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Foundation Watch

A monthly newsletter that examines the grantmaking of private foundations.

The Bezos Family Foundation: Mr. Bezos goes to Washington

The Bezos Family Foundation:  Mr. Bezos goes to Washington

By Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, April 2014 (PDF here)

Summary: The foundation that bears the name of Jeff Bezos, founder of online retailing giant Amazon, provides insight into the political vision he will bring to Washington. The Bezos Family Foundation does advocate for some smart opportunity education policies, such as charter schools and testing, and Bezos has managed thus far to combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism. But the far Left’s hope that Bezos will be a transformational post-partisan figure, as well as the center-right’s hope for a progressive reformer are overblown. The self-interested lobbying activities of Bezos’s PAC, as regards the Marketplace Fairness Act, reveal a pattern of Beltway politics as usual.

Jeff Bezos, 50, is best known as one of America’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of the Internet age. He is the face of the dotcom 1990s who founded Amazon, the online retail sales giant that raked in $27.2 billion in revenue for 2013. Forbes currently lists Bezos as 15th on its list of most powerful people, 12th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, and 19th on the same magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He showed an early interest in electronics, according to In his teenage years, after his family moved to Miami, he developed a love for computers. He excelled in school, became the valedictorian, and started his first business, “the Dream Institute, an educational summer camp for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.”

Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. “After graduation, he found work at several firms on Wall Street including Fitel, Bankers Trust, and the investment firm D.E. Shaw where he met his wife Mackenzie and was named the youngest vice president in 1990.” Bezos was well-compensated on Wall Street, but in 1994 he took what was then a great risk by going into the brave new world of electronic commerce. He quit Wall Street and moved to Seattle to open an online bookstore.

Amazon opened for business on July 16, 1995, and took off like a rocket. Within two months, Amazon was selling books in the U.S. and 45 other countries at a clip of $20,000 weekly. Amazon had its initial public offering in 1997 and became a top e-commerce company in only two years. Amazon diversified its business in 1998 by adding compact discs and videos to its online offerings. The company subsequently partnered with other retailers to offer clothes, electronics, toys, and a cornucopia of other products.

Many profitable “dotcoms” of the early to mid-1990s have long since vanished, but Amazon has prospered and survived to become one of the greatest successes, with sales expanding from $510,000 in 1995 to over $17 billion in 2011.

Bezos is not merely a CEO with a gift for supply chain management; he is also an inventor who likes to take risks in order to innovate and evolve. In 2007, Amazon released the Kindle, the revolutionary digital book reader that allows users to download books with the touch of a button. Bezos entered the tablet computer marketplace with the Kindle Fire in 2011, and in September 2012, he announced the new Kindle Fire HD, the company’s next iteration of the tablet designed to compete against Apple’s iPad.

All of this commercial success would be enough to ensure Bezos a place among America’s greatest businessmen since the industrial age. Bezos, like his industrialist forbears, has now moved into the arena of political action. His own political views are the subject of intense speculation. The consensus amongst the commentariat is that he is some sort of left-leaning libertarian, or perhaps a social liberal and fiscal conservative.
Bezos donated an undisclosed sum to Reason Foundation, the publisher of the libertarian Reason magazine, and in 2010 he donated $100,000 to a successful campaign to stop a proposed tax hike on individuals earning over $200,000 per year in Washington State. In 2012, he and his wife donated $2.5 million to support a successful ballot initiative for same-sex marriage in Washington State. This donation far surpasses that of Bill Gates, one of Bezos’s peers in the pantheon of computer age entrepreneurs. The New York Times reports, “Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft each gave $100,000 to the referendum campaign, according to its officials.”

Apart from fighting an income tax hike, donating to Reason Foundation, and supporting same-sex marriage, Bezos has kept his political cards close to his chest in his public speeches and interviews. He hasn’t given much to political campaigns. He has donated just $15,000, and it was about equally split between Democratic and Republican candidates, according to Slate’s Dave Weigel, who wrote an article headlined, «Jeff Bezos, Inscrutable Libertarian Democrat.”

