Funding the war of ideas – conservative foundations – Column

Leon Howell

In any kind of battle,” said Paul Weyrich, “communication is number one.” Weyrich happened to be speaking about National Empowerment Television, the new conservative network based in Washington, D.C., but he might well have been articulating a general strategy for the war of ideas. Conservative and neoconservative thinkers have been especially successful in communicating their views and rallying their followers through books, magazines and op-ed pieces. They have been helped along by conservative-leaning foundations that have been willing to put their money into journals and think tanks in order to win the battle for hearts and minds. Given recent political developments, they may well conclude that the money is being well spent.

Four conservative foundations – Bradley, Olin, Smith Richardson and Scaife – stand out as the most active players in the culture wars. Sometimes called the “four sisters” because they tend to act in concert, the four foundations together made grants of $57 million in 1993. That is by no means a large figure in the world of philanthropic foundations. The assets and grant totals of the four sisters don’t even put them on the list of the top 50 foundations. Heading that list are Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Johnson and Rockefeller, along with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lilly Endowment. (Pew and Lilly together made grants of about $290 million in 1993.) But those foundations, unlike the four sisters, on the whole do not funnel money directly to the front lines of the intellectual battle-grounds.

In 1993 the four sisters gave:

* $3.7 million to the Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., which has pushed a conservative political agenda for years. In December it directed the orientation, program for new members of Congress. Richard Allen, William Bennett, Jack Kemp and Edwin Meese are among the fellows of the Heritage Foundation.

* $3.4 million to the American Enterprise Institute, which supports such thinkers as Robert Bork, Dick and Lynn Cheney, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Michael Novak and Charles Murray.

* $895,000 to Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, the parent organization for National Empowerment Television (more than half of FCFs $8.3 million budget in 1993 came from conservative foundations).

* $515,000 to the Manhattan Institute, which promotes sharp cuts in government as a way to attack urban problems.

* $360,00 to the American Spectator, the journal edited by R. Emmett Tyrell Jr. which relentlessly and sometimes outrageously assaults the Clintons and assorted liberal causes.

* $315,00 (from Olin and Scaife) to the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, which sponsors 70 conservative papers on 66 college campuses.

A significant portion of the four sisters’ grants goes to organizations with a religious emphasis:

* The Institute on Religion and Democracy, well known for its persistent attacks on the National and World Councils of Churches and, more recently, for criticisms of the leadership of the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), received $260,000 in 1993 from three of the sisters – the bulk of of IRD’s total grant receipts of $382,000 and total revenues of $483,000. After the IRD was started in 1980, foundations – overwhelmingly three of the four sisters (Bradley was not then a player) – provided 89 percent of the organization’s financial resources for the first 25 months. In 1993, foundations were supplying 79 percent of IRD funding.

* The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., headed by George Weigel, received from the four sisters $670,000 of its $1 million in grants and total income of $1.1 million in 1993. EPPC, whose purpose is “to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judaeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues,” produces several books each year, mails three newsletters and organizes a variety of seminars.

* The Institute on Religion and Public Life, headed by Richard John Neuhaus and located in Manhattan, in ’93 received from the four sisters $690,000 out of a total of $896,000 in grants and $1.2 million in total income. The institute’s primary energy goes into the monthly journal First Things, which marked its fifth anniversary his past spring.

Who’s behind these four foundations? The John M. Olin Foundation was created in 1953 by the Olin Corporation, which produces, among other things, Winchester rifles. Olin became a more aggressive player in public affairs in 1977 when William Simon became president and Michael Joyce was named executive director. The intellectual movement on the right is a very serious movement,” commented George Gillespie, secretary-treasurer of the foundation, in 1983. “We support some of its best thinkers at some of the country is best institutions.”

The Smith Richardson Foundation stems from the Vicks and Smith Brothers cough drops fortune. After many years of doing civic good works, such as helping restore the Moravian village of Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, it moved to the right 30 years ago. Interestingly, Heather Richardson Higgins, a granddaughter of the original owner, now heads a spinoff organization, the Randolph Foundation. Randolph contributes to Weyrich’s FCF and to Newt Gingrich’s Progress and Freedom Foundation, and Higgins cohosts Gingrich’s NET show, Progress Report.

