Cause of Action

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Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute), formerly known as Freedom Through Justice Foundation, is a rightwing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. According to their website, CoA Institute's mission is "to enhance individual and economic liberty" by limiting "the power of the administrative state to make decisions that are contrary to freedom and prosperity," and by "advocating for a transparent and accountable government free from waste, fraud, abuse, and cronyism." The website also states that the organization "uses investigative, legal and communications tools" to achieve this mission.[1]

The founder and former Executive Director, Dan Epstein, assisted in the investigations of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the National Mediation Board as a Counsel for Oversight and Investigations at the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for the U.S. House of Representatives. [2] Epstein is an alumnus of the Koch Associates Program run at the time by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Institute and later by the Charles Koch Institute.[3][4]

The Freedom Through Justice Foundation was incorporated in July 2011 and applied for tax exempt status in August 2011. It was not granted 501(c)(3) status until July 2012, at which point it was renamed Cause of Action Institute.[5][6]

News and Controversies

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

Cause of Action Institute's James Valvo and Eric Bolinder represent the plaintiffs in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, a Supreme Court case set for argument in January 2024. The Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Chevron doctrine, a legal principle that provides that the federal courts will defer to an agency's interpretation in the event that a statute administered by the agency is ambiguous. A November 2023 attorney analysis piece published on Reuters notes that the Chevron doctrine "has been a significant factor enabling a complex national government to function across spheres from construction to environmental protection to civil rights," and that without it, courts will be inundated with an influx of lawsuits challenging administrative rules of government agencies.[7]

The Loper Bright petitioners challenge regulations imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), specifically a fee NMFS charges fisheries for vessel monitors to ensure compliance under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). Loper Bright's original February 2020 lawsuit alleged that the MSA did not authorize the NMFS to create industry-funded monitoring requirements. Both the US District Court for DC and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit applied the Chevron doctrine, granting summary judgement in favor of NMFS.[8] However, Loper Bright petitioned the Supreme Court in November of 2022 to review the ruling of the lower district courts. In May 2023, the Court granted the petition and set oral arguments for January 2024. Ultimately, the Court will rule whether the Chevron doctrine should be overruled or limited in its scope.[9]

A September 2023 ProPublica report found that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had attended at least two Koch donor events, including the annual winter donor summit of the Koch network in January 2018. Thomas' association with the Koch network calls into question his ability to rule impartially over the Loper Bright case in January 2024, given that Koch network staff attorneys represent the plaintiffs. Thomas authored the majority opinion in a 2005 case that expanded the Chevron doctrine's protections for government agencies. However, Thomas later renounced his earlier decision, writing in 2020 that he now viewed the doctrine as unconstitutional.[10] Notably, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has recused herself from the January 2024 Court case, as she previously served on the panel that decided Loper Bright at the D.C. Circuit.[7]

TABOR Foundation v. Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing

In July 2018, Cause of Action Institute announced that it would represent the TABOR Foundation in its ongoing lawsuit TABOR Foundation, et al. v. Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, et al. The lawsuit, originally filed in 2015, argued that Colorado's hospital provider fees violated the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights ("TABOR").[11]

A 2017 Denver Post article explains that the hospital provider fee program was "designed to help hospitals reduce the amount of uncompensated care from indigent patients and those paying with Medicaid."[12] In June 2021, the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Supreme Court would not hear the lawsuit, as a previous ruling by the Denver District Court in 2019 found that hospital provider fees were not taxes, and therefore not subject to Colorado's TABOR.[13]

FTC v. V-Tec

In August 2017, Cause of Action Institute announced that it would represent Vylah Tec ("V-Tec"), a small tech support company, against alleged federal agency overreach and abuse.[14] The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the state of Florida jointly filed a District Court complaint in May of that year against V-Tec and its owners, as part of a larger FTC crackdown on tech support scams.[15] The District Court granted a preliminary injunctive order against V-Tec, which effectively froze the company's assets and ceded management of its affairs to an appointed third-party receiver.

