Pacific Legal Foundation

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is a Sacramento, California-based legal organization that was established in 1973 to support pro-business causes. Its core areas of work, according to its website, are (1) property rights, (2) equality and opportunity, and (3) separation of powers. It is the key right-wing public interest litigation firm in a network of similar organizations — funded initially by the Scaife Foundations — across the United States to support free market capitalism and oppose environmental and health activism and government regulation. PLF is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a network of right-wing organizations, and has offices in California, Florida, and Washington, DC.

Property rights is the largest component of PLF’s work as indicated by the sheer number of senior attorneys assigned to this project area. “Property rights are the foundation of liberty,” PLF’s website reads. “Unfortunately, the government often tramples on individuals’ property rights by taking it without compensation and by unreasonable regulation or intrusion.”[1]

Since its founding in 1973, PLF has brought 19 cases to the Supreme Court, 17 of which it has won.[2]

PLF’s Daniel Dew serves as the private sector chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Civil Justice Task Force.[3]

News and Controversy

Connections to the Tobacco Industry

The Pacific Legal Foundation is listed as a “key third party ally” in a 1999 internal document from Philip Morris, the tobacco giant that was found guilty some years later for racketeering and engaging in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public about the negative health effects of smoking. [4]

In 1989, Philip Morris began funding the organization through its Mission Viejo (a gated-community land-development company) subsidiary, mainly because the organization was active in the property rights area and had won cases limiting the States' ability to expropriate or regulate private property. The Mission Viejo subsidiary was interested in fighting a no-growth initiative which had been blocking some of their development projects. At this stage, Philip Morris only gave an annual grant of $5,000 each year, but it may have also funded specific legal projects.

By 1991, a Philip Morris executive, Roy Marden, joined the PLF board. Philip Morris began using PLF to undertake hidden media and political activities on its behalf. For instance, it enlisted PLF (together with think-tanks like the Reason Foundation, Hoover Institute, Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute) to write op-ed pieces that were planted in newspapers attacking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its determination that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) was a carcinogen and its attempt to regulate Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).[5]

In addition to providing funding to PLF, Philip Morris was also heavily funding two of PLF’s related organizations, the National Legal Center for the Public Interest and the Atlantic Legal Foundation. [6]

In the late 1990s, PLF joined forces with the National Smokers Alliance, which had received $10 million from Philip Morris, in a legal attack on Professor Stanton Arnold Glantz, a leader of Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, California's main anti-smoking organization. Glantz had received documents from the early tobacco industry whistleblowers, and had established the first public-access website revealing how the industry operated. The attack attempted to brand Glantz in the public mind as having something to hide.[7]

Anti-Environment Policies

According to, the Pacific Legal Foundation has received $110,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The website goes on to state that:

Anti-environmental from the start, PLF's early actions supported the use of DDT, the use of herbicides in national forests, and the use of public range land without requiring an environmental impact review. They also supported at least six pro-nuclear power cases before the early eighties while accepting funding from Pacific General Electric (PGE), a utility which has gained a great deal through the development of nuclear power in the Pacific Northwest. In the 1980s, PLF won several cases that are considered landmarks by those working on property rights issues today: Nollan v the California Coastal Commission and First Church, both Supreme Court victories which provide precedence for the takings litigation pursued today (Oliver Houck, "With Charity For All," Yale Law Journal, 1993). In October 2003, PLF Vice President M. David Stirling had an Op-Ed published in which he defended President Bush's environmental record and condemned former President Clinton for endorsing the Kyoto Protocol.

Organizational History

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) was established in 1973 by a group of attorneys from California’s Justice Department (then under the control of Attorney-General Ed Meese) who wanted to counter the ongoing welfare reform and the activities of liberal public interest legal groups — including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund — that were pressing for better environmental and health regulations.

Governor Ronald Reagan of California appears to have provided the required financial links to Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who funded PLF’s initial office in Sacramento, and his friend and counselor, Ed Meese became one of PLF’s founders and its chief supporter. PLF’s aim was to use its financial and litigation power to "impact the public policy agenda."

