FIFTY YEARS OF AMERICA’S
RADICAL RIGHT-WING MOVEMENT
[Paul Levy © 2019]
For 50 years a powerful Right-Wing Movement has transformed America, capturing the Republican Party and achieving many other notable victories such as Citizens United, popularizing school vouchers, and reversing a growing commitment to address climate change by promoting climate change denial.
Recent exposés such as Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains help reveal this often stealthy Movement, but it has actually been recognized for some time. An early description of it, for example, was a book by John Saloma III entitled Ominous Politics: The New Conservative Labyrinth. Saloma was a moderate Republican and a founder of its Ripon Society. Writing in 1984, he saw the movement as a major danger to the advancement of his Republican Party. Here is how he summarized it:
Over a period … political conservatives have quietly built a vast coalition of think tanks, political action groups, religious broadcasters, corporate political organizations, senators and representatives, Republic Party officials, and other groups with budgets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually. I emphasize the “quietly” because this major development … has arrived almost unannounced.
Although the Movement has grown enormously since 1984, many of its early benefactors and most of its original design such as think tanks, political action committees, and partnership with the Religious Right remain at its core today. We think of the Koch brothers as being pivotal to today’s Movement, but they were already key players in 1984 and their father was before them. In fact, the term Kochtopus, commonly used today to refer to the brothers’ broad influence, was coined in 1980.
Progressive and Centrist activists need to confront this Movement – to shape an effective vision and set of strategies and launch a countermovement, if you will. But a prerequisite to doing this is to understand the Movement’s history, affluence, structure, strategies, institutions, entrenchment, victories, and core ideology.
This document is an attempt to advance these understandings. It is a collection of relatively brief descriptions of key Movement elements. Each contains citations and often supplemental material as well as references and links to Related Essays that I have written.
 Mayer and MacLean use the term “Kochtopus” to identify the reach of Koch activity and influence, so it seems recent. However, Saloma also uses the term, and it was originally coined by Edward Konkin III, a left-wing libertarian in 1980 (New Libertarian’s Manifesto).
FIFTY YEARS OF AMERICA’S
RADICAL RIGHT-WING MOVEMENT
[Paul Levy © 2019]
Part 6: Key Movement Organizations
Descriptions of Selected Organizations
Part 6 provides brief descriptions of some key organizations in the Right-Wing Movement. The descriptions are divided into categories: Key Donors, Think Tanks, Higher Education Initiatives, Law Reform Organizations, and Grassroots Organizations.
Most of the information is from organizational websites, from recent IRS 990 reports by the organizations, or from information cited elsewhere in Fifty Years and repeated here.
Some Key Donors
Bradley Foundations. There are several Bradley foundations and the major one is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (Ann. Expend. = $61 million in 2015). Although founded in 1942, it became a major Movement contributor in 1985, adopting a right-wing mission and agenda after its assets jumped from $14 million to $290 million upon the sale of the Allen-Bradley Company to Rockwell International. The Foundation has been a major donor to right-wing organizations and causes and the prime backer of Scott Walker whose key issues (anti-union stances, school choice, etc.) have coincided with Foundation priorities. The Foundation has a special initiative of supporting Wisconsin political advocacy, media, and think tank entities (what is referred to as the Wisconsin Network).
Scaife Foundations. The Scaife Foundations includes three foundations, the Allegheny (Ann. Expend. = $27 million in 2015), Sarah Scaife (Ann. Expend. = $21 million in 2015), and Scaife Family (Ann. Expend. = $4 million in 2015) foundations. The Scaifes are heirs to the Mellon (bank, oil, aluminum) fortune. Sourcewatch specially notes the Foundation’s funding of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic organizations.
Smith-Richardson Foundation. (Founded in 1935; Ann. Expend. = $27 million in 2015). This foundation is built on the Vicks VapoRub fortune. It became devoted to right-wing causes when R. Randolph Richardson took control of the Foundation in 1973.
DeVos Foundations. There are several DeVos foundations. The original one was the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation (Founded in 1970; Ann. Expend. = $55 million in 2015). Richard was a co-founder of Amway and chair of the Republican National Committee. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation (Founded in 1989; Ann. Expend. = $11 million in 2015). Dick is the Amway heir, and Betsy is Betsy Prince DeVos, heir to the Prince fortune (her brother Erik heads the Prince Foundation and was a co-founder of Blackwater, the defense contractor sometimes referred to as a private army). Both DeVos foundations have focused funding on the Movement as well as on Religious Right organizations. Richard was called the “quiet Godfather and financial angel of the Religious Right Movement.”
