The Right: Building Plans

by Joel Bleifuss

 
Throughout the 1980s and '90s right-wing foundations were
strategically investing their dollars in political infrastructure,
pouring their money into think tanks, universities, conferences and
media outlets. Left-leaning foundations made no such corresponding
investment, which is one reason why the right is ascendent and the
left is slowly disintegrating.
	"The foundations on the right are very ambitious funders. They
are very strategic, and their goals are very well-defined," says Nan
Aron, executive director of the Alliance for Justice in
Washington. “They are not at all concerned about getting right in
the middle of funding controversial social projects.” She notes
that, unlike the left, the right has built and subsidized an entire
media apparatus.
	In the March issue of Extra!, the monthly publication of
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, In These Times associate publisher
Beth Schulman examined how the right has supported its press. She
notes that between 1990 and 1993, right-wing foundations invested $2.7
million in four conservative publications: The New Criterion, National
Interest, Public Interest, and American Spectator. On the other hand,
during those three years left foundations invested 10 percent of that
amount, $269,000, in The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, and In
These Times.
	In addition to helping build a media empire, the right's
foundations have committed enormous resources to conservative think
tanks. John Tirman, director of Washington’s liberal Winston
Foundation and a member of the board of Mother Jones, told Schulman
that the right recognizes government policies are based on information
that comes on a "conveyor belt from thinkers, academics, and
activists." The right’s conveyor belt, according to Tirman, is
humming along. “We’ve let ours break down, “ he
says. According to the Foundation Directory in 1992, three of the
largest right-wing foundations spent their funds in the following
manner:
	The Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee invested $555,100 in the
Heritage Foundation and $350,000 in the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI).
	The Sara Mellon Scaife Foundation in Pittsburgh invested $1
million in the Heritage Foundation, $850,000 in the Hoover Institute
and $225,000 in the AEI.
	The John Olin Foundation in New York City invested $2.4
million in seven fellowships at such right-leaning think tanks as the
Hudson Institute and kindred colleges such as the University of
Chicago.
	The people who manage right-wing foundations understand the
power they possess. And guarding that power is the task of the Captial
Research Center, which was created in 1984 to prevent foundations
established by capitalists from being taken over by socialists. As the
center see it, the philanthropic world falls into two camps:
"Generally, capitalists who create the fortunes that make foundations
possible are conservative or libertarian; those who inherit or dispose
of this wealth, including heirs to estates and foundation executives,
however, are usually liberal or socialist."
	It is true that the heirs to fortunes are sometimes more
politically enlightened than their capitalist forbears. For instance,
the Arca Foundation, which was established with money from the
R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, is now among the nation's most
progressive funders. Arca is the principal sponsor of the University
Conversion Project, a Cambridge, Mass. group that has been tracking
the right’s investment on American campuses.
	The project's Jeremy Smith says, "During the mid-’80s the
right-wing organizations made a decision that they would start
investing in youth and that they would build an alternative-press
apparatus on campus."
	For example, the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, a
group supported by contributions from conservative foundations, spen
millions of dollars to establish 66 right-wing papers on campuses from
Yale to the University of California at Santa Cruz to MIT. In the
1990-91 school year alone, eight right-wing foundations contributed
$519,000 to support the Madison Center's media efforts.
	This investment has paid off, according to The Conservative
Guide to Campus Activism, a publication of Young Americans for
Freedom. New-right wünderkind Dinesh D'Souza, who cut his political
teeth at the Dartmouth Review, explains: "A conservative newspaper or
magazine fills a crucial void. To students, it says that there is
another way of looking at the world. ...To faculty members, it says
that the legacy of the 1960s has by no means monolithically been
transferred to the youth ethos of the 1990s."
	The Madison Center wasn't the only college-focused operation
to receive substantial conservative funding during the 1990-91 school
year. According to the University Conversion Project, 19 right-leaning
foundations invested $1.8 million in 11 right-wing student
groups-groups like the Eagle Forum Collegians, the youth brigade of
Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Last years Collegian leadership
conference, held in the Russell Senate Office Building Caucus Room,
featured topics like: "How to Successfully Terminate Liberal Campus
Organizations," “Defunding the Nation’s Largest Student
Lobby,” and “How to Deal with Liberal Professors.” This last
presentation was given by David Murray, a scholar at the Heritage
Foundation whose position is funded by the above-mentioned Bradley
Foundation.
	Partly because an alternative right press existed on campuses
during the '80s, while a left counterpart did not, right-wing student
groups gained credibility, as did right-wing thought in general.
	Where were the left funders when all this was happening? "On
the left there is no commitment to funding any sort of national press
apparatus," says the University Conversion Project's Smith. “That
is why the right managed to gain so much ground in the 1980s.”
	Besides maintaining its political infrastructure, right-wing
foundations and donors are currently helping foment the conservative
cultural backlash by funding the likes of Concerned Women for America,
Family Life Ministries, Focus on the Family, Traditional Values
Coalition, and Family Reserach Council.
	Political Research Associates, of Cambridge, Mass., has long
been monitoring the funding and the activities of the Republican hard
right. "If you are the party of the wealthy, you can't sell yourself
by saying, 'Vote for us. We are the party of the rich.’" says Chip
berlet, the group’s analyst. “You have to recast the debate as a
cultural war. The basis for your party then is to save culture, save
America. That is much more appealing than to save Dow’s rich
investors.” And there is no hypocrisy involved, as the right
believes that American culture is decaying and that the tax laws do
punish those who create wealth. “The two beliefs work hand in
hand,” says Berlet. “One provides cover for the other.” 
	Fighting the right is a current emphasis of both funders and
progressive groups. But Berlet laments the fact that such organizing
is being done in an informational vacuum. For example, he would like
to find out how many people associated with the militia movement
actually believe some of the crazier conspiracy theories that bounce
around far-right circles. But few foundations have been willing to
fund such studies. "We are launching whole campaigns to fight the
right, without a clue of what we are fighting," says Berlet. “There
is no political infrastructure. We need research, think-tanks,
conferences and publications, then community organizers can go out
with an idea of what to do. Through sharing information and debating
ideas you reach conclusions about what actions will work.”
	A partial excuse for this sad state of affairs is simply that
right-wing philanthropies have more money than the left. But, more
importantly, the left has made a fundamental strategic mistake. While
the right has been busy destroying the intellectual foundations of the
welfare state, too many on the left have responded by sponsoring
stop-gap responses such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. "It is
like being below a dam that is leaking," says Berlet. “your house
is covered in a foot of water. You start mopping fast and faster and
then someone comes and says, 'You know, if we fix the dam we are not
going to be knee-deep in water.' And you say, ‘Don’t bother me,
I’m mopping.’”

Reprinted from In These Times, July 10, 1995 

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