The Pursuits Of Liberty

An illustration with Socrates, books, a Greek column, and the Liberty Fund headquarters

This story contains references to suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

In June 2021, family, friends, and former co-workers gathered in a banquet room at Harbour Trees Golf and Beach Club in Noblesville to celebrate the life of Nico Maloberti. Mourners remembered the 46-year-old, who spoke in a soft accent that followed him from his native Argentina, as gentle and kind and principled. He was known as the “nicest guy in the club,” the member recounted at the service, adding that some of the guys joked about hiring Nico to follow them around on the course as a morale booster just to say, “Good shot, Johnny!” He was a man who once disqualified himself during a club golf tournament for a rules violation. On the second day of the tournament, one of his partners texted him: “Nico, you don’t have to do this. We’re in last place.”

But some in attendance knew Maloberti had been troubled of late; they came looking for answers. Why had this loving husband and stepfather taken his own life?

Maloberti’s death was shocking, of course, because suicides almost always are. Easy explanations don’t suffice. Complicated ones can cloud more than clarify. Here at the memorial, loved ones—those who knew Nico Maloberti best—were naturally frustrated by both. But to an even greater extent, Maloberti’s inner circle was unsettled by details of an opaque workplace drama that had consumed the final years of his life and now seemed to take on added significance.

On June 21, the day before Maloberti died, he sent multiple emails to the Liberty Fund, Maloberti’s former employer. In and of itself, the act wasn’t unusual. He had been gone from the organization for just a few weeks. As an employee, Maloberti seems to have been a prolific communicator during the last years of his tenure with the powerful, private education foundation. He had served there for nearly 14 years until May, when he was fired over the phone on his way to work. After his termination, Maloberti told confidants that the dismissal was punishment for a yearslong series of events in which he alleged mission drift, deficient management practices, and potential tax negligence, despite asking for whistleblower protections from at least one of the Liberty Fund’s officers. According to the Liberty Fund’s board of directors, Maloberti’s concerns were shared with the board, thoroughly investigated, acted upon, and no actions were taken against Maloberti as a result of any concerns he raised regarding any Liberty Fund matter. Further, the board of directors says his position was eliminated along with four others from multiple departments as part of a strategic shift in priorities and programming recommended by Liberty Fund’s president and CEO, Sean Shelby, and supported by the Liberty Fund’s board of directors in May 2021.

But the content of at least one of the June 21 emails alarmed its recipients, and in a message sent to three men—Sean Shelby, board member and former president Emilio Pacheco, and chairman of the board Nate Feltman—Maloberti revealed that he hadn’t quite been himself, was working with his doctor to find the right dosage for an Adderall prescription, and apologized for the intensity of his past criticisms of the Liberty Fund and its leadership. Though Maloberti asked to return to his old job, he did not retract his previous accusations in that email.

The Liberty Fund wouldn’t comment on the record regarding any written response to what it considered a concerning email from Maloberti, but its recipients felt he needed help. According to a statement from the board of directors, they put Maloberti in touch with the Liberty Fund’s employee-assistance program, and Shelby contacted the police department in Noblesville where Maloberti lived. A spokesperson with the Noblesville Police Department says officers paid a wellness check to Maloberti’s home in the Harbour Trees community. Maloberti met with officers, told them he was working with his doctor, and said he was feeling better. But, by the next evening, a 911 operator dispatched the Hamilton County coroner to the home.

Since his passing, Nico Maloberti’s concerns about the direction of the organization have been amplified by a number of his former associates.  

Maloberti’s wife, Anne—who did not comment on the record for this story—wouldn’t learn of the emails or police visit for 24 to 48 hours after her husband’s death, according to a person close to the family. The Liberty Fund board of directors told Indianapolis Monthly they “were devastated at the news of Mr. Maloberti’s passing and have done all we can to support his family.”

Did the high-minded Maloberti meet the legal definition of a whistleblower? That’s uncertain. But since his passing, Maloberti’s concerns about the direction of the organization have been amplified in both public and private by a contingent of academics, some of whom have been affiliated with the Liberty Fund for decades. They believe—as did Maloberti—the foundation is being turned into a political tool against the wishes of its long-deceased founder, the son of a former Indiana governor, and in the process may have skirted rules that govern nonprofits. Even the mere perception of impropriety could have far-reaching consequences for the foundation, which, bolstered by a $378 million endowment, was established in 1960 “to foster thought and encourage discussion of enduring issues pertaining to liberty.”

