We pick up again this week with insights gleaned from a close reading of Jeff Krehely, Meaghan House and Emily Kernan’s report for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) entitled, “Axis of Ideology: Conservative Foundations and Public Policy,” which has so far gone entirely ignored by the mainstream media during the six months it has been available. The report analyzes long-term patterns in the world of right-wing philanthropy and the powerful effect that the $254 million given just between 1999 and 2001 has had in helping to determine the shape of America’s democratic discourse. While “Axis of Ideology” spells out who these foundations are and which organizations receive the most money, it also offers a deeper glimpse into the overarching ideology behind these grants, and hence invites the reader to examine the manner in which this money has altered the American political and media landscape in ways too often overlooked.
The line stretching from a handful of ultra-wealthy, right-wing donors to the media we ingest on a daily basis is a much shorter one than many might think. Consider the silent power that the Coors family wields. The family’s Castle Rock Foundation, which ranks 24th of the largest 79 foundations the study tracked, allows the family to exercise enormous, often unexamined, media power. As the “Axis” authors note, “The Coors family is highly influential in shaping the activities of three organizational pillars of the New Right—the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and the Council for National Policy—that constitute an influential force in Washington, D.C. Involvement with these key groups provides the Coors family with a conservative political base. From this base, the family is connected to prominent activists in other New Right organizations, to groups on the Religious Right, and to allies in governmental agencies and in Congress.” Indeed, the board of Castle Rock is composed entirely of Coors family members, and Holland Coors sits on the board of the Heritage Foundation. Family members also sit on the boards of other conservative colleges and think tanks they fund.
And for all of its money and media power, the Coors family is hardly exceptional. The F.M. Kirby Foundation, run by the Kirby family, provided $3.5 million in grants between 1999 and 2001, giving large sums to Cato, the Heritage Foundation, AEI and the Hudson Institute, and along with the Coors family, partially funding L. Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center, the right-wing media watchdog group. The Koch family, however, holds even more influence, with two brothers, Charles and David, running Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($8.7 million in grants), and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation ($6.8 million), and through other giving, the family contributed more than $20 million to conservative causes during the study period. Charles also founded the Cato Institute (where both brothers serve on the board) and both foundations share the ideology of stressing free market ideals and privatization on a massive scale.
The brothers’ commitment to libertarian and free-market causes should come as no surprise, however, when one learns that Koch Industries, the family’s company, is an oil and gas corporation. As Sierra magazine observed back in 2002, through David’s own group, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), “Koch money funds industry-friendly messages that fill our airwaves and editorial pages, and influences outcomes in the halls of Congress and courtrooms across the country.” This is done by flooding the zone with a steady stream of policy papers, newsletters and op-ed pieces, as well as sending its representatives out to appear on radio and television shows. In writing these op-eds and appearing on television, of course, “individuals associated with these organizations often conveniently decline to acknowledge the substantial funding they receive from Koch and other corporations from the oil, coal, auto and other industries,” the report notes.
The study also shines a spotlight on those family foundations that fund not only think tanks and small, industry-centric propaganda reports, but a slew of conservative magazines and publishing houses. In many instances, writers receive generous stipends directly from the foundations themselves to write ideological tracts. In the past, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation offered $38.8 million in grants to such writers. Bradley was particularly generous to National Affairs Inc., which publishes The National Interest and The Public Interest; the American Spectator Educational Foundation, which publishes The American Spectator—a former favorite of Richard Mellon Scaife’s—and the Foundation for Cultural Review, which publishes The New Criterion.
Bradley has also funded the founding conservative imprint Encounter Books, edited by Peter Collier, as well as providing money to discredited “experts” on racism like Dinesh D’Souza and Charles Murray. As I [Eric] discussed at length in my book, What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, the authors find that “Charles Murray was a Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at the Manhattan Institute and that the Bradley Foundation…provided more than $1 million to him, thereby largely funding his publication of The Bell Curve and Losing Ground. In fact, following publication of Losing Ground…the foundation increased its grant to Murray from $90,000 each year (which he received between 1986 and 1989) to $163,000 per year.” In addition to this, the Bradley Foundation has also begun awarding “Bradley Prizes” of $250,000 to individuals who advance ideas congruent with the Foundation’s conservative Christian and free market principles. Recipients so far include Thomas Sowell, an economist, journalist and author affiliated with the conservative Hoover Institution, and Washington Post and Weekly Standard neoconservative Charles Krauthammer.
What effect has this infusion of cash had on media exposure and for conservative issues? According to a Fair.org report, the Heritage Foundation alone had 3,141 media hits in 2003, up from 2,356 in 2002, an increase of 33 percent, while AEI saw a 42 percent increase and Hoover tallied up a 45 percent increase in media hits for the year. Heritage’s 2002 annual report boasts that more of its experts were seen on national television during that single year than during the entire 1990s, having been featured on more than 600 national and international television broadcasts and more than 1,000 national and major market radio broadcasts, and in some 8,000 newspaper and magazine articles and editorials. (Until the founding of the Center for American Progress last year, progressives were barely even present in this game.)
The far-right wing enjoys an enormous head start in training and funding its voices to head out and preach their message to the American people, and the news media seems, if not oblivious, then at least accepting of the huge imbalance in coverage it gives to the right. With hundreds of millions of dollars flying out of conservative coffers in order to mold public opinion, the liberal side will never have the resources to match them. It is therefore of crucial significance that the media recognize just how lopsided is the right’s advantage in creating “expert” opinion, and treat it with the circumspection it so richly deserves.
Eric Alterman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of six books, including the just-published When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. Paul McLeary is a New York writer. For more information about the NCRP, visit www.ncrp.org. For part one of this article, click here.