Kochs

Spending by Left-Leaning Mega-Foundations Deserves Equal Scrutiny

When a non-profit foundation spends millions to change federal policy, the expenditure deserves some attention-regardless of how the organization leans politically.

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Measured purely in terms of philanthropic bang-for-the-buck, the $4.3 million that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has spent since 2003 on promoting a nuclear deal between America and Iran has to be one of the greatest bargains in the history of political charity. That's true regardless of whether America and Iran ultimately reach a nuclear deal, and regardless of whether you are in favor of such a deal or oppose it.

The expenditure, exposed and detailed in a recent Bloomberg News article by Peter Waldman, amounts to less than the price of some two-bedroom apartments in Manhattan. It is a small fraction what Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent supporting Newt Gingrich's losing 2012 presidential campaign. Yet that sum has purchased a top item on President Obama's foreign policy agenda, a directional change in American foreign policy toward Iran.

The left often sees Republican policy in an oversimplified model of being bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers or the Adelsons. Similar philanthropy on the left—George Soros, for example—sometimes attracts scrutiny, but it seems to be less often. The Rockefeller Brothers Iran policy spending is a reminder that spending by left-leaning mega-foundations deserves watching carefully, without falling into the trap of a reverse version of the "Kochtopus" fantasy.

The sometimes malevolent influence of Rockefeller money is, in one way or another, the subject of several recent books and one that is about to come out.

In The Tyranny of Experts, an NYU economist, William Easterly, traces the loss of China to the Communists back to a Rockefeller Foundation-organized meeting at the Yale Club in Manhattan in February 1925. The Rockefeller Foundation-funded Institute of Pacific Relations pursued a top-down, technocratic model of development. Easterly faults the Rockefeller Foundation for "blindness to the Chinese as individuals," writing, "conspicuously missing in Rockefeller's discussion of China is any respect for the initiative and rights of the Chinese people themselves."

James Piereson's new book Shattered Consensus describes the Rockefeller Foundation, along with Ford, MacArthur, and Carnegie, as dwarfing conservative foundations in size, and pioneering a strategy of "advocacy philanthropy," "designed to bring about large change by circumventing the electoral process."

Even those on the Rockefeller payroll concede that results are sometimes mixed. Chef Dan Barber, in his book The Third Plate, quotes the Rockefeller family historian, Peter Johnson, describing the "green revolution" of super-productive wheat and rice crops developed by Rockefeller Foundation-funded scientist Norman Borlaug as "a classic case of unintended consequences." Barber credits the system of agriculture for saving a billion people from starvation—not bad!—but also blames it for being "disastrous for soil health," for accelerating urbanization, and for reducing crop diversity.

To be sure, Rockefeller philanthropy has done plenty of unalloyed good. In a recent column, I credited a 1958 report of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for setting the goal of 5 percent economic growth that John Kennedy ran on in his 1960 presidential campaign, and that Jeb Bush is echoing with his 4 percent growth goal.

But the left-leaning foundations can do plenty of damage, too. The Ford Foundation, with $12 billion in assets, recently announced it will shift its grant-making to focus on inequality. It was an ironical move for a charity where executive compensation reaches into the seven figures.

I'd rather this money be given away by those who earned it—even to foundations that exist long enough for the executives to drift far away from the original donors' intentions—than it be taxed away by the government. The voluntary charitable sector is one of America's great strengths, and its contributions enrich our national conversation. But one needn't be a populist conspiracy theorist who sees the Koch Brothers "dark money" behind every small-government politician to suggest that when a non-profit foundation spends millions to change the federal government's foreign or domestic policy, the expenditure itself deserves some public attention.

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  1. “The expenditure, exposed and detailed in a recent Bloomberg News article by Peter Waldman, amounts to less than the price of some two-bedroom apartments in Manhattan. It is a small fraction what Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent supporting Newt Gingrich’s losing 2012 presidential campaign. Yet that sum has purchased a top item on President Obama’s foreign policy agenda, a directional change in American foreign policy toward Iran.”

    ??? Do you have proof of this? Because isn’t it also possible Obama supported this plan to begin with and would have supported it with or without the spending by this organization?

    Obama is the guy who told Putin he’d have more wiggle room regarding defense deals after the election. It’s possible he wanted this Iran thing from the start and just didn’t want to get bludgeoned with it in 2012 so he waited until afterwards.

    1. It doesn’t matter if Reason writers have proof. If they have a magazine article, or a witness’ brother-in-law who saw a photoshopped picture of something, or a fortune tolder told someone something in ancient Greece, they’ll throw it into the article if it supports the Libertopic narrative.

