Foundation Watch

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

From Community Service to Community Organizing

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Anti-American filmmaker Michael Moore may be the most famous celebrity from Flint, Michigan, but he has not made the greatest impact on his community. That honor would go to the philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott, whose foundation is a major donor to Flint area charities. Mr. Mott believed in strong communities. But it is unlikely that he believed in the political strategy of “community organizing” as it’s practiced today. What would Mott think of the advocacy groups and activist training academies that promote the concept of “community organizing”—and that get funding from Mott’s foundation?

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is a large and well-established philanthropic foundation. And like many of its kind, it gives large sums of money to organizations of the Left. The foundation funds the hard-left Tides Center ($4,761,607 since 1999) and Tides Foundation ($632,349 since 2003). It supports the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ($1,840,000 since 2001); the George Soros-endowed Open Society Institute ($1,150,000 since 1999); and the Children’s Defense Fund established by Marian Wright Edelman ($1,125,000 since 1999). The (Jimmy) Carter Center receives Mott grants ($750,000 in 1999), and so does the United Nations Foundation ($400,000 in 2001).

Some philanthropic foundations as different as Soros’s leftist Open Society Institute and the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation support projects that represent the intentions of their donors. But too many foundations pursues goals contrary to any reasonable interpretation of their founders’ intent. Surely that is the case with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

The Donor
Charles Stewart Mott died in Flint on Feb. 18, 1973. He was 97 years old. Mott’s life embodied the great era of American entrepreneurship that culminated in a commitment to community and philanthropy. Mott was born in Newark, New Jersey, on June 2, 1875. His grandfather founded Mott’s Apple Juice and his father owned a struggling axle-making company that became successful after Mott moved its operations to Flint. Mott sold the company to General Motors Corp. in 1908 and became a company vice president. He accepted payment in GM stock, which made him the company’s largest individual stockholder.

A conservative Republican, Mott was a three-time mayor of Flint in the following decade and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan in 1920. His investments in a profitable automobile company during the booming 1920s made him a very wealthy man, and in 1926 he established a family foundation, endowing it with GM stock worth $300,000.

Mott committed himself to the betterment of his community. He established medical and dental clinics for local children and gave to the Boy Scouts and YMCA. In 1935 the Mott Foundation partnered with Flint public schools to provide school-based educational and recreational activities for adults and children year-round and in the evenings. This became the model for the so-called “community education” movement which spread across the nation. Mott’s financial contributions to Flint were so great that some of his contemporaries quipped that he should have renamed the city Mott.

Something of a penny-pincher, Mott ran his foundation as a one-man show, wrote historian Waldemar Nielsen in his 1985 book The Golden Donors. Mott selected the foundation’s investments, picked the grantees, and personally wrote out the checks. In 1963 Mott gave his foundation $195 million in GM stock.

Mott received many honors in his final years. President Eisenhower named him International Big Brother of the Year for improving the lives of young people. He received the American Legion’s medal for distinguished service and he was honored by the American Federation of Labor, the American Schools and Colleges Association, the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers, and the Michigan Legislature.

The Mott Foundation did not produce an annual report until 1973, the year of its founder’s death. The foundation’s mission statement sums up the character of its philanthropy: “We recognize that our obligation to fellow men does not stop at the boundaries of the community. In an even larger sense, every man is in partnership with the rest of the human race in the eternal conquest which we call civilization.”

Mott’s Family and Foundation
At the end of 2010 the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation reported assets of nearly $2.2 billion. It is the 39th largest U.S. foundation. While it continues to make substantial contributions to community organizations in the Flint area (ninety grants totaling $33 million in 2010), the foundation’s grantmaking has gone national and international (492 grants totaling $93 million in 2010).
Unfortunately, like so many large foundations in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation began to embrace the causes of the Left. Over time the foundation’s staff grew large (over 60 in 2010) and was “professionalized” and its board was expanded to include new people who had no recollection of the founder or his views on giving. Charles Stewart Mott became the name of the foundation, not the memory of the man.

The donor’s beliefs and intentions were further undermined by one of his sons, Stewart Rawlings Mott (1937-2008), one of the most famous liberal heirs of the 1960s. Stewart Mott tried to influence the grant-making at his father’s foundation at the same time that he established a separate foundation, the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust (later Foundation). Mott’s widow, Ruth Rawlings Mott, created the Ruth Mott Foundation.