Scaife’s first grants in the conservative public interest law movement “were made in 1974 to the Pacific Legal Foundation,” according to reporting by the Washington Post. [8]

Funding this movement was made “‘on behalf of a market-oriented economics system, traditional property rights and limited government,’” according to an internal memo written by a Scaife aide in December 1980 and reported by the Washington Post. When it comes to PLF, “Scaife contributions had constituted at least half the group’s budget in its early years.”[9]

The day-to-day operations of the Foundation were in the hands of Ronald A Zumbrun, whose law firm Zumbrun & Findley ran most of the cases. Before his elevation to CEO, Zumbrun had been a lawyer with the California Department of Public Works, the California Department of Social Welfare, and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

PLF has won many major social cases in California involving decisions to uphold ballot initiatives, end state-aid to undocumented immigrants, ban affirmative action, and clamp down on bilingual education. The PLF also intervened successfully in the Supreme Court case Keller v. California State Bar (1990), which established a legal precedent that California lawyers could challenge the use of their dues to the state bar for political purposes. This was a successful maneuver to block collective actions by the more liberal Californian lawyers who were involving themselves in such policy areas as class-actions and product liability.

By the mid 1990s, PLF had offices in Sacramento, Anchorage, and Seattle and ran several key issues and programs, including the Judicial Responsibility Project, the College of Public Interest Law, and the Limited Government Project.

For information on PLF’s extensive ties with the tobacco industry throughout the 1990s, see the below section on “Tobacco Industry Associations.”


According to publicly-available IRS tax filings, the Pacific Legal Foundation has received at least one grant of $20,000 or more since 2010 from these donors. Since gifts smaller than $20,000 were excluded, this list of major donors is not exhaustive.