Amazon, for its part, has been aggressively lobbying Congress since 2011 on issues regarding telecommunications, copyright law, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and most controversially, the Internet sales tax (the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013) and individual state Internet taxes. In 2003 the Bezos Family Foundation, based in Mercer Island, Washington, was launched to promote excellence in education and leadership training for the young. In August 2013, Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. This report aims to determine Bezos’s comprehensive political intention as it comes into focus by examining the projects and funding decisions of the Bezos Family Foundation (BFF) and in Amazon’s political action committee and lobbying efforts.

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Building a Radical Foundation: The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

Building a Radical Foundation:  The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

By Matthew Vadum, Foundation Watch, March 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Although the Glaser Progress Foundation was made possible by the great wealth its benefactor garnered from a mere decade’s work at Microsoft, it aims to change the country radically.  To that end, it works with left-wing agitators at such groups as the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters for America, and Demos.

Often when wealthy left-wingers endow an eponymous foundation, they fade into the woodwork, preferring to let their money do the talking. Not so with software magnate Rob Glaser, a well-connected high-dollar Democratic donor best known for founding RealNetworks, a prominent Internet company. Glaser has been a supporter of Barack Obama since Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate run, according to DiscoverTheNetworks. In 2010, Glaser and his wife hosted a $10,000-a-plate lunch event with President Obama at their Seattle home, the same year Glaser attended a White House forum on technology and government.

Glaser had previously donated $50,000 to Obama’s 2009 inauguration fund. But Glaser did still more in the 2008 electoral cycle; he also helped Al Franken (D) procure his Minnesota U.S. Senate seat by first “maxing out” to the candidate with $4,600 for his regular campaign, and then contributing $12,300 after the election to the Franken Recount Fund. During the bitter recount battle for this Senate seat, Franken’s team used means so outrageous that the Wall Street Journal declared that Franken’s opponent, Norm Coleman “didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.”

In the 2004 electoral cycle, Glaser reportedly gave more than $1 million to defeat George W. Bush. So it’s no surprise that Glaser is an ally of George Soros, who poured tens of millions of dollars into the fight against Bush in 2004. Nor is it surprising that Glaser is also a leading member of Soros’s Democracy Alliance, an invitation-only donors’ collaborative for rich left-wingers. Created in the aftermath of the 2004 elections, which brought stinging defeats to the Left in battles for the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the Alliance is a financial clearinghouse for those who want to move America farther to the left.

Clinton administration official Rob Stein founded the Democracy Alliance with the aim of creating a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups—a kind of “vast left-wing conspiracy” to battle the conservative movement. The donors group has channeled its members’ funds to fairly well-established pressure groups, watchdogs and think tanks, get-out-the-vote operations, and political action committees (PACs). It is intensely secretive. Members of the group meet twice a year to decide which causes to support with their checkbooks. (For more on the Alliance, see Foundation Watch, December 2008.)

Other ways that Glaser battled for the Left in the 2004 electoral cycle include his early support of America Coming Together (ACT), a large, ambitious Democratic get-out-the-vote operation created to affect the 2004 elections. Glaser donated $750,000 to ACT and talked his friends into donating as well. ACT folded in 2005 with little to show for the millions of dollars it raised and spent—with the exception of a $775,000 fine from the Federal Election Commission for illegally using unregulated “soft money” to support John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In the previous presidential election of 2000, Glaser donated both to Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign and also, less generously, to Al Gore’s campaign on the Democratic ticket.

Early Years
When Glaser studied at Yale, graduating in 1983, his politics were “slightly to the left of Che Guevara,” according to Bruce Jacobsen, a former RealNetworks executive who knew Glaser at the Ivy League school. Glaser once considered becoming a labor organizer, but instead he became a multi-millionaire thanks to his decade at Microsoft, where he worked on the Windows operating system and the word-processing program MS Word.

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The Joyce Foundation: Betraying donor intent in the Windy City

The Joyce Foundation:  Betraying donor intent in the Windy City

by Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, February 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  The Joyce Foundation’s endowment came from David Joyce, a lumber magnate who believed in the American system of free enterprise.  Today the foundation that lives off his wealth is a hotbed of trendy, left-wing thinking and grant-making. It funds efforts to hurt the lumber industry, turn schools into union-controlled sources of Democratic Party patronage, block Americans’ gun rights, and constrict  economic freedoms.  Barack Obama sat on its board from 1994 to 2002, and directed the foundation’s money to causes Joyce almost certainly would not have favored.