Stewart Mott and his elderly father were not close. Stewart studied engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology but then hitchhiked around the world for a year. He then switched to Columbia University, studying the liberal arts while living on a Chinese junk. “After graduating from Columbia University in 1961, Stewart stirred up his first controversy when he returned to Flint, Michigan, and established a Planned Parenthood birth control clinic,” wrote author David Callahan. “Soon he was fighting with his father as he tried to push the family foundation – the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation – in a more liberal direction.” (See Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America, Wiley, 2010)

Stewart created advocacy groups, including one called People’s Politics which promoted left-wing activism on race and civil liberties and women’s issues. He wanted to reform the Pentagon and funded two groups: the Project on Military Procurement and the far-left Center for Defense Information. Mott’s Capitol Hill mansion on Maryland Avenue in Washington, D.C. became a fundraising salon for his causes. He delighted in rejecting his Michigan roots, took pride in not driving a GM car, and once donated $1,000 to a group in Detroit that was trying to prevent GM from building a new auto plant.

Stewart Rawlings Mott listed himself as a “philanthropist” in the Manhattan telephone directory. His preferred self-description, “avant-garde philanthropist,” wouldn’t fit in the space available. Stewart was a guilt-ridden leftist who felt burdened by his personal wealth. “I spend on myself what I think I could have earned, and after taxes, I give everything else away. That’s how I make peace with my conscience.”

The son gave money to promote research on extrasensory perception (ESP), arms control and civil liberties, gay rights and feminism, birth control, abortion and sex research. He gave generously to Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 bid to replace President Lyndon Johnson, and he was the largest single donor to Sen. George McGovern, who tried to unseat President Richard Nixon in 1972. Nixon’s White House counsel Charles Colson put the younger Mott on Nixon’s “enemies list,” saying of him, “nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”

The Foundation Today
The philanthropy of the C.S. Mott Foundation focuses increasingly today on national and international grant-making. It contributes to social justice nonprofits, groups building civil society in central and eastern Europe and South Africa, and environmental organizations.

In 2010 thirty percent of Mott grants—149 grants totaling $27.8 million—went to its division called “Pathways out of Poverty.” The Mott annual report describes one of these “pathways” in ways Saul Alinsky would have approved. The goal: “To enhance the power and effectiveness of the community–organizing field in order to strengthen and sustain the involvement of low–income communities in shaping their futures.” The objective: “Strong and effective community–organizing networks at the national, regional and state levels that foster community engagement and positive change in poor communities.”

The foundation devotes much of its resources to advancing these Alinsky-inspired community organizing groups. Among its grantees are the Center for Community Change (a whopping $15,947,700 since 1999); National Council of La Raza ($5,081,000 since 1999); the ACORN-affiliated American Institute for Social Justice ($4,297,500 since 1999); the National Training and Information Center ($4,165,090 since 1999); Pacific Institute for Community Organization ($2,900,000 since 1999); the Gamaliel Foundation ($1,785,000 since 1999); Local Initiatives Support Corporation ($740,000 since 1999); the Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation ($600,000 since 2000); Midwest Academy ($505,500 since 2000); and Interfaith Worker Justice ($150,000 since 2007).

The foundation also funds environmental groups. Among them are Nature Conservancy ($17,549,958 since 1999); Friends of the Earth ($5,425,733 since 1999); World Resources Institute ($3,307,372 since 1999); Environmental Defense Fund ($1,668,000 since 1999); and Sierra Club Foundation ($1,617,181 since 1999).

Mott-funded think tanks include the liberal Aspen Institute ($21,468,823 since 1999) and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ($4,975,000 since 1999); the labor union affiliated Economic Policy Institute ($1,910,000 since 1999); the far left Institute for Policy Studies ($1,733,352 since 1999); and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood ($178,324 in 1999).

Helping Alinskyite Groups
Like so many other left-wing philanthropies the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation unquestioningly accepts the virtue of community organizing groups inspired by Rules for Radicals author Saul Alinsky. The foundation funds the in-your-face tactics of modern community organizing. (No fan of the political right, Alinsky once remarked that “Radicals are most adept at breaking the necks of conservatives.”)

Since 1999 the foundation has given almost $1.8 million to the thuggish Gamaliel Foundation, which advocates for open borders immigration, government-subsidized housing, and nationalized health care. As Capital Research Center author David Hogberg writes

Gamaliel targets local churches in inner cities, organizing their congregations to fight political battles in their communities. Many of the “community organizations” it helps to create become effective local powerbrokers that win battles to increase local and state spending for health, transportation and welfare entitlements. Guided by a belief that the ends justify the means, Gamaliel is willing to practice deception to win the confidence of local church pastors for purposes they would not approve.

