On our office bulletin board we display a favorite political cartoon,
by Philadelphia cartoonist John Jonik. It depicts a political rally.
Two average-looking guys are standing at a podium with microphones. We
know their politics because each is wearing an arm band adorned with a
simple dollar sign. The viewpoint is from behind them, looking over
their shoulders, so that we can see the faces of the enthusiastic crowd
they are addressing.
In the air above the crowd we can read words that are obviously being
shouted to the men at the podium: "We want dirtier air and water so
CEOs can make more money!" "Send Our Jobs Overseas!" "Stop giving us
benefits from our tax money!" and "Give Our Forests to the Timber
Companies Now!" Individuals in the crowd are holding up placards and
signs. From left to right, they read: "YES to costly health care." And:
"Please tap our computer messages." And: "The U.S. Constitution is
utopian." The last three in the row read, "Pave Our Farm Lands!," "No
laws for industry!," and, "Don't tell us what's in our food!"
The caption of the cartoon, written in bold letters below the image,
is, "The American People Have Spoken."
This cartoon highlights the absurdity of the huge gap between what most
people want their elected officials to be doing and what their elected
officials are actually doing. It is not a cartoon about Republicans vs.
Democrats because, on the issues depicted in the cartoon, Republicans
and Democrats pretty much agree.
Both Republicans and Democrats have abandoned any idea of saving
farmlands, family farms, or the rural areas they once supported.
Instead, both Republicans and Democrats are paving the way for control
of our food supply by a small number of absentee agribusiness
corporations. It's what the market demands, they say.
Both Republicans and Democrats favor auctioning our legacy national
forests to the timber corporations, spending taxpayer dollars to cut
roads for trucks with chainsaws to remove the last stands of ancient
trees --a part of our national legacy that won't grow back. (Tree farms
aren't forests.) It's the most efficient way, they say.
Both Republicans and Democrats now favor policies promoting
"globalization" of the economy --a euphemism for domination of all the
world's economies by a few hundred footloose transnational
corporations, many of which are larger than most nations. This
"globalization" plan requires American workers to compete directly with
sweatshop labor from Mexico to China, thus providing constant pressure
to reduce U.S. wages, benefits, safety rules and environmental
standards. American workers and their families and communities must
make this sacrifice because free markets require it, they say.
No, this cartoon isn't about Republicans vs. Democrats because the
differences between the two parties on these issues are just not very
How did the differences between the two parties disappear over the past
20 years? How did the national political climate come to favor the
policies ridiculed by John Jonik? The humor of Jonik's cartoon lies in
the obvious absurdity of saying that these policy ideas represent the
will of the people. But if they didn't derive from the will of the
people, where did they come from?
In her new report, MOVING A PUBLIC POLICY AGENDA: THE STRATEGIC
PHILANTHROPY OF CONSERVATIVE FOUNDATIONS, Sally Covington traces the
origins of the modern political climate to a dozen philanthropic
foundations, which for 20 years have pursued a coherent, strategic
approach to philanthropy.
Covington defines "conservatives" as those holding two core values:
favoring the smallest possible government and maintaining faith in the
free market to solve all our problems. She traces the many ways in
which these core ideas have spread throughout our society in the last
20 years, underpinning such diverse efforts as cutting housing programs
for the elderly and disabled; claiming that enforcing environmental
laws is a "taking" of a polluter's property rights; scholarship
purporting to show that blacks aren't victims of historical racism,
they're just not as smart as whites; school vouchers, which would
undermine support for public schools; and much more...
Covington examines in detail the funding philosophies and activities of
12 conservative foundations during the years 1992-1994. During the
period, these foundations gave away $300 million, targeting $210
million of it to support 16 national think tanks and advocacy
organizations; 9 media groups; 9 law reform groups; 5 state and
regional think tanks and advocacy groups; 3 religion reform groups; and
2 philanthropic institutions and networks. Together these grantees
represent an impressively coherent nationwide network linking
conservatives in academia, Congress, the media, law firms, think tanks,
and churches. Between them, they create and maintain an unrelenting
rightward pressure on colleges and universities, newspapers, magazines,
and TV stations, state legislatures, the Congress, the federal
judiciary, and on philanthropy itself. They not only influence public
debate; in many instances they define it.
A small nucleus of 18 conservative organizations received 75% of the
$210 million. Many of their names are familiar to anyone who reads a
newspaper: the Heritage Foundation (which helped produce Newt
Gingrich's Contract With America); the American Enterprise Institute;
and the Cato Institute. But many of them are less well-known though
still very effective:
** George Mason University's Law and Economics Center has as its
mission to teach federal judges that the goal of the law should be to
maximize the wealth of society by promoting the efficient use of scarce
resources. Thus conceived, the law is no longer about the Constitution,
or about ethics or justice. In this view, courts become an appendage of
the market, promoting efficiency, not equity. By 1991, the Law and
Economics Center had provided such training to 40% of all federal
judges by offering them all-expense-paid seminars held at resort
locations. Teaching 40% of all federal judges to see the world your way
--now THAT'S effective advocacy.