The Joyce Foundation, based in Chicago, Illinois, was founded in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, the sole heir to the Joyce family fortune. The Joyces of Clinton, Iowa, originally made their money in the lumber industry. The patriarch who created the Joyce fortune was the great nineteenth-century entrepreneur David Joyce (died 1904). Of “old New England Puritan stock,” he was “strong, bold and resourceful.” “He was one of the captains of industry, able to command men, things and events to the accomplishment of his purpose,” according to a contemporary trade publication (“The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States,” Third Series, American Lumberman, Chicago, 1906).

Joyce trained as a civil engineer. At age 12, he began working for his father, who ran a blast furnace and foundry and machine shop. At 15 he took over bookkeeping there. Years later he took over a lumber mill, and by the end of his life he was “a stockholder in twelve different sawmill plants located in all sections of the country, one within eighteen miles of Lake Superior at the North and another within eighty miles of the Gulf of Mexico in the South, while still another was on Puget Sound.”

Joyce also had significant investments in pinelands in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Texas, and his “careful personal supervision of [his investments] was well known to all acquainted with him.” He helped to create the First National Bank of Lyons (Iowa) and was its president when he died. He also held an interest in a street railway running through Lyons and Clinton, Iowa. He was a top-notch businessman and a visionary. “Few men showed more shrewdness than he or a clearer comprehension of the possibilities of the industry. Reinvestment of profits gave him the ownership of several plants.” Joyce was “prominent in public enterprises and contributed large amounts to various religious institutions and was a subscriber to society and educational work.”

“Mr. Joyce was a staunch Republican, though not a politician in the ordinary acceptance of that term. He sought no public office, but when the mayoralty of Lyons [Iowa] was pressed upon him, in 1872, he filled that position with marked ability and success. The confidence of the people in his integrity and in his ability to manage the municipal affairs was well shown in that election. The city finances were in a low condition, city bonds selling for forty-five cents on the dollar. He was the nominee of the business men of Lyons for the office and was elected by a very substantial majority; a second time was he nominated and was elected by the entire vote of the city, the only vote not cast for him being his own. The confidence which the people placed in him was well justified, for when, after four years, he retired at the end of his second term, the city’s credit was reestablished and there was sufficient money in the treasury to pay all its obligations in full.”

His last heir, Beatrice Joyce Kean, generally went about her philanthropic activities on a small scale, spending under $100,000 per year. Most of her grants went to apolitical beneficiaries, such as hospitals and health organizations. It is unclear if she had political opinions or was partisan during her life. When she passed away in 1972, Kean bequeathed more than $100 million, or about 90 percent of her estate, to the foundation, according to

Over time the Joyce Foundation moved away from the philanthropic inclinations of Kean and her wealthy ancestor and turned hard left. Professional staffers took over the foundation and began putting the wealth generated by a great capitalist trailblazer at the service of social engineering schemes and so-called social justice activist organizations.

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The Surdna Foundation Meets Saul Alinsky: Community organizing in the era of Obama

The Surdna Foundation Meets Saul Alinsky: Community organizing in the era of Obama

By Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, January 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  New York’s Surdna Foundation used to focus on the usual left-wing causes: environmentalism and so-called smart growth, community development, and the arts.  Sensing an opportunity when Barack Obama became U.S. president, the charity changed its mission to promote community organizing above all else. Its benefactor would not have approved of its old mission statement or the new mission statement.

Founded by a practical, hard-nosed, free market-loving capitalist, over the past century the Surdna Foundation Inc. was transformed into a hotbed of revolutionary radicalism. Created by legendary industrialist John Emory Andrus, the New York City-based foundation now adheres to the Weltanschauung of extremist agitator Saul Alinsky and Alinsky acolytes like Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Andrus was no utopian, holier-than-thou dreamer or activist.  In the obituary carried by Time on Jan. 7, 1935, the magazine declared,

He was supposed to be one of the ten richest men in the U.S. But when Death came to John Emory Andrus at 93 last week, the best the Press could do was to identify him as the “millionaire straphanger.”  Indeed the Press never heard of the financier-philanthropist until he was past 60.  And then it spotted him, a shy, parsimonious, white-bearded old gentleman, because he always rode the subway to his Manhattan office until he was 86.

