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 DiscoverTheNetworks.org. 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.