In January 2019, the District Court found that ownership of V-Tec was guilty of the "widespread practice of disseminating false or misleading information about computers and computer security to induce customers to buy Defendant's software," and thus liable. However, the FTC's request for $3,400,000 in disgorgement of "unjust gains from Defendants" was not granted, as the Court ruled in May that the FTC "failed to present a reasonable approximation of Defendants’ unjust enrichment."[16] In a press release published the same day, Cause of Action Institute called the ruling a "major victory," and the decision a "major blow to the Federal Trade Commission."[17]

FTC v. D-Link Systems

Cause of Action Institute announced in a January 2017 press release that it would represent router-manufacturer "D-Link Systems" in a cybersecurity case. That same month, the Federal Trade Commission (2017) filed a complaint in a California District Court, alleging that D-Link failed to "take reasonable steps" to secure its routers and wireless webcams.[18] However, D-Link Systems and CoA Institute denied these allegations, with CoA Institute Assistant VP Patrick Massari stating in the press release that the lawsuit was "another instance of the FTC's unchecked regulatory overreach."[19]

In September 2017, two of the charges against D-Link were dismissed by a federal judge: one, the company misled customers with security promises on its packaging, and two, its security failures represented an unfair practice under the FTC Act.[18] A settlement between D-Link and the FTC was reached in July 2019 when D-Link agreed to implement major changes to its software security programs. As part of this settlement, D-Link was not found liable for violating the FTC Act and was not ordered to pay fines.[20]

Hillary Clinton Email Controversy

In July 2015, Cause of Action Institute filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry and the Archivist of the United States, joining a similar suit Judicial Watch had filed two months earlier. Both of these lawsuits aimed to compel the government to take more aggressive action to recover emails that Hillary Clinton kept on a private server while serving as secretary of state. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg dismissed the lawsuits in January 2016 on the grounds that the government had taken all the steps they were legally required to do to recover the emails, and thus the plaintiffs' claims were moot.[21]

The cases were revived in December 2016 when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court erred when they were thrown out as moot.[22] However, the US District Court for D.C. ruled once again in November 2017 that the suit was moot based upon evidence of the government's "additional efforts to track down the Clinton emails," and dismissed the case.[23]

Franklin Center Funding

An August 2013 investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) found that Cause of Action Institute received $994,000 from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (including under its former name, the Freedom Through Justice Foundation) in 2011 to "support journalism," which was 99.7 percent of its income for that year.[24] Notably, at the time, CoA Institute's website described the primary focus of the organization to be legal work, and claimed to use "public advocacy and legal reform tools to ensure greater transparency in government, protect taxpayer interests and promote economic freedom."[25] Although the Franklin Center typically funds reporters and journalistic work, CoA Institute had no "reporters" on staff.[26]

The Franklin Center was launched by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance (SAM),[27] a 501(c)(3) devoted to pushing free-market ideals. SAM receives funding from the State Policy Network,[28] which is partially funded by the Claude R. Lambe Foundation.[29] Charles Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-owns Koch Industries, sits on the board of this foundation.[30] SAM also receives funding from the Rodney Fund.

Cause of Action Institute did not respond to CMD's requests for a description of its reporting or journalistic work. CMD's investigation also noted that in June 2013 CoA Institute changed its mission statement on its website to add that it "uses investigative, legal and communications tools to educate the public on how government transparency and accountability protects economic opportunity for American taxpayers."[25]

Drakes Bay Oyster Company v. Salazar, et al

Cause of Action Institute represented the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in their lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who refused to renew the company's lease from Point Reyes National Seashore, instead allowing the estuary where the company was located to become a federally designated wilderness area. [31] An April 2013 New York Times article reported on the unfolding controversy, including comments from CoA Institute Executive Director Dan Epstein about how he considered this lawsuit to be a matter of government overreach and accountability,[32]

“Oftentimes, the regulatory state has impacts that affect small businesses potentially more than big businesses,” he said. “The Drakes Bay Oyster Company, they’re not like a big company that can just afford to hire lawyers when dealing with government decision-making.”

The company's owner told the New York Times that he was surprised when a provision to save the oyster farm was included in a Republican energy bill (a bill which also promoted the Keystone XL pipeline), and that he was "uncomfortable" with the big-government opponents and Tea Party supporters who identified themselves as allies to the cause.[32]

In February 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the company's request for an emergency injunction pending appeal of the denial of a preliminary injunction that would allow the company to remain in operation during litigation.[33] In October 2014, the District Court of Northern California accepted the National Park Service's joint filing of a settlement agreement and proposed consent decree. The agreement stipulated that Drakes Bay Oyster Company could continue harvesting shellfish until December 31 of that year, but all operations would cease after this date. In exchange, the National Park Service assumed responsibility for the removal of all onshore and offshore infrastructure related to the commercial operation. As a result, the Drake Bay Oyster Company permanently closed all of its operations after December 31st, 2014.[34]



Cause of Action Institute infrequently publishes blog posts and press releases on its website, both of which typically discuss information and updates pertaining to Cause of Action's ongoing litigation efforts. While press releases are typically published by an advisory firm, blog posts are authored by CoA Institute's legal counsel.[35]


Cause of Action Institute's primary organizational activities have centered around litigation. CoA Institute details the organization's litigation activities on its website,[36]

"Through filings ranging from administrative law petitions to constitutional challenges, we defend America’s job creators and protect taxpayers, and in the process, educate the public about the Executive Branch’s discretionary power to spend our money, regulate our lives, and make decisions about our future."