      1. That’s the great thing about donations like this, isn’t? Who’s to say they effect or don’t effect anything?

        Of course the same goes whenever anyone screams “KOCH!” into the wind.

      2. It doesn’t matter if Reason writers have proof.

        Reason is an online magazine, it makes you think, but it doesn’t provide definitive proof. Once you start thinking, you can seek out actual proof. In the case of political lobbying and donations, the enormous return on investment has been well documented.

        Here is a starting point: http://tinyurl.com/nu2k9qj

        Of course, because you are the typical progressive Internet troll and thinking is the last thing you want to do, you’ll simply persist in casting aspersions on people and news sources.

    2. The word “article” in the very first sentence you copy/pasted is what we in the business call “one of them linky thingies”. It takes you right to the article in question if you click on it so I would say that is pretty good proof the article does exist. If you mean “does Reason have any proof that Obama’s support for this position has been bought and paid for?” – well, that’s what the article is there for. It is the article linked to that argues the parameters of the debate have been framed by a small group of people and that whatever position the Top. Men. in government crap out has been pre-filtered for their ease of digestion by this group. If Obama “wanted this Iran thing from the start”, “the start” was about 25 years ago.

      1. I don’t know what you’re talking about since I read the article and it doesn’t seem to contain much proof of quid pro quo. It basically amounts to ‘Rockefellers supported this, also Obama now supports this, Rockefellers paid some money of the last 13 years MUST BE A CONNECTION!’

        I’m not sure if you’re sarcastically mocking me or what, but I did read that article and it didn’t really provide much evidence that the Rockefeller Fund has been leading Obama around by the nose.

        I would also like to point out that a large portion of the Rockefeller Fund’s spending wasn’t actually spent on political campaigns but was instead spent on other funds that ran articles supportive of the Rockefeller position. Progressives are monstrous hypocrites on the subject of rich people spending money, but I don’t see why I should be worked up by someone spending money to get their viewpoint out there by running websites and setting up think tanks.

        Oh no, rich people have opinions and have tried to exercise their free speech rights? Shit, let’s spend 1000 words claiming they’re buying American policy!

        1. I think the point was that the mainstream media and those who scream about the Kochs should not just ignore funding of this sort. It deserves some attention as the article says in the last sentence.

  2. “Spending by Left-Leaning Mega-Foundations Deserves Equal Scrutiny”

    “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
    — Will Munny

    The Left is serious about power, and their enemies aren’t.

  3. You left out the biggest left-leaning philanthropy disaster in recent memory: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pushing Common Core.

    1. Bill and Melinda gates are NOT progressive, and they are not left. They are egotistical idiots who think change, any change, is an experiment with trying. Neither conservatives nor liberals would claim them.

      1. They also believe that if we just paid a little more attention to Africa, it’d get fixed right up.

  4. All of a sudden reason hates free speech.

    1. Only an idiot would characterize “paying attention” to speech made by powerful interest groups as “hating speech itself”

      But that’s why have you, Tony! We need to hear the Idiot’s Interpretation to understand how cerebrally-challenged people perceive reality.

      “when a non-profit foundation spends millions to change the federal government’s foreign or domestic policy, the expenditure itself deserves some public attention

      1. But all the Republican backers didn’t get any attention by this magazine except in the form of obsequious apologetics and mutilation of the concept of free speech.

      2. One of the problems with leftists, as with other assorted psychopaths, is that part of their illness makes them believe that everyone else thinks the way they do.

        So when they read something like this, no matter what it really says, their sociopath control freak brain interprets it as ‘I want to control the left and take away their right to speak about their ideas’.

        Anyone actually thinking that ‘ok, I don’t agree with the left, but I support their right to say things that I disagree with’, this is so foreign a thought process to them that you may as well be an alien species, they cannot contemplate such a thing.

        1. One of the problems with rightists is their constant need to be wrong about everything so that planet-destroying psychopaths can have as much power as possible.

          1. Hey man, I agree with you that this is no big deal and Ira Stoll is making mountains out of molehills.

            Calm down, Tony. Why don’t you go back to Raw Story so you can listen to people praise communist dictators and talk about sending rich people to the guillotine? You know, like people who are rational and correct in all things would doubtlessly do.

            1. Wasting your time. It’s not sentient.

          2. The evil Koch Bros give generously to organizations trying to end Obama’s racist war on drugs.

          3. that planet-destroying psychopaths can have as much power as possible.

            I wasn’t aware that the right wing is now supporting the Democrats and their corporate cronies. When did that happen?

