In the constellation that comprises the growing sector of right wing think tanks and policy institutes, the Capital Research Center (CRC) isn't the best funded, the most noteworthy, or the most influential. It doesn't have the largest staff, or the biggest building. Unlike its well-known sister institutions -- the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution -- the Capital Research Center mostly slogs away in relative anonymity.
Don't be fooled by the CRC's general lack of buzz-generating activities: For over twenty years, the CRC has been hell-bent on carrying out its mission -- defunding and disempowering the progressive non-profit sector and casting a wary eye on the foundations that fund them.
In April 2004, Foundation Watch, one of the flagship publications of the Capital Research Center, managed to stir up a minor election-year controversy by raising questions about the philanthropy of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic Party presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. In a report entitled “The Heinz Foundations and the Kerry campaign -- One Has Money, the Other Needs Money,” Ron Arnold -- one of the godfathers of America's “Wise Use Movement” -- examined the relationship between the “foundation's charitable gifts to environmental groups and environmentalist supporters of the Senator's presidential campaign.” Arnold raised a red flag over the possible influence environmental organizations might exert should the Senator win the presidency.
In mid-October of last year, the Center's president, Terence Scanlon, launched a pre-emptive strike against ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and its voter registration efforts. Scanlon cast a shadow over ACORN's reports that it had registered over one million new voters. He charged that because of irregularities, the organization was coming under scrutiny by lawmakers “in state after state [where] allegations are surfacing that ACORN activists are padding the registration books.”
As a non-profit community-based organizing group, ACORN has been on the CRC's radar for several years. According to Scanlon, ACORN, with some 150,000 dues-paying members organized into 65 city chapters, "is better known for public disruption." Its so-called community organizing “has relied on in-your-face confrontation,” including a 1995 demonstration targeting then House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “In 2002 it burst into the Heritage Foundation to harangue welfare reform expert Robert Rector. Dozen of city councils and state legislatures have had to face angry ACORN protesters demanding higher minimum wages and more welfare entitlements. Banks have been pressured to change their lending practices or face ACORN charges of discrimination before regulators.”
Most of time, however, CRC staffers are busy doing the nuts and bolts of the Center -- analyzing how tax-exempt, tax-deductible organizations combine advocacy and “direct action” to promote their vision of the public interest. And it examines how closely individuals in the corporate and foundation sectors are sticking to the “donor intent” of the founders of these corporations and foundations. CRC's staff gets most infuriated when it discovers that foundations originally established by entrepreneurs who accumulated enormous wealth from distinctly anti-environmental activities provide support for environmental groups.
During a late-May, 2000 hearing before the House Resources Committee on the role the Pew Charitable Trusts played as part of a project called the Heritage Forests Campaign, CRC's executive vice-president Robert Huberty's testimony spoke to what he viewed as a disconnect between the founders' original intent and how business was currently being handled: “The source of wealth for the Pew Trusts comes from energy exploration and development,” but the original intent of the founders of the foundation was to “acquaint the American people [with] the evils of bureaucracy, the values of a free market and the paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of people.” He rhetorically asked, “How do the Pew Trusts honor the intentions of their donor by supporting a campaign to permanently end logging in a large portion of the national forests?”
Founded in 1984 by Willa Johnson, a former Senior Vice President of the Heritage Foundation who worked as Deputy Director of the Office of Presidential Personnel in the first Reagan administration, the Capital Research Center (CRC) was established “to study non-profit organizations, with a special focus on reviving the American traditions of charity, philanthropy, and voluntarism.”
In the CRC's 1991 annual report Johnson warned that, “a unified, sophisticated and well-funded philanthropic elite is dedicated to imposing on us the doctrine of ‘progressive’ philanthropy, doctrines that would reorder our political, economic and cultural priorities.”
“This movement, driven by a bankrupt ideology, long since disproved by history, would impose its own standards of 'social justice' based on more involvement of government in philanthropy and more involvement of charities in politics. It has lost faith in the traditional American values of individual responsibility and free choice, to say nothing of the diversity in the marketplace of ideas,” she wrote.
According to Disinfopedia, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy, the membership of the National Advisory Board was listed on its website in 2001, but it no longer discloses the board's current membership: In 2001 it included a veritable Who's Who of the right:
* Richard V. Allen - President, Richard V. Allen Company, Washington, D.C. A member of the Council on National Policy since 1988 and former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan (1980-1982). Allen is currently a senior (CSIS) first senior staff analyst and research principal from 1963 to 1966. He currently serves as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the CSIS Advisory Board as well as the Advisory board of the CRC.