A November 2012 Politico article called Cause of Action Institute "the most active nonprofit you've never heard of." The article notes that CoA Institute advocates against government overreach and excessive regulation broadly, and that it champions socially liberal and conservative causes. For example, CoA Institute represented a lesbian couple in California who wanted to start a family by using a donor they knew; and represented Oregon Windfarms in a lawsuit concerning a Chinese-owned company's attempts to set up a wind farm in Oregon, which was blocked by President Obama.[37]

Filings submitted by CoA Institute include administrative law petitions, constitutional challenges, and amicus curiae briefs.[36] According to their website, CoA Institute wrote 47 amicus curiae briefs between 2012 and 2019, in order to "support other litigants and present important issues to the court." The issue areas of these briefs include "separation of powers," "economic freedom," "criminal justice reform," "regulatory reform," "first amendment," and "government transparency."[38]


According to its website, CoA Institute uses "the Freedom of Information Act, tips from agency insiders, and other fact-finding tools to conduct strategic investigations that expose waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government." In addition, the organization claims to engage in "strategic research" and "investigative reporting."

Previously, the CoA Institute website included a page for public submission of tips or case ideas, though this page was seemingly removed sometime in 2020.[39]

Ties to the Koch Network

Cause of Action Institute possesses strong ties to the Koch network. For instance, the majority of CoA Institute's funding can be traced to organizations with Koch affiliations. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Stand Together Trust, Stand Together Fellowships, and Charles G. Koch Foundation are all right-wing organizations that were founded by one or both of the Koch Brothers. The cumulative funding from these four entities equals roughly $11 million from 2014 through 2022. Notably, funding from Stand Together Trust between 2017 and 2021 accounts for just under 75 percent of CoA Institute's total revenue during that time period. CoA Institute received $4.5 million in 2017 from Capital Leaders, a non-profit led by Koch lieutenant Mark Holden, as well as around $18 million between 2012 and 2017 from Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust, the favored donor conduits of the Koch political network. Funding from Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust accounts for more than 62 percent of CoA Institute's total revenue between 2012 and 2017. In 2022, Americans for Prosperity Foundation donated $200,000 to CoA Institute, accounting for over 99.99 percent of CoA Institute's total revenue for that year. The remaining revenue not contributed by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, only $11, was listed as "investment income" on the organization's 990 tax filing.

The association between CoA Institute and the Koch network also extends to personnel. For instance, CoA Institute Director Brian Menkes is general counsel for the Charles G. Koch Foundation, while CoA Institute Treasurer Alex Varban is Senior Director of Financial Planning and Analysis at Stand Together.[40][41]

Cause of Action Institute maintains a particularly close relationship with Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The two organizations occupy the same office in Arlington, VA, and have significant overlap in personnel. The table below shows the CoA Institute staff and board members that also have formal roles at Americans for Prosperity, as of December 2023.

Name Role, Cause of Action Institute Role, Americans for Prosperity
Eric Bolinder[42] Counsel Counsel
Cynthia Fleming Crawford[43] Senior Counsel Senior Policy Counsel
Thomas Kimbrell[44] Research Analyst Analyst
Ryan Mulvey[45] Counsel Policy Counsel
Michael Pepson[46] Special Counsel for Administrative Law Regulatory Counsel
Kevin Schmidt[47] Director of Investigations Director of Investigations
Emily Seidel[48] Director Chief Executive Officer
Lee A. Steven[49] Assistant Vice President Senior Policy Counsel
James Valvo[50] Executive Director Chief Policy Counsel
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.


