Clint Bolick and the Goldwater Institute Quietly Transforming the Country
by Rachel Alexander
October 3, 2012

While national political campaigns and politicians are regularly featured in the news for their accomplishments on the right, one small state-based think tank is quietly grinding away victory after victory. The Goldwater Institute was already a leading state-based think tank when libertarian lawyer Clint Bolick came on board five years ago to launch a litigation division. Since then, Bolick has greatly expanded the reach of the right-leaning think tank, filing lawsuits against all levels of government to protect taxpayers and businesses from government overreach. Bolick’s favorite line, which he says with a grin, is, “I get paid to sue government bureaucrats.”

Bolick’s litigation against government dates back to his days at The Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest litigation firm he co-founded with Chip Mellor in 1991. Between his tenure at the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute, Bolick served as President and General Counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, where he became a hero of the school choice movement, aggressively defending tuition voucher programs around the country. Bolick has successfully won landmark precedents defending school choice, freedom of enterprise, private property rights and challenging corporate subsidies and racial classifications.

Phoenix Magazine calls the Goldwater Institute “a ninja-lawyer squad.” Conservative writer George Will wrote in 2010, “Pound for pound, the Goldwater Institute is the best (state-level) think tank in the country.” The Goldwater Institute was launched in 1988, appropriately named after Arizona’s famous conservative, the late Barry Goldwater. Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was the Executive Director, and left a few years later to run for Congress. The Institute built up a respected reputation as a public policy think tank, issuing exhaustively researched policy reports about local government. Darcy Olsen, a bright young visionary, became President and CEO in 2001 and wisely expanded the organization by bringing in Bolick to start a litigation center, the first of its kind for a state-based policy group.

One of the Goldwater Institute’s first most notable victories was taking down Arizona’s publicly-funded political campaign system, Clean Elections. Clean Elections is funded by traffic tickets and taxpayers who choose to contribute $5 on their taxes, which reduces their taxes by $5. Implemented by voters through a ballot initiative in 2000, the agency immediately began aggressively targeting conservative candidates. In 2002, Matt Salmon, the Republican candidate for governor, was harshly penalized by Clean Elections through its “matching funds” provision. Salmon was the only major gubernatorial candidate who declined to run using Clean Elections funding. Anytime he raised private funds, Clean Elections would award a matching amount to his opponents, including Democratic candidate Janet Napolitano.

Even more grossly unfair was that Salmon was essentially penalized by Clean Elections for his expenses. When President Bush came to Arizona and raised $750,000 for Salmon, Salmon only received $500,000, since $250,000 went to expense the fundraiser. Yet Napolitano and another opponent were each awarded a full $750,000 in matching funds. Another way Salmon was penalized was by matching independent expenditures. When Republicans spent $330,000 to help Salmon, Clean Elections wrote checks for that amount to both of Salmon’s opponents. Yet when the Democrats spent $1 million to help Napolitano, no such matching check went to Salmon. Napolitano narrowly won the race, no doubt aided by Clean Elections.

The Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit in January 2004 spearheaded by its other top litigator, Nick Dranias, against the state, alleging that the matching-funds provision was unconstitutional. In June 2011, the Supreme Court struck down that provision, significantly dismantling the program. Now, what remains of Clean Elections has been reduced to mostly voter education and outreach.

The Institute has aggressively started going after unions in Arizona, which are bankrupting the state. Bolick filed a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix last year over its practice of paying police officers “release time,” which allows officers to spend thousands of hours performing union work while getting paid by the taxpayers. The trial court has issued an injunction prohibiting the practice while the case winds its way through the legal system.

In 2010, the Goldwater Institute championed the Save Our Secret Ballot constitutional amendment, and it was subsequently voted into law in four states. That same year, the Institute sued the City of Phoenix over a $97.4 million subsidy to the real estate developer CityNorth to build a high-end retail development. Bolick argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that the subsidy violated the state constitution’s gift clause, and although the court did not disallow the incentive, it ruled that in the future there must be additional considerations when providing subsidies to private entities. CityNorth proved to be an unsuccessful venture, and today stands mostly vacant.

The Institute has not been shy about taking on powerful, moderate Republican politicians. It successfully sued Republican Tom Horne, Arizona’s Attorney General, when he tried to restrict the ability of charter schools to choose their own curriculum. Bolick stood up to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) when McCain backed the City of Glendale’s attempt to subsidize the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team with government bonds, in order to entice the team not to leave the state.

One of the Institute’s biggest lawsuits currently is against Obamacare. challenging the creation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board—the all-powerful healthcare rationing agency that is set to launch in 2014. Concurrently, the Goldwater Institute drafted the Healthcare Freedom Act, which has been adopted by 10 states and will be on the ballot in four more this fall.

The Goldwater Institute has successfully sued over government transparency. When a school board in the little town of Congress, AZ, tried to prohibit taxpayers from filing public records requests, the Institute sued on behalf of taxpayers and won, setting a precedent around the state ensuring this would never happen again. The Institute filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Corporation Commission in June 2008 challenging its efforts to require renewable-energy standards. The Institute stood up for free speech and won a lawsuit to allow voters to wear a Tea Party shirt into a polling place.