The Sarah Scaife Foundation was created by the granddaughter of Andrew Mellon. Under Scaife the foundation concentrated on supporting the arts, garden clubs and causes such as population planning. After her death in 1965 her son, Richard Mellon Scaife, plunged the foundation – as well as the Mellon-related Carthage Foundation – into public policy debates. Since then it’s estimated that he has given $200 million to this cause.

The Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is “devoted to strenothening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles and values which sustain and nurture it,” according to its 1993 annual report. It became a major player in public affairs when its parent corporation, Allen-Bradley, was sold in 1985 for $1.5 billion and $275 million was plowed into the existing foundation. Olin’s Michael Joyce was hired to make it a player in the world of ideas, and this he has done.

A 1986 article in Atlantic Monthly quoted Michael Horowitz, now at the Hudson Institute, as saying that “the transformation of conservative philosophy was really begun by just a handful of people.” He mentioned Joyce, Richard Larry of Scaife and Carthage, and Leslie Lenkowsky, who at the time supervised Smith Richardson’s grants. “They understand,” said Horowitz, “that just by funding a few writers and a few chairs they could make a breakthrough.”

Does it matter that the various organizations on the right are supported by a few conservative foundations? There is nothing illegal or immoral about it. The reliance of various organizations on the same funding sources does suggest, however, that some of the prominent actors in the culture wars may be more closely related than observers would otherwise assume. As Karen Rothmyer suggests in a 1982 report on Scaife in the Columbia Journalism Review: “By multiplying the authorities to whom the media are prepared to give a friendly hearing, Scaife has helped to create an illusion of diversity where none e-mists. The result could be an increasing number of one-sided debates in which the challengers are far outnumbered, if indeed they are heard from at all.”

Michael Lind, writing in Dissent (Winter 1995), raises the question of how beholden these organizations are to their funding sources. “Every leading neoconservative publication or think tank over the past decade has come to depend on money from … Olin, Smith Richardson, Bradley, Scaife.” This, he thinks, has inevitably “promoted group think.” Lind does not imagine a centralized conspiracy, but he suspects that editors tend to print “what they believe will confirm the prejudices of the [foundation’s] program officers.”

But grant receivers would hotly dispute the notion that taking money means selling out. They would argue that the grants enable them to say what they want to say, only more effectively. “Don’t forget,” says Weigel, “that the big ten foundations will not give EPPC money. I get it where I can. But nobody tells us what to do. All they can do is verify that we spend the money as we say we will.”

It’s clear that, for better and for worse, the discussion in mainline church circles would be much different without, say, the voice of the IRD, and that the IRD probably wouldn’t exist without foundation support. The IRD was prominent in attacks on churches following the Re-Imagining conference, as was the Presbyterian Lay Committee (which, incidentally, has received an average of $187,500 a year over the past decade from Pew and $3.76 million since 1968; the PLC’s budget is about $1.2 million a year, most of it coming, says the committee, from 22,500 donations).

It’s interesting to compare the financial status of the IRD, which gets about $382,000 in grants, with the liberal Churches’ Center for Ethics and Public Policy located at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., which struggles to raise a budget of $115,000 a year. It’s also striking that a neoconservative journal like Public Interest is able to survive with a circulation of only about 9,000; it’s safe to say it couldn’t do that without foundation support.

In a recent issue of First Things, Neuhaus observed that “culture means the available truth claims, explanatory systems, myths, stories, memories, loyalties, dreams and nightmares by which society lives.” Neoconservatives have shown not only that they are ready and eager to battle over the shape of the culture, but that they are willing to invest in the journals and think tanks that help mobilize the troops. Neuhaus, Weigel and others might say that neoconservatives have flourished in the culture wars largely on the strength of their ideas. But the money from the four sisters hasn’t hurt.

COPYRIGHT 1995 The Christian Century Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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