Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is a conservative, libertarian, public interest law firm backed with millions in grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. WILL is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
- 1 News and Controversies
- 2 Court Cases
- 3 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 4 Ties to ALEC
- 5 State Policy Network
- 6 Contributions to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices
- 7 Funding
- 8 Core Financials
- 9 Personnel
- 10 Contact Information
- 11 Articles and Resources
- 12 References
News and Controversies
WILL Produces Flawed Badgercare Study with Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy
Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) and WILL published a paper claiming expanding Medicaid in the state (BadgerCare) would cost taxpayers a whopping $600 million. Wisconsin Republican State Senators Dave Craig, Duey Stroebel, and Chris Kapenga held a news conference to unveil the study. Conservative media groups such as the MacIver Institute circulated the report.
Numerous experts called out the study: “This study has several methodological and analytical flaws that substantially compromise the validity of its conclusions,” Donna Friedsam, health policy programs director of UW-Madison’s Population Health Institute, told the Wisconsin State Journal; “Incredibly sloppy & dishonest work with pathetic attempts at empirical estimation. This is so below your abilities @Bellmanequation Makes me sad that program with [a] reputation for careful policy work @WIeconomics is associated with this garbage. Numerous inaccuracies in [the] report,” Tim Classen, Loyola University of Chicago economist tweeted. UW Health Policy published a rebuttal by Professors and researchers from the UW Madison Population Health Institute claiming that "that the contents do not justify the authors’ conclusion."
WILL Founds The Center for Competitive Federalism with Cash From Bradley Foundation
In July 2016, WILL launched an initiative to protect the rights of states and limit the power of the federal government. According to its website, the Center for Competitive Federalism (CCF) will "engage in strategic litigation and public education to advance the “competitive” federalism established by the Constitution – a system in which the authority of both the states and federal government is carefully delineated and circumscribed and which is informed by the need to protect the liberty of persons and not the prerogatives of government." CCF's director is Mario Loyola, former contributing editor at the National Review and former senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, also a member of the State Policy Network. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation provided millions of dollars in funding for the CCF.
Scott Ross of One Wisconsin Now argues that the Bradley Foundation does not represent citizens of the State of Wisconsin and will use CCF as a tool for its political agenda, "They'll write more seven-figure checks from this right-wing slush fund to sue on behalf of Scott Walker's radical social agenda, failed economic agenda and to attack Walker's political opponents."
Challenges Wisconsin Contribution Limits to Political Action Committees
WILL represented the CRG Network when it sued the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) in federal court on June 23, 2014 to end enforcement of a Wisconsin campaign finance law limiting total contributions to candidates by political action committees. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa sided with CRG, issuing a temporary injunction on September 5, 2014 that prohibited enforcement of the law. As of May 2015, the GAB had ceased enforcing aggregate PAC limits and a final decision on the case was still pending.
CRG's lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and the suit was reportedly funded by Citizens for Self-Governance, an organization founded by Eric O'Keefe, who also sits on its board. At the time, O'Keefe's Wisconsin Club for Growth was at the center for a John Doe investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination related to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. One of O'Keefe's main complaints about the John Doe investigation, as described by his lawyer, David Rivkin, is that it was "chilling" free speech and the ability of political organizations to raise and spend money in Wisconsin.
Support for Act 10
WILL also filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) for allegedly violating Act 10 by approving a labor agreement. The plaintiff in the lawsuit has been teaching at MATC since 1984. She said, "I'm appalled that my union would flout the law and negotiate an illegal contract." 
McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC
Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) filed a lawsuit challenging the Federal Election Commission's biennial limit on individual contributions contending the limit is unconstitutionally low and not supported by a sufficient governmental interest. WILL filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff-appellants. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari and will hear the case during the Fall 2013 session.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
WILL's President and General Counsel Esenberg Speaks at First Bradley Forum at ALEC States & Nation
Rick Esenberg spoke at the first ever Bradley Foundation Forum at the the 2018 ALEC States & Nation meeting on December 4, 2018. Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, Tarren Bragdon of the Foundation for Government Accountability and Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center also spoke on the panel.
Former Bradley President and CEO on WILL Board of Directors
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.
2015-2016: (Barder Fund): $1,155,355 over three years to create a “Center for Competitive Federalism” to work with others in Bradley’s Wisconsin Network, including WPRI, to cast federal programs as overly burdensome to the states.
2015: $500,000 to support general operations. Bradley calls WILL its MVP of the Wisconsin Network. “Nearly all of the organizations of the conservative infrastructure come to WILL for advice… In the (four) years since its inception (WILL) had made itself the indispensable partner to nearly every member of the Wisconsin Network, and has been a voice in nearly every public controversy over property rights, free speech and limited government in Wisconsin…WILL has taken the lead in the fight against the Milwaukee Street Car, sued Milwaukee County Board for open meetings violations, sued against the Kenosha Unified School Board for violating Act 10, filed an amicus brief in McCutcheon v FEC, filed suit against the Government Accountability Board (GAB), partnered with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to rebuff union challenges to Act 10 and represented a UWM student whose dissertation criticizing MPS was used to bar her graduation. WILL has worked with School Choice Wisconsin, Media Trackers, the MacIver Institute, American Majority and Education Action Group.”
