Nancy Pfotenhauer

Nancy Pfotenhauer


  • Pfotenhauer holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Georgia and a master of arts degree in economics from George Mason University (1987). [1]


Nancy M. (Mitchell) Pfotenhauer is the president of MediaSpeak Strategies, a DC-based communications firm. She has played a major role in a wide range of Koch organizations and connected groups. [2]

Pfotenhauer was president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) from 2000 to 2005, and served on the IWF board of directors from 2005 to 2007. According to 990 forms, she was also listed as president of IWF‘s sister 501(c)(4) organization, the Independent Women’s Voice. While IWF president, she also served as president of Americans for Prosperity (AfP) in an IWF-AfP partnership around the time AfP replaced the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation. According to an archived IWF profile, Pfotenhauer also formerly served as the executive vice president of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE)[1][3] For a number of years, she managed both groups out of the same offices.

Before taking over IWF and CSE/AfP after its main leaders joined the Bush Administration, Pfotenhauer worked for Koch Industries, the largest privately held company in the U.S. where she served as director of their Washington, D.C., lobbying office. 

She began her political career in 1987 where she worked as senior economist for the Republican National Committee and later chief economist in 1988. She was chosen by the George H.W. Bush transition team to work as their economist for the independent regulatory agencies task force. She later worked as economic counsel to Senator William Armstrong. In 1990, she joined the President’s Council on Competitiveness as an economist.  She has also been on the Romney transition team. [1]

After leaving IWF and AfP, Pfotenhauer worked as national spokesperson and senior policy advisor for senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The Climate Investigations Center and DeSmog reported on the shift of McCain’s positioning on climate change, expanding on prior reporting done at Inside Climate News documenting McCain’s shift away from climate leadership. Pfotenhauer had led Citizens for a Sound Economy—later AfP—which had been co-founded by “Charles Koch’s right-hand man” Richard Fink. While led by Pfotenhauer, CSE backed ExxonMobil in lobbying against McCain’s Climate Stewardship Acts and continued to fight against climate change legislation after being rebranded Americans for Prosperity. [4]

In 2008, CNN listed Pfotenhauer as one of seven top McCain officials who were also lobbyists noting she “has lobbied for corporate giants like Koch Industries.” The campaign stressed none of those seven were at that time registered to lobby Congress. A query of the United States Senate lobbying disclosure act database returns one document, signed by Robert P. Hall and dated August 13, 2001, suggesting Pfotenhauer was no longer expected to act as a lobbyist for Koch Industries, Inc. at that time. [5], [6]

She was formerly married to Daniel J. Mitchell, formerly an economist at The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. They co-hosted the show Mitchells in the Morning on National Empowerment Television, run by Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich. [7], [8]

While she was studying at George Mason University, Pfotenhauer was selected as a graduate research assistant to Walter Williams, who was later a director of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Reason Foundation, as well as a substitute host on the Rush Limbaugh Show. She later served on the Board of Visitors at GMU in various capacities, including as vice rector, from 2010 to 2014; GMU has received millions from various Koch entitities. [9], [10][21]

Cato Institute Controversy

Pfotenhauer is a board member of the Cato Institute. Her initial appointment by Koch, along with that of Kevin Gentry, stirred controversy and was an element in Cato’s fight for control of the board.  In a 2012 interview with Slate, Cato president Edward Crane said: “Nancy Pfotenhauer – they’d put her and Kevin Gentry on our board. Both of them were Republican activists, and social conservatives. Never been to a Cato event, never given a dime to Cato. Nice people, but didn’t have the stature to be on our board.” [10], [11]

According to reporting at the Washingtonian, Bob Levy, Cato’s board chairman, said: “Whatever they are, they are not libertarians.” [12]

ThinkProgress reported the placements were part of the Koch’s longstanding effort to transform Cato “from a warehouse for radical libertarianism into something more purely concerned with electoral politics.” Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at Cato, described the effort: [13]

