Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise

Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE)


The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) was founded in 1976 by Alan Gottlieb and co-run by executive vice president Ron Arnold, known as “the father of the Wise Use movement.”

Gottlieb was also chairman of anti-gun control group Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. CDFE executive vice president Ron Arnold has said his goal is “to eradicate the environmental movement.” [1], [2], [25]

According to a 1991New York Times article, Gottlieb shifted his focus to environmentalism when he realized the fundraising potential. “For conservative fundraisers like Mr. Gottlieb, the enemies were Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the threat of gun control. But now Mr. Gottlieb has found a better target. ‘For us’ said Mr. Gottlieb […]’ the environmental movement has become the perfect bogeyman.’”[3]

Gottlieb reportedly purchased CDFE‘s headquarters using money from two of his nonprofits, then transferring the title to his own name in order to charge his foundations $8,000 per month in rent. The Public Eye, which described Gottlieb’s “genius for dancing along the edge of legal business practices,” also noted that Gottlieb had spent seven months in prison for tax evasion. [4]

According to an early version of the CDFE website, circa 1998: [5]

The Center was founded on July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the American Revolution. We are here to continue that Revolution of liberty, free enterprise and individual initiative.”

“The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt foundation that accepts no government grants, was established:

  • to publish and disseminate information regarding the principles upon which the American free enterprise system was founded,
  •  to relate the application of those principles to contemporary American society,
  • to engage in and foster research and study of issues relating to economics, economic trends, and governmental regulatory bodies and their interaction with the free market,
  • to defend the right of individual Americans and American business to participate in the free market without hindrance by government,
  • to foster the values of the American free enterprise system among citizens through speakers, lectures, conferences and publications,
  • to educate America’s youth in the values of the American free enterprise system through the promotion of essay contests, scholarships, and research grants for individuals who have demonstrated an interest in the study of our economic system.” [5]

CDFE‘s website,, has been offline since some time in 2016. Newsweek notes that CDFE “received a total of $800,000 in 2013 and 2014 grants from the Mercer foundation.” The Mercer Family Foundation is run by Rebekah Mercer, the daugher of the reclusive hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, and has donated millions of dollars to groups directly opposing action on climate change. The Mercers have also supported Trump’s bid for the presidency. [6][43]

Documents on file at Polluterwatch note that in 1990 Arnold and Gottlieb created another organization called “Earth Citizens Alliance for Resources and the Environment” which shared offices with CDFE at the Gottlieb-owned “Liberty Park” building at 12520 NE 10th Place, Bellevue, WA[7], [8]

Wise Use”, CDFE and the Unification Church

Source: Walter Hatch, “Big Names Lend Luster to Group’s Causes: Church Leader Gains Legitimacy Among U.S.Conservatives,” The Seattle Times, 13 February 1989. Reprinted in ”SHARE GROUPS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA.” [9]

Numerous investigative newspaper accounts from the late 1980s linked the Wise Use movement to the Unification Church – also known as the Moonies. The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise shared offices and directors with the American Freedom Coalition (AFC), a group known as a front group for the Unification Church. [9], [10], [11], [12]

AFC received at least five million dollars from the church, as the national president and founder Robert Grant admitted in a Washington Post article. Grant said the Church had donated a third of the group’s $17 million budget since its founding, and also noted that “Unification church members, paid by a church organization, make up more than half of the AFC‘s staff.” [13], [14]

The Seattle Times described the American Freedom Coalition as a “marriage of the Unification Church and Christian Voice,” pointing to ACU leader Gary Jarmin who also helped run Christian Voice and its PAC, Moral Government Fund. The Times also listed Arnold and Gottlieb as two of seven key people in the Unification Church in the Northwest. The network was reportedly headed by Matthew Morrison, a regional coordinator for AFC and church member, who at the time rented an office space from Gottlieb in Bellvue, Washington. Arnold was a member of the speaker’s bureau of CAUSA (Confederation of Associations for the Unification of Societies of the Americas), formerly the political action arm of the Unification Church. [15], [16], [17]

Arnold has denied any connection between Mooonie’s church and the Multi Use Conference in Reno, and has said “I am not a Moonie.” He added that the CDFE does not receive funding from the Unification Church. “We never get a dime,” he said. At first he claimed that “The Unification Church as no connection to the Centre whatsoever,” then clarified that “The Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise is allied in a movement (with the Unification Church) but has no affiliation with it in terms of money exchange.” [18]