If he were alive today it seems a fair bet he would be a conservative, Tea Party movement supporter.  He would likely stand bewildered at the grant-making patterns of his foundation that over time has degenerated into a philanthropic epicenter for the promotion of statism.

Andrus was “the complete laissez-faire businessman,” according to biographer George P. Morrill, author of The Multimillionaire Straphanger.  “He believed in simple capitalism all his life.”

“Under his code, a man was responsible for his own welfare,” wrote Morrill.  “Therefore he was obliged not only to earn his bread by his own brain and sinew but to guard himself from anything that threatened his welfare.  The dangers included businessmen, the government, genteel beggars, high taxes, frivolous pursuits, intemperance, and waste in any form.”

Andrus and his business partner, Thomas Barlow Walker, both “clashed with government investigators—whom they impatiently considered stumbling blocks in the path of progress.”
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The Nathan Cummings Foundation: Another foundation skews leftward after its benefactor’s death

The Nathan Cummings Foundation: Another foundation skews leftward after its benefactor’s death

By Jonathan Hanen, (Foundation Watch, December 2013) (PDF here)

Summary:  The Nathan Cummings Foundation is yet another philanthropy whose original donor was able to live the American dream and create great wealth through the free market.  But once he died, his foundation began to fund left-wing groups that fight for such causes as single-payer health care, a centrally planned energy economy, open-borders amnesty, and same-sex marriage. 

The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) of New York City was created by its namesake in 1949. Nathan Cummings (1896-1985) was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. This apparently apolitical, self-made man bought the C.D. Kenny Co. of Baltimore in 1939, and over the next 30 years transformed it from a small wholesale distributor into the international giant known as the Sara Lee Corporation. He retired in 1968 and turned to art collecting and philanthropic interests, with a focus on medicine and science.

Cummings created the foundation in 1949 and “contributed to mainstream American and Jewish groups and supported the nascent nation of Israel through gifts to such organizations as United Jewish Appeal; he also made grants to various universities, medical centers, and hospitals,” according to The foundation only began to take on an overtly left-wing focus upon his passing in 1985, when it received most of Cummings’ $200 million estate. Like many benefactors, Cummings had stipulated vaguely that his philanthropy’s resources should be directed to pursue “charitable, eleemosynary, educational, scientific, literary, religious and artistic purposes.”

The NCF board, consisting mainly of his children, in conjunction with a lawyer and a foundation consultant, reinterpreted these directives. The new goals of the NCF were to be health care, Jewish causes, the arts, and environmentalism.

But how have even these goals been pursued by the NCF? It is next to impossible to determine the NCF’s institutional self-understanding of its history since the time of its re-focusing in 1986. The website presents its so-called history in the form of six asynchronous and impressionistic anecdotes regarding the NCF’s general approach to board-recommended grants, shareholder resolutions, the investment committee, the impact of early and late funding, and family and spouse involvement on the board.

The current self-understanding of the NCF is presented in a video and accompanying article of March 13, 2012, entitled “The Invisible Helping Hand of Government,” which attacks the conservative view that government need only get out of the way of the private sector in order for the economy to grow. The video claims that America’s prosperity only exists thanks to government efforts like the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), government funding of scientific R&D at government labs and private universities, broadband and wireless infrastructure, public job training programs, the National Weather Service, the auto bailout, public education, fuel efficiency standards, transportation infrastructure, the Clean Air Act, and Department of Defense research and purchasing that led most notably to commercial jet engines.

NCF’s CEO Simon Greer concludes, “Until we Americans truly recognize the myriad ways in which government protects the quality of life in America and provides the foundation for economic growth, we’re likely to continue to have a shallow and partisan debate about the size of government or trust in government.”

The NCF wants governments to increase spending on existing poverty relief programs, fund groups that seek to lobby the states to set up the Obamacare exchanges or to register people for the misnamed Affordable Care Act, and to implement a carbon-trading scheme or perhaps a carbon tax.

