If you don't follow the ins and outs of the philanthropy scene, you likely have never heard of the Philanthropy Roundtable. Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer working on the Terri Schiavo case, wasn't familiar with the organization either -- until a few months after he filed an amicus curiae brief in the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of 55 bioethicists and a disability rights organization opposing Gov. Jeb Bush's action in trying “to overturn a court order to remove Terri's feeding tube.”
Eisenberg, who appeared at a Florida State University public debate with lawyers for Gov. Bush and the Schiavo family two months after filing the suit, was curious as to whether Pat Anderson, “one of multiple attorneys who have represented” Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and Wesley Smith and Rita Marker, “two activists whose specialty is opposing surrogate removal of life support from comatose and persistent vegetative state patients,” were doing this work on a “pro bono” basis, as he was.
Through Internet searching, Eisenberg discovered that “many of the attorneys, activists and organizations working to keep Schiavo on life support all these years have been funded by members of the Philanthropy Roundtable.” For nearly thirty years, the Roundtable has been providing a forum for right-wing philanthropists who, according to the organization's Web site, are interested in “promot[ing] greater respect for private, voluntary approaches to individual and community betterment.”
It appears that with their appeals exhausted, Terri Schiavo's parents will now allow her to die in peace. While the hullabaloo over the case will soon pass, we are bound to witness political aftershocks for months, and perhaps years, to come. There are still angles for the media -- especially the 24/7 cable news channels -- to pursue, and rest assured that they will pursue them. But the Schiavo story has reached its zenith and will slowly, repeat slowly, wind down.
What began as one family's tragic 15-plus-year story involving feeding tubes and court rulings affirming that she is in a “persistent vegetative state” with no hope of recovery, evolved into a media spectacle of monumental proportions. In recent weeks, the cast of characters grew exponentially, with folks totally peripheral to the family and Terri's situation rushing into the spotlight.
Christian fundamentalists, who didn't believe that Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, had the right to have her feeding tube removed, flocked to Florida -- although not in numbers that fundamentalist leaders had hoped for. Was there any better video than that of Christian fundamentalists falling to their knees in prayer outside Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, or children with duct tape over their mouths holding up signs in support of Terri? And how about the chutzpah of Bo Gritz -- the former Green Beret commander and prominent member of a militant antigovernment movement -- who got arrested while trying “to deliver a cup of water” to Schiavo?
There were state judges, appeal court judges, Florida's Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court, and an assortment of lawyers and doctors. Florida's Governor Jeb Bush got his “culture of life” swerve on for a spell, and later slouched off to the sidelines. A gaggle of Florida state legislators tried to pull off a series of cockamamie moves, but they were rebuffed by their more common sense colleagues. Then there were our so-called pro-life Congressional representatives, who appeared daily on national television. Especially visible -- and particularly unbearable -- was the embattled and ethically-challenged Tom DeLay.
At one point, the President of the United States rushed back to Washington from his Crawford ranch to sign emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life. Was it a nasty Internet rumor that had the president signing the order in his pajamas? Say that Michael Jackson-type moment isn't so Scott McClellan.
The role of the Republican Party, which thought, and maybe still thinks, the Schiavo case is a great political issue, was particularly despicable. The Party issued a series of talking points that reeked of cynicism. The Democrats -- except for a notable few -- were their usual timid selves. A trip with Dorothy down the yellow brick road might better serve the Democrats than Bert Lahr's cowardly Lion.
Randall Terry Leaves His Mark
The Most Obscene Intrusion by an Outsider Award, however, goes hands down to Randall Terry, the founder of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and the President of the Society for Truth and Justice. Terry was brought on board by Schiavo's parents, who hoped he could mobilize Christian fundamentalist support for their daughter. “Our family asked Randall Terry to come, and we gave him carte blanche to put Terri's fight in front of the American people,” Bob Schindler, Terri's father, said. “He did exactly what we asked, and more. Randall organized vigils and protests, he coordinated the media, he helped us meet with Governor Bush.”
As a family spokesperson, Terry spent much of his time demonizing Michael Schiavo, claiming that he had deserted his wife and was living in sin with another woman. Somewhere along the way, Randall Terry misplaced his moral compass and lapsed into a persistent state of memory loss. He forgot his own pathetic record on marital fidelity and other “family values" issues: A few years ago, Terry deserted his wife and children for a young woman that had worked on his failed congressional campaign; last year, when Terry's son Jamiel revealed that he was gay in Out magazine, Terry responded with a diatribe in the Rev. Son Myung Moon-owned Washington Times, criticizing his son, writing that: "He is no longer welcome in my home.”
“Following the Money”
During Watergate, Deep Throat is said to have told the Washington Post's investigative reporters that in order to understand the scandal, they had to “follow the money.” Of all the many questions that have emerged from the Schiavo story, the issue of just where “conservatives” get the money to pursue their quixotic/theocratic dreams has gotten little play.
“In the Schiavo case,” wrote one of Michael Schiavo's lawyers, Jon Eisenberg, following the money “leads to a consortium of conservative foundations, with $2 billion in total assets, that are funding a legal and public relations war of attrition intended to prolong Terri's life indefinitely in order to further their own faith-based cultural agendas.”
In an early March piece for The Recorder (The Terri Schiavo Case: Following the Money), Eisenberg explained how his curiosity about the opposition's legal team(s) surfaced a few months after filing the brief while appearing at a public forum with several lawyers for Team Gov. Bush and the lawyers for Terri's parents:
“[Among] those supporting Gov. Bush's position were Pat Anderson, one of multiple attorneys who have represented the Schindlers, and Wesley Smith and Rita Marker, two activists whose specialty is opposing surrogate removal of life-support from comatose and persistent vegetative state patients. I found myself wondering: ‘I'm doing this pro bono; are they?’”