** The American Studies Center coordinates Radio America --a network of
2000 radio stations promoting small government and free-market
solutions. (See www.radioamerica.org.)
** The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation created National
Empowerment Television, a nationwide, interactive 24-hour TV network
described in 1992 by political commentator David Gergen as "the
creation of a new politics in America" for its ability to mobilize and
interact with core constituencies on issues ranging from immigration to
tax policy to welfare reform.
** The American Enterprise Institute hires ghost writers for op-ed
opinion pieces which are then signed by scholars and are sent to 101
"cooperating" newspapers across the country --3 articles every 2 weeks.
** The Reason Foundation serves as a clearinghouse on privatization and
aggressively markets its ideas to the media, resulting in 359 TV and
radio appearances, and over 1500 citations in national newspapers and
magazines in 1995 alone.
** The Center for the Study of Popular Culture launched the Media
Integrity Project in 1987 to attack National Public Radio for "left-
wing bias." Soon the Accuracy in Media Project escalated the attack
with its accusation that NPR was broadcasting "blatantly pro-Communist
propaganda." Twelve years later, NPR's public funding has been
drastically cut and, to survive, it has been forced to air commercial
messages for major corporations --thus applying a subtle but
unmistakable corporate discipline to the news.
** The Heartland Institute publishes PolicyFax free for elected
officials and journalists. This fax-on-demand service puts hundreds of
short policy documents from leading conservative think-tanks into the
hands of those who need a conservative spin on an issue. Environment-
and-health titles include these: THE ENVIRONMENTAL CANCER EPIDEMIC THAT
NEVER WAS; SILICONE BREAST IMPLANTS: WHY HAS SCIENCE BEEN IGNORED?;
OZONE DEPLETION --WHAT YOU NEVER HEAR ABOUT THE OZONE LAYER; FOUR STEPS
TO REFORMING SUPERFUND; and so on. (See www.heartland.org.)
** The 30-member staff of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
provides technical assistance to the conservative policy movement at
the state level, including development of model legislation and
conferences. More than 26,000 state legislators --more than 1/3 of all
the state legislators in the country --have joined ALEC.
** Capital Research Center (CRC) publishes FOUNDATION WATCH to critique
the "liberal" funding initiatives of major foundations. A recent issue
attacked the Catholic Church's Campaign for Human Development (CHD) for
funding poor people's organizations and other social-action community
In 20 short years, these 12 foundations have significantly altered
every major institution in our society --universities, Congress, state
legislatures, the judiciary, the media, and philanthropic foundations.
What is the secret of their success? Here is what Sally Covington says:
** Conservative grants are overtly and unabashedly political.
Conservative grantees are rewarded for their shared political vision,
and public policy activism. They are heavily supported to market policy
ideas, cultivate public leadership, lobby policy makers, and build
their base of constituents. In contrast, liberal grantees are often
pressed to demonstrate their uniqueness to funders, and to downplay
their ideology and public policy advocacy.
** Conservative funders work to build strong institutions by providing
general operating support, rather than project-specific funding. This
unrestricted money gives grantees considerable flexibility to attract,
train and keep talented people, launch special projects, and build
their databases and skills.
** Conservatives emphasize marketing and communications techniques,
funding grantees to flood the media and political marketplace with
conservative policy ideas, and to communicate with and mobilize their
** They have made long-term funding commitments, providing large grants
over a multi-year, and, in some cases, a multi-decade period. Long-term
funding has anchored conservative institutions, allowing them to take
the offensive on key social, economic, and regulatory policy issues.
** Conservatives support conservative scholarship, rapid-fire research
and advocacy, lobbying, strategic litigation, leadership development,
and constituency mobilization --all the important components of an
effective policy movement.
** Conservatives emphasize networking with other groups around a common
** They invest in recruitment, training, placement, and media
visibility of conservative public intellectuals and policy leadership.
Through clarity of vision and steadiness of purpose, these 12
foundations have now created a new phenomenon that Sally Covington
calls "a supply-side version of American politics in which policy ideas
with enough money behind them will find a niche in the political
marketplace regardless of existing citizen demand." No laws for
industry! Don't tell us what's in our food! Pave our farm lands!
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Sally Covington, MOVING A PUBLIC POLICY AGENDA: THE STRATEGIC
PHILANTHROPY OF CONSERVATIVE FOUNDATIONS (Washington, D.C.: National
Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1998). 52 pages. Available for
$25 from: National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy, 2001 S
Street, N.W., #620, Washington, D.C. 20009; phone: (202) 387-9177; fax:
(202) 332-5084. And see: Sally Covington, "How Conservative
Philanthropies and Think Tanks Transform US Policy," COVERT ACTION
QUARTERLY No. 63 (Winter 1998), pgs. 6-16.
 The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Carthage Foundation;
the Earhart Foundation; the Charles G. Koch, David H. Koch, and Claude
R. Lambe charitable foundations; the Phillip M. McKenna Foundation; the
J.M. Foundation; the John M. Olin Foundation; the Henry Salvatori
Foundation; the Sarah Scaife Foundation; and the Smith Richardson
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