Spending Down

A mid-size foundation seeks a lasting impact on public policy.

W.H. Brady Jr. was a big man. At six feet six inches tall, he was an imposing figure in Wisconsin, where he led his father’s company, the W.H. Brady Company, from a local operation to an international manufacturer of a variety of products from barcodes to signs that remain visible and retain their adhesiveness in adverse conditions of heat and chemical exposure. His physical presence, however, was tempered by a self-effacing modesty. In fact, though personally wealthy, he lived in a relatively modest home on Milwaukee’s east side and drove an orange VW bug. “Now that,” he once told a friend, “was a comfortable car.”

His intellectual stature equaled his physical stature. Throughout his life he had an interest in the life of the mind, which he fed with books on political philosophy and friendships with leading intellectuals such as William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review, a publication Brady supported from its founding. From the 1950s till his death in 1988, he helped establish and support several think tanks and intellectual journals, not only through his own foundation but also as a board member of Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where he served as vice chairman. Summing up his beliefs, Brady declared that “It is not government, it is not dictators or presidents or generals or popes who rule the world. It’s ideas.”

He established the W.H. Brady Foundation in 1956 in Wisconsin. Historically, it focused its grants on national policy research and education and aimed to strengthen democratic capitalism and self-government at home and abroad. During the 1990s, it began concentrating more heavily on the institutional foundations of a free society: (1) morality and public life, (2) family and community, and (3) competitive educational structures. In 2002, following a lengthy period of debate, the board of the Brady Foundation decided to spend down a significant portion of the foundation’s corpus through a limited number of major grants “that will have a lasting impact on public policy” and “create a lasting legacy” that will honor W.H. Brady’s “unwavering faith that ‘ideas have consequences.’”

And so the board invited several public policy groups it had supported in the past to present proposals for one-time, high-dollar grants. Board members Kim Dennis and Heather Higgins said they and their fellow board members were looking for proposals that would be in line with Brady’s legacy and would “Wow us.” After extensive review, the following seven organizations were awarded grants that will carry on Brady’s commitment to the life of the mind in dramatic ways.

Acton Institute

$1 Million
Guide to Effective Compassion Database

For a number of years the Brady Foundation has funded the Acton Institute, a think tank in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that works to advance a free society sustained by religious principles. But Father Robert Sirico, the institute’s president, knew better than to assume the invitation to apply for a spend-down grant would be a “slam-dunk” for him: “We knew this would be tough.” At stake was a vision of Sirico’s that had been on Acton’s drawing board for a number of years: a greatly enlarged Guide to Effective Compassion database that would unite donors-both those who give money and those who give their time-with outstanding nonprofit groups that serve persons in need of physical, emotional, and spiritual aid.

The database has existed for several years on a relatively small scale, highlighting select nonprofit groups that have been nominated for the Samaritan Award, an annual presentation made by Acton to honor charities that help people break out of the dependency cycle. Currently, 150 organizations are on the database, which can be searched by name, location, or type of service provided. Acton program director Jerry Zandstra tells Philanthropy the aim now is to build a comprehensive list of thousands of small- to mid-size organizations that “receive little or no funding from the government and recognize that people’s needs are not purely physical.”

Despite the clear plan, it was tough going for Acton in the early stages of the grant review. “We came in lower on the list of finalists,” Sirico says. But the relatively poor showing forced him to sharpen his plan. The grant process, Sirico tells Philanthropy, “was among the most intelligent interrogations that I’ve undergone. They were interested in the ideas and the practicality behind” the proposal.

Acton was granted enough money to run the program for three years. The institute had hoped to earn five years’ worth of funds, but Sirico says the board felt the program would attract other funding streams once the database is expanded. Both Sirico and Zandstra are happy with the decision, as it will keep them focused and on track. “I am very aware that this is not my money. We have to see this program through,” Sirico says.

American Enterprise Institute

W.H. Brady Program in Culture and Freedom

The W. H. Brady Foundation and AEI have enjoyed a long and productive relationship. Under the leadership of Mr. Brady’s daughter, Elizabeth B. Lurie, the Foundation established the W.H. Brady Chair at AEI in 1992 to commemorate her father. Some of AEI’s most distinguished scholars have held the chair, including Lynne Cheney, Leon Kass, Christina Hoff Sommers, Sally Satel, and Hillel Fradkin. All have wrestled with ways the nation can reconcile individual liberty with the virtues that “make freedom and progress possible,” says AEI president Christopher DeMuth. “The unprecedented power and autonomy of modern man are producing not only richer and more satisfying lives but also serious social risks,” DeMuth explains. “The great, enduring political question is how to achieve the right balance between the claims of individual freedom and the claims of a wider culture or polity.”

