AEI’s Organization and Purposes
The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world. The work of our scholars and staff advances ideas rooted in our belief in democracy, free enterprise, American strength and global leadership, solidarity with those at the periphery of our society, and a pluralistic, entrepreneurial culture.
We are committed to making the intellectual, moral, and practical case for expanding freedom, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening the free enterprise system in America and around the world. Our work explores ideas that further these goals, and AEI scholars take part in this pursuit with academic freedom. AEI operates independently of any political party and has no institutional positions. Our scholars’ conclusions are fueled by rigorous, data-driven research and broad-ranging evidence.
Our scholars not only engage in research that focuses on today’s most critical challenges but also look ahead to ideas and issues that have yet to be widely recognized. AEI scholars pursue innovative, independent work across a wide array of subjects. From economics, education, health care, and poverty to foreign and defense studies, public opinion, politics, society, and culture, our experts drive the competition of ideas.
AEI actively seeks and encourages engagement with those who hold different points of view. We welcome civil disagreement because we believe that a competition of ideas is essential to a free society. This is the same approach to scholarship that AEI has taken since our founding in 1938.
It is unusual in Washington, DC, to embrace open debate, intellectual freedom, and human welfare—and to do so unencumbered by partisan considerations and special interests. As a result, decision makers and leaders in Washington and across the country trust our work, and we are able to foster cooperation at a time of deep division in our country and abroad.
We believe that, together, we can make progress toward reform in many policy areas and create a better world for all people. We invite you to visit aei.org to learn more about our mission, activities, and impact.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational organization.
AEI does not take institutional positions on any issues. The Institute is supported primarily by donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Gifts to AEI are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
AEI Research Integrity
AEI’s operations are financed by donations from corporations, foundations and individuals and by investment earnings from an internal endowment. The Institute does not perform contract research and does not accept government grants. Its research agenda is determined by its president in consultation with its trustees, scholars and fellows, and academic advisers; the substance and conclusions of its research and publications are determined by the individuals conducting the research. AEI operates at the intersection of scholarship and politics, aiming to elevate political debate and improve the substance of government policy. Many of the subjects of AEI research and publications are controversial, and many are the focus of political contention and intense interest-group advocacy. Many AEI scholars and fellows are or have been directly engaged in practical politics and policymaking as government officials, advisers or members of official commissions. For these reasons, AEI maintains policies and procedures for assuring the integrity and reputation of its work. The most important of these are set forth below.
As a tax-exempt educational organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, AEI is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislation in the U.S. Congress or other legislative bodies. Legal requirements aside, AEI has important reasons of its own for abstaining from any form of policy advocacy as an institution. Policy research of the kind AEI specializes in—emphasizing empirical analysis, intellectual depth and originality, unflinching criticism and concrete proposals for reform—is an inherently individual activity, best pursued by a single scholar (or a pair or small group of scholars) rather than by a committee or hierarchy. Attempting to forge an Institute-wide consensus or corporate position would interfere with the intellectual independence of individual scholars. For these reasons, AEI takes no institutional positions on policy issues (whether or not they are currently before legislative, executive or judicial bodies) or on any other issues.
AEI scholars and fellows frequently do take positions on policy and other issues, including explicit advocacy for or against legislation currently being considered by the Congress. When they do, they speak for themselves and not for AEI or its trustees or other scholars or employees. AEI’s abstaining from institutional positions on policy issues does not, of course, apply to policy issues affecting its own institutional interests.
Political Campaigns and Other Partisan Activities
AEI’s 501(c)(3) tax status also forbids it from participating in any campaign for elected public office. This means that AEI may not take an institutional position for or against any political candidate and may not permit its resources, including the on-the-job time of its salaried employees, to be used in an electoral campaign. During election campaigns, AEI employees who endorse particular candidates, or who become engaged in campaigns as candidates, advisers, volunteers or employees, must do so as individuals and on their own time and resources, and must arrange for part-time or full-time leaves of absence if necessary.
If employees, on their own time and as private citizens, formally affiliate with a political campaign, they must abide by an additional requirement. Whenever publishing in any form or appearing on television, radio or at a public gathering on behalf of a candidate, employees may be identified as both an AEI employee and a representative of a political campaign, but must make it clear they are speaking and acting solely for themselves and not for the institute.
Conflicts of Interest
Four customary methods for dealing with conflicts of interest are diversification, disclosure, reputation and intrinsic quality. AEI employs all four methods.
Diversification. A diversity of interests can render any individual conflict of interest small or de minimis. AEI has many hundreds of corporate, foundation and individual donors, none of them accounting for more than a small fraction of the Institute’s budget, and it invests its endowment and other funds in highly diversified financial instruments. AEI’s research program is itself highly diversified, covering a wide range of economic, trade, social welfare and defense and foreign policy issues involving many competing interests.
Disclosure. AEI scholars and fellows are required to disclose in their published work any affiliations they may have with organizations with a direct interest in the subject of that work. In the release of its products, AEI also discloses relationships in which donors have a specific material interest. AEI scholars, fellows and officers provide annual reports to AEI’s president listing all of their outside activities; the president then provides a summary report to the Nominating and Governance Committee of the AEI Board of Trustees.
Reputation. When individuals are being considered for appointment to AEI’s research faculty, management and staff positions or advisory bodies, or for election to its Board of Trustees, their personal honesty and integrity are as important as their aptitude, knowledge, experience and skills for the position in question. AEI’s reputation for honesty and integrity is guarded zealously, and AEI’s prominence in policy debate provides a strong incentive to continue to guard this reputation. The Institute would never accept a donation that was conditioned on predetermined research conclusions or recommendations or that otherwise compromised the intellectual independence of its scholars.
Intrinsic quality. AEI is committed to the proposition that arguments concerning government policies and economic and social arrangements should be evaluated on their own terms and intrinsic merits. This is not an “ethics policy”—it is a precept of all of the Institute’s activities and ambitions for improving public dialogue. But it carries an important ethical implication: in striving to produce work that is lucid, precise, informative and wise, AEI hopes that the honesty and integrity of its work, also, can be judged on its face.
AEI welcomes comments on the policies and procedures described here. They should be sent to Robert Doar, President, American Enterprise Institute, 1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.