The mission statement is idealistic, but one of the many questions Maloberti leaves behind is whether that kind of idealism can survive in the zero-sum political age.

A photo of a man becoming distressed
Pierre F. Goodrich, founder of the Liberty Fund, had an idealistic vision for his nonprofit. Over time, critics say, that organization has strayed from its roots.

THE FAÇADES of the Liberty Fund’s headquarters in Carmel are something to behold. Pass them while driving, and it’s hard not to gawk. Nestled along U.S. 31 on 8.5 acres, the soaring west-facing elevation of its $22 million building showcases a glass-covered frieze that memorializes the great thinkers who have shaped society’s understanding of liberty. Their names—dozens—are etched onto transparent metal mesh shades. Moses. Homer. Locke. Chaucer.

The eastern façade of the structure is marked by a giant cuneiform inscription of the phrase “amagi,” which translates to “return to the mother.” Some scholars believe amagi was an idiom to communicate the concept of liberty or freedom. In the late 1800s, French archaeologists found the expression carved on a clay tablet that dated to around 2300 B.C. in a dig near a Sumerian city-state located midway between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers—the grade-school history-book cradle of civilization. Here, the massive inscription on the building’s exterior forms an arrow-like symbol that looks like something from an Indiana Jones movie or an attraction at Disney. Whether by coincidence or design, it also points right, which, some have joked, mimics Liberty’s political bent. That doesn’t seem to be what Pierre F. Goodrich had in mind when he founded the organization more than 60 years ago. The eccentric businessman was a lifelong learner who “believed that education in a free society requires a dialogue centered in the great ideas of civilization,” according to the organization’s website.

Goodrich was born in Winchester, Indiana, in 1894. Following the great tradition of Hoosier-izing international pronunciations, he called himself “Peer,” losing the required extra syllable rather than adopting the more traditional-sounding French pronunciation. In 1912, he enrolled at Wabash College, where he studied the humanities, before enrolling at Harvard Law School. Goodrich later joined Wabash as a trustee and as president of People’s Loan and Trust. In 1938, his father, James P. Goodrich, donated Goodrich Hall, which houses Wabash’s mathematics, computer science, and physics departments. In 1959, the younger Goodrich made his own contribution to campus with the Goodrich Seminar Room inside the Lilly Library of Wabash College. Not unlike the Liberty Fund’s façade, the names of the authors of the great books of liberty are etched onto its limestone walls.

Goodrich died in 1973 one of Indiana’s richest men.

But more than material goods, Goodrich was devoted to the life of the mind. In 1947, he became president of the Chicago-based Great Books Foundation, which created reading and discussion groups for people centered on the historical classics of the canon. Not long after, he joined the Mont Pelerin Society, a collection of economists, philosophers, and businessmen, and waxed poetic with conservative economists, theorists, and academics like Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.

In June of 1997, the estate of Pierre’s widow, Enid, made an $80 million contribution to Liberty, boosting its resources. By then, the Fund had gained a quiet but influential perch in the broader conservative movement. In a New York Times op-ed, Donald T. Critchlow, the Katzin Family Professor of History at Arizona State University, argued the Liberty Fund was part of a conservative intellectual network that included the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Heritage Foundation and “prepared the ground for Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.”

Unlike its contemporaries, though, Liberty was less concerned with tangible policy outcomes and more focused on inputs: the kind of deep reading and deep thinking that resulted from unfettered conversations at Liberty’s conferences. David M. Hart is a former Liberty Fund employee who was terminated in a restructuring by the nonprofit 20 months before Maloberti. Hart wrote on his blog that the means to Goodrich’s goal “was not to engage in current policy debates or criticism, or party political activity, or journalism, but much more general, longer-term educational and academic activity which would focus on the long history of thinking about liberty and power which stretched back over two and a half thousand years. This approach could be summarized as the study and appreciation of the ideas which lay behind current politics and political practices by a close reading of ‘the great books of liberty’ which [Goodrich] had spent so much time and energy in identifying during the 1950s.”

In his book, The Goodriches: An American Family, Dane Starbuck, a Carmel lawyer and board member, noted that “Liberty Fund is purely an educational foundation and is unique for what it is not. For instance, it does not (and cannot by law) engage in politics or political action of any kind. It does not, as do such traditional think tanks as the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute, concern itself with influencing topical political debate.”

