Acton Institute

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The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (founded 1990) is a Classical Liberal think tank, part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network, which promotes laissez-faire economics and public policy within a Christian framework. According to its website, the Acton Institute's goal is "to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles."[1] It is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN).

Mission and Positions

The Acton Institute "seeks to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing."[2]

The group is both pro-religious and pro-market. Director of Research Samuel Gregg said in an interview with the National Catholic Register that "both the Church and the world of economics certainly need each other. The Church needs to take seriously the insights of economics, especially when it comes to addressing poverty, while economics as a discipline needs people to remind it of all the moral and spiritual realities that don’t fit well into the models employed by most mainstream economists."[3]

News and Controversies

Acton Institute Called Out for Blocking Action on Climate Change

In July of 2016, nineteen U.S. Senators delivered a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests, including the Acton Institute.[4] Sen. Whitehouse (RI-D), who led the effort to expose "the web of denial" said in his remarks on the floor that the purpose was to,

"shine a little light on the web of climate denial and spotlight the bad actors in the web, who are polluting our American discourse with phony climate denial. This web of denial, formed over decades, has been built and provisioned by the deep-pocketed Koch brothers, by ExxonMobil, by Peabody coal, and by other fossil fuel interests. It is a grim shadow over our democracy in that it includes an electioneering effort that spends hundreds of millions of dollars in a single election cycle and threatens any Republican who steps up to address the global threat of climate change. . . . [I]t is long past time we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial and expose their filthy grip on our political process. It is a disgrace, and our grandchildren will look back at this as a dirty time in America’s political history because of their work.”[4]

Tax-Exempt Status Rejected

In March 2014, the city of Grand Rapids, MI denied tax exempt status to the Acton Institute, after it spent a reported $7 million moving its offices to Grand Rapids. The Institute is expected to owe about $91,000 in property taxes for 2014. A letter sent by the city rejecting the Institute's application for tax-exempt status stated that "the entity does not meet non-profit charitable requirements according to case law."[5] Interviewed by the Grand Rapids Press, Grand Rapids City Assessor Scott Engerson further explained, “Most people think that if they’re a tax-exempt 501(c)3 they’re exempt from property tax, and that’s not the case in Michigan...In regard to Acton, it’s the charitable piece that the city was not able to definitively conclude.”[5]

Opposition to Pope Francis

The Acton Institute's strong support for both Catholicism and free market economics has come under strain as Pope Francis has actively criticized global inequality and unfettered capitalism. In May 2014, the Pope's Twitter account posted a tweet saying "Inequality is the root of all evil." Joe Carter, a senior editor at Acton, tweeted in reply, “Seriously, though, what was up with that tweet by @Pontifex? Has he traded the writings of Peter and Paul for Piketty?”, referring to economist Thomas Piketty, author of the 2014 book Capital in the 21st Century, a critique of growing economic inequality.[6]

Support for GMOs

In November 2014, in a Thanksgiving-themed blog post, Bruce Edward Walker (an Acton Institute freelancer[7] who was managing editor of the Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010 to 2012[8] and science editor of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's MichiganScience and communications manager for its Property Rights Network from 2006 to 2010)[9] wrote that, "if not for genetically modified organisms, many of us wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional sense" and "GMOs are making tremendous strides when it comes to feeding the world not only on a day set aside for acknowledging our thanks for our food, but as well the remaining 364 days of the year.... The increasing capability of GMOs to feed the world -- safely, cost-effectively and environmentally sound -- is something to be truly thankful for." The article criticized the environmental advocacy organization As You Sow for its campaign to label GMOs.[10][11]


The Acton Institute hosts an annual four-day conference known as "Acton University" in Grand Rapids, MI, where it is based.[12]

Acton also provides grants of a few thousand dollars each to "to enhance the effectiveness in the teaching and scholarship of market economics for business and economics faculty at Christian colleges, universities and seminaries across the United States and Canada."[13]

Ties to the Bradley Foundation

Through 2016 the Acton Institute received $3,132,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.

2016: $150,000 to support general operations. Bradley mentions Acton University, the research department, and the “Poverty Cure Initiative” as endeavors worth funding.

2014: $125,000 to support general operations. Acton Institute events that stand out to Bradley: Acton University and its “Toward a Free and Virtuous Society.”