2014: $500,000 to support general operations. WILL “has grown from 2 to 5 attorneys plus an unpaid legal fellow, MU Law School approved WILL’s participation in its internship program…It is estimated that for the cost of $1.4 million roughly $4.3 million in legal services were provided.”
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.
Ties to ALEC
WILL Presents Paper at ALEC's Fall 2016 Meeting
WILL President Rick Esenberg, WILL Senior Fellow and Center for Competitive Federalism Director Mario Loyola, and Federal Litigator Jake Curtis presented a paper written by Loyola entitled, A Common Cause: Uniting the States Against Federal Overreach, at the American Legislative Exchange Council fall meeting in November 2016.
WILL Signs onto Letter with ALEC in Support of CEI
WILL signed onto a letter with ALEC and many other Koch-backed groups and SPN members hosted on the ALEC website expressing support of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).  The letter addressed to CEI's President Kent Lassman offers support to the "think tank" in face of a subpoena from U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General (AG) Claude Walker filed in May 2016 asking for all of CEI's communication on climate change between 1997 and 2007. AG Walker withdrew his subpoena.
Politico reported that,
- "Walker argued that the withdrawn subpoena would help the case against Exxon by clearing space for the Justice Department — which has not yet confirmed an official inquiry into the company’s climate record — 'to focus on its ongoing investigation, without the distraction of this procedural litigation.'"
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
State Policy Network
WILL is a member of SPN and has received close to $100,000 in contributions from the right-wing group. SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of October 2019, SPN's membership totals 162. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
Contributions to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices
WILL employees contribute to the campaigns of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, which hear cases argued by WILL lawyers. As of January 2020, below is a summary of those contributions:
- Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel at WILL, has given $1,000 to Justice Brian Hagedorn and $500 to Justice Rebecca Bradley.
- CJ Szafir, Executive Vice President at WILL, has given $350 to Justice Brian Hagedorn.
- Lucas Vebber, Deputy Counsel and Director of Regulatory Reform and Federalism, has given $100 to Justice Brian Hagedorn.
- Don Daugherty, Senior Counsel at WILL, has given $500 to Justice Brian Hagedorn and $1,000 to Justice Rebecca Bradley.
- Michael Grebe, Director on WILL's Board, has given $1,000 to Justice Daniel Kelly, $1,000 to Justice Brian Hagedorn, $5,000 to Justice Rebecca Bradley, $3,500 to Justice Annette Ziegler, and $3,500 to Chief Justice Pat Roggensack.
- James T. Barry, III, Director on WILL's Board, has given $1,000 to Justice Daniel Kelly, $2,500 to Justice Brian Hagedorn, $1,200 to Justice Rebecca Bradley, and $600 to Chief Justice Pat Roggensack.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings. Here are the know funders of WILL:
- Bradley Impact Fund: $175,500 (2013-2015)
- Charles Koch Institute: $10,000 (2015)
- DonorsTrust: $50,000 (2014)
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $4,155,355 (2011-2016)
- State Policy Network: $98,850 (2016-2017)
- Total Revenue: $1,910,930
- Total Expenses: $2,020,784
- Net Assets: $3,051,722
- Total Revenue: $2,117,912
- Total Expenses: $1,907,460
- Net Assets: $3,161,576
- Total Revenue: $1,378,877
- Total Expenses: $1,599,898
- Net Assets: $2,951,124
- Total Revenue: $3,001,261
- Total Expenses: $1,309,639
- Net Assets: $3,172,145
- Total Revenue: $1,611,698
- Total Expenses: $791,708
- Net Assets: $1,408,523
- Total Revenue: $938,457
- Total Expenses: $663,606
- Net Assets: $660,553
- Total Revenue: $664,068
- Total Expenses: $514,619
- Net Assets: $385,592
- Total Revenue: $511,939
- Total Expenses: $275,796
- Net Assets: $236,143
As of January 2020:
- Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel
- CJ Szafir, Executive Vice President
- Stacy A. Stueck, Vice President for Administration
- Jim Pugh, Vice President of Development
- Luke Berg, Deputy Counsel (former Deputy Solicitor General and Assistant Attorney General with former Attorney General Brad Schimel)
- Lucas Vebber, Deputy Counsel and Director of Regulatory Reform and Federalism
- Libby Sobic, Director & Legal Counsel of Education Policy
- Anthony LoCoco, Deputy Counsel
- Don Daugherty, Senior Counsel
- Brian McGrath, Senior Counsel
- Mike Fischer, Senior Counsel
- Eric Searing, Director of External Relations
- Will Flanders, Ph.D., Research Director
- Collin Roth, Director of Communications and Policy Analyst
- Cori O'Connor Petersen, Writer and Research Analyst
- Lesley Luehrs, Paralegal and Development Associate
- Jessica Holmberg, Policy and Communications Associate
- Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel and Litigation Manager
- Jake Curtis, Associate Counsel & Federalism Litigator
- Clyde Taylor, Associate Counsel
- Cameron Sholty, Communications Director
- Virginia Zignego, Director of Development
- Natalie Goodnow, Research Fellow
- Mario Loyola, Senior Fellow
- Jennifer Johnson, Law Clerk 
- Elena Ramlow, Policy Intern
Board of Directors
As of January 2020:
- Michael H. White, Chairman
- Michael Grebe, Director
- James T. Barry, III, Director
- Christopher Wolfe, Director
- Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel
Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
1139 E. Knapp St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 727-WILL(9455)
Fax: (414) 727-6385
Articles and Resources
IRS Form 990 Filings
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, About WILL, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- Bill Glauber, Marquette professor leads Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty in conservative causes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 12, 2013.