Wise Use” Movement

Common Dreams reported that Ron Arnold likely appropriate the term “Wise Use” from Gifford Pinchot,  the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who is quoted as saying “Conservation is the wise use of resources.” Arnold used the term during a multiple use strategy conference in Reno, Nev., where he suggested that “wholesale mining, logging and grazing are possible while simultaneously preserving the land.” [19]

Ron Arnold wrote an essay CDFE described as “the seminal expression of the ideas that have evolved into the richly diverse wise use movement.” [20]

Arnold also helped organize the 1988 founding conference of Wise Use movement in Reno, Nevada, where he publishedthe “Wise-Use Agenda.” Some of The Agenda’s top 25 goals included: [21][9]

  • Clear Cutting old-growth in national forests
  • Rewriting the Endangered Species Act to delist “non-adaptive species” such as the California condor
  • Immediately start drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Open all public lands, including national parks and wilderness areas, to mining and oil exploration

In 1991, Ron Arnold told Outside magazine that he picked the term “Wise Use” because  it was ambiguous and fitted neatly in newspaper headlines.  “Facts don’t matter; in politics perception is reality,” Arnold told Outside. [23]

Arnold has said the goal of wise use is to “destroy environmentalism once and for all.” He was quoted in a fall 1992 interview with Common Ground of Puget Sound:

The goal of the Wise Use movement is very clear. Referring to environmentalists, Arnold explains, ‘We’re out to kill the fuckers. We’re simply trying to eliminate them. [24]Our goal is to destroy environmentalism once and for all.’” [24]

Stance on Climate Change

December 21, 1991

The following is from a 1991 interview of Ron Arnald at the Toronto Star: [25], [26]

If chlorflourocarbons really destroy ozone, why isn’t there a hole over chlorflourocarbon factories? As for the greenhouse effect, he was emphatic. ‘There isn’t any such thing’.”

Endangered Species Act

April 2001

As of April, 2001, CDFA included the following statement opposing the endangerment species act on its website: [27]

“The Endangered Species Act is devastating the homes and farms of the small property owner by forcing strict ‘NO USE‘ zones where endangered species live. […]

“The Endangered Species Act has not saved a single species. The tiny number of species delisted were helped by other factors, not the Act. It is time to repeal the Endangered Species Act and replace it with an incentive-based law that will make property owners welcome endangered species to their land rather than fear them. Save the species, not the Act.”


The following funding information is compiled from the Conservative Transparency Project and publicly available 990 tax forms. [28]

View the attached spreadsheet for additional information on the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise’s funding by year (.xlsx).

Donor Name200320042005201220132014Grand Total
Mercer Family Foundation    $550,000$250,000$800,000
Exxon Mobil$40,000$130,000$60,000   $230,000
Atlas Economic Research Foundation   $10,000  $10,000
Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Foundation$5,000     $5,000
Kantner Foundation  $1,750   $1,750
Grand Total$45,000$130,000$61,750$10,000$550,000$250,000$1,046,750

Mercer Foundation Funding

Newsweek reported that the CDFE had received a total of $800,000 in 2013 and 2014 in grants from the Mercer Foundation, according to publicly available tax forms. [6]

A 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle’s titled “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” found that between 2003 and 2010, the Mercer Family Foundation spent at $3,824,000 directly funding groups opposing climate change action such as The Heartland InstituteManhattan InstituteMedia Research Center, and Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM). [44]

990 Forms

Key People

Board of Directors

Alan GottliebYYY
Julianne VersnelYYY
Ron ArnoldYYY
Samuel M. SlomYYY
Andrew Gottlieb  Y
Merrill R. JacobsYY 

Staff and Advisors

Alan Caruba  YY
Alan GottliebYYYY
Diana White Horse Capp  Y 
Jon Reisman   Y
Marita Noon   Y
Nick Nichols   Y
Paul Driessen  YY
Robert Bidinotto    
Ron ArnoldYYYY
Sandy Fields  Y 


April 10, 2017

Writing at the Washington Examiner, Ron Arnold promotes a Pacific Legal Foundation petition that describes the listing of Preble’s meadow jumping mouse from the “threatened” list of the Endangered Species Act. [29]

“The Endangered Species Act does not regulate species but habitat, which is land-use control,” Arnold wrote. “The Fish and Wildlife Service uses its power to separate land from use.

