September 15, 2004

Funding the left-wing conspiracy

Some ideas from the American Prospect, circa 1998. It's not just getting the money; it's how you spend it:
Though useful, these publications share a common weakness: the authors are implicitly comparing conservative philanthropy with liberal-left or progressive philanthropy, yet none define progressive philanthropy, specify which foundations should be included in that category, or outline what principles might unite them. None of these publications address the organizational landscape to which progressive funders are urged to respond. (NCRP is currently examining the state of progressive infrastructure in five states, which will be a welcome addition to the current literature.) The publications imply that if funders would just get their act together, progressives could be more competitive. Not surprisingly, the small amount of dialogue among funders that has occurred publicly in response has had a defensive tone to it.

If we had a definition of left-liberal philanthropy, it is not clear that major foundations such as Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur, or Carnegie would be included in it. While they might be considered generally liberal, these foundations are not eager to regroup in order to become a left-wing funding juggernaut. The foundations are not comparable to the medium-sized family foundations that comprise so much of the conservative money. The big centrist foundations, rather, are institutions with well-entrenched traditions of pragmatism and experimentalism -- not to mention a program-focused bureaucracy. Any leftward drift by the foundations' staff, however, would be quickly curtailed by the political composition of their boards. There are no Jim Hightowers on the four sisters' boards, but there are plenty of Paul Harveys, as well as corporate executives, who sit on so-called liberal boards.
Paradoxically, though conservative funders have helped a new generation of right-wing activist intellectuals, the conservative think tank world is not "funder driven" -- money does not determine the conservative agenda. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. Conservative funders identify talented strategic thinkers and give them financial support and broad latitude; they work collaboratively with strategists such as Paul Weyrich, Ralph Reed, C. Boyden Grey, Grover Norquist, Irving Kristol, Reed Irvine, Ed Feulner, Gary Bauer, William Bennett, Howard Phillips, and others. Funders and strategists meet to hammer out issue campaigns and priorities through the Council on National Policy, a little-known body that is often described as highly secretive. In effect, conservative philanthropists operate as movement strategists first and funders second. That may describe a few small explicitly leftist foundations, but with the exception of a few guerrilla staffers, it hardly characterizes Ford, Rockefeller, and the other big mainstream and liberal foundations.
Long article. Important article! More to come...

...Jack Shafer has more. Ugh:
(Add the $2,150,000 grant Little Mac gave Harper's in 2003 to what Big Mac [$7.5 million] and the Schumann Center [$4.3 million] gave to liberal media in 2003, and you almost hit $14 million. Magazines supported by conservative foundations—the National Interest, the Public Interest, the New Criterion, Commentary, Policy Review, Reason—aren't sucking up anywhere near that kind of money from their benefactors. Reason, which is representative of the bunch, received $1.4 million in subsidies from donors last year. In other words, if the three liberal foundations concentrated their philanthropy on magazines that lost only $1.4 million a year, they could support 10 like-sized publications.)
-- Brad Plumer 11:47 PM || ||