Helping the poor is part of the mission of inner-city churches. But the mission of the Gamaliel Foundation is to advance a far-left political agenda that provides little benefit to the poor. Churches openly proclaim their mission. But Gamaliel operates by using stealth tactics. (Foundation Watch, July 2010)

The Mott Foundation has given $4.3 million to the ACORN-affiliated American Institute for Social Justice. AISJ, which collapsed after ACORN filed for bankruptcy in late 2010, published the magazine Social Review and trained community organizers in the art of political agitation.

Since 2000 Mott has given $600,000 to the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a group with dozens of affiliates nationwide and overseas that was founded by Saul Alinsky. Alinsky referred to IAF’s training institute as a “school for professional radicals.” It works to mobilize church congregations, using its own organizers to turn the church into a powerful advocacy organization that will deploy the sanctity of religion to demonize and shame its adversaries.

The Chicago-based Midwest Academy has gotten $505,500 from Mott since 2000. Established by Heather and Paul Booth, the academy trains radical activists. Heather Booth was herself trained at IAF. She has been a high-ranking Democratic party operative and has established a number of activist organizations, including the scandal-ridden Citizen Action and its successor organization, USAction. Paul Booth was a founder and former national secretary of Students for a Democratic Society, the 1960s era antiwar group. He is now an aide to Gerald McEntee, president of the powerful public sector union AFSCME.

The Mott Foundation has made its largest financial commitment of almost $16 million since 1999 to the Center for Community Change, another nonprofit recruitment and training center for political activists. The mission of CCC, which is headed by ACORN alumnus Deepak Bhargava, is “to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change their communities and public policies for the better.” CCC says it aims to create “vibrant community-based organizations, led by the people most affected by social and economic injustice,” to assist “neglected populations” to put “an end to the failed ‘on your own’ mentality of the [political] right” and to institute “a new politics based on community values.”

Interfaith Worker Justice
Since 2007 the C.S. Mott Foundation has donated a smaller sum—$150,000—to Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ). But like its grants to other community organizing groups, Mott jump-starts radical activism in local communities by ”raising consciousness” in religious communities and labor unions.
According to,

Founded in 1996, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a Chicago-based faith coalition that advocates what it terms “worker justice,” which is the labor equivalent of social and economic justice. IWJ’s progressive agenda intertwines the global growth of new labor’s power with open-borders immigration policy in the United States. The organization sees itself as promoting the welfare of both domestic and foreign workers.

IWJ was created by its executive director, Kim Bobo, a longtime trainer for the Midwest Academy. (She also helped to write the academy’s training manual.) Working in partnership with the AFL-CIO, IWJ has created a national network of more than 70 interfaith committees, student groups, and workers’ centers. According to DiscovertheNetworks, the genesis for the partnership was Bobo’s meeting with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, which was arranged through her connection with Msgr. Jack Egan, a co-founder of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a funder of “direct action” community groups, and a former board member of Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation.

IWJ also works with Rev. Jim Wallis’s Faith in Public Life (FPL) network and with the Los Angeles-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). CLUE has created the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), a coalition of open-borders groups that helps illegal immigrants facing deportation. IWJ claims that “military-style workplace raids” unfairly “discriminate against people who appear ‘foreign’”; “tear families and communities apart”; and “are counterproductive at a time of economic crisis.”

Bobo and IWJ are also in the forefront of the effort to unionize Wal-Mart. In 2008 and 2009, IWJ advocated for the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would deprive union members of secret-ballot voting by substituting “card-check” authorization. Bobo describes EFCA as “a moral imperative and a civil and human right” that would help “level the playing field in the workplace.” It is IWJ’s position that

As people of faith, we believe that Wal-Mart should be a good employer and a good neighbor. All of our faith traditions – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – have statements urging employers to pay wages that can support families, provide benefits for families, ensure that workers are treated with respect and dignity on the job, guarantee workers’ right to organize, and challenge sweatshops at home and abroad.

During his long life Charles Stewart Mott was an exemplary philanthropist. He strongly supported efforts to improve community and civic life. But he understood these concepts differently than the current program officers at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It’s too bad that for them “community organizing” is a paid occupation for radical activists.

Kirk MacDonald is a Canadian freelance writer.