Koch Foundations. The Koch brothers are the most well-known of the Movement donors. Their father, Fred, founded the oil business that the brothers have expanded considerably, and he too was a right-wing activist and donor. The brothers, Charles and David are ardent Libertarians (David, for example, funded a Libertarian Party effort in 1980 and was the Vice-Presidential candidate on its ticket). Charles, however, is the particularly active and effective Movement thinker and strategist.
The brothers operate four foundations. The largest of these is the Charles Koch Foundation (Founded in 1980; Ann. Expend. = $51 million in 2015). The related Charles Koch Institute expended an additional $26 million (2016). It funds Movement efforts and also a wide array of interesting projects exploring a wide array of new ideas.
Koch Donors Network. (Founded in 2009; Raised $889 million in 2016). Charles Koch established a donor network in 2009. It holds one or two closed meetings per year. At its initial gathering in 2009, Koch raised about $13 million from participants who are expected to pay at least $100,000 to the Network. In 2016, according to Bloomberg News, the network raised $889 million. The 2019 gathering included 634 donors (181 were first timers).
Olin (Chemical) Foundation. (Ceased operations in 2005).
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Olin began funding right-wing projects with the “ambitious offensive to reorient the political slant of American higher education to the right (Jane Mayer, Dark Money, p.114). William Simon, who became head of Olin shortly after serving as Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury, said, in his 1978 book Time for Truth (p. 78), “Capitalism has no duty to subsidize its enemies…. Private and corporate foundations must cease the mindless subsidizing of colleges and universities whose departments of politics, economics and history are hostile to capitalism.” Instead they “must take pains to funnel desperately needed funds to scholars, social scientists and writers who understand the relationship between political and economic liberty. They must give grants, grants, and more grants in exchange for books, books and more books.”
Donors Trust [DT] and Donors Capital Fund [DCF]. (Founded in 1999; Ann. Expends. = $93 million by DT in 2016 and $68 million by DCF in 2015). DT is a donor advised fund; that is, a fund that advises donors as to where to give their money. Donors to these funds can designate recipients they desire or can let the fund’s administrators decide. Donations can be anonymous and often are. With respect to DT, its goal is “to safeguard the intent of libertarian and conservative donors” and to ensure that funds are used only to promote “liberty through limited government, responsibility, and free enterprise.” DCF is an affiliate of DT.
To get a sense of growth, between 2001 and 2015, DT’s spending rose from about $800,000 to $86 million per year. The two have been major funders of the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and have regularly contributed to the major right-wing foundations such as Heritage, AEI, and Cato. They were the largest donors to the climate change denial initiative, contributing $120 million between 2002 and 2010 to 102 think tanks and action groups committed to climate change denial.
Philanthropy Roundtable. (Founded in 1987) (Ann. Expend. = ca. $10 million). William Simon and Irving Kristol founded the Roundtable (originally the Institute for Educational Affairs) as a conservative alternative to the Council on Foundations. Its mission is “to foster excellence in philanthropy… and to help donors advance liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility in America and abroad.” It claims 660 members (philanthropies and individual donors). The Roundtable provides information and support to donors and has several focal interests, namely, K-12 Education, Economic Opportunity, Veterans, Civic Education, Culture of Freedom, and Health. It publishes Philanthropy magazine. Among its major achievements has been the establishment of Donors Trust.
Some Major Think Tanks
There are many national Movement think tanks. They all follow the advocacy think tank model established by the Heritage Foundation. There are at least 64 state Movement think tanks in addition to the national ones, and they too follow the Heritage model. Most national think tanks have much larger revenues than expenditures, apparently building their assets.
Heritage Foundation. (Founded in 1973; Ann. Expend. = $82 million in 2016). The Heritage Foundation was founded as a competitor on the right to what it saw as the left-leaning Brookings Institute. Richard Scaife and Adoph Coors provided much of the initial funding, and Scaife remained the chief funder for many years. Heritage quickly became the Right’s most prestigious and powerful foundation. By 1985, it was bigger than AEI and Brookings combined.