* Dr. Larry Arnn - President, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.
* Dr. John Baden - Chairman, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Seattle, Washington.
* Linda Chavez - a former Reagan appointee president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity. Chavez was Bush's first choice for Secretary of Labour. Signatory to the PNAC.
* T. Kenneth Cribb Jr. - President, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Cribb “was Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs in the Reagan Administration, serving as President Reagan's top advisor on domestic matters.”
* Midge Decter - Author, New York. Wife of Norman Podhoretz (one of the key forefathers of neoconservatism), She “continues to advocate hard-line policies from her perch at the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Public Life.” Signed Founding statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century. Board of Trustees of Heritage Foundation. Board of Overseers of Hoover Institution.
* Michael J. Horowitz - Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C.
* Dr. Deal W. Hudson - Editor, Crisis, recently forced to resign from the magazine over publicity involving a sexual harassment case
* Adam Meyerson - President, The Philanthropy Roundtable. Ex- Vice President for Educational Affairs, The Heritage Foundation.
* Michael Novak - George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy, American Enterprise Institute.
* Kate O'Bierne - Senior Editor, National Review, Washington, DC
* P. J. O'Rourke - Author, Peterborough, New Hampshire
* Marvin Olasky - Editor, World Magazine, and a senior fellow at the Acton Institute.
* Sally Pipes - President, Pacific Research Institute, San Francisco.
* Menlo F. Smith - President, Sunmark Capital Corporation, St. Louis,
* Dr. Walter Williams - Professor of Economics, George Mason University Fairfax, Virginia; serves on advisory boards of: Landmark Legal Foundation, Institute of Economic Affairs, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and others.
* Thomas S. Winter - Editor-in-Chief, Human Events, Washington, D.C.
* Robert L. Woodson, Sr. - President, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise Washington, D.C.
Disinfopedia also reported that the CRC's 2002 IRS return filed in May 2003 listed the office bearers as:
* Terrence Scanlon, President and chairman of CRC's board of trustees since 1994.
* Marion G. Wells, Vice President; the Founding Trustee of the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Lillian Wells Foundation and, since 1992, has been a Co-Chairman of The Heritage Legacy Society, a group of Heritage Foundation supporters making estate gifts to the foundation.
* Daniel J. Popeo, Treasurer; Chairman and General Counsel of the Washington, DC-based Washington Legal Foundation (WLF).
* Constance Larcher, Secretary; President and Executive Director of the WLF.
* Beverley Danielson, Director; with the Institute of World Politics in Coral Gables, Florida.
* Edwin Meese III, Director; A former Attorney General under Ronald Reagan and currently a Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
* Dean Webster, Director; retired CEO of Blue Seal Feeds, Inc in Kennebunkport, Maine.
* Pamela Witherspoon, Officer.
* Barbara Kenney, Director; serves on the boards of the Washington Policy Center and the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and is trustee of the Lillian L. Wells Foundation in Ft Lauderdale Florida.
CRC publishes four newsletters: Organization Trends, a monthly that reports on and analyzes the activities of advocacy organizations; Labor Watch, a monthly tracking “the increasing activism of labor unions that are trying to achieve through political coalition-building the goals they have failed to achieve at the bargaining table”; Foundation Watch, a monthly “examin[ing] the grantmaking of private foundations"; and Compassion & Culture, a monthly "highlighting the work of small, locally based charities that help the needy.”
According to Media Transparency, an organization tracking “the money behind the media,” between 1985 and 2002, the CRC received 153 grants valued at more than $7 million. Major donors include The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Carthage Foundation, and the Earhart Foundation.
CRC also sponsors three additional watchdog projects: GreenWatch, “an on-line database and information clearinghouse providing factual information on over 500 non-profit environmental groups”; EducationWatch, “an online database and news service providing timely information about nonprofit policy and advocacy groups involved in the public debate over the reform of K-12 primary education”; and CorporatePatterns, “monitor[ing] the philanthropic activities of America's leading corporations.”
Ironically, reports Disinfopedia, while the organization "claims that exposing the funding" of progressive non-profits “is important because sunshine -- the glare of public scrutiny -- is 'the best of all disinfectants'... [it] doesn't seem to think its own hidden agenda should receive public scrutiny,” as it allocates no space on its web site to information about where it receives its funding.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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