Those who have held the chair have done impressive work. Kass, who now heads President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, wrote several influential essays on bioethics and his recent book, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, for example, and Sommers penned her controversial work The War Against Boys. But because Brady Scholars tended to stay at AEI after their tours in the rotating chair were ended, they created a financial problem for DeMuth. “I needed a way to support them for the long term,” he tells Philanthropy. A chance to compete for a large Brady spend-down grant proved to be what DeMuth was hoping for. In the end, AEI was awarded a combined gift of $15 million from the Brady Foundation and Elizabeth Lurie, which will not only support the previous Brady chair-holders who remain at AEI but also allow DeMuth to name Charles Murray as the permanent holder of the Brady Chair. Murray is best known for his 1984 book Losing Ground, which laid the intellectual groundwork for what would become the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. “We think AEI’s work on the moral and ethical foundations of the free enterprise system has been as important as anything that we’ve done,” says DeMuth. Elizabeth Lurie’s generosity, he continues, “will make it possible for us to have the same impact on the wider question of individual liberty and culture.”

Claremont Institute

Publius Fellows Program

For 23 years the Claremont Institute has run the Publius Fellows program, which provides talented and ambitious recent college graduates with a three-week crash-course in the American political tradition and the art of rhetoric. Among its 150 graduates are Dinesh D’Souza, author most recently of New York Times bestseller What’s So Great About America; and Laura Ingraham, a syndicated radio talk-show host.

Thanks to the Brady Foundation, the Publius Fellows program is set to run for five more years. Brian T. Kennedy, president of the Claremont Institute, explains that even students at the best universities aren’t being exposed to the cornerstone writings of the American political tradition. It’s easy to attend a top college and “never read the Declaration of Independence or the Federalist Papers.”

As important to Kennedy as the readings, however, is the training that Publius fellows receive in writing. “Writing is a valuable skill,” Kennedy said, and too few people ever learn it well. During their stay, fellows write book reviews and then have them thoroughly vetted by Claremont Review of Books editor Charles R. Kesler and senior fellow Douglas A. Jeffrey. Because the institute accepts only eight to ten fellows a year, they receive valuable one-on-one training necessary to develop a crisp writing style.

“We’re trying to produce public intellectuals,” Kennedy says. “We see ourselves as leaders of a new conservative movement, with the view that limited constitutional government is possible. The goal of the Publius program is to produce writers who want to do that.”

Federalist Society

Pro Bono Database

Suppose you’re sued by the government for a minor code offense. If you have substantial resources, you could fight it in court. Most people, however, can only afford the cheaper course of giving in and settling out of court. In California, attorney Ron Zumbrun tells Philanthropy, too many people face this unenviable choice.

“Government has a tremendous resource advantage” in these cases, Zumbrun explains, “it’s a stacked deck.” In America, he adds, if you’re very wealthy or very poor, you have access to the legal system. But for the majority in between, the legal system is an unaffordable option. So for the better part of a decade, Zumbrun has worked to supply attorneys willing to take unpaid “pro bono” cases to people who need but can’t afford the assistance. He has had only nominal success, but a grant from the Brady Foundation to the Federalist Society gives promise to his dream of creating a network that will unite attorneys willing to work pro bono with deserving cases.

Begun in the 1980s to help law school students bring speakers to campus who would oppose judicial activism and radical leftism, the Federalist Society has greatly expanded its activities and now boasts over 25,000 members, in school and out, with student chapters on roughly 150 campuses and chapters for practicing attorneys in approximately 60 cities. President Eugene Meyer will use the funds to establish a clearinghouse to notify attorneys of worthy cases. Though similar networks currently exist, “most of the work is done on the left, not the right,” according to Meyer. This frustrates many attorneys, who are opposed to excessive government but have trouble finding pro bono cases they’re interested in taking.

The program faces a difficult road ahead. “You’ve got to find the attorneys,” Zumbrun says, “and let them know the program’s out there.” And, he continues, the public has to know the new program exists so they can bring cases forward. Nonetheless, both Meyer and Zumbrun are optimistic.

For Meyer, who’s had this idea on the drawing board for some time, the grant gives him the resources necessary to get the program started and makes it easier to raise the remaining $300,000 needed to keep it going. For Zumbrun, the grant means an organization will finally be dedicated full-time to making his dream a reality. “The Federalist Society has the computer people and the organization” to make it happen, he says, “now it finally has the money.”