“Last year, [the Kochs] used their shares to place two of their operatives — Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenhauer — on our board against the wishes of every single board member save for David Koch. Last Thursday, they used their shares to force another four new board members on us (the most that their shares would allow at any given meeting); Charles Koch, Ted Olson (hired council for Koch Industries), Preston Marshall (the largest shareholder of Koch Industries save for Charles and David), and Andrew Napolitano (a frequent speaker at Koch-sponsored events). […]

Why are they forcing out Cato board members, all strong, principled libertarians who have been heavily involved with Cato — financially and organizationally — for years? The answer was given in early November of last year when David Koch, Richard Fink (he of many Koch hats), and Kevin Gentry met with Cato board chairman Bob Levy. They told Bob that they intended to use their board majority to remove Ed Crane from Cato and transform our Institute into an intellectual ammo-shop for Americans for Prosperity and other allied (presumably, Koch-controlled) organizations. That statement of intent is certainly consistent with what we’ve been hearing from both Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenhauer. They’ve frequently complained during their short time on our board that Cato wasn’t doing enough to defeat President Obama in November and that we weren’t working closely enough with grass roots activists like those at AFP.”

Stance on Climate Change

Greenpeace has reported the Independent Women’s Forum received $844,115 from Koch foundations from 1997-2012 while spreading disinformation about climate change. [14]

Key Quotes

December 2015

Politico reported Pfotenhauer said the following at a Koch fundraising event: [15]

It’s about community and it’s also about commitment. If you’re bringing in 40- to 50-percent more new people each time, that says there’s an appetite for what we’re doing and a shared level of concern.”

October 18, 2008

While working for Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, Pfotenhauer was quoted by ABC News: [16]

“As a proud resident of Oakton, Virginia, I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia,” Pfotenhauer said, speaking of Democratic gains in that part of the state. “And that’s really what you see there. “But the rest of the state, ‘real Virginia,’ if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message,” she continued. [16]

She also commented on then-senator Barack Obama’s bid: [16]

“And remember that, you know, you’ve got places in other states like northern Wisconsin, the iron range of Minnesota, south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania, the St. Louis suburbs and the rural areas of Missouri that are very responsive to our message,” she said. “And again we’re taking it to them in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. He’s having to fight to defend there, as you can tell because he’s deployed people like the Clintons out in Pennsylvania. And every speech Joe Biden gives, he says, ‘I’m from Scranton.’ You don’t know what else he’s going to say, but he sure gets that line in.” [16]

When pressed on her comment about “real Virginia,” she clarified:

“Real Virginia I take to be this part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro DC, as you’re aware Kevin.” [16]

August 11, 2008

Speaking about Senator McCain’s presidential campaign at Washington Journal, Pfotenhauer responded to someone who called in to the program saying that “trickle down economics does not work” and highlighted the billions of dollars in tax breaks proposed for companies including the oil industry: [17]

“With Senator Obama’s policies, you will get trickle down in lost jobs and lower wages and it’s because the path he’s articulating has been tried before. It’s been tried here, and it’s been tried in other countries, and what it brings is slower economic growth, slower job creation, a lower standard of living, and a higher level of unemployment. It’s been tried here before, it’s been tried in places like Germany and France. And if you go there, they have the third lowest standard of living, they have a higher unemployment rate, and they have lower economic growth than we do even right now. So that’s point one.

“As far as that ‘oil company tax break,’ it was the corporate tax rate reduction — across the board corporate tax rate reduction — that I had already addressed earlier in the show. And it has nothing to do with individual companies. You do not make tax policy based on an individual company. It would be disastrous, and I hope that’s not what you’re advocating; it’s certainly not what Senator McCain is advocating. 

