By Craig McGrath
Special to The Progressive Populist
Much was made in the last election about the influence of massive amounts
of money on the political process. Campaign finance reform is now on everyone's
lips. But little attention has been given to the influence of big, far-right
money on the media and idea machines that create our politics.
The campaign against public education conducted by conservatives, for instance,
has been going on for most of the 1980s and '90s, but it gained more prominence
in 1996 when Bob Dole repeatedly called for school vouchers as a way to
begin privatizing public education.
The lead litigator in the school vouchers fight is the Washington based
Institute for Justice, the property rights and privatization think tank
founded in 1990 by the billionaire Koch [pronounced Coke] oil family of
Wichita, Kansas. The public face of the Institute is Clint Bolick, the right's
favorite media talking head and a protégé of Clarence Thomas
since their days together at Reagan's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Bolick's Institute for Justice was started with hundreds of thousands of
dollars in grants supplied by the three Koch family foundations. In 1993
the Kochs gave $700,000 to the Institute, 70% of its budget. The Kochs continue
to play a major role in financing the Institute, while a representative
of the Charles Koch Foundation has one of the five seats on its board.
The quiet workings of the right's foundation and think tank apparatus in
the planning and nurturing of the assault on the public infrastructure have
been a mostly behind-the-scenes operation. State-financed school vouchers,
attacks on public television and radio, privatizing welfare, indeed the
whole privatization movement, can be traced to the agenda and funding pattern
of the richest, in-your-face, hard right foundations.
The John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, and Sarah Scaife foundations,
along with the three right libertarian foundations run by David and Charles
Koch, have been the primary sponsors of this agenda. The public personas
of Clint Bolick, John Fund, Allyson Tucker, Bill Bennett, and even the lesser
known visage of a Charleen Harr, have become the digital messengers of this
1990's right-wing financial coterie.
Clint Bolick is likely the most recognized of the right libertarian, anti-government
electronic media heads. What ever the issue is, whether school vouchers,
affirmative action, ending regulation, attacking the AARP or Clinton judicial
appointments, Bolick is the right-wing expert of choice. PBS NewsHour, CNN
or NBC will have him in attendance with his clear, quiet tones, to explain
how public education is a failed government intrusion in the lives of working
and poor people or that the civil rights leaders of the past would have
certainly been against affirmative action. He, and the other right spinmeisters,
will imply that U.S. government education and environmental programs are
socialism, by comparing them with failed socialist systems in eastern Europe.
Over the last ten years Bolick has produced numerous books funded by the
right think tanks touting the invisible hand of the free market that have
given him media legitimacy as this kind of wide-ranging authority. He was
also the right's point man in keeping the early Clinton White House off-balance.
With attacks on Lani Guinier and Jocelyn Elders, Bolick and friends were
instrumental in backing Clinton down from the beginning of his administration.
Bolick's attacks generally first appear on the editorial pages of the Wall
Street Journal where friend and fellow right think tanker John Fund is a
senior editorial writer. Fund himself is a stump speaker before such right
wing groups as the Young America Foundation and the Chicago-based Heartland
Institute. At Heartland's 10th anniversary benefit he introduced ABC's 20/20
reporter John Stossel as keynoter for the event.
Heartland is another favorite recipient of far right foundation money, and
gets additional financial attention from Philip Morris, Chevron and the
Chlorine Chemical/Vinyl Institute. A representative of the Charles Koch
Foundation as well as a representative of Philip Morris sits on its board.
Fund was one of three or four regular commentators on the cable MS-NBC network
during the Republican and Democratic conventions. At every turn he was lashing
out at teachers, the NEA and AFT and simultaneously working the school vouchers
and privatization agenda into his color commentary.
Bolick's own attacks on public education go back much further. When he was
the litigation director of Landmark Legal Foundation, he defended the first
Milwaukee school voucher program started by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.
Various groups, including the NAACP, ACLU and the NEA sued to stop the implementation
of the program, citing separation of church and state, but lost in the local
courts. After a recent 3 to 3 split in the Wisconsin state Supreme Court
this summer, the case appears headed to the U. S. Supreme Court.
Bolick and his co-litigator at Landmark Legal, Allyson Tucker, have repeatedly
defended the Milwaukee school voucher program over the last five years.