Bradley Files

In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.

Find the series here at

Ties to Koch Brothers

The Acton Institute has received funding from organizations with links to the Koch brothers. See funding section below. Acton is also a partner organization of the Charles G. Koch "Professional Education" program.

Koch Wiki

Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.


Acton Institute does not disclose its donors, but some of its funding sources are known through other tax filings or other means. Acton's known funders include:

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $299,636
  • Total Expenses: $73,907
  • Net Assets: $17,967,919


  • Total Revenue: $9,082,447
  • Total Expenses: $9,428,238
  • Net Assets: $17,539,359

Grants Distributed


  • Total Revenue: $10,802,645
  • Total Expenses: $8,367,069
  • Net Assets: $17,669,578

Grants Distributed


  • Total Revenue: $12,680,511
  • Total Expenses: $7,358,337
  • Net Assets: $14,969,997

Grants Distributed

  • Campus Crusade for Christ: $12,500


Executive Staff

As of September 2017:[19]

  • Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President
  • Kris Alan Mauren, Executive Director
  • Holly Rowley, Executive Assistant
  • Katharine Harger, Executive Assistant
  • David Milroy, Chief Operating Officer
  • Nathan Mech, Project Coordinator
  • Jim Healy, Chicago Representative
  • Diane Baum Verploegh, External Relations Associate

A full list of the staff can be viewed here.

Former Executive Staff

  • Ken Larson, Advisor to the President

Board of Directors

As of September 2017:[20]

  • Elsa D. Prince Broekhuizen, EDP Management
  • Gaylen J. Byker, President Emeritus, Calvin College
  • Alejandro A. Chafuen, Atlas Network
  • John P. Crowe, President, John P. Crowe Co.
  • David A. Durell, Chairman, The George Edward Durell Foundation
  • Sean M. Fieler, Equinox Partners
  • Leslie B. Graves, President and CEO, Lucy Burns Institute
  • Frank J. Hanna, III, Hanna Capital, LLC
  • J.C. Huizenga, National Heritage Academies
  • David C. Humphreys, Tamko Building Products, Inc.
  • John C. Kennedy III, Autocam Medical
  • James C. Rahn, Kern Family Foundation
  • Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute

Former Board Members

Contact Information

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
98 E. Fulton Street
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Telephone: (616) 454-3080
Fax: (616) 454-9454

Rome Office
Istituto Acton Italia
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
No. 294
00186 Roma, ITALY
Tel: (+39) 06.688.92500
Fax: (+39) 06.682.14003

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Links


  1. Acton Institute, About, organizational website, accessed June 3, 2014.
  2. Acton Institute, About, organizational website, accessed June 3, 2014.
  3. Trent Beattie, "Cultivating Capitalism’s Compatibility With Catholicism," National Catholic Register, May 20, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sheldon Whitehouse, "Senators Call Out Web of Denial Blocking Action On Climate Change," Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, July 15, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Matt Vande Bunte, "Acton Institute tax exemption denied, Grand Rapids says think tank not charitable," Grand Rapids Press/MLive Media Group, March 7, 2014. Accessed June 3, 2014.
  6. David Gibson, "Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality," District Chronicles, May 12, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
  7. Bruce Edward Walker, LinkedIn profile, accessed December 2014.
  8. Heartland Institute, Bruce Edward Walker, organizational biography, accessed December 2014.
  9. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Bruce Edward Walker, Editor-at-Large, organizational biography, accessed December 2014.
  10. As You Sow, GMOs, organizational website, accessed December 2014.
  11. Bruce Edward Walker, Acton Institute, A GMO Thanksgiving, Acton Institute PowerBlog, November 25, 2014.
  12. Acton Institute, Acton University, organizational website, accessed June 4, 2014.
  13. Acton Institute, Mini-Grants on Free Market Economics, organizational website, accessed June 4, 2014.
  14. Achelis & Bodman Foundations, 2006-2007 Grants, foundation grant report, accessed July 2014.
  15. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2015 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, August 15, 2016.
  16. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2014 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, May 29, 2015.
  17. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2013 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, July 7, 2014.
  18. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, 2012 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, June 14, 2013.
  19. Acton Institute, Our Team, Acton Institute, 2017.
  20. Acton Institute, Our Team, Acton Institute, 2017.