- State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2017.
- Chris Rochester In Case You Missed It: Medicaid Expansion, DOT Projects, and Wisconsin’s Tax Ranking MacIver Institute Feb. 22, 2019
- Riley Vetterkind Republicans, touting conservative study, warn against Medicaid expansion Wisconsin State Journal Feb 20 2019
- David Armiak Koch and Bradley Groups Battle Medicaid Expansion Proposed by Gov. Tony Evers ExposebyCmd Feb 21, 2019
- Laura Dague, Brendan Saloner, Marguerite Burns, Donna Friedsam THE FISCAL EFFECTS OF A WISCONSIN MEDICAID EXPANSION: REASONS TO QUESTION THE WILL/CROWE REPORT’S CONCLUSIONS UW HEALTH POLICY Feb. 22, 2019
- Haley Henschel, Conservative legal group announces states' rights initiative, Journal Sentinel, July 11, 2016.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, WILL Launches New Project on Federalism, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, July 11, 2016.
- "CRG Network vs. THOMAS BARLAND, HAROLD FROELICH, MICHAEL BRENNAN, ELSA LEMELAS, GERALD C. NICHOL, AND TIMOTHY VOCKE, each in their official capacity as Board Members of the WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD," Case 2:14-cv-00719-WED, Filed June 23, 2014.
- Bruce Vielmetti, "Political action group sues over Wisconsin campaign money limits," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 23, 2014.
- Patrick Marley, "Federal court ruling removes limits on donations to political parties," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, September 15, 2014.
- Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "G.A.B. Stops Enforcing Aggregate PAC Limits," press release, September 9, 2015.
- M.D. Kittle, Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law, WisconsinWatchdog.org, September 9, 2015.
- Patrick Marley and Daniel Bice, "Subject in Doe probe says prosecutors engaged in 'domestic spying'," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 2, 2014.
- Daniel Bice, "Rindfleisch, O'Keefe identified as subjects in John Doe probe," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 10, 2014.
- Press Release, Teachers File Brief Defending Gov. Walker's 'Act 10' Reforms in Union's State Appeals Court Lawsuit, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, February 6, 2013.
- Case Updates, WILL Files Lawsuit Against MATC, will-law.org, May 2, 2013.
- McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC - Case Summary, FEC.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- Shaun McCutcheon, et al., Appellants v. Federal Election Commission, SupremeCourt.gov, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- ALEC, The Inaugural Bradley Forum at the 2018 States and Nation Policy Summit, ALEC, December 2018.
- WILL, Michael Grebe, WILL, 2019.
- Cameron Sholty, Center for Competitive Federalism Presents White Paper to ALEC Conference, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, December 17, 2016.
- American Legislative Exchange Council, Coalition Letter to Support the Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, June 1, 2016.
- Eric Wolff, Virgin Islands AG withdraws Exxon subpoena, Politico, June 30, 2016.
- David Armiak, https://www.exposedbycmd.org/2019/11/13/revenue-state-policy-network-state-affiliates-tops-120-million/ Revenue for State Policy Network and State Affiliates Tops $120 Million], ExposedbyCMD, November 13, 2019.
- Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
- Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
- Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for Richard Esenberg, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for Szafir, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for Lucas Vebber, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for Don Daugherty, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for Micheal Grebe, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Contribution Search for James Barry, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, accessed January 2020.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2018 Form 990, organizational tax filing, November 7, 2019.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2017 Form 990, organizational tax filing, October 18, 2018.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2016 Form 990, organizational tax filing, November 2, 2017.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2015 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 12, 2016.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2014 Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 6, 2015.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2013 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 15, 2014.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2012 Form 990, organizational tax filing, May 2, 2013.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, IRS 2011 Form 990, organizational tax filing, July 5, 2012.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Staff, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, 2020.
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Staff Bios, Organizational Website, Accessed May 17, 2013.
- WILL, Board of Directors, WILL, 2020.