Atlas Network

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The Atlas Network (originally named Atlas Economic Research Foundation) was founded in 1981 by Antony Fisher, who also founded the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).1 It aims to “cultivate” and “strengthen” a global network of partners that promote market-based policy solutions.12 These partners take the form of right-wing think tanks and public policy-oriented institutes. Atlas’ goal is to proliferate think tanks internationally to “promote and protect the legal and economic principles under which corporations can best conduct business.”2


“Why Business Needs Think Tanks”

An undated article titled “Why Business Needs Think Tanks” by Alejandro Chafuen and Leonard Liggio (former President and CEO of Atlas Network, respectively) explains Atlas Network’s focus on fostering think tanks. They wrote that the “secret” about think tanks is that they “can be the most effective, yet subtle, vehicles for influencing the development of public policy and the deliberations of governments.”2 They do this by attempting to “win the respect of journalists and government officials” and “shift the climate of opinion in favour of market approaches.”2


According to its website, as of July 2018, the Atlas Network had 485 partner think tanks and policy institutes in 94 countries.3 Listed partners include:

Tax Exempt Status

The Atlas Network has a tax exempt status, as it is classified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a Section 501(c)(3) organisation.4 Atlas receives around USD$9 million – USD$15 million each year in contributions and grants from donors.567

It does not make its governing documents or conflict of interest policy available to the public.7

Relationship with Tobacco Industry

Funded by Tobacco Companies

The Atlas Network listed British American Tobacco (BAT) as a donor in its 2016 and 2015 Annual Reports,89 and Japan Tobacco International as a donor in its 2016 Annual Report.8 Its 2017 report listed no tobacco companies.10

Internal tobacco industry documents show the Atlas Network has had a longstanding funding relationship with the tobacco industry.

For instance, Philip Morris International (PMI) funding to Atlas continued until at least 20011112 and was occurring regularly from 1993.13 In 1994, PMI gave Atlas US$275,000 for “ongoing activities at the Atlas Foundation”.14 In 1995 PMI contributed $475,000 to Atlas for “Tobacco Issues Management”.15

Board Members and the Tobacco Industry

José René Scull, an Atlas Network Board Member (as at August 2018),16 formerly worked for Philip Morris in South America and Asia. In 1974, Scull was Marketing Manager at Tabacalera Salvadoreña, a Philip Morris subsidiary in El Salvador.17 In the 1980s, he became Vice President Philip Morris Asia,1819 where Scull’s job was, in his own words “to spray the continent with Marlboro”.20 In the late 1980s Scull took up the position of General Manager PMI Venezuela.21 He was approached by Antony Fisher (the founder of the Atlas Network) around 1987 to help set up a think tank in Hong Kong.20 In the early 1990s, Scull left PMI.22

Scott Barbee is Treasurer of the Atlas Network, as at August 2018. He was a member of Atlas Network’s Advisory Council from at least 2010232425 and became a Board Member in 2015.26 As at August 2018, he is owner and President of Aegis Financial Corporation,27 which has held shares valued at more than US$10 million in Alliance One,28 a global tobacco leaf processor whose customers include “all of the major consumer tobacco manufacturers”.29 Other Atlas Network Board members are or have been investors in tobacco companies. For example, Nikolaos Monoylos and Charles Albers, executives of OppenheimerFunds, a company with a history of investing in tobacco shares,30 have been on Atlas’ Board.1631

Other Board members are or have been affiliated with various Atlas think tanks, of which many receive tobacco industry funding.32 For instance, as at August 2018, Linda Whetstone was Chair of the Atlas Network Board and a Board member of the Institute of Economic Affairs16 and George Ohrstrom was an Atlas Board member and Trustee of the Reason Foundation.1633

“Strategic Ally” of the Tobacco Industry

Acted as Intermediary to Disguise Tobacco Industry Links

A 2017 peer-reviewed study by researchers of Simon Fraser University found that the Atlas Network has been a longstanding “strategic ally” of the tobacco industry.32

According to the researchers, one of Atlas’ activities on behalf of the tobacco industry in the 1990s involved channelling payment from RJ Reynolds to an economics professor at George Mason University, James Bennett, for writing and publicising two books which strongly criticised government-funded tobacco control work.3435 Atlas Network helped obscure the tobacco industry’s involvement in the books.32

Fostered Neo-Liberal Think Tanks Globally

The Atlas Network has used donations it receives to fund think tanks globally.36 A report by the Center for Media and Democracy states Atlas has given over $20 million in grants to its partner think tanks since 1981, through money received from donors.37

In a 1998 letter to Phillip Morris, Atlas’ CEO Chafuen explained it uses industry donations to select and fund individuals or organisations to help establish them as “a legitimate organization” that can spread ideas about “individual rights”, “limited government” and “free enterprise”.38 In another letter to PMI, Chafuen and Executive Vice President Liggio stated “a culture of liberty can only exist if it nurtured, and it is the role of institutes, like those supported by Atlas, to carry on that important work.”39

Atlas’ goal was to enable the sponsored think tanks to become “one of the first places opinion leaders and policy-makers go when they are looking for market-based solutions to difficult social, economic or environmental problems”.38

Enhanced Philip Morris’ “Operating Environment”

Philip Morris has viewed Atlas’ activities as important for their business. One PMI document on ‘External Affairs’ discussed how the company could best shape the “political, regulatory and attitudinal environment”, and lists the Atlas Foundation as a possible partner that could help to achieve this goal.40 Another PMI document explained that “the mission, ideals and activities of the foundation enhance an improved operating environment for all PM businesses”.41