Bolick goes around the country helping similar public policy groups start litigation divisions modeled after the Goldwater Institute’s model. Local governments in Arizona now turn to the Institute first when planning new funding schemes, in order to avoid lawsuits later. While some on the right are critical of using the courts to effect policy, labeling it “judicial activism,” Bolick would argue that we don’t have a choice. These kinds of issues are ultimately being decided by the courts whether we like it or not, so why not choose the best cases now for the maximum advantage, instead of being blindsided by them later?

The number of people whose lives have been touched by the Institute keeps increasing. One mother discovered the Educational Savings Accounts advocated by the Institute, and was able to put her special needs child in a private school that could properly educate him. Parent Katherine Visser said, “It allows parents to have a choice they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s been a Godsend.”

The Goldwater Institute may not receive the media coverage that Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker does when he takes on the unions, nor is it a favorite juicy target of the unions, but perhaps that is why it is so successful. Respected by everyone on the right, with an impressive record of raising funding, Bolick and Olsen have developed the Institute to a level that should be emulated by right-leaning organizations everywhere.


  1. I’m just sure I could here “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” while reading this. What a syrupy, self-serving piece of crap this is. While an occasional cause taken on by this Libertarian loblolly might be guardedly deemed as “admirable”, the overwhelming number of “issues” posted here by this stink tank are pure B.S. and are anything BUT “right leaning.”

    It was just two weeks ago that Clint Bolick [bolshevik] was out hawking his upcoming book on immigration “reform” (co-authored with amnesty pimp Jeb Bush) which is nothing more that a pants drop and cheek spread for invading illegal aliens. WHO will buy this invader-promoting propaganda?

    The Goldwater In-duh-toot, in my opinion, is a dangerous Libertarian brothel that is better defined as “lib-leaning”, and they should simply fold-in with the Communist – socialist rabble currently festering and metastasizing at Arizona State University. At least there we can keep an eye on them, like a corral of jackals.

  2. Conservative American says

    Now what do Jeff Flake and “libertarian lawyer” Clint Bolick have in common? First of all, both were or are with the Goldwater Institute! Jeff Flake was the Executive Director. What else do they have in common?

    Jeff Flake co-authored, along with Chicago “progressive” Democrat Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the STRIVE Act amnesty which was co-sponsored by then U. S. Congressman Rahm Emanuel. Flake’s STRIVE Act contained hidden within it Obama’s DREAM Act amnesty! Well, what does that have to do with Clint Bolick?

    “Clint Bolick discusses upcoming book on Immigration Reform on AZPBS’ Horizon”

    “September 20, 2012 By Sonoran Alliance”

    “Goldwater Institute extraordinaire appeared on Arizona KAET’s Horizon Wednesday night discussing
    his upcoming book on immigration reform. Clint will be co-authoring this work with former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. The book is scheduled for release next May.”

    Clint was clear that he is doing this on his own because not even everyone at the Goldwater Institute agrees with his “immigration reform”.

    The Goldwater Institute just informed us about a “must see” movie, “Won’t Back Down”, promoting parent trigger laws and charter schools. What they failed to disclose is that Clint Bolick is on the Board of Directors of BASIS charter schools!

    The “right-leaning think tank”, as the article calls it, is leaning alright but there might be some confusion as to which direction it’s leaning! With any luck at all, it might even lean far enough to fall over!

  3. Reality Check says

    “What they failed to disclose is that Clint Bolick is on the Board of Directors of BASIS charter schools!”

    Is there something wrong with being associated with some of top ranked charter schools (or publically funded schools of any kind of that matter) in the entire county? It’s not like it is a secret.

    • Conservative American says

      Are you REALLY that ignorant, Reality Check, or are you just playing Liberal games?

      “A conflict of interest (COI) occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.”

      “The presence of a conflict of interest is independent from the execution of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs.”

      The Goldwater Institute promoted on this website the movIe “Won’t Back Down” as a means of promoting “parent trigger” laws and charter shcools. They knowingly failed to disclose that one of their employees, Clint Bolick, sits on the Board of Directors of a charter school. THAT is a conflict of interest which should have been disclosed. How so?

      Bolick is probably not receiving any compensation for his service on the Board of Directors of BASIS charter schools but we don’t know if that is the case or not.

      Even if Bolick isn’t compensated monetarily, by sitting on the Board of Directors he is enhancing his resume and adding to the appearance of expertise in the area of charter schools. That has value for him.

      Next, as a member of the Board of Directors, Bolick has influence over a charter school, the very same type of shcool which the Goldwater Institute is promoting.

      There is probably not a conflict of interest legally in terms of Bolick having represented BASIS charter schools in court, which he also did. Furthermore, the client can grant a waiver of conflict of interest.

      Where conflict of interest comes into play here is where the Goldwater Institute uses an article on this website to promote “parent trigger” laws and charter shcools and fails to tell readers that their employee, Clint Bollick, sits on the Board of Directors of BASIS charter schools AND that he represented them in court! What is the problem with that as far as Sonoran Alliance readers are concerned?

      The impression given to SA readers is that while the Goldwater Institute supports “parent trigger” laws and charter shcools that neither they nor any of their employees have a direct interest in the operation of, management of or direction of any charter school. That, of course, is not the case!

      Of course, since you are a Liberal, you find that sort of failure to disclose acceptable as “the end justifies the means”, according to the Marxist principle.

      Have a nice day, Liberal Check! 🙂

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