One of the best attended sessions at the recent Council on Foundations annual meeting in Hawaii was the one at which Sally Covington of the National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) presented her study “Moving a Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations.” Commenting on the study were panelists Michael Joyce of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Charles Halpern of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and John Walters of The Philanthropy Roundtable. What follows is a summary of Covington’s presentation followed by an excerpt of Joyce’s remarks.
Covington began by outlining the method used by the conservative foundations scrutinized in her study. In a presentation at The Philanthropy Roundtable’s 1995 annual conference, she explained, Richard Fink, president of the Charles G. Koch and Claude R. Lambe charitable foundations, made use of market metaphors to outline how foundations can exert the greatest impact on public policy. Adapting laissez-faire economist Friedrich Hayek’s model of the production process to social change grantmaking, Fink argued that the translation of ideas into action requires the development of intellectual raw materials, their conversion into specific policy products, and the marketing and distribution of these products to citizen-consumers. Grantmakers, Fink argued, would do well to invest in change along the entire production continuum, funding scholars and university programs where the intellectual framework for social transformation is developed, think tanks where scholarly ideas get translated into specific policy proposals, and implementation groups to bring these proposals into the political marketplace and eventually to consumers.
Over the past two decades, Covington contended, conservative foundations have broadly followed such a model, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a cross-section of institutions dedicated to conservative political and policy change. Her report, accordingly, closely examines the following foundations: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Charles G. Koch, David H. Koch and Claude R. Lambe charitable foundations, the Phillip M. McKenna Foundation, the J.M. Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Henry Salvatori Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Together, these foundations controlled over $1.1 billion in assets in 1994, awarded $300 million in grants over the 1992-1994 study period, and targeted $210 million to support conservative policy and institutional reform objectives.
Covington found that, of this $210 million, conservative foundations awarded:
— $88.9 million to support conservative scholarship and programs, train the next generation of conservative thinkers and activists, and reverse progressive curricula and policy trends on the nation’s college and university campuses. Among the top academic sector grantees identified by Covington were the University of Chicago, Harvard, George Mason University and Yale.
— $79.2 million to build and strengthen a national infrastructure of think tanks and advocacy groups, $64 million of which was directed to institutions with a major focus on domestic policy issues and $15.2 million of which went to institutes focused on American national security interests, foreign policy, and global affairs. Among the top think tank grantees of conservative foundations singled out by the report are the Heritage Foundation, AEI, the Free Congress Foundation, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and the Hudson and Hoover Institutions.
— $16.3 million to finance alternative media outlets, media watchdog groups, and public television and radio for specific, issue-oriented public affairs or news reporting. Conservative favorites here are the American Spectator Educational Foundation, National Affairs (The Public Interest and The National Interest) and the Foundation for Cultural o decades. Finally, conservative foundations began to support the development of conservative “counter institutions” at a time when the American political system began to undergo fundamental changes.
Mike Joyce responds:
While you won’t find a strategy at the Bradley Foundation, I hope you will find, in the words of Ms. Covington, “a clarity of vision.” That vision has its roots in the nature of the contemporary political debate, and what it means to be a self-governing citizenry.
We now live in the midst of culture wars, pitting “fundamentalists” (as they are described by the left) against “cultural elitists” (as they are described by critics of the left). Battles are now raging over a remarkable variety of moral, social, religious, and cultural issues.
These conflicts are rooted in certain enduring controversies regarding the nature of popular government. Such quarrels are a natural part of life in liberal communities, for there is always a culturally radical elite and a culturally conservative majority within such communities.
As Steven Kautz wrote in Liberalism and Community (Cornell University Press, 1995), citizens in self-governing communities are more or less naturally inclined to become adherents of certain natural political parties (not national political parties, as we have in the U.S.): liberals (who love liberty), social democrats (who love equality), and civic republicans (who love virtue). And it is the principal business of the liberal community to tame the natural partisanship of the democrats and the republicans in order to prevent culture wars because both the passion for equality and the passion for virtue pose serious threats to liberty.
