In Milwaukee last July, President Bush stood before a
predominantly black audience at Holy Redeemer Institutional
Church of God in Christ and basked in its applause. Touting his
faith-based initiative, Bush spoke of how churches such as Holy
Redeemer-which runs a variety of job-training programs, four
schools, and a housing facility for seniors-help welfare
recipients and educate poor children through school voucher
"The federal government should not ask, 'Does your
organization believe in God?' " Bush told the approving crowd.
"They ought to ask, 'Does your program work?' " Federal agencies,
the president declared, should remove regulations that
"discriminate" against providers of faith-based social services.
Bush's words not only resonated among the 5,000
congregants of Holy Redeemer; they also brought a smile to
Michael Grebe, who was in the audience that day. Grebe is
president of Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation,
which has been a generous supporter of Holy Redeemer's programs,
as well as other faith-based social service efforts in the city.
Grants from Bradley have also funded the work of intellectuals
who've studied faith-based programs, three of whom-John DiIulio,
Stanley Carlson-Thies, and David Kuo-were named by Bush to guide
the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
during its heady first days.
The Bradley Foundation has always "been willing to
challenge the status quo," Bush said at Holy Redeemer. "I'm
honored you're here."
The Bradley Foundation's financial and ideological
backing of Bush's faith-based initiative is just one example
among many of how conservative foundations across the United
States are working hard to influence the policy agenda in
Washington and elsewhere in the nation.
Where the traditional, well-established, and more-liberal
lions of the foundation world such as the Ford Foundation and the
Carnegie Corporation of New York were once seen as the
trendsetters, today it is the conservative grant-makers-the
Bradley Foundation, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, the
John M. Olin Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and others-
that are creating a buzz.
Grants from these well-heeled conservative donors have
supported everything from school vouchers to Social Security
privatization to welfare reform to pro-marriage programs, all
among the most radical public policy ideas promoted by anyone, of
either the political Left or the Right, in recent years.
Today, foundations of all ideological stripes are
spending more than ever before to promote their pet social and
political causes. Despite the hit foundation coffers have taken
from the stock market's decline, foundation grants have held
steady in recent years, according to a report by the
authoritative and nonpartisan Foundation Center.
In 2001, according to the center, the 1,000 largest
private foundations in the United States spent nearly $650
million on public-affairs, civil-rights, and social-action
projects, a category that includes local, state, and federal
spending on everything from think tanks to interest-group
activism. That amount was more than twice what those foundations
spent on such grants in 1997. And it's fair to say that overall,
private philanthropy enjoys a sterling reputation in Washington.
But the talk in Washington-among both liberals and
conservatives-is all about the cadre of conservative and
strategically aggressive philanthropic groups. "Who would have
thought 20 or 30 years ago that we'd be talking about Social
Security privatization, the dismantling of the progressive tax
system, and school vouchers?" asks Chuck Collins, program
director for the liberal group United for a Fair Economy.
Conservative foundations, he said, have "really changed the terms
of the debate."
William Voegeli, program officer at New York City-based
conservative Olin Foundation, one of the most highly regarded in
public policy circles, says that the right-of-center foundations
are "wary of supporting endeavors that preach to the choir."
Instead, Voegeli said, they are looking for people who are making
new arguments and are "getting noticed, shaping the agenda, and
moving the ball down the field." Even more critical, say the
myriad grantees that have benefited from the largesse of the
Bradleys and Olins, is the steadfastness of these foundations;
they are willing to fund programs for the long haul.
Bush's plan to funnel additional government funds to
faith-based social service providers has failed to overcome
Democratic opposition in the Senate. But Grebe said that the
Bradley Foundation is pouring more money than ever into promoting
the idea through its research. To keep the faith-based issue on
the front burner, the Bradley Foundation is underwriting a new
Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson
Institute, an Indianapolis think tank. The center will conduct
research into the merits of faith-based social services; its head
is William Schambra, a former vice president at the Bradley
Foundation. On April 22, President Bush named Schambra to a
recess appointment as a board member of the federal Corporation
for National and Community Service.
And win or lose in Washington, Schambra says that
Bradley-with help from President Bush-has turned stereotypes of
conservatives on their heads. Bradley's $1 million grant to help
Holy Redeemer build a community center was among the largest ever
from a foundation to a black Pentecostal church.
"This is peculiar politics," Schambra said, but it makes
sense. The Bradley Foundation's mission is to promote such
conservative values as self-respect and personal responsibility-
values that Holy Redeemer stresses as well. The foundation also
champions an overarching belief that community organizations
generally provide better services than government-run programs
can. Regardless of the fate of Bush's original faith-based
initiative, Schambra said, "the fact that he is using the
presidency to bring that message is incredibly critical."