R Street Institute

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R Street Institute
Motto Free markets. Real solutions.
Formation 2012
Type Public Policy Think Tank
Headquarters 1050 17th Street NW, Suite 1150
Washington, DC 20001
Eli Lehrer
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015) $3,471,241[1]
Website www.rstreet.org

The R Street Institute is an American conservative and libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.. The Institute's stated mission is to “engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.”[2] R Street was established in 2012 when its founders split from the Heartland Institute out of disagreement with Heartland's public denial of the scientific opinion on climate change. In addition to its Washington headquarters, R Street has branch offices in Tallahassee, Florida; Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Sacramento, CA; and Round Rock, TX.[3]


On May 4, 2012, the Heartland Institute launched a digital billboard ad campaign in the Chicago area featuring a photo of Ted Kaczynski, (the "Unabomber"), and asking the question, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”[4] The Institute planned for the campaign to later feature cult leader Charles Manson, communist leader Fidel Castro and perhaps Osama bin Laden, asking the same question. In a statement, the Institute justified the billboards saying "the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."[5] Facing public backlash to the billboards, Heartland canceled the campaign within 24 hours.

Leadership of Heartland’s Washington-based Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, whose work often had been entwined with environmental policies, were quoted in the wake of the billboard campaign noting that they only learned of the campaign from an emailed press release and that it reflected poorly on the center.[6] On May 11, 2012, Heartland announced that the center would spin off into a separate organization, effective May 31.[7]

On May 14, 2012, Slate reported that the spin-off group would be dubbed the R Street Institute and quoted spokesman R.J. Lehmann as noting that, unlike Heartland, R Street “will not promote climate change skepticism.”[8] Following R Street’s break from Heartland, climate activist group Forecast the Facts estimated that roughly $1.3 million of Heartland’s proposed $2.3 million in projected corporate funding had been withdrawn from the institute, as donors Pfizer, Amgen, LKQ, Credit Union National Association, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Verizon, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, BB&T, PepsiCo, Farmers Insurance Group, Eli Lilly, USAA, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., RenaissanceRe, XL Group, Allied World Assurance Co., State Farm, Diageo, ABIR and General Motors all either pulled their sponsorships or announced that they would not support Heartland in the future.[9]


The Institute describes the rationale[10] behind its name as:

Driving northwest from the center of the city, R Street is the first largely residential street to intersect with one of Washington, D.C.’s major arteries—Connecticut Ave. R Street divides lobbyists’ glass office buildings and politicians’ neo-classical palaces from neighborhoods where people live, work, fall in love, have children, pursue happiness and seek out practical solutions to their own problems. And that’s where the R Street Institute wants to be: at the intersection of public policy thought and real life.

Policy areas[edit]

The R Street Institute cites its major areas of operation as domestic policy challenges involving regulation, public health, environmental policy, entitlement reform and the United States federal budget. The Institute is known within the insurance community for its work on catastrophe insurance issues, including through its role as a member of the SmarterSafer.org coalition, a “diverse chorus of voices united in favor of environmentally responsible, fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy that promote public safety.”[11] In addition to R Street, SmarterSafer includes environmental organizations like American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation, taxpayer groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense and the National Taxpayers Union, and insurance companies Allianz, Chubb Corp., Liberty Mutual, USAA and Swiss Re.

The Institute's flagship publication, initiated while still a part of Heartland, is an annual Insurance Regulation Report Card, a state-by-state study of the U.S. insurance regulatory system, examining which states are doing the best job of regulating insurance through limited, effective and efficient government. The 2012 report card measured states on 14 variables, including the concentration of home and auto insurance markets and relative size of residual markets; the effectiveness of state solvency and fraud regulation; the transparency and politicization of insurance regulation; the tax and fee burden placed on insurance markets and the proportion of fees used to support insurance regulation; and the relative freedom granted to insurers to set risk-based rates, including through the use of credit and territorial information. Vermont was judged to have the best environment for insurance regulation, while Florida, the lone state to earn an F grade, was judged to have the worst.[12]

The Institute has also worked on environmental projects, including co-sponsoring the annual Green Scissors report with Friends of the Earth and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The 2012 report recommended nearly $700 billion in cuts to wasteful and environmentally harmful federal spending.[13] The Institute has also published papers advocating linking the federal crop insurance program to conservation compliance standards[14] and withholding state insurance subsidies in coastal regions of Florida.[15]

In addition to its insurance and environmental work, R Street has published research on member business lending by credit unions, tobacco harm reduction and tax reform.


R Street’s founding staff were all former employees for the Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, who resigned en masse following Heartland’s Unabomber billboard campaign. They included President Eli Lehrer, Editor-in-Chief Director R.J. Lehmann, Florida Director Christian Cámara, Texas Director Julie Drenner, Midwest Director Alan Smith and Senior Fellow Don Brown. That group has since been joined by Executive Director Andrew Moylan, Operations Director Erica Schoder, Digital Director Zach Graves, Outreach Director Lori Sanders, Innovation Policy Director Mike Godwin, Crimimal Justice Director Arthur Rizer, and Senior Fellow Joel Nitzkin, among others.[16]

Scholars and affiliates[edit]

R Street also maintains a network of fellows associated with the Institute. These include Derek Khanna of Fenwick & West, Emily Zanotti of the American Spectator, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, Lars Powell of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, Brad Rodu of the University of Louisville, former Washington, D.C. Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel, former South Carolina Insurance Commissioner Scott Richardson, and Marni Soupcoff of the Huffington Post.[17]

A legislative advisory board, made up of state legislators from around the country, helps to advise R Street leadership on state-level legislative issues. Its members include Sen. Joel Anderson (R-CA); Sen. Kevin Bacon (R-OH); Sen. Alan Hays (R-FL); Del. Michael Hough (R-MD); Rep. Jason Isaac (R-TX); Senate Minority Leader William Payne (R-NM); Rep. Kim Koppelman (R-ND); and Rep. Don Vaughan (D-NC).


The R Street Institute is overseen by an independent board of directors that sets the organization’s major policies and exercises fiduciary oversight. Current members of the board are:


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°54′13″N 77°01′18″W / 38.9035°N 77.0218°W / 38.9035; -77.0218