Willa Ann Johnson, RIP

We are saddened to report the death on February 25 of Willa Ann Johnson (1942–2024), the founder and first president of the Capital Research Center (CRC). Willa was a conservative visionary. She established CRC in 1984 because she saw that nonprofit political advocacy groups were a growing menace to a free society. She saw how they used tax-deductible contributions to fund political activism and how they lobbied for taxpayer-funded government grants to undermine American freedoms. In short, private charities were becoming government contractors, and the American tradition of private philanthropy was transformed into a tool for radical politics. The final insult was that political advocacy groups were encouraging many of America’s largest grantmaking foundations to simply ignore the intent of the donors who created them.

Longtime CRC trustee and former Attorney General Edwin Meese observes:

Willa will be remembered as a strong conservative leader. She made the job of gathering and sharing information about political advocacy groups the mission of Capital Research Center. This was her greatest contribution to the conservative movement.

Willa made many other contributions to conservative reform efforts. Her career was launched at the Heritage Foundation, where as senior vice president she directed its Resource Bank, which brought together conservative groups to exchange research and plan strategies to assist reforms across the country. Her organized intelligence, capacity for friendship, and keen political instincts made her a natural networker and talent scout. She successfully persuaded many crusty conservatives to overcome their suspicions of Washington and join in the task of reforming government from the inside. These skills attracted the attention of the new Reagan administration, which named her associate director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel in 1981.

Three years later Willa founded Capital Research Center in a small office in downtown Washington. With a small staff, its purpose was to champion the pre-eminent role of traditional charity and private philanthropy in America’s civil society. Willa created a series of monthly newsletters that still inspire CRC’s publications and social media. Organization Trends was a newsletter covering the leadership, activities, and funding sources of political advocacy groups. Compassion & Culture highlighted the achievements of traditional and faith-based charities that helped the troubled and needy. Alternatives in Philanthropy studied state and federal policies and tax ideas that could help—or hurt—charitable giving. Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy, an annual directory, rated “charitable” grantmaking by America’s largest corporations. (We did not make friends with Big Business when Fortune 100 corporations received failing grades, usually for giving to left-wing groups on the foolish theory that by feeding the alligators, a corporation would be the last to be eaten.)

CRC’s growing influence during her 10 years of leadership led our reports to be cited in major newspapers and other national news media. Donors called to request advice on how best to give. Professional groups invited Willa to speak to their trustees and members. Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-WY) cited Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy in the Congressional Record, and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) sent copies of Patterns to his congressional colleagues. Our voice was heard.

Willa Johnson made a difference. She had strong principles, a steely determination, and great good humor. Current CRC president Scott Walter declares:

We who follow in Willa’s footsteps are proud that CRC was launched by a hero of the Reagan Revolution and continues, through four decades, to make a difference in battles to protect Americans’ freedom by exposing the power-seeking special interests that oppose the nation’s founding principles.

Information on funeral arrangements is available here.

Robert Huberty served as vice president of the Capital Research Center under Willa Johnson.

Robert Huberty

Robert Huberty served as vice president of the Capital Research Center.
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