But, as we shall see by examining the groups that the NCF actually funds, its true policy goals are explicitly understood to be the establishment of universal single-payer health care, an extreme egalitarian vision of economic and social justice in the U.S. and Israel, the promotion of social justice through the arts, and financial support for radical environmentalist groups whose understanding of “sustainability” goes beyond the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, beyond carbon controls, to the destruction of the coal industry and government funding of arbitrarily chosen green tech companies, if not to full governmental control of energy markets.

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The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation: The real legacy of the Washington Post

The Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation: The real legacy of the Washington Post
By Kevin Mooney (Foundation Watch, November 2013) (PDF here)

Summary:  For seven decades, a foundation created with money from the Washington Post’s owners has been trying to help push America further to port.  You have probably never heard of it, but it continues to exercise significant influence in America’s capital city and beyond.

Created in 1944, the low-profile Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation may not be as large and prolific as the Tides Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, or the Ford Foundation, but it funds the same garden-variety left-leaning causes.  While it rarely attracts media coverage, the Meyer Foundation has been cutting a larger figure for itself in recent years.  Based in the nation’s capital, it concentrates its efforts on “improving the lives of low-income people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.”

So, just how influential is the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation?  Its small size belies some high-level connections.  Former board members include Attorney General Eric Holder, who is making every effort to take down voter identification laws across the country while refusing to investigate ACORN and its affiliated and successor organizations.

The Meyer Foundation’s board of directors is jam-packed with Washington power players.  Among them are Joshua Bernstein, a D.C.-area real estate developer who founded the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund; Antoinette Cook Bush, executive vice president of Fox News’ parent News Corp.; Ginger Lew, former member of President Obama’s White House National Economic Council (no relation to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew); financier William Dunbar; Barbara J. Krumsiek, CEO of Calvert Investments Inc.; James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corp., the single largest funder of civil legal aid for poor people in the U.S.; Barbara Lang, CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce; and Robert G. Templin Jr., president, Northern Virginia Community College.

The family of board member Deborah Ratner Salzberg is connected with some powerful Democrats, including President Obama.  Ratner family members are big contributors to the Democratic Party and the president.  They operate Forest City Enterprises, a vast real estate company based in Cleveland, Ohio.  Deborah is the daughter of co-chairman Albert Ratner.  She runs Forest City’s Washington, D.C. office.  Bruce Ratner, who is a cousin to Albert Ratner, runs the company’s New York City subsidiary.

Bruce Ratner bought off local opposition, including the New York branch of ACORN, to make way for the Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn.  The massive 22-acre residential and retail complex includes a stadium for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team.

Another of Albert Ratner’s cousins, Michael Ratner, is president emeritus of the radical Center for Constitutional Rights, a Greenwich Village-based public interest law firm whose lawsuits have hurt America’s ability to defend itself from terrorist groups.  Michael’s sister is PBS commentator turned Fox News analyst Ellen Ratner.

Julie L. Rogers, the Meyer Foundation’s CEO for the past 27 years, intends to retire in June 2014.  In mid-October 2013 the foundation announced that its board’s search and transition committee had chosen the McCormick Group to manage the search for a successor.
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A Triumph for Donor Intent: The Daniels Fund achieves a rare victory

A Triumph for Donor Intent

The Daniels Fund achieves a rare victory

by Martin Morse Wooster (Foundation Watch, October 2013) (PDF here)

Summary:  Sadly, one of the least-seen outcomes in philanthropy is for a donor’s wishes to be respected after his death.  The Daniels Fund, Colorado’s largest foundation, wobbled at first but eventually substituted its donor’s intentions for those of its staff.

In November 2003, the Daniels Fund, a three-year old Denver-based charity, announced a dramatic downsizing, closing regional offices in three states and sacking 21 employees—a third of its staff. “We have to operate more efficiently,” foundation president Hank Brown said at the time.1

Three months later the liberal establishment fired back. The New York Times reported on the turmoil. “Had his ashes—combined at his request with those of his beloved cat, Sydney—not been scattered over the Pacific three years ago, Bill Daniels would probably be turning over in his grave.”2

Denver Post columnist Susan Barnes-Gelt also objected, noting that the fund’s creator, Robert William “Bill” Daniels, gave millions of dollars in his lifetime to the University of Denver to establish courses in business ethics. Daniels was so generous the university renamed its business school after him.

