About the Institute for Free Speech

About the Institute for Free Speech

Our Mission

The Institute for Free Speech (IFS) promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government through strategic litigation, communication, activism, training, research, and education. Our dedicated professional staff works tirelessly to protect political speech under these freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. We are the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political speech rights.

Free political speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is the most important right. It is the right that allows citizens to criticize, challenge, and ultimately improve their government. Despite its importance, the Institute for Free Speech is the only organization with a dedicated professional staff and mission seeking to promote and defend American citizens’ First Amendment political speech rights.

Our Strategy

The Institute’s four-part strategy to promote and defend free speech rights is simple and effective.

  • Litigation to strike down bad laws and create precedent to expand speech rights.
  • Research to analyze the effects of limits on political speech rights.
  • Communications to make the case in the media for these First Amendment rights.
  • External Relations activities to educate the public, lawmakers and advocacy groups on the impact of proposed legislation that affects First Amendment political speech rights.

Our History

During his time on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Bradley A. Smith kept a file of letters from ordinary citizens struggling to cope with the complex web of oppressive campaign finance laws. Most did not have attorneys, and all thought that they were performing a civic duty. One letter said it all: “I will NEVER be involved with a political campaign again.”

Smith was further disturbed when the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that Congress could ban organizations from even mentioning the name of a member of Congress in a TV ad.

This experience and that ruling reinforced his belief that an organization was needed to fight for First Amendment political speech rights. After he left the FEC, Smith, one of the nation’s leading First Amendment political speech scholars and author of Unfree Speech, founded the Center for Competitive Politics in 2005. The organization changed its name to the Institute for Free Speech in October 2017.

The organization soon began filing amicus briefs in important free speech cases and a small number of lawsuits using outside counsel. In 2007, David Keating asked for legal assistance for his pro-First Amendment organization, SpeechNow.org. As a result, the Institute became co-counsel and won the landmark case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, creating the entities now known as “super PACs.”

The Institute also organized an unprecedented amicus effort in 2008 and 2009 in support of the Citizens United case that helped win that important decision in 2010.

David Keating became president of the Institute for Free Speech in 2012, and built a group of expert staff litigators. The Institute now has a team of the nation’s leading experts on First Amendment campaign finance litigation at a fraction of the cost of hiring outside counsel.

Other major victories include leading the fight against proposed IRS regulations to severely limit political activity, which were withdrawn, and playing a key role in the McCutcheon case, in which the Supreme Court struck down the biennial aggregate limit on contributions to candidates and political committees. Since 2015, the Institute has won four major lawsuits targeting invasive donor disclosure laws.

Our Future

Despite, or perhaps because of the success of IFS, First Amendment rights remain under relentless attack by politicians who seek to silence criticism and ensure their reelection.

Frustrated by losses in court, free speech opponents now promote intrusive new disclosure laws, regulations across multiple agencies and at all levels of government, and even engage in efforts to harass and intimidate speakers they dislike.

The vast web of regulation enveloping political speech today remains among the most intrusive in our nation’s history. This complex maze creates an environment ripe for abuse. It enabled the misconduct in the IRS Tea Party scandal and the outrageous “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin. Those who wish to criticize government, elected officials, or candidates are well-advised to hire a lawyer before speaking – a terrible state of affairs. This must end.

The Institute for Free Speech will boldly and proudly combat these attacks wherever they might be found. We will go to court to protect the First Amendment. We will help to craft laws that are consistent with the Constitution. We will, through rigorous research and educational outreach, persuade the public that free political speech is in the best interest of every citizen.

We will not rest until all Americans have a full and absolute right to free speech.

What They Are Saying

“The Institute for Free Speech has taken the lead on defending the First Amendment against those seeking to limit and control political speech. Their successful efforts have led to more freedom for citizens to support the candidates and causes of their choice without government interference.”

Ed Crane, President Emeritus, Cato Institute

“The Institute for Free Speech effectively advocates a perspective on campaign finance and the First Amendment that would often otherwise go unheard. By producing important research, commentary, and analysis, the Institute provides an important voice and has made a serious contribution to the way elected officials, media, the public, and the courts view these issues.”

Marc Elias, Chair, Political Law Practice; Perkins Coie

“[The Institute] has become the gold standard of public advocacy in defense of the most important provision of the Constitution.”

Pulitzer-prize winning columnist George F. Will

Top Rated Charity

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The Institute for Free Speech is committed to making sure every donation we receive is used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator, has awarded the Institute its top rating, four stars, based on fiscal management and best practices in good governance. The most recent rating was released in May 2017.

How We are Funded

In order to maintain its independence, the Institute for Free Speech accepts no government funding. We receive funding from individuals and foundations. Approximately five percent of IFS’s funding comes from for-profit corporations. IFS is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to IFS are tax deductible under the law.

Privacy Policy

The Institute for Free Speech respects the privacy of our donors and their choice not to have their personal information shared with others. The Institute does not and will not sell, rent, or trade donor information to organizations that use such information for commercial purposes. Occasionally, we make donor mailing lists available for one time use by selected nonprofits in return for donor lists from those organizations. This helps IFS continue to grow. Our donors may instruct that we exclude their information from any lists that we share. Please send all such requests to Alex Kroll (IFS’s Development Director) by email to akroll@IFS.org or by mail to 124 S. West St. #201, Alexandria VA 22314. They will be implemented as soon as possible.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.