  • Adolph Coors Foundation: $360,000 (2018-2021)
  • American Endowment Foundation: $73,500 (2020-2022)
  • Arbol Christian Communications: $20,000 (2016)
  • Armstrong Foundation: $110,000 (2015-2021)
  • Atlas Economic Research Foundation: $197,245 (2020-2022)
  • Bader Family Foundation: $700,000 (2014-2021)
  • Barrow Foundation: $350,000 (2011-2022)
  • Bell Charitable Foundation: $50,000 (2020-2021)
  • Bernard A Egan Foundation Inc: $80,000 (2020-2021)
  • Bessemer Giving Fund: $55,000 (2020)
  • Beth And Ravenel Curry Foundation: $100,000 (2022)
  • Bradley Foundation: $310,000 (2017-2021)
  • California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC: $876,500 (2014-2022)
  • California Community Foundation: $70,900 (2019-2021)
  • Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation: $400,000 (2014-2021)
  • Castleman Family Foundation: $1,245,800 (2013-2021)
  • Charles D & Frances K Field Fund: $200,000 (2020-2022)
  • Charles Koch Foundation: $1,175,353 (2016-2021)
  • Charles Koch Institute: $2,063,481(2015-2021)
  • Cj Berry Foundation: $50,000 (2014-2019)
  • Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley: $50,000 (2021)
  • Confidence Foundation: $50,000 (2018-2020)
  • Dabney Point Fund: $20,000 (2015)
  • David and Annette Jorgensen: $55,000 (2016-2021)
  • Diana Davis Spencer Foundation: $135,000 (2019-2021)
  • Donald Miller Campbell Family Foundation: $20,000 (2014)
  • Donors Capital Fund: $100,000 (2020)
  • Donors Trust: $240,750 (2020-2021)
  • Dorothy D & Joseph A Moller: $390,150 (2017-2021)
  • Dr Phillips Inc: $175,000 (2019-2021)
  • Dunn Foundation: $565,000 (2019-2022)
  • Edwards Foundation Inc: $1,328,112 (2015-2021)
  • Elizabeth Bixby Janeway Foundation: $275,000 (2015-2019)
  • Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $2,370,714 (2016-2021)
  • Freedom and Justice Foundation Inc: $125,000 (2019-2022)
  • Fritz B Burns Foundation: $1,150,000 (2013-2016)
  • Gardner Grout Foundation: $160,000 (2020-2022)
  • Gleason Family Foundation: $750,000 (2016-2021)
  • Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund: $25,000 (2020)
  • H N And Frances C Berger Foundation: $300,000 (2020-2021)
  • Harvey L & Maud C Sorensen Foundation: $120,000 (2014-2020)
  • Henry W Bull Foundation: $180,000 (2019-2021)
  • Hugh & Hazel Darling Foundation: $615,000 (2011-2022)
  • Hughes Charitable Foundation: $65,000 (2020)
  • James G Boswell Foundation: $2,375,000 (2014-2022)
  • Jim Hicks Family Foundation: $75,000 (2011-2015)
  • Kauai Energy Institute: $75,000 (2020-2021)
  • Kirchner Family Foundation: $65,000 (2019-2021)
  • Kovner Foundation: $100,000 (2021)
  • Kulakala Point Foundation: $20,000 (2020)
  • Lawrence M Shaw Foundation: $50,000 (2017-2021)
  • Lematta Foundation: $20,000 (2021)
  • Louise M Davies Foundation: $50,000 (2020-2021)
  • Lynde And Harry Bradley Foundation: $75,000 (2020)
  • Markkula Foundation: $50,000 (2020-2021)
  • M J Murdock Charitable Trust: $137,500 (2020)
  • National Philanthropic Trust: $1,113,658 (2017-2021)
  • Nb And Jacqueline Giustina Foundation: $175,000 (2019-2021)
  • Negaunee Foundation Ltd: $260,000 (2020-2022)
  • Offerdahl Family Foundation: $21,000 (2022)
  • Otis Booth Foundation: $1,200,000 (2013-2022)
  • Percy Fund: $99,000 (2020-2022)
  • Peierls Foundation: $82,400 (2014-2016)
  • Preston B And Maurine M Hotchkis Foundation: $23,000 (2019)
  • Richard C Seaver Charitable Trust 12 28 78: $20,000 (2018)
  • Robert And Audrey Zinser Charitable Foundation: $25,000 (2011)
  • Robert London Moore Jr Foundation: $30,000 (2020-2021)
  • Robert S And Star Pepper Foundation: $315,320 (2013-2022)
  • Rupert H Johnson Jr Foundation: $50,000 (2020)
  • San Diego Foundation: $616,299 (2018-2021)
  • Sarah Scaife Foundation: $625,000 (2020-2021)
  • Schwab Charitable Fund: $982,240 (2014-2021)
  • Searle Freedom Trust: $1,000,000 (2020-2021)
  • Seaver Endowment: $105,000 (2015-2021)
  • Seminar Network Inc: $1,000,000 (2020-2021)
  • Silver Cloud Foundation: $20,000 (2021)
  • Sn Charitable Foundation: $25,000 (2021)
  • Snider Foundation: $318,500 (2018-2021)
  • T Rowe Price Program For Charitable Giving Inc: $51,600 (2020-2022)
  • Teshinsky Family Foundation: $200,000 (2010-2019)
  • Thornton S Glide Jr And Katrina D Glide Foundation: $20,000 (2017)
  • Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program: $421,200 (2020-2021)
  • Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association: $550,000 (2017-2021)
  • Wood Claeyssens Foundation: $450,000 (2014-2021)

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $25,069,324
  • Total Expenses: $25,562,157
  • Net Assets: $78,044,456


  • Total Revenue: $28,245,541
  • Total Expenses: $20,203,674
  • Net Assets: $71,916,488


  • Total Revenue: $18,386,652
  • Total Expenses: $17,088,511
  • Net Assets: $75,363,001


  • Total Revenue: $16,552,123
  • Total Expenses: $16,476,681
  • Net Assets: $60,258,878


  • Total Revenue: $18,427,010
  • Total Expenses: $15,441,226
  • Net Assets: $61,534


  • Total Revenue: $13,808,393
  • Total Expenses: $6,780,401
  • Net Assets: $58,537,305



As of December 2023, the following individuals were listed as members of PLF’s leadership staff.[10]

In addition to PLF’s leadership team, there are roughly 90 additional staff members, which includes attorneys, litigation fellows, and those who work in communications, outreach, strategic research, and policy. Those employees can be found on PLF’s website.[11]

Executive Leadership

  • Steven D. Anderson, President and CEO
  • James S. Burling, Vice President of Legal Affairs
  • John M. Groen, Executive Vice President and General Counsel
  • Chad Wilcox, Vice President for Operations and Strategy