Independent Women’s Forum

$1 Million
Court and Campus Programs

Nancy Pfotenhauer, the president of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), isn’t afraid of feminists on the left, just their war chest. “The National Organization for Women’s legal arm is the biggest part of the group,” she observes, “and right now there’s no group taking on the feminists in court” because none can afford to. Thanks to the Brady foundation, IWF is set to change that. “It’s not about the number of members but strength of argument,” Pfotenhauer says, “and we can win there.”

A good portion of the Brady grant to IWF will be spent strengthening IWF’s legal defense fund. Half of that will involve enhancing the organization’s development office. Pfotenhauer notes that even though IWF has existed for a decade, it only recently completed its first “high-dollar individual donor campaign.” The other half will be spent on its crop of rising legal stars, who are taking on feminists in court over such pressing issues as reforming sexual harassment laws and Title IX regulations that govern gender quotas for college sports.

The other beneficiary of the grant will be IWF’s campus program, which works to provide female college students with alternative campus voices. In trial programs at the University of Chicago, Dartmouth, and four other schools, IWF successfully identified a female student-leader at each campus and paired her with a senior IWF employee who served as her mentor. After two and a half months of training in Washington, the women returned to their campuses to establish programs for what Pfotenhauer calls “commonsense feminism.” The student-leaders in turn recruited women on campus to hear prominent speakers financed by IWF. Assessing the impact of these campus groups is difficult, Pfotenhauer concedes, but she says that anytime “you can get 80 women together in January at the University of Chicago to hear Christina Hoff Sommers,” you’re doing something right. IWF plans to spread this program to 20 additional campuses across the country. The Brady grant will put the program on a secure footing for three years.

Manhattan Institute

Rethinking Race Initiative

One of the Brady Foundation’s major spend-down programs is the Manhattan Institute’s Rethinking Race Initiative. Lawrence J. Mone, the institute’s president, told the Brady board, “Our goal for this initiative is nothing less than bringing about a paradigm shift in the way the country looks at race relations by outlining an unapologetically meritocratic, assimilationist, and integrationist vision for America.”

The goal is hardly new. For this reason, according to Mone, the Brady board was interested but hardly overwhelmed by his proposal. But then the board heard directly from the man the Manhattan Institute has recruited to make this happen, John McWhorter.

A thirtysomething linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, McWhorter impressed Mone the first time he saw him. “John is unique. Generationally, he’s closer in age to young blacks who might otherwise dismiss” older black leaders as out of touch with their concerns. “Watching him in action,” Mone says, “convinced me he could” achieve this audacious goal.

The Brady board, like Mone, was duly impressed by McWhorter and agreed to fund the initiative. The Manhattan Institute will use the money to create a media blitz that plays to McWhorter’s personal magnetism. In addition to its own media outlets, such as City Journal and conferences, the institute’s publicity machine will push to make McWhorter a household name by putting the scholar on network television, in the leading opinion newspapers, and on America’s bookshelves (his books include Losing the Race and Spreading the Word).

Changing the dialogue about race in America won’t be easy. Mone knows this better than anyone. But if there’s a person who can make it happen, Mone believes, McWhorter is the man.

Philanthropy Roundtable

Affinity Groups

One of the top priorities of The Philanthropy Roundtable is to encourage the emergence of new donors who will advance freedom, opportunity and personal responsibility in America and abroad.

To that end, the Roundtable applied to the Brady board for seed money to create four affinity groups that will bring together like-minded philanthropists with the country’s best thinkers. The mission of the first affinity group is to help donors achieve dramatic breakthroughs in the improvement of K-12 education. The second affinity group’s mission is to help donors improve environmental quality through private conservation, the expansion of scientific knowledge, and the principles of a free society. The Marriage and Family affinity group works to help donors restore loving marriage as the bedrock institution of our society. And the National Security affinity group aims to foster the indispensable contributions of philanthropy to the war against terrorism.

The Roundtable’s early experiments with affinity groups suggest this model will succeed in helping donors develop effective strategies for giving, with more mutual support and learning. This past May, for example, the K-12 Education group gathered 200 donors at a daylong meeting to discuss ways to improve New York City schools, hearing from such distinguished speakers as U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. In July a high-level group of environmental donors met with public officials and private conservation experts in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Marriage and Family group looks forward to a late September meeting in Chattanooga to see firsthand how a nonprofit group there has helped the city achieve dramatic decreases in rates of teenage pregnancy and divorce. Says Brady board member Philip McGoohan: “We thought that The Philanthropy Roundtable has extraordinary potential to encourage the emergence of new foundations that will advance the principles of the Brady Foundation in future decades.”

Martin Davis is managing editor of

This article was the cover story in the September / October 2003 issue of Philanthropy magazine.

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