          4. Who are these planet destroying psychopaths and how have you arrived at the conclusion that they are destroying the planet?

      3. Only an idiot would characterize “paying attention” to speech made by powerful interest groups as “hating speech itself”

        Which of course is exactly why Tony did so.

        1. His argument is a strawman

    2. All of a sudden reason hates free speech.

      Not at all. Reason just points out that the American left is blind to the political corruption and rent seeking in its own ranks.

      Furthermore, while progressives and Democrats advocate restrictions on free speech in order to curb these effects, libertarians continue to advocate what they have always advocated: limiting the power of government.

      That is, lobbying the government isn’t very effective if the government can’t spend much and can’t do much.

      1. Reason just points out that the American left is blind to the political corruption and rent seeking in its own ranks.

        Maybe. At least we actually have a principle of being against corruption and rent-seeking, instead of advocating it as free speech and probably the best way to run things anyhow.

        lobbying the government isn’t very effective if the government can’t spend much and can’t do much.

        This is a libertarian hand-wave. What do wealthy interests want from government? More regulation on them? More taxes on them? They want what you want. At least the ones on the left are advocating for causes and not just their naked self-interest–the ethic promoted as the ultimate virtue by cancerous libertarian philosophies that enable Republicans every step of the way.

        1. Can you elaborate on your claim that you are against corruption and rent seeking? What examples do you have of corruption being passed off as free speech? Some examples would be nice.

        2. Must not be the same Tony calling for rescinding “special” tax-exempt status for religious organizations? I am with you – tax-exempt organizations should be few and far between.

        3. Typical Tony, “It’s OK when my guys do it!”

          1. Notanother haha that is what i was thinking. It apparently is noble and a great thing when his team does it. Liberal billionaires influencing policy are doing their civic duty

    3. Tony, nobody here but you and your fellow Idiot Trolls hates free speech. Unlike you and your lefty friends, we recognize that freedom of speech INCLUDES both unwelcome speech and the expectation of scrutiny. If the Rockefeller Foundation has used its money to influence policy,mthen good. That’s part of why it exists. At the same time, it would be nice if the credulous morons who always want to know where the money that funded anything they disagree with came from were as concerned about the sources of funds for things they like.

      1. Speaking for myself, I consider bribery of politicians detrimental to the principles of democracy and the practice of good governance, regardless of how good the cause of the briber.

        Additionally, I’m just about totally exasperated with this Lutz-like language manipulation bullshit. Bribery of politicians is not the same thing as speech. Though to your credit the supreme court disagrees.

        1. Can you list some examples of bribery to politicians?

          1. DoHillary’sbribes paid into the Clinton Foundation count ?

        2. How does it make you feel for liberal billionaires like soros, ellison, steyer etc throwing their money around to influence policy?

        3. So, making a movie critical of Hillary Clinton is the same as bribing… who exactly? Jeb Bush?

          Every time you spend a dollar criticizing the GOP equivalent to bribing Obama? Does that mean Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, having used many millions of dollars worth of resources to broadcast their shows, are bribing the Democrats on a massive scale?

          Oh and btw, criticizing a person or group for doing something (like spending millions of dollars to promote a harmful policy) is not the same as trying to make their speech illegal. The article does the former, your leftist brethren at Gawker et al, are the ones doing the latter (like, actually trying to get people thrown in jail, literally, for speech they don’t like; think about that for a second).

          It is nothing short of miraculous that this distinction still has yet to penetrate your skull. That thing must be made of granite to keep your brain so impervious to logic.

        4. “I consider bribery of politicians detrimental to the principles of democracy and the practice of good governance,”

          Well, that rules Hillary out.

  5. ^^Pay attention, kids. When leftoid foundations accumulate billions of dollars for the purpose of propagandizing for the enslavement of mankind, that is just good ol’ free speech and you’re actually a tyrant if you mention it, let alone oppose it. But if a right-wing or libertarian group is paid to support freedom and individual rights, they are actually shilling for the Koch brothers and the boogeyman under the stairs because only the 1% benefit from living in freedom, and everyone else is much better off as a collectivized serf.

  6. File this article under “it’s different when we do it”.

    /prog

  7. Along the same lines, after forty years of unrelenting examination of the financial arrangements of Big Tobacco, I’d like to see some investigation into the finances of the anti-smoking forces. I have a sneeking suspicion that theyare no more in order than those of the Anti-Saloon League were.

  8. The Kochs would be well advised to spend a few million dollars making Reason more fit to be read by intellectually serious foundation executives.

    The present edition gets no more traction than its commentariat deserves.

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