The Liberty Fund spreads the gospel of Goodrich through a variety of methods. It was an early advocate of the Great Books movement, an emphasis on community learning and reading classic books that began in the 1920s, and republishes classic texts that explore the meaning of liberty across many disciplines, including economics, political thought, history, and law. The 61,000-square-foot headquarters houses a 50,000-book collection, including rare copies of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and documents from America’s founding.

Impressive as that may sound, the real spectacle is a Liberty Fund conference, a pinkies-out, invitation-only colloquium. Often hosted at luxury hotels such as the Conrad in Indianapolis, members of the business community and academics of all stripes come together to discuss and debate the meaning of weighty concepts such as individual liberty, power, and justice. These events might end up with a Marxist, a conservative, and a libertarian sharing an evening cocktail at an all-expenses-paid happy hour at an event called “Liberty and Property in the Early Work of Hugo Grotius” or “Power, Redistribution and Liberty in the Writings of Bertrand de Jouvenel.”

Goodrich, though, was concerned about the Liberty Fund becoming involved in explicitly partisan politics. “An individual who becomes actively engaged in political responsibility in a less educational sense (usually referred to as political action) is likely to destroy his usefulness for the purposes of this Fund,” he wrote. An amendment to the Liberty Fund’s articles of incorporation filed with the Indiana secretary of state’s office in 1962 stated that “no part of the activities of the corporation shall be carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation, or participating in, or intervening in (including the publication or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

a man smiling holding a baby
Nicolas Maloberti in happier times. The native of Argentina was 46 when he passed away.

ON JULY 11, shortly after Maloberti’s death, Chandran Kukathas, an Australian political theorist and the former head of the Department of Government at the London School of Economics, wrote to the Liberty Fund board to dissolve his relationship with the nonprofit over its handling of Maloberti’s death and the organization’s shift, which elsewhere he wrote was a “strategic and ethical catastrophe.” (Kukathas is the partner of a former Liberty Fund fellow named Christine Henderson, who left the organization in 2019 to work in Singapore.)

Kukathas took in his first Liberty Fund conference in 1983 when he was still a doctoral student. As an invited guest, Kukathas had attended more than 150 of its conferences in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Canada.

But the Liberty Fund of today had lost confidence in Goodrich’s original vision, Kukathas wrote, and intended to become “an advocacy group, or worse a megaphone for the convictions (in truth, prejudices) of a particular side of politics.”

He fingered as the primary culprit a Liberty Fund website called Law and Liberty. Launched in 2012, the site included essays on the murder of George Floyd, the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the political excommunication of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, and the virtues of Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán.

Though on its website, Liberty Fund features a disclaimer that it “does not engage in political activity or advocacy, nor in policymaking,” some began to find the articles published there increasingly problematic. “You start looking at some of the posts and it’s like now this is an organization that’s been facilitating conferences for a while that’s now coming out and taking certain positions,” says a university professor who has attended Liberty Fund conferences in the past. The site’s forums include “discussions and debates on the pressing issues of our current political scene,” subject matter that seems to exist in tension with the group’s apolitical ethos. “Whether or not Law and Liberty should be regarded as an advocate for the Trump wing of the Republican Party,” Kukathas wrote, “one could be forgiven for assuming that it is. The fact that at least two members of the Liberty Fund board have been vocal advocates for Mr. Trump, and that some others are prominent Republican donors and members, simply gives greater credence to this suspicion.” (He did not name which board members advocated for Trump.) The Liberty Fund board of directors declined to respond on the record to this claim.

But Kukathas saved some of his harshest criticisms for the Liberty Fund’s treatment of Maloberti. In his letter, Kukathas wrote that Maloberti had been trying to “draw attention to the foundation’s drift away from its mission and was rewarded for his selfless actions with dismissal and a form of excommunication so hurtful to him that he took his own life.”

Liberty Fund’s board of directors wrote in a reply to Kukathas obtained by Indianapolis Monthly that his understanding of the matter was “based on misinformation, an inaccurate characterization of the Board’s intentions and actions, and an incomplete picture of business decisions with respect to former employees.” The Fund further responded to Kukathas that “none of the changes we made involved a change in Liberty Fund’s mission or an embrace of a political direction. We are confident that what we are doing will maintain the best traditions of Liberty Fund and will put us in the best position to execute our mission in the decades to come.”

In the Liberty Fund universe, the Kukathas letter ricocheted from inbox to inbox. “Troubles at Liberty Fund,” read the subject line of one email between Liberty Fund acquaintances reviewed by IM. “I don’t know how broadly this is making the rounds, but it is troubling,” one person close to the Fund wrote to another. “It would be tragic to see such a wonderful organization destroy its intellectual character and violate the ideas its founder expressed at length in written documents.”