“Daniels believed that rigorous training in leadership and values were the key to business success,” Barnes-Gelt observed. “Meanwhile … the Daniels Fund struggles to emulate the charitable struggles of its namesake. The fund’s behavior appears more appropriate to a compliance-based widget factory than a charitable foundation.”3

“I think there is politics at play here,” protested Georgetown University philanthropy scholar Pablo Eisenberg. “This is sort of like a right-wing coup.”4

Given that Bill Daniels had explicitly told his foundation he never wanted to support liberal causes, it’s silly to imagine that the Daniels Fund could be “taken over” by the Right. If the foundation was to respect its benefactor’s intentions, it could not continue to drift leftward. Consider that Daniels was a life-long Republican who ran for governor of Colorado in 1974, losing the primary. He gave six-figure contributions to the GOP in at least two presidential contests, and in 1991 hired Neil Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W. Bush, to work in his company’s Houston office. In addition, Daniels held a campaign fundraiser for the elder Bush in 1987 and in 1990 sponsored a charitable fundraising event hosted by First Lady Barbara Bush and Neil Bush’s wife, Sharon.5

In 2003, President George H.W. Bush wrote a preface to a biography of Daniels commissioned by his estate. “If one were to ask me to name someone who exemplified the dynamism of America in the twentieth century,” he said, “I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better example than my old friend, Bill Daniels.”6

The true story of the Daniels Fund is that rarest of things—a foundation that has recovered its donor’s intent.

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The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation: Administering “strong shocks” to U.S. society and the mentally ill

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation: Administering “strong shocks” to U.S. society and the mentally ill

By Neil Maghami, Foundation Watch, September 2013 (PDF here)

Summary:  Though it’s unclear its original donor would have supported such a course, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation long worked with nonprofits like the ACLU to re-shape federal and state mental health policy.  The results were dramatic, and the unintended consequences were disturbing.

You could spend hours tracing the unique contributions made by the U.S. philanthropic sector to medicine and human health generally. Take the Rockefeller Foundation’s support for schools of public health (not to mention its funding of research to defeat diseases such as yellow fever and hookworm). Or the good work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (for example, generous assistance to help fund the studies of economically hard-hit Depression-era medical students).

Newer foundations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have taken the American philanthropic sector’s traditional interest in medicine and health and channeled it into world-wide projects that fight scourges such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Not all interventions by American foundations and tax-exempt groups, however, work out as well as the ones named above. Take the field of mental health, particularly federal and state mental health policy. A momentous shift in federal and state government policies toward the mentally ill occurred in the 1970s, when foundations and activist groups spurred the movement known as “deinstitutionalization.”

We forget today the scale of this deinstitutionalization drive that took place. A January 24, 1978 Wall Street Journal article provides perspective: fewer than 190,000 people were institutionalized that year, down dramatically from 500,000 in 1955, even though the country grew by 57 million persons over the same period.

One commentator refers to the resulting policy changes, won in part through the combination of foundation money and legal activism, as a “psychiatric Titanic,” because although many persons who left mental institutions succeeded in reintegrating back into their home communities, not all were so lucky. Many became homeless, or even landed in jail.

The distressing ripple effects of this change can be seen in shelters and soup kitchens all across the nation. As many as 250,000 of America’s estimated homeless population of 700,000 are believed to have serious mental illnesses, according to one survey.

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Campaign Finance “Reform” Exposed Once Again

Campaign Finance “Reform” Exposed Once Again

Donors and activists on the left claim they just want “fair” elections but the IRS scandal reveals the same old political agenda

By Fred Lucas, Foundation Watch, August 2013 (PDF here)

Summary: Donors who crusade under the radar for campaign finance reform still fund activist groups like Public Campaign.  And those activist groups still fight for a panoply of left-wing causes while pretending to political neutrality.  But every so often, a scandal reveals the truth.

Campaign finance “reform,” long a hobby horse of left-wing foundations, is back in the news, thanks to a top staffer at the nonprofit Public Campaign (PC). The group recently gained unwanted news coverage when its senior program advisor, Susan L. Anderson, had some of her old tweets become a hot news topic, thanks to the IRS scandal that occurred under the watch of her husband, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman. He presided over the agency from 2010-2012, precisely the period when, the world recently learned, the IRS targeted conservative and Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.