Cause of Action Institute is not required to disclose its funders but major foundation supporters can be found through their IRS filings. Here are some known contributors:

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $200,011
  • Total Expenses: $225,464
  • Net Assets: $121,811


  • Total Revenue: $375,119
  • Total Expenses: $510,655
  • Net Assets: $147,264


  • Total Revenue: $1,114,101
  • Total Expenses: $957,236
  • Net Assets: $282,800


  • Total Revenue: $1,940,552
  • Total Expenses: $2,061,673
  • Net Assets: $125,935


  • Total Revenue: $5,861,511
  • Total Expenses: $5,167,729
  • Net Assets: $247,056


  • Total Revenue: $5,047,211
  • Total Expenses: $5,622,375
  • Net Assets: $-446,726

Grants Distributed



As of December 2023,[26]

  • James Valvo, Executive Director
  • Lee A. Steven, Assistant Vice President
  • Cynthia Fleming Crawford, Senior Counsel
  • Eric Bolinder, Counsel
  • Ryan Mulvey, Counsel
  • Michael Pepson, Special Counsel for Administrative Law
  • Kevin Schmidt, Director of Investigations
  • Thomas Kimbrell, Research Analyst

Former Staff

  • Dan Epstein, Executive Director
  • Patrick J. Massari, Counsel, Assistant Vice President
  • Prashant Khetan, Chief Counsel
  • Joshua Schopf, Counsel
  • Aram Gavoor, Senior Counsel
  • Laura Begun, Counsel
  • Kent Huntington, Counsel
  • Catherine Chae, Government Oversight & Accountability
  • Moira Smith, Executive Assistant, Director of Operations
  • Mary Beth Hutchins, Communications Director
  • Amber Abbasi, Chief Counsel for Regulatory Affairs
  • John Vecchione, President and CEO
  • Julie Smith, Vice President
  • Nichole Van Valkenburg, Strategy Officer
  • Mike Geske, Counsel
  • Kara McKenna Rollins, Counsel
  • Jessica L. Thompson, Counsel
  • Joshua Schopf, Counsel
  • Anne Kerins, Legal Secretary
  • Alfred J. Lechner, Jr., President and CEO
  • David Fischer, Senior Counsel
  • Henry Kerner, Assistant Vice President for Investigations
  • Erica Marshall, Counsel
  • John McGlothlin, Counsel
  • Travis Millsaps, Counsel
  • Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications
  • Ashleigh LaRosa, Paralegal
  • Allan Blutsein, Managing Counsel
  • Reed Rubinstein, Senior Vice President of Litigation
  • Stephen Schwartz, Counsel

Board of Directors

As of December 2023,[52]

  • David Williams, Director
  • Brian Menkes, Director
  • Emily Seidel, Director
  • Kurt Level, Director and Secretary
  • William Burck, Director
  • James Valvo, Executive Director
  • Alex Varban, Treasurer

Former Directors

  • Dan Epstein, Director
  • Barnaby Zall, Director
  • Martin Kwedar, Director
  • Jenny Kim, Director

Contact Information

Cause of Action
1875 Eye Street NW
Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 499-4232
Facebook: Cause of Action Institute
EIN: 45-2805977

Affiliated Organizations

Cause of Action institute lists ELSR, LLC as a disregarded entity on its tax filings.