Tucker now heads the Individual Rights Project in Washington, itself a project
of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture located in Los Angles, as
well as being director of CSPC's Washington office. More about Tucker and
Entrepreneur that he is, Bolick's media roles expanded in 1996. As an expert
on Clinton judicial appointments he released a report under the letterhead
of the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix. When he was interviewed by PBS NewsHour's
Margaret Warner he was wearing his Goldwater Institute hat along with his
Institute for Justice ID. Bolick's conclusion was that Clinton's federal
bench appointments were almost dangerously liberal compared to the previous
12 years under Reagan-Bush.
Bolick has been used regularly by the NewsHour on affirmative action and
civil rights issues and to talk about over-regulation by government.
This is far from the only instance when an uncritical media holds Bolick's
revolving doors open for him. What the electronic media never do, of course,
is look into the funding sources of the Institute for Justice, Landmark
Legal and the rest of the sprawling, growing right think tank-media movement.
Both of these organizations were set up with far-right big money: Institute
for Justice with Koch family money and Landmark with money from the ultra-right's
troika of neo-con financial godfathers - the Olin, Bradley and Sarah Scaife
foundations. Olin Foundation is run by former corporate raider and Nixon
Treasury Secretary, William E. Simon. The Bradley Foundation President is
Michael Joyce, for years a deputy of Simon's at Olin before moving out to
Milwaukee to head Bradley in 1985.
Clint Bolick's wide ranging activities took another twist last summer when
he co-hosted a Washington news conference with six other right think tank
representatives to begin an assault against the National Education Association
and the American Federation of Teachers. This new right arrangement of think
tanks calls itself the Coalition to Educate America. The objective of the
news conference was to complain about NEA's political action committee and
to decry the closeness of a vote in the House that had allowed for NEA's
tax exemption on its headquarters, in effect since 1907, to continue.
But mostly what the panelists castigated the NEA for was its refusal to
privatize the schools. The PTA, strangely, was also a target of this group
and portrayed as a co-conspirator of teachers.
The press conference was organized by Bolick's old friend Allyson Tucker
and her Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Tucker, like Bolick, wears
many "expert" hats on CNN and ABC's Nightline. Popular Culture
has been a long-time opponent of the Public Broadcast System and set up
a project in 1988, the Committee for Media Integrity or COMIT, to launch
a media campaign against PBS. According to foundation reports and sources,
COMIT was started with $125,000 of seed money from the Sarah Scaife Foundation,
flagship of Richard Mellon Scaife's network of financial largesse. Scaife,
worth an estimated $800 million, is an heir to the Mellon banking fortune
who moved to the political far right in the 1960's. The Center, headed by
David Horowitz, a former sixties leftist turned yuppie nineties rightist,
has promoted Tucker far and wide as a free market/personal responsibility
expert touting a commercially correct line in nearly every field of public
policy and private activity.
Moderating the Coalition to Educate America press conference was Charleen
Harr, president of the Education Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Interestingly
enough, Harr, who repeatedly bashed the NEA and AFT as political fronts,
is a research associate at something called the Social Philosophy and Policy
Foundation in Bowling Green, Ohio.
An investigation of this small think tank near Toledo, also showed a Myron
Lieberman there as a senior research scholar. Mr. Lieberman was identified
in follow-up papers from the Coalition to Educate America press conference
as the chairman of Harr's Education Policy Institute. Harr, a former South
Dakota school teacher and defeated Republican senatorial candidate in 1992,
seconded the nomination of former vice-president Dan Quayle at the 1992
The real interesting stuff happens when an examination is made of Scaife
Foundation reports over the last four years. During that time period, the
Sarah Scaife Foundation gave $250,000 to $350,000 annually to the Social
Philosophy and Policy Foundation in Bowling Green. John M. Olin Foundation
gave $200,000 to Social Philosophy in 1994-95, and the Bradley Foundation
another $50,000 in 1995 for a book, written by Harr and Lieberman, attacking
public school teachers.
This system of interlocking directorates, clone think tanks and big money
can be instructive. The Sarah Scaife Foundation's eight-man board, for instance,
contains William Bennett, author of a book on virtue and long-time basher
of public education and the NEA. Reagan's former Secretary of Education,
now vocally advocates dismantling the department he once headed. He is joined
by Richard Mellon Scaife himself and Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage
Foundation. Bennett is also given an annual grant award of $125,000 by the
Olin Foundation to sit as a fellow in cultural studies at the Heritage Foundation
on Capitol Hill.
The benefactors of Popular Culture's Allyson Tucker are just as interesting
and just as identical. The Sarah Scaife Foundation annually gives a quarter
of a million dollars to her Center for the Study of Popular Culture, but
in 1994 boosted that to $1 million - more than it gave to the much larger
Heritage Foundation, which it helped found in the early '70's. The Scaife
Family Foundation threw in another $225,000 in 1994 to CSPC for good measure.