The great achievement of our liberal founding fathers was to make possible a political community that is not only peaceful, prosperous, and relatively just but also the product of the mostly reasonable choices of free, self-governing citizens.
In order to be self-governing citizens, however, each new generation of Americans must learn once again the lessons of self-discipline and personal responsibility, and develop a rigorous moral understanding of right and wrong. For much of this century, however, liberal society has been living off the inherited moral capital of traditional religion and traditional moral philosophy — with insufficient attention to the replenishment of that capital. Now many — perhaps most — Americans worry that the moral order that held the nation together has come unraveled as personal responsibility has given way to personal liberation and untrammeled expression of self.
For most of this century, this unhappy situation has been exacerbated by the progressive elite (social democrats who love equality more than liberty) who continuously degrade and belittle what Tocqueville identified as the “practical intelligence and political good sense of the American people.” These elites have engaged in an all-out attack on the virtues that underlie the decisions of free self-governing citizens: common sense, received wisdom, traditional values, and everyday moral understandings. As for the humble institutions which nurture those virtues — families, churches, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, schools, and other value-generating mediating structures — these, the elites denounce as retrograde and parochial.
Here, then, is our vision: in order to preserve the liberal political society which is the legacy of our founders, we support the revival of civic institutions and “a new citizenship”: individuals coming together in communities as proud, self-governing, personally responsible citizens, capable once again of running their own lives and affairs, freed from the paternalistic oversight and interference of bureaucratic elites.
In my view, our success in pursuing this vision is due neither to the magnitude of our spending nor to the implementation of a clever philanthropic strategy. Our success, insofar as we have had any, is due to the fact that the projects we support are not utopian, but rather resonate with our citizens’ deeply rooted longing for self-government, and their willingness to permit their baser selves to be subordinated to their better selves.
I should add that this longing for self-government is hardly limited to the citizens of America. We at Bradley discovered this during the final decade of the Cold War. In the course of the 70s and 80s, a number of small, beleaguered citizen groups then quietly and secretly forming behind the Iron Curtain approached the John Olin and Bradley Foundations for support. Recognizing in their appeals the same impulse toward free self-government that we wished to cultivate at home, we said yes to their requests, helping them to buy the copiers and faxes and typewriters they so desperately needed to get their message to each other and the world.
Most other foundations — indeed, some in this room today — said no to their pleas. But you need not fear embarrassment in that regard from the NCRP report, for that aspect of Bradley’s giving — so inconvenient for the larger thesis of our anti-democratic intentions — is mentioned nowhere therein.
I don’t know why other foundations were not responsive. Perhaps they were cowed or even persuaded by the argument made by angry politburos at the time that support for dissident civic groups only served to distract us from the real problem — the oppression of the masses by rich capitalists. Well, we weren’t particularly impressed by that accusation when it came to us armed with an AK-47. So when we encounter that familiar charge once again in the pages of the NCRP report — when we read that “free market ideology and anti-government rhetoric will almost always hurt poor and low income constituencies first and most disproportionately” — we aren’t likely to pay it much mind, either.
In the final analysis, our vision of giving at Bradley is based on quiet confidence in the basic wisdom and fundamental decency of the average American citizen. The argument of the NCRP report — that voters today prefer smaller government, stronger values, and freer markets only because they were gulled by conservative advertising — rests on a very different assumption about the American people: the view that they are ignorant and easily deceived, desperately in need of the oversight and guidance offered by the progressive elites.
As long as some parts of the philanthropic world continue to base their giving on that patronizing and insulting assumption, they will continue to spend millions, with little to show for it. As long as others are willing to work with the grain of human nature and in accord with the genius of the American republic, the returns will be so rich and rewarding that the envious but self-deluded critics will only be able to conclude that we are the cleverest and most guileful of conspirators.