Articles and Resources

IRS Form 990 Filings







Related SourceWatch Articles

Related PRWatch Articles

External Resources


  1. Cause of Action, About, organizational website, accessed December 12, 2023.
  2. Cause of Action, Dan Epstein – Executive Director, organizational website, accessed December 12, 2023.
  3. Emily Yehle, The most active nonprofit you've never heard of, E&E, November 14, 2012.
  4. Brooke Williams and Matt Pearce, Issa oversight committee staffs up with industry insiders, Center for Public Integrity, February 28, 2011.
  5. Freedom Through Justice Foundation, Form 1023, organizational IRS filing, August 5, 2011.
  6. Internal Revenue Service, Letter to Cause of Action granting tax exempt status, July 9, 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 James P. McLoughlin Jr., Mary Katherine Stukes and Pierce Werner, "In Loper Bright and Relentless, Supreme Court Returns to High-Stakes Question of Viability of the Chevron Doctrine, Reuters, November 7, 2023.
  8. Oyez, "Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo", accessed December 11, 2023.
  9. SCOTUSblog, "Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo", accessed December 11, 2023.
  10. Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski, "Clarence Thomas Secretly Participated in Koch Network Donor Events", September 22, 2023.
  11. Cause of Action Institute, "Cause of Action Institute Representing TABOR Foundation in Suit Challenging Colorado Hospital Provider Tax", organizational website, July 3, 2018.
  12. John Frank, "How Colorado's Hospital Provider Fee Works", The Denver Post, April 23, 2017.
  13. Jessica Seaman, "Colorado's Supreme Court Upholds State's Hospital Provider Fees", The Denver Post, June 15, 2021.
  14. Cause of Action Institute, "FTC Destroying Family-Fun Tech Support Business Without Evidence of Wrongdoing or Due Process", organizational website, August 9, 2017.
  15. Federal Trade Commission, "FTC and Federal, State and International Partners Announce Major Crackdown on Tech Support Scams", organizational website, May 12, 2017.
  16. Judge Paul A. Magnuson, Federal Trade Commission v. Vylah Tec, LLC Memorandum and Order, United States District Court Middle District of Florida, May 10, 2019.
  17. Cause of Action Institute, "Small Business Owners Prevail, Court Denies All Damages Sought by FTC", organizational website, May 10, 2019.
  18. Cause of Action Institute, "Cause of Action Institute to Defend D-Link Systems Against FTC's Baseless Data Security Charges", organizational website, January 10, 2017.
  19. Rob Wright, "FTC Settles Lawsuit Over D-Link Security Claims", TechTarget, July 3, 2019.
  20. Judge James E. Boasberg, Cause of Action Institute v. Kerry, et al. Memorandum Opinion, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, January 11, 2016.
  21. Josh Gerstein, "Appeals Court Revives Suits over Hillary Clinton Emails", Politico, December 27, 2016.
  22. Judge James E. Boasberg, Cause of Action Institute v. Tillerson, et al. Memorandum Opinion, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, November 9, 2017.
  23. Franklin Center, 2011 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 12, 2012.
  24. 25.0 25.1 Rebekah Wilce, "Koch-Funded Franklin Center 'Watchdogs' Infiltrate State Capitols", PRWatch, August 14, 2013.
  25. 26.0 26.1 Cause of Action Institute, Attorneys and Staff, accessed December 7, 2023.
  26. Sam Adams Alliance, Sam Adams Alliance Media Kit, organizational PDF, accessed August 19, 2011.
  27. Media Matters Action Network, Sam Adams Alliance, Conservative Transparency website, accessed August 19, 2011.
  28. Media Matters Action Network. State Policy Network, Conservative Transparency website, accessed August 19, 2011.
  29. Media Matters Action Network, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, Conservative Transparency website, accessed August 19, 2011.
  30. Felicity Barringer, End of the Line for an Oyster Farm, The New York Times, November 29, 2012.
  31. 32.0 32.1 Norimitsu Onishi, Oyster Farm Caught Up in Pipeline Politics, New York Times, April 9, 2013.
  32. Cause of Action, Emergency Injunction Granted for Drakes Bay Oyster Company, organizational press release, February 25, 2013.
  33. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Drakes Bay Oyster Company v. S.M.R. Jewell Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree, United States District Court Northern District of California, October 8, 2014.
  34. Cause of Action, Media, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  35. 36.0 36.1 Cause of Action, Filings, organizational website, accessed December 13, 2023.
  36. Emily Yehle, The most active nonprofit you've never heard of, E&E Publishing, November 14, 2012.
  37. Cause of Action, Amicus Briefs, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  38. WayBackMachine, Cause of Action "Get Involved" Page, search results, accessed December 13, 2023.
  39. LinkedIn, Brian Menkes, accessed December 11, 2023.
  40. LinkedIn, Alex Varban, accessed December 14, 2023.
  41. Americans for Prosperity, Eric Bolinder biography, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  42. Americans for Prosperity, Cynthia Fleming Crawford biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  43. Americans for Prosperity, Thomas Kimbrell biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  44. Americans for Prosperity, Ryan Mulvey biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  45. Americans for Prosperity, Michael Pepson biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  46. Americans for Prosperity, Kevin Schmidt biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  47. Americans for Prosperity, Emily Seidel biography, organizational website, accessed December 14, 2023.
  48. Americans for Prosperity, Lee A. Steven biography, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  49. Americans for Prosperity, James Valvo biography, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  50. Cause of Action Institute, 2022 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 15, 2023.
  51. 52.0 52.1 Cause of Action Institute, 2021 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 15, 2022.
  52. Cause of Action Institute, 2020 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 15, 2021.
  53. Cause of Action Institute, 2019 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 13, 2020.
  54. Cause of Action Institute, 2018 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, May 15, 2020.
  55. Cause of Action Institute, 2017 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, May 14, 2019.