The Reform Institute

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Reform Institute describes itself as “a nonpartisan, not-for-profit educational organization working to strengthen the foundations of our democracy and build a resilient society. The Institute formulates and advocates valuable, solutions-based reform in vital areas of public policy.”[1] A 2008 version of the group's website decribed itself as "a multi-issue think tank that champions the national interest by formulating and advocating meaningful reform in vital areas of public policy, including campaign finance and election reform, energy and climate stewardship, homeland security, immigration reform and economic policy."[2]

The Institute, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit group, was founded after the failure of the Arizona Senator John McCain's bid to win the 2000 Republican presidential nomination in 2001 to help push for campaign finance and election reform. In recent years it has broadened its scope to include other pubic policy issues. McCain and former Democrat Senator Bob Kerrey were the two founding co-chairman of the institute's Advisory Committee. McCain resigned his position in 2005.[1]


According to its website the Institute “is a centrist think tank committed to achieving fundamental reform towards making America more resilient. The Institute provides objective research and analysis in critical areas of public policy, including homeland and national security, energy and environmental progress, economic opportunity and competitiveness, immigration policy, and governance and election reform.”[3]

The organization has been criticized by both sides of the political spectrum. It has been assailed by entities on the right largely because of its support for campaign finance reform[4] and comprehensive immigration reform.[5] Attacks from the left focus primarily on its past affiliation with Senator McCain, the Republican Party nominee for president in 2008.[6] Common critiques from these sources are that it is an astroturf organization and phony think tank, and that it "primarily seems to be the 2008 McCain-for-President campaign-in-waiting."[7][8] In August 2005, the Institute was "housed in the same Old Towne office building as McCain's re-election committee (Friends of John McCain)," his Straight Talk America PAC, and "his adviser's lobbying firm" Davis, Manafort & Freedman, Inc.[9]

A top critic is Bradley A. Smith. Senator McCain voted against his nomination to the Federal Election Commission because Mr. Smith is an outspoken foe of the campaign finance laws the FEC is supposed to enforce.[10] Mr. Smith is now chairman and co-founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, an organization that seeks to reverse campaign finance laws. "The chairman of the board of the Reform Institute is ... John McCain," Mr. Smith wrote in 2005. "If you go to look at the press releases at, you will see that virtually every release mentions Sen. McCain in the first sentence. Not paragraph, sentence. Who runs the Reform Institute? Well, the president is Richard Davis, who is paid over $110,000 a year. Who is Richard Davis? He was John McCain’s 2000 campaign manager. The counsel to the Reform Institute is Trevor Potter, whose law firm is paid more than $50,000 a year for the work. Who is Trevor Potter? Why, he was legal counsel to McCain 2000! The finance director of the Reform Institute is a woman named Carla Eudy. She was finance director for McCain 2000. The communications director is Crystal Benton; she was McCain’s press secretary.

"Recently the Reform Institute, which bills itself as 'a thoughtful, moderate voice for reform in the campaign finance and election administration debates,' launched what it calls the Natural Resources Stewardship Project. And what does natural resources stewardship have to do with 'campaign finance and election administration'? As near as I can tell, its only connection to campaign finance and election administration is, as the institute’s site tells us, that 'Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman have introduced the Climate Stewardship Act' in Congress. And, of course, John McCain is planning to run for president again, and his signature issue, other than campaign finance regulation, is global warming. To run the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, the institute hired John Raidt, who, you guessed it, served 15 years working on 'environmental initiatives' for Sen. McCain," Smith wrote.