Senior Attorneys

  • Larry G. Salzman, Vice President for Litigation, Policy and Research
  • Steve Simpson, Director of Separation of Powers Litigation
  • Robert H. Thomas, Director of Property Rights Litigation
  • Joshua P. Thompson, Director of Equality and Opportunity Litigation
  • J. David Breemer, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Oliver J. Dunford, Senior Attorney (Separation of Powers)
  • Brian T. Hodges, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Deborah J. La Fetra, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Christina M. Martin, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Jeffrey W. McCoy, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Mark Miller, Senior Attorney (Property Rights)
  • Glenn E. Roper, Senior Attorney (Equality and Opportunity)

Former Staff

Though not a constituting a comprehensive list, the following individuals were formerly PLF staff:

  • Robin L. Rivett, President
  • Richard P. Green, Chief Philanthropy Officer
  • M. David Stirling, Counsel

Board of Trustees

Current Trustees

As of December 2023, the following individuals were listed as members of PLF’s Board of Trustees:[12]

  • Brian G. Cartwright (Chair)
  • Robert D. Connors (Vice Chair) — Founder and CEO, R.D. Connors Corporation
  • Robert Best
  • Ross Borba — Borba Agribusiness Services
  • Amy Boulris — Shareholder
  • James L. Cloud — Investor and Consultant
  • Greg M. Evans — President and General Manager, Evans Management Services
  • David Gerson
  • John C. Harris — Chairman and CEO, Harris Farms, Inc.
  • George Kimball — Attorney, Wiggin and Dana
  • Carol Platt Liebau — President, Yankee Institute for Public Policy
  • April J. Morris — Management Consultant
  • Bruce C. Smith — President, Smith Quality Homes
  • Charles W. Trainor — Senior Partner, Trainor Fairbrook
  • Ronald E. Van Buskirk — Partner and General Counsel Emeritus, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  • Jeffrey E. Warren — CEO, Warren & Son
  • John Yoo — Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley

Trustee Emeritus

As of December 2023, the following individuals were listed on the PLF website as trustee emeritus:[13]

  • Thomas G. Bost
  • Jerry W.P. Schauffler
  • Brooks Walker, Jr.
  • Len Frank

Former Trustees

Based on historical information from PLF’s website, the following individuals have formerly served as members of PLF’s board:

  • Robin Arkley, Sr.
  • Richard Albrecht
  • Richard Geary
  • Warner C. Lusardi
  • H. Dixon Montague
  • Donald Joe Willis
  • Leonard S. Frank, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Timothy R. Hall
  • Lorraine O. Legg

Contact Details

EIN: 94-2197343

555 Capitol Mall, Suite 1290
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 419-7111

4440 PGA Boulevard Suite 307
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410
Phone: (561) 691-5000

3100 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 1000
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (202) 888-6881

Twitter: @PacificLegal
Facebook: PacificLegal

Articles and Resources

IRS Form 990 Filings






Related ExposedbyCMD Articles


  1. Pacific Legal Foundation, Property Rights, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  2. Pacific Legal Foundation, About Us, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  3. American Legislative Exchange Council, Civil Justice, organizational website, accessed December 11, 2023.
  4. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, California Assessment Meeting 990914, University of California San Francisco Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Archive, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  5. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, ETS / ACCOMMODATION, University of California San Francisco Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Archive, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  6. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, PUBLIC INTEREST LEGAL FOUNDATIONS, University of California San Francisco Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Archive, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  7. Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, PRO-SMOKING GROUP TAKING ON UC IN COURT, University of California San Francisco Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Archive, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  8. Ira Chinoy and Robert G. Kaiser, “ Decades of Contributions to Conservatism”, Washington Post, May 2, 1999. Accessed December 11, 2023.
  9. Robert G. Kaiser and Ira Chinoy, “Scaife: Funding Father of the Right”, Washington Post, May 2, 1999. Accessed December 11, 2023.
  10. Pacific Legal Foundation, Staff, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  11. Pacific Legal Foundation, Staff, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  12. Pacific Legal Foundation, Board of Trustees, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.
  13. Pacific Legal Foundation, Board of Trustees, Pacific Legal Foundation, Accessed December 11, 2023.