Monday, March 08, 2004


In two recent posts I opined on the origins, interests and importance of the free market ideology movement and the material infrastructure by which it continually reproduces the conditions that reinforce its hold on public policy debates.

On Thursday, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released a report that studied just how this free market ideas machine works. A reporter from the Witchita Eagle was sitting next to me at the press release. Witchita, as it happens, is home to Koch Industries--one of the biggest players in the free market ideology machine.

Conservatives Spend Big Time on Public Policy
By NCRP’s modest estimate, between 1999 and 2001 conservative foundations gave some $253 million to conservative policy organizations, those espousing evangelical Christian or economic libertarian bents who are actively engaged in public policymaking. This number represents about 30 percent of the direct public support—the individual gifts, bequests, corporate or foundation gifts, and estate contributions—received by conservative policy organizations.

Of the $253 million, $116 million or 46% of giving went to think tanks and policy groups promoting a market deregulatory agenda at local, state, national and international levels. Ninety million went to national think tanks: $28.6 to Heritage; $7.6 to AEI; $5.5 to Hoover; $4.8 to Cato.

It should be noted that the foundation giving to conservative policy organizations represents an incomplete rendering of interest group spending on the conservative ideas industry. Corporate contributions to 501©3 non-profits are largely unregulated and face no disclosure requirements (other than grants made by corporate foundations, of course), which unfortunately makes it difficult to pinpoint a precise number for corporations’ (and corporate-affiliated individuals) investments in the conservative think tank industry.

Nor does this tally include conservative foundation spending on other programs that are more removed from the policymaking process, such as conservative media. These and other cultural endeavors including sponsoring television shows; convening conferences; endowing academic chairs in business, law, economics and political science departments; publishing books, magazines and quasi-academic journals which nonetheless play an instrumental role as the infrastructure bywhich conservative think tanks propagate their philosophy, create constituencies for policy proposals, and form the discursive parameters of the public debate.

The NCRP report also notes the substantial political contributions from individuals in leadership positions in these foundations and organizations (and the corporate entities to which they are affiliated) can be traced to Republican PACs and candidates to the tune of $44 million.

Different Strategies
The success of conservative foundations and other conservative policy donors relative to the overall pool of charitable giving to nonprofit organizations is disproportionate to the amount of influence they are able to wield on the policy process. This success reflects major differences between the cultures and strategies of conservative philanthropies vis a vis moderate to liberal philanthropies both in macro and micro-level strategies.

Conservative philanthropies focused on building institutions that became pillars of the public policy process by providing mandates on broad themes and then providing their grantees with multi-year, unrestricted general support that allows them the agility to keep pace with ongoing political developments. They have also emphasized the need for developing intellectual leaders, for mass communication and education and have been explicit in their intent to lobby government. By a sort-of Leninist party-state movement, they have succeeded in influencing government at all its levels: local, state, national and international; executive, judicial and legislative.

In contrast, moderate-liberal philanthropies have been more inclined to short-term, program/project-specific giving that leave their grantee organizations scrambling from grant to grant. As such, many of these organizations develop narrow, single-issue foci and tend to act largely at the national level. Moderate-liberal philanthropies also often demonstrate an aversion of politics, and eschew lobbying.

The agenda and strategy of conservative donors is coordinated through networks of cross-memberships on corporate, foundation and NGO boards of directors, creating a closeness which eliminates much of the impetus felt in the moderate to liberal philanthropy/nonprofit organization realm to spend resources assessing the efficacy of programs and on other oversight measures.

The Movement In Action
Take Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the U.S. with business activities in petrochemicals, natural gas, plastics, and of course commodities trading. Koch’s website boasts, “If Koch were a publicly traded company, its revenues would rank it among the Top 25 in the Fortune 500, ahead of such companies as Microsoft, Disney, Pepsico, and Merrill Lynch.”

Three of the top fifteen biggest spending conservative foundations in NCRP’s study are affiliated with Koch: the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation (7), the David Koch Foundation (8), and the Claude R. Lambe Chartiable Foundation (13). Together, these foundations gave over $20 million between 1999 and 2001; between 1998 and 2003 David Koch (and other leaders of at his Foundation) gave more than $1.7 million to Republicans.

David Koch serves on the board at the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, and is chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy. Charles Koch co-founded Cato with Ed Crane in 1977. Wayne Gable, president of both the Charles Koch and Claude R. Lambe Foundations serves as director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

It should be no surprise that a petrochemical company would have some issues with the EPA and environmental regulations in general. No problem, in 1985 the Kochs and others created an organization called the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment: protecting the environment through secure property rights. One program FREE runs provides all expenses paid seminars on economics and the environment for federal judges. Throughout the mid-1990s, 137 judges reported 194 trips to FREE seminars. FREE itself claims one-third of the federal judiciary has either attended or requested enrollment in FREE seminars.

Oh, and FREE will be hosting the 2004 Mont Pelerin Society tryst in Salt Lake City.

Koch was rewarded handsomely for its investment. Facing fines of over $350 million and possible jail time for 97 counts of violating federal clean air and hazardous waste laws in Corpus Christi, Texas. Levaraging its close relationship with President Bush and the judicial brain-washing activities of FREE, Koch was able to convince the DoJ and the federal judge to accept a guilty plea in exchange for a $10 million fine and $10 million "for special projects to improve the environment in Corpus Christi."

On the Koch family's lifetime commitment to philanthropy, a spokeswoman from Koch Industries told the Witchita Eagle reporter: "When the Kochs give, they give so lawmakers can make better decisions." Better decisions for the Kochs, that is. Ain't democracy grand.


At 4:34 PM, Blogger Ink Stained Wretch said...

You have a great site here.
I've often wondered how the momentum for the "Free Trade" mania got started. You have some great background material here to answer that.


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