Heritage did not adopt the conventional model of a research foundation – nonpartisan, objective, non-ideological, research-oriented. Instead, it was “purposefully political, priding itself in creating, selling, and injecting deeply conservative ideas into the American mainstream (J. Mayer, Dark Money).” Its researchers were making a case for conservatism and were as interested and involved advocating their research among policy-makers as doing the research.
This advocacy think tank model was the model adopted by all subsequent Right-Wing think tanks, national and state.
Heritage has been a major influence on Republican policy. It essentially staffed the Republican Study Committee (RSC) after it was formed in 1973 (RSC director Eberly described the relationship to Heritage in 1983 this way: “we are basically a conduit to and from the Heritage Foundation and to and from the members of the House.” Early in Reagan’s administration, Heritage created a “Mandate for Leadership” with 1270 proposals for action, and President Reagan adopted 61% of them. It provides new presidents with such “Mandates” and claims that Donald Trump has adopted two-thirds of its 2017 Mandate. Heritage has also recruited many people to serve as Trump Appointees. The New York Times reported that at least 66 Heritage staff and alums had joined the Trump Administration.
Cato Foundation. (Founded 1977; Ann. Expend. = $37 million in 2017). Cato was founded as a specifically Libertarian foundation by Charles Koch who was its first (and longstanding) Board Chairman), Murray Rothbard, initially a follower of Ayn Rand who split with her and is a major Libertarian, and Ed Crane, an Austrian School economist and director of Cato from 1974 to 2012.
American Enterprise Institute [AEI]. (Founded in 1938; Ann. Expend. = $56 million in 2017). AEI was an early conservative think tank that later adopted the Heritage Model. It is “committed to making the intellectual, moral, and practical case for expanding freedom, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening the free enterprise system in America and around the world.”
The Tax Foundation (Founded in 1937; Ann. Expend = $4 million in 2016). Established in 1937 by CEOs of major corporations, it offers conservative-oriented tax proposals and analyzes tax proposals and the tax consequences of proposed legislation. From 1990-91 it operated as a unit of Citizens for a Sound Economy which became Americans For Progress. It regularly opposes tax increases and social engineering, has established “Tax Day,” supported the Ryan Plan for a balanced budget, etc.
The State Policy Network (SPN) of State Think Tanks. (Founded 1992; Ann. Exp. = $10 million and collectively its state think tanks spend approximately $100 million annually). SPN creates and supports Heritage model think tanks in every state. Today SPN consists of 64 member state tanks, at least one per state; and it also has 90 associate partners including the Movement’s major national think tanks and academic institutes. SPN work closely with ALEC (see Law Reform). A report from SourceWatch described this relationship. When ALEC legislators introduce a bill,
the SPN think tanks are standing by to write the studies, spin the most favorable data, provide the expert talking points, put out the media releases, and do the press interviews that give an aura of academia to the efforts. SPN think tanks have introduced, echoed, presaged, pushed, and reinforced ALEC policies to: attack unions, privatize education, privatize public pension systems, rollback environmental initiatives, and disenfranchise people of color, the elderly, and students.
Some Higher Education Initiatives
There are innumerable examples of academic activities – grants for conservative faculty, for “chairs” in departments, for student scholarships, for independent institutes, for private religious schools, etc. – by Movement donors. The examples below illustrate the use of independent institutes (at George Mason University, a focus of Koch funding for decades); stipulations in college grants (BB&T); two institutes focused on training college students (Leadership Institute; Intercollegiate Studies Institute); and a network of conservative college students (Turning Point USA).
George Mason University has received over $100 million dollars from the Koch brothers over several decades. The grants have funded certain faculty such as James Buchanan, a key libertarian economist, and supported the economics department. Most particularly, they have funded the Law School and several major independent institutes.
Mercatus Center. (Ann. Expend. = $28 million in 2017 In 1980, Richard Fink (longtime chief strategist for the Kochs) brought his libertarian Center for Market Processes from Rutgers to George Mason University (GMU) with the help of the Koch Brothers. Soon Charles Koch with Fink created Mercatus, a think tank (research, education, advocacy) with a university base.
Institute for Humane Studies (IHC). (Ann. Expend. = $18 million in 2017). In 1985, the Kochs also brought IHC to GMU. IHC is a libertarian organization begun in 1961 and directed by Baldy Harper, a co-founder of the Mont Pelerin Society, co-director of Volker Fund for several years, and a noted Austrian School economist.