“The Endangered Species Act does not regulate species but habitat, which is land-use control. The Fish and Wildlife Service uses its power to separate land from use.” [29]

July 79, 2014

CDFE was a co-sponsor of the Heartland Institute‘s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC9) in Las Vegas, Nevada. [30]

May 2123, 2012

CDFE was a co-sponsor of the Heartland Institute‘s Seventh International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC7) in Chicago. [31]

June 30–July 1, 2011

CDFE was a co-sponsor of the Heartland Institute‘s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC6). [32]

May 16–18, 2010

CDFE was a co-sponsor of the Heartland Institute‘s Fourth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC4) in Chicago, IL. [33]

The conference’s theme was “Reconsidering the Science and Economics,” and its purpose was “to build momentum and public awareness of the global warming ‘realism’ movement.” [34]

DeSmog concluded 19 of the 65 sponsors (including Heartland itself) had received a total of over $40 million in funding since 1985 from ExxonMobil (who funded 13 of the organizations), and/or Koch Industries family foundations (funded 10 organizations) and/or the Scaife family foundations (funded 10 organizations). [35]

March 2–4, 2008

CDFE was a co-sponsor of the Heartland Institute‘s first International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC1) in New York. The conference, titled “Global Warming: Truth or Swindle,” was described as a “gathering of skeptics.” [36]

According to conference’s invitation letter: [37]

The purpose of the conference is to generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective.”

February 15, 2000

After publishing a book titled Undue Influence: Wealthy Foundations, Grant-Driven Environmental Groups, and Zealous Bureaucrats That Control Your Future with CDFE, Ron Arnold testified before the U. S. House of Representatives,  Committee on Resources, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. [38]

In his testimony, Arnold promoted the message of the book and claimed that there is a “powerful ‘iron triangle’” of environmental groups and funding that “unfairly influences federal policy to devastate local economies and private property.” [38]

Madam Chairman, in my researches I found that every segment of America’s resource extraction economy – food, clothing and shelter – has been targeted by some coalition funded by wealthy foundations. This is an intolerable program of rural cleansing,” Arnold said. [38]


CDFE‘s “Free Enterprise Press” published Trashing the Economy, subtitled “How Runaway Environmentalism is Wrecking America. It was distributed by Merril Press, the latter run by Gottlieb. [39]

According to the book’s forward, it served as a catalogue of the “secrets the environmental movement does not want the public to know.” Ron Arnold claimed that “every sentence” had been checked for source and accuracy. [39]

August 1988

CDFE was a sponsor of the The Multiple-Use Strategy Conference, a formative conference of the “Wise Use” movement, and where the initial Wise Use Agenda was unveiled. [21]

According to an October, 1994 report in Eastsideweekthe conference served as a place to determine a common ground to fight environmentalism. 250 delegates were invited, representing industry and lobbyists. [39]

The agenda outlined a number of the “two hundred twenty-four citizen organizations government agencies and individuals” who attended the Multiple Use Strategy Conference. View the attached spreadsheet for a complete list of the “Index of the Wise Use Movement” (xlsx). Notable Groups included: [21]

May 30, 1984

CDFE founder Alan Gottlieb was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for tax evasion. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour also ordered Gottlieb to pay a $1,000 fine. [40]

“The message that should be delivered to those who take the chance is that the risk is great, the price to be paid if caught is severe,” the judge said. [40]

The sentencing memorandum read as follows: [41], [42]

“By his plea, Mr. Gottlieb has admitted that he intentionally filed a United States Income Tax Return for the calendar year 1978, which he knew to understate his taxable income by approximately $49,000. The evidence which supported the plea and which was set forth in a written stipulation signed by the defendant, clearly established that the defendant set about to fraudulently misrepresent his taxable income.”

Contact & Address

According to its 2016 tax filing, CDFE‘s contact information was as follows:

Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise
12500 NE Tenth Place
Bellevue WA 98005
PH: 425-455-5038