"And how is the Reform Institute funded? With contributions, in six figures or more, from individuals and corporations, including the cable company Cablevision. Cable companies are constantly before the Senate Commerce Committee, which Sen. McCain chaired at the time of Cablevision’s contribution. In fact, Cablevision gave $200,000 to the Reform Institute around the same time its officials were testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee. Appearance of corruption, anyone?", Smith asked.[11]

Policy initiatives

The early work of the Institute involved banning “soft money” contributions[12], reforming federal[13] and state[14] 527 committees, reforming the Federal Election Commission[15], and enacting public campaign funding programs in the states[16]. Recent work on governance and election reform includes supporting a national voter hotline in 2008[17], redistricting reform at the state and federal levels[18], lobbying and ethics reform in congress[19], judicial election reform[20] and campaign finance reform at the state and federal levels.[21]

On immigration policy the Institute supports comprehensive immigration reform and sponsored in 2007 an online campaign with social media company BrickFish[22] that asked participants to express the message they thought the border fence conveyed by virtually designing a portion of it.[23][24] The campaign was recognized with the Forrester Groundswell Award for “social impact.”[25] The Institute has also espoused what it sees as the economic benefits of immigration.[26]

In the area of homeland security policy the Institute has been an advocate of the concept of resilience -- the ability of the country to quickly bounce back after a catastrophic event. The Institute has advanced the approach through events[27][28], a report[29], and congressional testimony.[30]

The Institute’s energy and environment policy work has focused on implementing a “smart grid”, encouraging the wider use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, diminishing U.S. reliance on foreign energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Its efforts have included a national symposium and related report that, according to the Institute, seek to advance bipartisan, comprehensive energy and climate reform. Conservative blogger Bob McCarty criticized the symposium for not adequately representing “nation’s largest oil and natural gas exploration and production firms.”[31] While New Energy News faulted the event for a lack of prominent speakers from the Democratic party.[32]


Funding for the Institute comes from a combination of individual, foundation, and corporate supporters. It has been criticized by conservative blogs for accepting grants from liberal foundations such as the Open Society Institute, which is closely tied to progressive icon George Soros.[33] It also has been tweaked by liberal media for past contributions from corporations like AIG.[34]

The Reform Institute's 2005 annual return to the Internal Revenue Service reported total revenue of $1,156,354 and total expenditure of $1,131,768.[35]On its website it provides a detailed historical list of contributors to the group. However, it is not possible to identify current donors.

Foundation supporters

The foundations listed as having supported the institute since its foundation include:

Corporate supporters


Board of Directors


Former staff and Board presidents


  • Tony Corrado is a professor at Colby College and assists the Institute with research that involves money in politics.
  • Sam Hirsch is a partner in Jenner & Block's Washington, D.C. office. With Ortiz he was project director for the Institute's publication, Beyond Party Lines: Principles for Redistricting Reform.
  • BJ Martino is a Vice President with The Tarrance Group, a political research and strategy firm that conducts polling on behalf of the Institute.
  • Ken Nahigian, Senior Advisor to the Institute's Center for Energy and Environmental Progress.
  • Don Murphy, Senior Advisor to the Institute's State Strategies Initiative
  • Kristen Murray, Project Director for the Institute’s 2007 publication Playing Fair: 527 Reforms in the States.
  • Ken Smukler, InforVoter Technlogies.
  • Tim Crawford, development and networking strategies.

Advisory committee

According to the Institute's website, is a "bipartisan group of notable academics, legal experts, election administrators, and public officials."[36]

Homeland and national security advisory committee

Energy and environment advisory committee

Governance and election reform advisory committee

Economic policy advisory committee

Immigration reform advisory committee

Former members of the advisory board



The web address for Reform Institute contributions is that for, plus an extension code for The Reform Institute.

The connection for the website arrives at a Login page—requiring both a User ID and Password—which belongs to, a member of The Donatelli Group, a fundraising company that has raised campaign funds for the Republican National Committee, Republican National Convention, Bush-Cheney '04 Inc., John McCain, the NRA [1], Vets for Freedom, and an exhaustive list of Republican members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as other political organizations.[39]

Contact information

The Reform Institute
300 North Washington Street, Suite 600
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: 703 535-6897
FAX: 866 863-5510