Conferees and past attendees and fellows raised questions about Maloberti’s firing and others.

“Liberty Fund sacked staff members who were widely beloved by the scholars they worked with, attended their conferences, and bought their books,” said one university professor who attended multiple conferences. “This wasn’t about money. Liberty Fund has a $400 [million] endowment. Liberty Fund fired them because they were defending the core values central to the mission of the organization when it seemed to many of us like the organization was losing its way.” The Liberty Fund board of directors disputed this reasoning of the firing, calling it a “part of a strategic shift in priorities and programming recommended by Liberty Fund’s President and CEO, Sean Shelby, and supported by Liberty Fund’s board of directors.”

The Kukathas letter thrust out into the open Maloberti’s crusade and galvanized friends of Liberty.    

It also pulled back the curtain on the existence of an emotionally charged rift and a no-holds-barred debate within the Liberty Fund family about its very nature—a conflict that Goodrich himself seems to have foretold. “Institutions …,” his Liberty Fund biography reads, “are fraught with imperfections.”

In 2010, the Liberty Fund republished a book by an English judge, Lord Patrick Arthur Devlin, called The Enforcement of Morals, which some employees felt advocated the re-criminalization of homosexuality.

MALOBERTI ARRIVED at the Liberty Fund in 2007 with a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University. He had struck out for America from Argentina after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires in 1999, and enrolled in a master’s program in philosophy at the Ohio school. At Bowling Green State, he worked as a program manager in the social philosophy and policy center, where he produced the academic journal Social Philosophy & Policy, published by Cambridge University Press. At Liberty, he found himself immersed in organizing its trademark conferences as well as developing a new Latin American program, including a special conference on 19th-century Latin America liberalism.

Soon, he’d also find love: An avid golfer, Maloberti met a woman named Anne, herself a former college golfer who played at Southern Illinois University. She fell in love “with his sweet face,” a friend once recounted, “but it was his mind that got her.” They met at a golf event at Harbour Trees, hit it off, and married. Maloberti also became the stepfather of Anne’s two teenage daughters.

But as time wore on, Maloberti’s personal life became increasingly consumed with issues at work. He fretted to family friends about how he and some of his colleagues began to notice a more politicized board of directors who championed a harder line of politics.

In 2010, the Liberty Fund republished a book by an English judge, Lord Patrick Arthur Devlin, called The Enforcement of Morals, which some employees felt advocated the re-criminalization of homosexuality—particularly without an added introduction contextualizing the content in a new era of acceptance. The book, originally published by Oxford University Press, contains a series of what are known as the “Maccabean Lectures,” in which Devlin responded to a 1957 report by the Wolfenden Committee. The Wolfenden Committee had recommended that homosexual practices in private by consenting adults should no longer be a crime. Devlin disagreed and engaged in what would become a famous debate with the English legal philosopher H.L.A. Hart. (Hart is of no relation to former Liberty Fund employee David M. Hart.) In academic circles, the deliberation has become known as the Hart-Devlin debate, one that still engages scholars today.

Still, the decision to republish the book appalled a number of the fellows. One even organized a private book burning in which he invited opponents of the text to an outdoor area near his office. There they read aloud the offensive passages, tore pages from the book, and burned them in a small gas stove. In a statement provided to Indianapolis Monthly, the Liberty Fund board of directors wrote that the book’s central question—whether the law should enforce public morality—is a serious and important question about which reasonable people disagree. The Fund explained that Lord Devlin’s book had gone out of print while the book arguing against Devlin’s views was still available. According to the Liberty Fund board of directors, making Devlin’s arguments available by printing the book, and thereby making reasoned debate possible, is essential to the Fund’s mission and consistent with Goodrich’s intent.   

As Maloberti and others saw it, the place where the Liberty Fund strayed furthest from Goodrichian ideals was its Law and Liberty website. In recent years, the site had veered into more political territory: It published some 1,253 essays, podcasts, and other items about Trump (for context, President Joe Biden is mentioned in 193 items; “Bush” is mentioned 559 times; “Clinton,” 542 times; and former President Ronald Reagan, 440 times). Some of the headlines of articles include “The Trump Trial Is Unconstitutional,” published during January’s impeachment hearings; “Sweet Irony: Illinois Legislature Needs Trump Judges to Require Release of Trump’s Income Tax Returns;” and “Why Bill Barr Is Trump’s Best Appointment.”