Social Media


  1. Key People,” Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Archived July 29, 2017. URL:
  2. Key People,” Second Amendment Foundation. Archived July 29, 2017. URL:
  3. Timothy Egan. “Fund-Raisers Tap Anti-Environmentalism,” The New York Times, December 19, 1991. Archived July 26, 2017. URL:
  4. William Kevin Burke. “The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism,”The Public Eye Magazine., Vol 7, No. 2. (June, 1993). URL
  5. Mission,” Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Archived May 7, 1998. URL:
  6. Carrie Levine. “MEET THE ANTIGOVERNMENT RECLUSE WHO BANKROLLS TRUMP,” Newsweek, October 8, 2016. Archived July 28, 2017. URL
  7. ALLAN GOTTLIEB AND RON ARNOLD,” May 8, 1995. Retrieved from Polluterwatch.
  8. Unification Church Ron Arnold and the Moonies,” Retrieved from Documentcloud.
  9. SHARE GROUPS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA,” Claude Emery, Political and Social Affairs Division, December 10, 1991. Retrieved from Polluterwatch documents.
  10. Hume, Steven. “We Have Met the Enviro-Terrorists and They Are Us.” The Vancouver Sun, April 22, 1991.
  11. Howard Goldenthal, “Polarizing the Public Debate to Subvert Ecology Activism,” Now, July 13-19, 1989.
  12. Jon Krakauer, “Brown Fellas, Outside,Vol. XVI, No. 12, December 1991.
  13. Robert Grant. “Taking Exception,” Washington Post, October 29, 1989.
  14. Overview of Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb: Authors of Trashing the Economy,” Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research. Retrieved from Polluterwatch Research Documents.
  15. Walter Hatch, “Big Names Lend Luster to Group’s Causes: Church Leader Gains Legitimacy Among U.S. Conservatives,” The Seattle Times, February 13, 1989.
  16. Moonies are more active and gaining influence,” Group Research, Vol. 28. No. 2 (Summer, 1989). Retrieved from Polluterwatch research documents.
  17. Walter Hatch. “Mainstream Moon,” Seattle Times, February 13, 1989.
  18. PROFILE OF RON ARNOLDPROPHET FOR PROFITS,” Greenpeace research, December 5, 1993. Retrieved from Polluterwatch.
  19. Bill Berkowitz. “Terrorist Tree Huggers: Ron Arnold, Father of the ‘Wise Use’ Movement, sets his Sights on ‘Eco-Terrorists’,” Common Dreams, July 7, 2004. Archived June 15, 2006. URL
  20. Wise Use: What Do We Believe? Archived April 8, 2001. URL:
  21. CDFE: the wise use agenda 00089,” Polluterwatch. Retrieved from DocumentCloud. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  22. Wise Use: What Do We Believe?” Archived April 8, 2001. URL
  23. William Kevin Burke. “The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism,” Political Research Associates., Vol 7, No. 2. (June, 1993). URL
  24. Common Ground of Puget Sound, Fall 1992. Retrieved from Greenpeace/Polluterwatch research doocuments.
  25. Katherine Long, “A grinch who loathes green groups: our goal is to destroy the environmental movement’ says affable Ron Arnold, champion of Wise Use‘,” Toronto Star, December 21, 1991.
  26. Ron Arnold,” SourceWatch profile. Archived July 25, 2017. URL
  27. The Center’s Issues and Positions,” Archived April 11, 2001. URL:
  28. Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise,” Conservative Transparency. Accessed July 28, 2017.
  29. Ron Arnold. “The mouse that won’t stop roaring,” Washington Examiner, April 10, 2017. Archived July 25, 2017. URL:
  30. ICCC9 CoSponsors,” International Conferences on Climate Change (The Heartland Institute). Archived July 27, 2015. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.
  31. Seventh International Conference on Climate Change: Sponsored by the Heartland Institute” (PDF), the Heartland Institute. Archived August 15, 2015.
  32. Sixth International Conference on Climate Change Conference Program (PDF), The Heartland Institute. Archived July 25, 2015. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.
  33. 4th International Conference on Climate Change: Sponsored by the Heartland Institute” (Conference Program – PDF), The Heartland Institute, May, 2010. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.
  34. Reconsidering the Science and Economics,” Heartland Institute. Archived July 25, 2010. URL
  35. Brendan DeMelle. “Denial-a-palooza Round 4: ‘International Conference on Climate Change’ Groups Funded by Exxon, Koch Industries,” DeSmog, May 13, 2010.
  36. Sponsorships,” The 2008 International Conference on climate Change. Archived June 10, 2011. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmogBlog.
  37. Heartland Institute ICCC1 invitation letter. Retrieved from
  39. Alan Gottlieb: The Merchant of Fear,” Eastsideweek, October 26, 1994. Republished by Archived July 27, 2017. URL
  40. Teresa Wippel Kunzl. “Conservative fund-raiser gets prison for tax evasion,” UPI, May 21, 1984. Archived July 28, 2017. URL
  41. Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, United States of America v. Alan M. Gottlieb, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, May 30, 1984.
  42. Quotes from Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb,” Retrieved from Polluterwatch documents.
  43. Mercer Family Foundation,” Conservative Transparency. Data retrieved November 1, 2016.
  44. Study Details Dark Money Flowing to Climate Science Denial,” DeSmog, December 23, 2013.

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