Events and Publications to Advance Industry Interests

A common activity of the Atlas Network has been to host, promote and publicise workshops, conferences and reports that promote neoliberalism and the role of think tanks, and advance tobacco manufacturers’ interests.42 Atlas has also promoted partner events such as The Heartland Institute and Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance events on “Vaping and Harm Reduction”4344 and the African Liberty Forum.45 In 2018, Atlas promoted the 26th State Policy Network (SPN) Annual Meeting which includes networking and discussion sessions sponsored by PMI and Altria, respectively.46

Downplayed Second Hand Smoke/ Lung Cancer Risk

Internal tobacco industry documents show that Atlas worked on behalf of the tobacco industry following the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 1993 report which found second hand smoke caused lung cancer.47 In particular, Atlas had a close working relationship with the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) and its Director Dr Fred Singer.

SEPP was an organisation set up by PMI’s Public Relations (PR) firm APCO Associates.48 Singer wrote an opinion editorial on “junk science and indoor air quality” which appears to have been commissioned by PMI.49 He also prepared a report, funded by the Tobacco Institute, that discredited the second hand smoke/ lung cancer link reported by the EPA.505152 Atlas hosted events and conferences that enabled Singer’s claims to gain more prominence. For example, in 1997, the Atlas Network sponsored Singer to deliver a keynote at the launch of the Instituto Libertad y Desarollo’s new Environmental Centre in Chile.53 The event was attended by many high profile national and international figures. Leading media outlets published or broadcast interviews with Singer, and “Atlas colleagues arranged meetings for him with senior officials and academics”.53 Atlas also hosted a workshop in Beijing, China in April 1995, with Singer listed as a guest speaker.54 It is not clear whether Singer spoke about second hand smoke at these events. However, internal tobacco industry documents from 1994 shows PMI planned event and conference opportunities around the theme of “ETS Science/ Junk Science”, with Atlas Economic Research Foundation listed as a potential partner.5556

SEPP shared office space and the same physical address as Atlas for at least six years, between 1996 and 2002.5758 Singer was in Room 101, 4084 University Drive while Atlas was in Room 103.59 According to corporate watchdog SourceWatch “Atlas provided a grant…to facilitate the move and help fund the organization during its first year in Fairfax”,60 and SEPP was later transferred to the George Mason University.60

Helped Oppose Tobacco Regulation in Latin America

Atlas appears to have played a particular role in helping the tobacco industry oppose tobacco control measures in Latin America.

In 1999, an internal PMI document shows the company intended to give the Atlas Network US$150,000.41 Unknown, Request for Submission of Grant over $50,000, February 1999, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Bates no: 2077467233, accessed August 2018[/ref] The memo states that PMI expected Atlas to use the funds to “positively impact the regulatory environment, particularly in Latin America”.41 The document also states “in 1999 the Foundation will focus its activities on and assist think tanks and institutes specifically in Latin America….rule of law and litigation prevention issues have become increasingly topical in numerous Latin American countries.”41 Another internal PMI document shows that in February 1999 Tom Borelli from PMI “discussed International Litigation Issues with Atlas Foundation”.61

Around that time, BAT and PMI were working on the “Latin Project”, which aimed to deflect attention away from evidence suggesting second hand smoke was harmful to health, and delay or weaken laws to regulate second hand smoke.62 Rocio Guijarro from Venezuelan think tank Centro de Divulgacion del Conocimiento Economico Para La Libertad (CEDICE), an Atlas partner, is on record as saying CEDICE had previously worked on publications “together with Atlas” on a project to do with “the war against the tobacco companies”.63 Atlas hosted workshops in Latin America with speakers from CEDICE and other partners on ‘Think Tanks and Civil Society’ and ‘Challenges to the Open Society at the End of the Century’ in June 1998, which PMI Executive Matthew Winokur was invited to attend.64

Promoter of “Economic Benefit of Tobacco Industry”

In September 1998, BAT proposed to Atlas Network’s Chaufen and Liggio to organise an economic forum to debate the “most appropriate means of demonstrating the economic benefit of the tobacco industry”.65 Bob Orzakowski from the Tobacco Institute had recommended Atlas to BAT for facilitating similar seminars.65

At the time, BAT was expecting the World Bank to publish its report ‘Curbing the Epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control’.6667 BAT wanted to use the outcome of the forum to “challenge the anti-smoking lobby (Bank, WHO) and to represent our position to Government in the best way”.65

Chaufen and Liggio liked BAT’s suggestion of the forum, suggesting that “the debate include the drinks industry as well” and should include a “maximum of 30 scholars,
half from developing countries (to be selected by British American Tobacco?)”. BAT was happy for Atlas to invite their own contacts, noting that “this should not distract from our ‘control’ and nominations’.65 It is unclear if an actual event took place.


The Atlas Network has been closely associated with the Mont Pelerin Society, an international organisation of free-market economists, high government officials, business leaders and journalists with a declared objective of “strengthening the principles and practice of a free society”.68 Four of the Atlas Network Board Members are or have been members of the Mont Pelerin Society, as have Atlas CEOs Brad Lips, Alejandro Chafuen, and (now deceased) Leonard Liggio.1669
The Atlas Network is also affiliated with the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing think tanks operating across the USA.7071

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