Today, IHC runs an array of activities that typify libertarian efforts at many colleges. It runs free week-long summer seminars for university students that focus on key libertarian topics such as limited government, natural rights, and property rights. IHC also awards $1 million in scholarships annually, offers PhD Scholarships to "students dedicated to developing, teaching, and applying the principles of a free society,” and has placed over 1200 professors in college classrooms over its 50 years. IHC also has an online program, LearnLiberty, which offers lectures by prominent libertarians.
Antonin Scalia Law School (originally the GMU Law School). In 1985, Koch funds allowed the GMU law school to hire Henry Manne. Immediately through faculty firings and hirings, Manne changed the school into a center of Libertarian jurisprudence. Manne was “father” to a new school of Libertarian legal analysis, Economics and Law, which has become prominent in many law schools and in current legal and judicial analysis. Recently, after a $10 million donation from Charles Koch, the Law School was renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School.
A major activity of the law school is the Mason Judicial Education Program that teaches economics (law and economics) to judges. It provides intensive three-week courses, and about 40% of the current federal judiciary has taken the course.
The Leadership Institute (LI). (Founded in 1979; Ann. Expend. = $17 million in 2017). LI is an activists training center with a major emphasis in training college youth. It claims to have trained over 200,000 conservatives since its inception (Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and many congressmen among them); and claims to have over 1800 campus groups with a regional field staff prepared to provide campus speakers, training, seminars, etc. as well as a website devoted to being a watchdog of the nation’s higher education system (watching for liberal activity and abuses). It is an affiliate of the State Policy Network.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). (Founded in 1953; Ann. Expend. = $8 million in 2016). ISI was an early conservative organization. Today it provides materials, events, networking and other support to conservative college students and professors.
Turning Point USA (TPUSA). (Founded in 2012; Ann. Expend. = $8 million in 2017). TPUSA is a national organization for college students that claims a “more organized presence than all of the left-wing campus groups combined,” claiming a “presence” (chapters?) at 1300 colleges. Its founding funder was Foster Friess, a billionaire from Wyoming who supports conservative and evangelical causes; and its funds have expanded rapidly since its founding, from $79,000 in 2012 to its current $8 million budget. TPUSA has expanded beyond college students. For example it hosted a 4-day high school leadership summit in July, 2018. Among scheduled presenters were Betsy DeVos, Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, Jr., Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, and Rand Paul. Apparently 700 young people attended the four-day event.
Some Law Reform Organizations
The Federalist Society. (Founded 1982; Ann. Expend. = $16 million in 2016). Initially the Society was an association of law students. It was founded by conservative law students at Yale (Robert Bork, faculty advisor) and Chicago (Antonin Scalia, faculty advisor) who were aided by $5.5 million from the Olin Foundation and added funding from the Kochs. It expanded to include conservative lawyers. Today it has 70,000 members: Law students “are absorbed into a sprawling network of (200) law school chapters and study groups, publications, and seminars that could nurture you for your entire career;” and lawyers are organized into 80 metropolitan chapters and have national practice groups, hundreds of events, and more.
The Society is powerful influence on judicial nominations at state and federal levels. For example, President Trump has looked to it (rather than the ABA) to screen and prepare lists of potential Supreme Court nominees before selecting both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC]. (Founded in 1973; Ann. Exp. = ca. $10 million). ALEC is a membership organization with two types of members, private-support members (big corporations) and lawmaker members (conservative state legislators). Its prime task is preparing and promoting model state legislation (bills) that its lawmaker members introduce. Model bills are prepared jointly by member companies and legislators. It claims that its bills are introduced about 1000 times per year and about 20% are adopted. ALEC also conducts a variety of other supports to legislators such as training, networking, and conferences. The increase in “red states” has led ALEC to hope for a constitutional convention. In 2017, it held “the first (constitutional) convention of states since 1861” and 19 states attended (two-thirds of states are required to call an official convention). The group set rules and focused on promoting a balanced budget amendment.
