’s chairman and general counsel, Daniel Popeo, called Foreman a “valued friend and supporter of the Washington Legal Foundation,” and stated that “all of us at WLF look forward to continuing to earn and re-earn your respect and sponsorship.” A 1994 report by Philip Morris’s corporate affairs policy analyst and manager of industry affairs Roy Marden stated that Philip Morris was “Working with the Washington Legal Foundation to develop a strategy to “counteract and attack” the “antis.” Marden also served on the board of the Heartland Institute until 2008. In 1999 WLF was listed as an “ally” in a memo from the PR firm BSMG Worldwide to Philip Morris discussing ways to “support a full court press to thwart the filing of a federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry.”
WLF’s interactions with the corporations were not always about tobacco. Charles Wall, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Philip Morris (currently Philip Morris’s vice chairman) also sent a letter in 1992 to Daniel Popeo to personally thank WLF for filing an amicus brief in support of Kraft Food’s claim that that its Kraft Singles contained the health benefits of “5 ounces of milk.”
WLF also frequently files legal briefs on behalf of the energy industry to address what they have called the “harmful effect” that “frivolous litigation” has on the business community. It supported Exxon Mobil’s attempt to challenge what it described as an “eye popping” amount ($104 million) it was required to pay in damages to the city of New York for polluting groundwater in Jamaica, Queens, and General Motors when the State of California filed suit for it contributing to global warming. It also often files formal comments with the EPA to dispute regulations on things like carbon emissions and fracking. Not surprisingly, some Some of WLF’s largest donors are in the energy business, such as ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers through the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
WLF filed an amicus brief supporting groups challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in 2012, and claimed that the law it would “permanently implant bureaucracy into America’s health care system.”
In 2012, the most recent year for which financial information is available, WLF took in over $3.8 million in contributions and grants, and spent more than $2.6 million on its operations. The Conservative Transparency database has identified more than $16.4 million of the group’s contributions since 1985. Since 2007, it has received major donations from the Koch-run Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Foundation. WLF has also received millions from two seemingly affiliated but more secretive groups, the American Legal Foundation and the U.S. Justice Charitable Foundation. The two groups share the same address as WLF.