Liberty Fund originalists were also bothered that two former Indiana governors, Mitch Daniels and former Vice President Mike Pence, had attended Liberty Fund events and were concerned that over the years the board had begun to favor a certain political bent.

In 2018, Liberty Fund announced internally it would undergo a “strategic refresh.” Amid a strategic planning session later that year, Maloberti, a member of the publications committee, surveyed other Liberty Fund colleagues by email about the nature of the content on the Law and Liberty site. According to a former fellow who reviewed this email, seven of the 10 recipients agreed that some of the stories were too political and problematic. One did not respond. Another said they could see both sides of the debate. A third had no problem with the content.

Liberty Fund originalists were also bothered that two former Indiana governors, Mitch Daniels and former Vice President Mike Pence, had attended Liberty Fund events and were concerned that over the years the board had begun to favor a certain political bent. Feltman, co-owner and publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal, was a former appointee of Daniels. Terry Anker, another board member and a partner in the weekly newspaper business Current Publishing, is the vice chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, another board member, serves as the senior editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal.

(Editor’s note: Jeff Smulyan, a Democratic donor who has attended fundraisers for the likes of Pete Buttigieg and who is the founder and chairman of the board of Emmis Communications, which owns Indianapolis Monthly, has also attended a Liberty Fund conference.)

Maloberti and his allies on staff had already begun taking note of and sometimes chronicling in a dossier incidents that they believed were not up to Goodrich’s ideals, according to people familiar with their efforts and internal emails obtained by Indianapolis Monthly.

Almost a year after the organization began its strategic refresh, and a little more than a decade into his time at Liberty Fund, Maloberti’s frustrations with what he perceived as the organization’s rightward march would soon spill out into the open.

AS MALOBERTI WADED further into addressing issues at the Liberty Fund, he took copious notes and fired off lucid and carefully written emails to document his experience. Those communications seemed to grow more frequent in 2018, around the same time the strategic refresh began. Maloberti had become so vexed by Liberty Fund’s shift that he began keeping a detailed timeline—which itself links to memos.

One of the earliest entries came in February 2019. Echoing the unease felt by a dozen or so fellows, Maloberti registered his concern about the Law and Liberty website with the Liberty Fund board in an anonymous memo. Dated February 25, 2019, and obtained by IM, he laid out his concerns to Feltman, the board chair. The complaint identified more than 80 posts on the website that Maloberti and his peers believed “would likely be viewed as political or legislative expenditures according to the tax regulations for private foundations,” per the memo. Maloberti later identified himself to Feltman as the memo’s author.

Feltman declined multiple requests for an interview, and instead noted that the Liberty Fund board of directors provided IM with a written statement.

Meanwhile, Maloberti and Hart, the director of the Online Library of Liberty project that oversees the foundation’s publications, continued to try and seek meetings with Feltman to discuss their concerns about the direction of the foundation. But, at the same time, the pair feared retribution. “I can assure you that there will not be any retaliation of any kind as a result of any disclosures you make,” Feltman wrote to Hart in a March 8, 2019, email. A little more than six months later, the Liberty Fund fired Hart in a restructuring. Maloberti, according to friends, braced for his own firing. The Liberty Fund board of directors denied any retaliation by the Fund against Hart or Maloberti, and declared it “is completely inaccurate to state that Feltman promised Mr. Maloberti and Mr. Hart that he would protect them and failed to do so.”

In a July 14, 2019, note to Feltman, Maloberti noted that he was “concerned that [then-sitting president and CEO Emilio ç] is planning to use future employment decisions as retaliation against one of my colleagues in particular, and as a concealed form of intimidation for the rest of us.” Maloberti added that on multiple occasions Pacheco discussed other employees’ personnel files, and his “arbitrariness and unpredictability is a recurrent theme openly discussed at our fellows meetings.” What’s more, Maloberti wrote that Pacheco was ignoring his concerns about Law and Liberty, jeopardizing his employer’s tax-exempt status. “He asked me if I knew how much money we had to spend on lawyers because of my actions,” Maloberti wrote Feltman, indicating that Pacheco had told him the amount totaled in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Attempts to reach Pacheco for comment were unsuccessful, and the Liberty Fund did not respond to the specific allegations about Pacheco. 