SourceWatch resources

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 "About Us", accessed June 2009.
  2. Reform Institute, " About Us", Reform Institute website, archived from January 2008.
  3. [ "About Us"], “Reform Institute Website”, accessed June 2009.
  4. Ryan Sager, “Reformers’ ‘Victory’ is Empty”, “New York Sun Online”, March 27, 2007.
  5. Michelle Malkin, “Meet the Open Borders Family: McCain, Hernandez, Soros, and the ‘Reform Institute’”, “Michelle Malkin Blog”, January 25, 2008.
  6. Ken Silverstein, “McCain and the ‘Reform’ Institute”, “Harpers Online”, April 11, 2008.
  7. "Scampaign Finance", The Agitator (blog), March 17th, 2005.
  8. Brian C. Anderson, "The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly", City Journal, The Manhattan Institute, Winter 2006.
  9. "The Horse McCain", Dangerus, August 5, 2005.
  10. Lizette Alvarez, “Senate Deal Ends Logjam on Nominee and Judges”, “New York Times”, May 25, 2000.
  11. Bradley A. Smith, "John McCain’s War on Political Speech. How the Arizona senator and other campaign finance reformers use the law to muffle critics and trample the First Amendment," Reason Online, December 2005.
  12. Trevor Potter, “Time to Restore Trust in our Campaign System”, “Christian Science Monitor”, July 12, 2001.
  13. Richard Davis, “A Shadow Party in Hot Pursuit of Soft Money”, “Boston Globe”, April 10, 2004.
  14. Tom Searls, “W.Va. Sets Standard for 527s”, “Charleston Gazette”, March 26, 2006
  15. Trevor Potter, “Campaign Finance Reform – The Way Forward”, “The National Voter”, February 2005.
  16. Beth Mueller, “Campaigns Push Finance Reform”, “The Badger Herald”, February 26, 2008.
  17. Alexander Bolton, “Voting Hotline Gets 3,000 Complaints an Hour”, “The Hill Online”, November 4, 2008.
  18. Marcia Ford, “Americans for Redistricting Reform”, “We the Purple”, August 6, 2008.
  19. Frank James, “House Passes Reform Bill Critics Say Falls Short”, “The Swamp”, July 31, 2007.
  20. Lawrence Messina “Legal Groups Blast W.Va. Justice in Massey Case”, “Associated Press”, August 5, 2008.
  21. John Stossel, “Campaign Finance Reform Meets Unintended Consequences”, ABC News 20/20, October 17, 2008.
  22. “Design Your Portion of the Border Fence”, “BrickFish”, September 2007.
  23. Tim Torres, “Message from the Border: Immigration and the Millennium Generation”, “Copley News Service”, November 13, 2007.
  24. Leslie Berestein, “Border Fence Campaign Reflects Immigration Debate”, “San Diego Union Tribune”, August 22, 2007.
  25. Josh Bernoff, “Eight Great Applications Win the Forrester Groundswell Awards”, “Forrester Research”, October 12, 2007.
  26. Jonathon Shacat, “Group’s Report: Immigration Has Big Economic Role”, “Sierra Vista Herald”, November 30, 2008.
  27. Katherine Peters, “Government Urged to Focus on Resilience in Homeland Security”, “Government Executive”, October 1, 2008.
  28. Rich Cooper, “An Informed Discussion on Resilience – Courtesy of the Reform Institute”, “Security Debrief”, March 31, 2008.
  29. Mickey McCarter, “Infrastructure Protection Key to Resiliency”, “Homeland Security Today”, October 1, 2008.
  30. Rob Margetta, “Committee Leaders Pleased With Month of Hearings on Resiliency”, “CQ Homeland Security”, May 23, 2008.
  31. Bob McCarty, “Energy Symposium Held Without ‘Fossil Fuelers’”, “Bob McCarty Writes”, April 23, 2009.
  32. Herman Trabish, “Conservative Energy Plan”, “New Energy News, April 8, 2009.
  33. Jerome Corsi, “John McCain Funded by Soros Since 2001”, “WorldNetDaily”, February, 12, 2008.
  34. Mark Ames, “Bankrupt AIG Underwrote McCain’s ‘Reform Institute’”, “The Nation Online”, September 19, 2008.
  35. 2005 Annual return, page 1.
  36. "About Us", accessed March 2008.
  37. 2005 Annual return, page 24.
  38. 2005 Annual return, page 24.
  39. "Clients", Campaign Solutions website, accessed June 2008.