Institute for Justice and Other Public Interest Law Reform Organizations. There are many conservative public interest firms. The Institute for Justice ($27 million budget) has chapters in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington, for example. A few other entities include, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Ohio, the Beacon Center in Tennessee, the Civitas Institute’s Center for Law and Freedom in North Carolina, the Freedom Foundation’s legal center in Washington, the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s legal center, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Liberty Justice center, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation in Michigan, the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Center for Regulatory Reform and Constitutional Law, the North Dakota Policy Council’s Center for Constitutional Law, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Law, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and the Wyoming Liberty Group’s Legal Center.
The James Madison Center. (Founded in 1997). is an example of a national public interest effort. The Center was created in 1997 by attorney James Bopp and Mitch McConnell with funding from Betsy DeVos. Its central agenda has been to remove all caps and disclosure requirements on federal campaign contributions. Its landmark achievement was Citizens United and several subsequent suits, and it continues to expand on that victory and to challenge state campaign contribution limitations as well.
The American Civil Rights Union. (Founded in 1998; Ann. Expend. = $4 million in 2017). The ACRU was formed by an ex-Reagan staffer as a right-wing ACLU to counter the anti-freedom agenda of the ACLU. Through amicus briefs, publications, broadcasts, and other tools, it supports a right-wing agenda focusing on election integrity, First and Second amendment issues, economic liberty, redistricting (“gerrymandering that skews so heavily democratic”), and selected other issue areas.
Judicial Watch. (Founded in 1994; Ann. Expend. = $32 million in 2017). Watchdog group that files FOIA requests and uses the information to raise claims against public officials (almost always democrats). Early funding came from the Scaife and Olin foundations. Among many activities, the Watch has filed 18 lawsuits against Bill Clinton and 20 against Hillary Clinton. It also recently has waged an anti-Soros smear campaign that, among various claims, stated that Soros directed the migrant caravans from Central America.
There are various grassroots organizations – both Movement organizations and affiliates such as right-wing churches and church organizations. The chief grassroots Movement organization is Americans for Prosperity described below. It is closely affiliated with both American Legislative Exchange Network [ALEC] (see Law Reform Organizations) and the Social Policy Network [SPN] (see Think Tanks).
Americans for Prosperity (AFP); previously Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). (Founded in 1984, 2003; Ann. Exp. in 2016 = $64 million + $27 million by the AFP Foundation). CSE was founded by the Koch brothers in 1984 (Rand Paul was its first Chairman). The Kochs felt that “think tanks alone were not enough to effect change” (Mayer, New Yorker). A rift in CSE led, in 2003, to a spinoff organization called AFP. From the beginning, the purpose of CSE-AFP was to generate a grassroots movement. Today AFP has chapters in 38 states. In 2000, Public Citizen (an opponent of big corporate power) reported that CSE had a budget of $15 million:
While CSE purports to be a grassroots voice of consumers, it is, more accurately, a front group for corporate lobbying interests that refuses to reveal its funding sources. As documented in a Washington Post article earlier this year, groups such as CSE "provide analyses, TV advertising, polling and academic studies that add an air of authority to corporate arguments – in many cases while maintaining the corporate donors' anonymity." ("Think Tanks: Corporations' Secret Weapon," The Washington Post, January 29, 2000, p. 1).
Over the past few years, AFP (sometimes through offshoots it creates) has focused much attention on anti-union advocacy, climate change denial, and anti-health care reform. A 2014 Washington Post article by Phil Bump referred to AFP as perhaps, “America’s third biggest political party” because of is political activity and staff size (240 staff at the time).
Libre Initiative Trust and LI Institute (Founded in 2012 and a close affiliate of AFP; Ann. Expend. In 2016 = $13 million). Libre’s website (3-13-19) says that its headquarters are in South Texas and that it “has a presence in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia and will be expanding [to] more states in the coming months.”
Libre brings the right-wing message to a Latino audience. It lauds “economic freedom” which it explains “is the ability to prosper through the free exercise of economic activity while letting others do the same.” It identifies the “five principles of economic freedom: property rights, rule of law, free trade, a constitutionally limited government, and sound money supply.” And it discredits government, explainings that, “over the last few years, we have seen Washington move us further from the principles of economic freedom and, as a result, we have seen an entire nation suffer the consequences especially the Hispanic community (citing disproportionate unemployment rates, home foreclosures, etc.).”
 From Sourcewatch.com, SPN Ties to ALEC, at: https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/SPN_Ties_to_ALEC