In other words, when her husband’s agency appears to have surreptitiously waded into the political process and favored one side of the political spectrum, Anderson herself—whose own organization pretends that it’s politically neutral and opposed only to “special interests”—was wading into various political fights on the same side as the IRS.

Anderson wrote on the micro-blogging website Twitter on Oct. 18, 2011, that she was at the Occupy DC protests listening to Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig’s “teach-in,” Breitbart News reported. A couple of months later, Dec. 6, 2011, Anderson tweeted, “DC, good morning! Come down to the Mall and tell your 99% story!”

The chant, “We are the 99 percent,” was the famous rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Anderson and Public Campaign were active in Occupy—which the Left once hoped would be the counterweight to the Tea Party movement, the same movement the IRS targeted for harassment. Before joining Public Campaign, Anderson worked with other organizations to lobby for publicly financed political campaigns in states across the country.

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The Ford Foundation: Shaping America’s laws by re-making her law schools

The Ford Foundation: Shaping America’s laws by re-making her law schools

By Walter Olson, Foundation Watch, July 2013 (PDF here)

Summary: For over half a century, the Ford Foundation has quietly worked to turn the nation’s law schools into agents of Sixties-style “social change.”  Other donors like Carnegie, Soros, and MacArthur have followed Ford’s path, and the result can be seen in landmark Supreme Court decisions, the plethora of politicized “legal clinics” on campus, and the courts’ growing willingness to defer to “international law.”

Among the other impressive things organized philanthropy can do, it sometimes manages to pull off a major Supreme Court decision. That is what seems to have happened in Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional as applied to crimes committed before age 18. In a particularly noteworthy passage of the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy controversially suggested that in determining whether a law passes muster under the U.S. Constitution, it may be relevant to consult the law of foreign countries, as well as a diplomatic instrument not ratified by the United States Senate: Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The decision itself, along with its subtext of deference toward foreign and international law, did not emerge from a void. It resulted from a campaign of legal and public advocacy built up over years, in which foundation grantmaking was a driving force. Among the major conduits of the effort was a juvenile justice project housed at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. Before and after Roper, the project remained almost unknown to the wider public, aside from the occasional bit of controversy stirred by the identity of the project’s director—Bernardine Dohrn, a former leader of the Weather Underground, known for its bombing of the U.S. Capitol as well as a string of other violent crimes.

Dohrn’s notoriety aside, it’s actually not unusual for the funding of a law school project to serve as a key strategic step in the campaign for a real-world courtroom breakthrough. Thus generous foundation support enabled the founding of something called the Harvard Civil Rights Project in 1996, with the aim of laying the groundwork for the defense of racial preferences in university admissions. In 2003, an ambivalent Supreme Court mostly upheld such preferences. (The Court is revisiting the issue in this year’s Fisher v. University of Texas.)

The phenomenon dates back to what has been called the rights revolution, in the Sixties and early Seventies, in which courts regularly agreed to create wholly new rights at the request of what were called public interest lawyers—themselves a newly fledged variety of lawyer conceived of as serving (in effect) as lobbyists in the courtroom for the poor and other traditionally underrepresented groups. Much of the legal campaign that brought about the rights revolution was managed from within the law schools, as professors coordinated strategy with outside litigators, legal services programs, funders, sympathetic journalists, and other players. Law schools directly housed many key legal action centers that supported landmark suits and provided assistance to others through the student-staffed legal clinics that—in another of the Ford Foundation’s most successful and durable initiatives—sprang up at more than a hundred law schools over this period.

As it became evident that dollars invested in legal academia could go a long way toward reshaping the law itself, other foundations have followed, setting a pattern that continues into our own Soros-and-MacArthur era: Many high-profile law-school centers, programs, and initiatives are funded and often originated by donors interested in influencing law beyond the campus gates. These initiatives sometimes succeed in fueling whole social movements outside the campus, like the slavery reparations movement; at other times they underlie specialized but far-reaching litigation campaigns known mostly to lawyers, such as the assertion of long-defunct land claims by Indian tribes.

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