“Now what would be horrific to do at this time that we have higher energy prices is put in place a windfall profits tax, which is what is being advocated by Senator Obama. When it was tried before in this country, it was economic masochism. It reduced domestic production, increased our reliance on foreign oil, and raised prices for consumers at the pump.” [17]

Key Deeds

August 2018

An article at the Climate Investigations Center and DeSmog reporteded a “covert attack” on Senator John McCain’s views on climate change, noting that Pfotenhauer was one of McCain’s top policy advisors in his 2008 campaign. [4]

January 19, 2016

Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, revealed the Koch brothers had hired a former commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) to smear her as a “plagiarist” in the months following the release of her article, “Covert Operations,” which at the time served as the one of the first pieces of long-form investigative journalism on David and Charles Koch.  A source told Mayer that Nancy Pfotenhauer, “served as one of several ringleaders of the effort” to smear her, DeSmog reported. [18]

October 22, 2008

On an episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Nancy defended comments by Sarah Palin where she had apparently failed to properly understand the role of Vice President. [19]


Social Media


Pfotenhauer is a regular political commentator on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC and “Additionally, she has been featured in Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Washington Times,” according to an archived profile. [20], [2]


  1. Nancy Pfotenhauer,” Americans for Prosperity. Archived May 22, 2019. URL:
  2. MediaSpeak Strategies homepage. Archived May 23, 2019. URL:
  3. IWF Announces Exciting New Partnership,” Independent Women’s Forum, October 28, 2003. Archived November 19, 2003. URL:
  4. Kert Davies. “The Covert Attack on John McCain’s Climate Leadership by ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers,” DeSmog, August 30, 3018.  Originally published at the Climate Investigations Center.
  5. Ed Hentry. “Fact Check: McCain-lobbyist connections,” CNN, September 9, 2008. Archived May 23, 2019. URL
  6. Lobbying Report for Koch Industries Inc. Secretary of the Senate, August 1, 2014. Retrieved from The United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database. Archived .pdf on on file at DeSmog.
  7. Tom Kuntz. “Word for Word/National Empowerment Television; You Want Your Newt TV? Whether You Do or You Don’t, It’s Here,” The New York Times, January 8, 1995. Archived May 23, 2019. URL:
  8. Dear Dr. Borelli:” Free Congress Foundation, September 23, 1994. Retrieved from Truth Tobacco Industry Documents.
  9. Maria Seniw. “Defining Success: Nicole Geller, BS Economics ’86, Nancy Pfotenhauer, MA ’87,” Cornerstone College of Humanities and Social Sciences (George Mason University), July 16, 2012. Archived May 24, 2019. URL:
  10. Mark Whittington. “Dr. Walter Williams, Black by Popular Demand,” Associated Content. Archived January 2, 20009. URL:
  11. David Weigel. “’Who the Hell is Going to Take a Think Tank Seriously If It’s Controlled by Billionaire Oil Guys?‘ Cato’s President Speaks,” Slate, March 22, 2012. Archived May 22, 2019. URL
  12. Luke Mullins. “The Battle for the Cato Institute,” Washingtonian, May 30, 2012. Archived May 22, 2019. URL
  13. Ian Millhiser. “Cato Senior Fellow: Koch Brothers Want To Take Over Cato Because ‘Cato Wasn’t Doing Enough To Defeat’ Obama,” ThinkProgress, Marc 5, 2012. Archived May 23, 2019. URL
  14. Independent Women’s Forum (IWF),Greenpeace. Accessed May 26, 2019.
  15. How the Koch network rivals the GOP,” Politico, December 30, 2015. Archived May 24, 2019. URL:
  16. Political Punch,” ABC News. October 18, 2008. Archived October 26, 2008. URL:
  17. Senator McCain’s Presidential Campaign,” C-Span, August 11, 2008.
  18. Steve Horn. “Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money’ Book Reveals Koch Brothers Paid Firm Run by Former NYPD Chief to Smear Her,” DeSmog, January 19, 2016.
  19. Hardball’s Chris Matthews smacks down McCain campaign’s Nancy Pfotenhauer about Sarah Palin. EPIC PFAIL!” YouTube video uploaded by user “TooneyReed,” October 22, 2008. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  20. To The Contrary Panelists: Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer,” PBS. Archived November 12, 2012. URL:
  21. Former BOV Members Are Recognized for Their Service,” George Mason University, October 31, 2014. Archived May 26, 2019. URL:
  22. Board of Directors,” Cato Institute. Archived May 22, 2019. URL:
  23. Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer,” Independent Women’s Forum. Archived December 14, 2004. URL
  24. About,” Americans for Prosperity. Archived May 23, 2019. URL

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