by Marion Nestle
Oct 18 2011

What is the Washington Legal Foundation?

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) placed an ad in yesterday’s New York Times.  

The Real Nutritional Guidelines

The ad continues:

Paternalistic plaintiffs’ lawyers, government officials, and professional activists are pecking away at consumers’ freedom of choice. They think we can’t manage our own lives, and through lawsuits, regulations, and taxes, they want to make our food choices for us—while profiting handsomely in the process. If we let these New Prohibitionists eat off our plates today, what other personal freedoms will they target tomorrow?

Help us defend consumer choice at

The website lists cigarette companies as clients:

The Washington Legal Foundation advocates for a free market economy, a common sense legal system, a transparent and accountable government, and a strong national defense. Our legal team shapes legal policy through aggressive litigation and advocacy at all levels of the judiciary and the policy-making arena.

Aggressive?  Clearly.

I’m not familiar with this group.  Could it possibly be connected to the Center for Consumer Freedom?

If you know anything about the WLF, do tell.

Addition, October 19: Thanks to readers for the enlightening comments.  One sent this document, in which WLF explains its mission.

If consumer protection were the real goal [of consumer advocates], then special interest ideologues would applaud businesses’ vigorous self-regulation of their advertising, and advocate viable, non-censorship solutions such as increased enforcement of underage drinking laws and more education on healthy food.

Instead of dumbing down America through activism, why not focus our efforts on real problems we face and produce drugs and vaccines to deal with pandemics, bioterrorism, and cancer. These are critical challenges that make the radical causes of self-anointed consumer advocates look petty and hopelessly irrelevant.

Reversing childhood obesity is a radical cause?  I’m for it!

  • I saw the same ad over the weekend and assumed this has to be a branch of the CCF. If not, they’re certainly covering the same ground, using the same language and tactics. I’ll let you know if I can find out more.

  • Oh, and look at this! Daniel Popeo — founder and chairman of Washington Legal Foundation — is a contributor for Forbes. In this piece from this past February, he trots out the usual “food activists are out of control” argument (he mentions you, Dr. Nestle, along with David Kessler and Kelly Brownell):

  • Washington Legal Foundation received a $30,000 grant from the Pepsico. Foundation in 2010, $30,000 in 2009 under the category “corporate citizenship,”and $25,000 in 2008 for “corporate citizenship.”

  • Emma

    Thanks for the quick research, Andy and Cara! I hadn’t seen the ad and am disturbed– you have to admit it’s quite a good ad.

    Incidentally, anyone else seen this? Michael Pollan posted it on his site and it’s quite good:

  • I listed the Washington Legal Foundation in my book under Guide to Industry Groups, legal (p. 333). They are well-known to the plaintiffs bar, not an offshoot of CCF, but a close cousin for sure. For years they’ve been trying to dismantle civil litigation under the guise of “tort reform,” along with other right wing groups.

    In addition to the Sourcewatch entry Andy posted (I always look to Sourcewatch first for info on front groups), I suggest folks Google: “Washington Legal Foundation” obesity. The results will give you a very good idea of what they stand for. I found this gem, just for starters:

  • We see that some of you have helped Dr. Nestle with her questions.

    Please allow us to offer further elaboration:

  • Teresa Heald

    The other commentators did indeed offer answers to Dr. Nestle’s questions. That does not necessarily imply that she is incompetent or needs “help”, if that is what you were trying to say.
    As for “further elaboration”, I can only say that it is not necessary- your ad speaks for itself.

  • Anthro

    Why are they so afraid?

    An entire organization devoted to defending a right to “choose” that is not in any way infringed upon by any public health efforts–what a waste.

    How does attempting to educate the public and protect children from predatory advertising in any way affect anyone’s choice of food or food-like products?

    It’s good to know they feel threatened enough to spend their money on full-page NYT ads–oh wait, ads are cheap now because no one reads the paper anymore!

    I’ll just take this ad as evidence that Dr. Nestle, Michael Pollan, Michele Simon, Michelle Obama, and films like Food, Inc., are making the BigFood industry nervous–not for “choice”, but for their pocketbooks.

  • The Washington Legal Foundation is one of the top three right wing bad legal organizations behind the Federalist Society and the Chamber of Commerce’s legal arm. They have a staff of about 25 and a $3 million budget, and they file lots of antiregulatory cases in support of major industries’ efforts to eliminate health, safety and other important protections. They’re now working on stopping the Delaware Basin lawsuit. They specialize in trying to weaken the FDA. They have been funded by major industry players such as the Philip Morris and Exxon-Mobil and by far right funders including Koch, Scaife, and Bradley Foundations. Here’s some background: Sourcewatch (, Media Matters Action Network (

  • Jarvis

    The WLF is certainly no advocate for public health.
    Despite the caricatures, the barrage of loaded words and the fabricated falsehoods, consumers are starting realize that habitual consumption of most of the fake food products made by WLF sponsors clog the arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes.

  • Judy

    This group was also the author of an article that bizarrely implies that the (now scuttled by industry groups) IWG proposal to recommend elimination of branded characters like Ronald McDonald would decimate private philanthropy efforts.