Eisenberg discovered that “many of the attorneys, activists and organizations working to keep Schiavo on life support all these years have been funded by members of the Philanthropy Roundtable.” According to Eisenberg:
“The Philanthropy Roundtable is a collection of foundations that have funded conservative causes ranging from abolition of Social Security to anti- tax crusades and United Nations conspiracy theories. The Roundtable members' founders include scions of America's wealthiest families, including Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon industrial, oil and banking fortune), Harry Bradley (electronics), Joseph Coors (beer), and the Smith Richardson family (pharmaceutical products).”
Eisenberg uncoverred the fact that “Schindler lawyer Pat Anderson ‘was paid directly’ by the anti-abortion Life Legal Defense Foundation, which ‘has already spent over $300,000 on this case.’” The Alliance Defense Fund, which is involved with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, “collected more than $15 million in private donations in 2002 and admits to having spent money on the Schiavo case ‘in the six figures,’ according to a recent article in the Palm Beach Post,” Eisenberg writes.
According to Eisenberg, “Wesley Smith and Rita Marker also work for organizations that get funding from [Philanthropy] Roundtable members,” particularly the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. “Smith is a paid senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates the teaching of creationist ‘intelligent design’ theory in public schools... Marker is executive director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia [and Assisted Suicide], which lobbies against physician-assisted suicide. In 2001, Marker's organization received $110,390 from the Randolph Foundation, an affiliate of the Smith Richardson family.”
Philanthropy Roundtable members “also played a role in financing the Bush v. Schiavo litigation”:
“The Family Research Council, which uses its annual $10 million budget to lobby for prayer in public schools and against gay marriage, filed an amicus curiae brief in Bush v. Schiavo supporting Gov. Bush, at the same time its former president, attorney Kenneth Connor, was representing the governor in that litigation... .
“Another amicus brief backing Bush was filed by a coalition of disability rights organizations that included the National Organization on Disability and the World Institute on Disability. The former received $810,000 between 1991 and 2002 from the Scaife Family Foundations, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, and the JM Foundation; the latter received $20,000 in 1997 from the JM Foundation.”
The Washington, DC-based Philanthropy Roundtable -- a conservative counterpart to the mainstream Council on Foundations -- was initially operated under the aegis of the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA), an organization founded in 1978 by two seminal figures of conservative philanthropy, William Simon and Irving Kristol. The IEA now operates as the Madison Center for Educational Affairs.
According to the Philanthropy Roundtable Web site, the organization
“[I]s a national association of more than 600 individual donors, corporate giving representatives, foundation staff and trustees, and trust and estate officers. Its Associates include donors who are involved in philanthropy on a professional basis, as well as individual donors for whom giving is a serious avocation.
“The Roundtable is founded on the principle that voluntary private action offers the best means of addressing many of society's needs, and that a vibrant private sector is critical to generating the wealth that makes philanthropy possible. Its work is motivated by the belief that philanthropy is most likely to succeed when it focuses not on grand social designs, but on individual achievement, and where it rewards not dependence, but personal initiative, self-reliance, and private enterprise -- in other words, where it seeks to expand, rather than restrict human liberty and opportunity.
“The Roundtable attracts independent-minded donors who understand that philanthropy is difficult to do well. In addition to offering expert advice and counsel, the Roundtable puts donors in touch with peers who share similar concerns and interests. Roundtable Associates thereby gain access to the full range of ideas and approaches to giving and information on what works and what doesn't.
“The Roundtable is strongly committed to donor intent and to helping philanthropists ensure that their intentions will be adhered to in the long- term administration of their foundations and trusts. As an organization dedicated to serving donors' needs, the Roundtable represents a unique resource for those who want to make the most of their giving.”
The Philanthropy Roundtable's (PR) Board of Directors reads like a Who's Who of the world of right wing philanthropy. The Board includes: Chairman Daniel S. Peters, the president of the Ruth & Lovett Peters Foundation; Vice Chairman Heather Richardson Higgins, the president and director of the Randolph Foundation; Secretary and Treasurer Joseph S. Dolan, the executive director of the Achelis and Bodman Foundations; Kimberly O. Dennis, the executive director of the D & D Foundation and director of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute; Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution; Michael W. Grebe, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, and James Piereson, the Executive Director of the John M. Olin Foundation.
According to Media Transparency, between 1993 and 2003 the Philanthropy Roundtable received over $4.3 million from such right-wing foundations as the Roe, Earhart, John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, the William E. Simon, and Randolph Foundations. Grebe's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has been particularly generous, giving the Roundtable nearly $1.5 million, all of which was earmarked “to support general operations.”
The January/February 2005 edition of the organization's bi-monthly publication, Philanthropy -- which according to a Right Web profile “highlights cases of individuals and organizations that are making a difference by using the private sector” -- features “Foundations and Public Policy,” a transcript of a discussion that was held at PR's recent annual meeting in Palm Beach between Piereson and Rebecca Rimel, the president of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In recent days, Michael Schiavo has effectively and credibly pointed out the hypocrisy of mostly right-wing politicians and organizations that have injected themselves into his wife's case. But Schiavo's concern is nothing new. During an October 27, 2003 interview with CNN's Larry King, Schiavo told him that the Schindler's had offered him $700,000 “to walk away.”
King: They have that kind of money?
Schiavo: They get money from the right-wing activists. The right wing -- the right-to-life groups.
King: The right-to-life group was willing to pay you $700,000 to walk away?
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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