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Mountain States Legal Foundation

Mountain States Legal Foundation
2596 South Lewis Way
Lakewood, CO 80227

The self-described "litigation arm of Wise Use" (the anti-environmental movement that fights the Endangered Species Act, and promotes property rights over conservation), the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) was founded in 1977 under the aegis of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, which provided a $58,000 startup grant. Its founder was former Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt. A large portion of MSLF's initial funding came from the Coors Corporation and Joseph Coors. Their offices are in Lakewood, Colorado and they have 15 employees, including 8 attorneys.

MSLF files amicus briefs as well as litigates on a variety of issues including the environment, property rights and limited government. However, most of their activity is dedicated to protecting the rights of property owners in the midwest, particularly against environmental laws. MSLF is a leader in the Wise Use movement, organizing the first ever conference on the topic in 1988 in Reno, Nevada. MSLF also features a monthly column by their president William Pendley, who frequently delivers speeches on property rights throughout the country.

Many MSLF trained attorneys have gone on to other legal foundations or government posts, including Gale Norton, the current Secretary of the Interior, who was a Senior Attorney at MSLF from 1979-1983. Before moving on to Reagan's Interior Department Norton regularly used the Fifth Amendment takings clause to argue that the government should pay financial compensation whenever environmental laws limited a developer's real or potential profits.

"We might even go so far as to recognize a homesteading right to pollute or to make noise in an area. This approach would eliminate some of the theoretical problems with defining a nuisance," she wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy back in 1990. (An argument she distanced herself from during her Senate confirmation hearing. See David Helvarg's article on Gail Norton for more

While Norton was Colorado Attorney General (1991-1998), she pushed voluntary compliance programs for industrial polluters, and is a staunch advocate of property rights, believing the government should compensate developers when regulations limit their profits. Clint Bollick and William Mellor left MSLF to found the Institute for Justice, while Roger and Nancy Marzulla went on to found Defenders of Property Rights. Anne Gorsuch-Burford went from MSLF to head the EPA during the Reagan administration, a position she left in disgrace. Karen Budd-Falen went from MSLF to the Reagan Interior Department, where she worked as an attorney.

Funding: In 2002 MSLF had $2,287,367 in revenues, $2,118,638 in expenses, with assets of nearly $ 3 million and liabilities of $730,881. Major funding sources include the Castle Rock Foundation ($75,000 in 2002), Carthage Foundation ($25,000 in 2002), the Bradley Foundation and JM Foundation. Corporate funding has come from ExxonMobil, Phillips Petroleum, Texaco, and US Steel (USX).

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