Olin Foundation gave CSPC $750,000 in 1994-95 and the Bradley Foundation
$482,000 in 1994 alone.
The Sarah Scaife Foundation report was especially full of praise for the
time and effort the Center had put into creating a radio program Second
Thoughts and maintaining a PBS show, Reverse Angle which in the Scaife Reports
words "bring balanced presentations to public broadcast." The
mission here was clearly to project the right's agenda on PBS, counter non-right
points of view, and reverse the anti-corporate message it saw PBS putting
out. For anyone who watches PBS regularly it is evident in the last few
years how the tone and content has become decidedly more conservative and
non-controversial. Investigative programs like Frontline, which took on
hard-hitting topics in the late '80s and early '90s, such as the arming
of Iraq by the West and the 1980 Reagan campaign's meddling in the Iranian
hostage crisis, have now been rendered tame. A report last year on Rush
Limbaugh, for instance, was muddled and failed to report his more vicious
racist and sexist comments.
Allyson Tucker, like John Fund, is also a constant commentator on MS-NBC.
Most recently she was in a non-debate the network had about the tape recorded
reactions of top Texaco executives to a suit brought by African-American
former employees charging racial discrimination in hiring and promotions.
The executives were heard making repeated racist remarks and discussing
the shredding of evidence in the case. Tucker's reaction was "let the
free-market take care of it." She was especially appalled that Jesse
Jackson was calling for a boycott of Texaco's products and that the EEOC
would take action against Texaco. Her commercially correct prescription
for people who had been victims of private sector discrimination was that
"they would just leave" [the company]. The other talking head-expert
agreed with her, leaving the moderator to quip, "We'll have to find
something for you to disagree about. "
News executives never question the origins of the money that were used to
create the platforms or the careers of Tucker, Bolick, Bennett and the other
right talking heads. The fact that they exist is simply enough. The super-rich
men and their fortunes that are fueling the think tanks and setting the
commercially correct agenda is rarely, if ever, brought into the open.
Richard Mellon Scaife is barely known outside Washington and hometown, Pittsburgh.
He prefers to work behind the scenes and shuns publicity. He has been a
friend of Newt Gingrich's, however. After Republican victories in early
January 1995, Scaife was feted at a Capitol Hill celebration where Gingrich
lavished praise on him as one of the "founders of modern conservatism,"
for his contributions of $200 million dollars over two decades that laid
the ideological ground work, through the think tank-media talking heads,
for the creation of a new Republican majority in Congress.
Scaife's ideas and money can reach into the realm of the obsessive, however.
His fixation with the suicide of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster
in Fort Marcy park just outside Washington three years ago is legendary.
Scaife, apparently convinced there was more to it, reportedly opened a web
site on the Internet to air any and all conspiracy theories about Foster.
More recently, according to reports in the Washington Post, Scaife was one
of the financiers behind the publication of the book, Unlimited Access.
This largely unsubstantiated smear book accused Bill Clinton of having an
ongoing liaison at a downtown Washington hotel. It's author, ex-FBI agent
Gary Aldrich, a onetime hold over at the White House in security screening
from the Bush administration, was appalled that women in the Clinton White
House wore black and that a number of staffers did not have model-perfect
bodies. The Wall Street Journal ran excerpts of the book on its editorial
Aldrich later admitted that the source for his allegations against Clinton
was David Brock, editor of the American Spectator. The Spectator, a far-right
magazine, has long been financed by Scaife Foundation money. In his book
Aldrich thanks the Southeastern Legal Foundation, an Atlanta right think
tank also supported with Scaife Foundation money, for providing help for
his efforts. Southeastern Legal Foundation, it so happens, is run by Matt
Glavin, a friend of Newt Gingrich from his days when he headed the Georgia
Public Policy Foundation where his "dream" was to have the Georgia
legislature fund school vouchers.
The mission to dismantle the public infrastructure will doubtless continue.
The right's privatization-media machine continues to work its magic on the
major media. The think tanks with innocuous sounding names create the experts
with their papers and reports, while the far right laissez-fairiest foundations
and their money men keep the cash flowing.
They are, in reality, a tightly knit and mutually supported network working
in close concert. The talking heads bear watching as well as the funders
who put them into their positions as media authorities.
Craig McGrath is a free-lance journalist and writer based in Washington,
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