By September 2019, it was unclear to Maloberti whether Feltman had acted on the memo Maloberti had sent on July 14, 2019, that, among other things, addressed certain concerns Maloberti had with Pacheco; what’s more, it was still unclear whether Feltman had shared the concerns outlined in the July 14 memo with the rest of the board. After a conversation between Maloberti and Feltman on September 4, 2019, Maloberti alleged that Feltman offered him a deal to get what he wanted: If Maloberti kept quiet and did not share the contents of the July memo with the rest of the board, Feltman would work to move Pacheco into a new role. According to two sources, Maloberti grew so concerned with the tenor of the conversation that he began recording the call.

During the recorded call, Feltman said Pacheco’s actions were “not necessarily illegal, maybe borderline or maybe completely unethical. Depends on what’s ethical and unethical.” At any rate, the allegations were “embarrassing in some cases,” Feltman admitted on the call. The Liberty Fund board of directors did not respond on the record to specific questions about the call. 

In a September 9, 2019, email obtained by IM, days after the call, Feltman announced a search process for Pacheco’s successor.

Over the next year and a half, Liberty Fund underwent a raft of changes, many of them instigated by Maloberti. After a search process, in July 2020, the Liberty Fund brought in a new CEO, Sean Shelby, a former chief technology officer at Isobar, a digital marketing agency, and a former business consultant at Deloitte.

A number of those who opposed Liberty Fund’s new direction had been eliminated in various restructurings by the board, and others left through organic job changes and other moves. A whistleblower policy was in fact adopted by the board of directors of the Liberty Fund on July 13, 2020, and distributed to all staff on July 14.

On May 19, 2021, Maloberti left his Noblesville home in the morning and got stuck in traffic along his commute to Carmel. He dialed into a meeting already in progress at headquarters, and his superior told him to not bother finishing his trip.

In the wake of Maloberti’s allegation of potential tax negligence, the Liberty Fund board engaged an attorney from Caplin & Drysdale, a firm based in Washington, D.C., to review the allegations. The Liberty Fund board of directors told Indianapolis Monthly that it was satisfied with the results of that outside review. But the organization did not respond to a question on the record about what steps it took, if any, to reel in what some view as partisan and divisive content on the Law and Liberty site.  The board stated, however, that “Mr. Goodrich created the Liberty Fund for the preservation, restoration, and development of individual liberty through investigation, research, and educational activity. These principles continue to apply even as the Liberty Fund expands the medium for carrying out its purposes to include web content.”

Law and Liberty is still going strong. The conferences are also still happening, but much less frequently than they were when Maloberti first joined Liberty Fund, down from some 200 a year to 100. By this spring, the Liberty Fund ranks of fellows had considerably dwindled since Maloberti first joined, from a high-water mark of 16 fellows in 2008 to just five, some due to natural attrition as they moved to other jobs at Liberty Fund, in academia, and elsewhere and weren’t replaced.

According to a July 2, 2020, email from Maloberti to a former colleague, the conferences were less frequent but more politicized. O’Grady, a Liberty Fund board member, urged conferees at a dinner that “we need to vote for Trump.” O’Grady did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Maloberti also expressed concern that the Liberty Fund was recruiting people such as former Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi. Maloberti wrote in a 2020 email that at a Liberty Fund conference Brizzi “expressed his views on the freedom to wear no masks. I truly think that these people don’t yet get what LF is about.” Brizzi—who ran for Congress as a Republican in 2020 but lost in the primary—told IM he has attended a number of the group’s conferences and did not dispute Maloberti’s account of Brizzi’s statement at the conference. (Editor’s Note: Brizzi passed away in January.)     

On May 19, 2021, Maloberti left his Noblesville home in the morning and got stuck in traffic along his commute to Carmel. He dialed into a meeting already in progress at headquarters, and his superior told him to not bother finishing his trip. He was among four other people across multiple departments to lose jobs that day. (In a statement, the Liberty Fund’s board of directors noted that Maloberti was offered and accepted a generous severance package.)

The news upset those close to Maloberti in the broader Liberty Fund orbit. “Here is an organization that values freedom and freedom of speech, and Nico was censured for having spoken,” a former fellow says. Mathias Maloberti says his brother Nico was misunderstood by his former employer. “He told me, ‘I was never doing anything against the Fund. I was doing it for the Fund.’”

For Kukathas, the Australian academic who parted ways with the Liberty Fund, the episode has been a tragedy. In his July 2021 letter to the board, he concluded: “How sad it is for Pierre Goodrich that his noble vision has come to grief and that his fortune is left in the hands of partisans with no respect for it. Nico’s is not the only heart you have broken. Shame on you all.”