'Civic Renewal'


Special to The Progressive Populist

With the Philadelphia volunteerism summit behind us, it may be well to look at what forces are driving the volunteerism agenda and providing the ideological framework for the privatizing of welfare programs across the country. While most liberal folks are banished from the airwaves and out of the political debate, the right and far right is increasing its control of the political agenda. The current debate on welfare reform, which along with charitable giving and volunteerism often is framed in terms of "civic renewal," is a model of conservative efficiency in controlling the agenda. A case in point is the recent debate over whether volunteering should become a requirement for living in public housing.

A bill, H.R. 2, put forward by the Republican leadership in the House, would require welfare recipients in public housing under 65 years old and unemployed to "volunteer" eight hours of unpaid work each month or face eviction from their homes. An amendment sponsored by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) to exempt young mothers and primary care-givers with children under six failed in the House on May 1 on a largely party-line vote.

Representative Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked at the time of the floor fight whether the owners of public housing were also going to be required to volunteer eight hours a month. The answer from the bill's sponsor, Republican Dave Weldon of Florida, was "no." Then Kennedy asked if the recipients of Export-Import bank loans would be required to volunteer. The answer from Jim Leach, an alleged moderate Republican from Iowa backing the volunteerism plan, was again "no." The Republican bill, requiring unpaid work, passed the House by a wide margin on May 14 and went on to the Senate.

WHILE THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE goes on in Washington to cut back aid to the poor and require volunteer work every month as a condition to have a home, a larger ideological process is at work in the civic renewal, volunteerism and welfare debate. To make palatable the cutting of benefits, and get the public's mind into the correct position on volunteerism, the rights foundations and media personalities have swung into high gear. A new commission, funded with foundation money, is trying to frame the debate on civic renewal and volunteerism. The National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal was ballyhooed through the media this past spring.

This group is a project of the far-right Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee and its president, Michael Joyce. The commission kicked off with a conference last September and has met several times over the last nine months. Its chairman is former Republican Presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, clearly a man with high ambitions. Alexander's press releases have stated that his commission would provide a "road map" for charitable giving and volunteerism in communities across the country. The commission's vice-chairman is Reed Coleman, a board member of the Bradley Foundation. Coleman's background includes being a former military intelligence officer and former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican party.

A brief road map of the Bradley Foundation might be useful here. The foundation was originally formed in 1942 by two Milwaukee brothers, Harry and Lynde Bradley, who ran the Allen-Bradley company. Allen-Bradley was a defense contractor that made radio and electrical parts for the military. The foundation was created to propagate the views of the Bradleys, especially Harry Bradley, on a number of issues.

Harry Bradley was a member of the John Birch Society and made many contributions to William F. Buckley's National Review. His extremely conservative views were well known to employees of his company. He died in 1965.

The Bradley Foundation was an obscure institution until it leapt to super-star status on the far right in 1985 when the defense contractor Rockwell International paid $1.6 billion to buy Allen-Bradley out. Over $290 million from the sale was directed into the Bradley Foundation's coffers. Overnight the foundation became a major player in the funding of the right's think-tank, book-generating and media machine.

After the buy-out, the Bradley Foundation began creating "fellows" at think tanks and universities across the country. It set up or financed clone think tanks, like the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which became a haven for Milwaukee far-right radio crank, Charlie Sykes. It was a primary sponsor, through large grants, of the work of Charles Murray including his books Losing Ground, which called for the abolition of all social programs and The Bell Curve, which theorized that intelligence was connected to race.

Even after Murray was let go by the conservative Manhattan Institute because of this controversial book, Bradley continued to fund Murray at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Michael Joyce at the time called Murray "one of the foremost social thinkers in the country." If there's any question that Joyce harbors far right views himself, consider his comment in a September 1996 foundation newsletter, Wingspread, where he called the Republican election victories of 1994 and the arrival of Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, "America's version of the Revolution that ended Eastern Europe's submission to too much government three years earlier."

Today Bradley's assets stand at nearly $450 million and it gives away between $25 million and $30 million dollars annually in grants, almost exclusively to the hard right.

At its founding meeting the Bradley civic renewal commission had several keynote speakers. The first was Gertrude Himmelfarb, wife of conservative icon Irving Kristol and mother of conservative talking head Bill Kristol. Bill was Dan Quayle's chief of staff when he was vice-president. Having written extensively on the Victorians, Ms. Himmelfarb openly advocates going back to the predatory free-market society of the 1880s and 90s, when life, for most, was short and brutish. Her view of the whys and where fors of poor and disabled people is equally Victorian. Give them plenty of that old time religion and things will be fine. Charity in the 1890s was a "source of moral inspiration and gratification" for the wealthy, she told the Washington Times at the time of the conference.

Another keynoter was Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a long time right talking head like Bill Kristol and a regular on PBS, Fox and ABC as a basher of all things connected with the government and civil rights movement. He may feel that way because, according to foundation records, his Center receives an annual grant of $225,000 from the Bradley Foundation. Woodson, however, is not above taking government money. In March of this year his Center took thousands of dollars from the Washington, D.C., housing authority to put gang members to work on temporary graffiti-cleaning jobs in the Benning Heights neighborhood of Washington.

THE MAKEUP OF THE Bradley civic renewal commission is telling in its links to the Olin Foundation, yet another conservative funder. Commission member Kenneth Dam, a former Reagan administration State Department official, directs the John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics at the University of Chicago. He received a grant from Olin of $740,000 in 1994-95 for his program.

Bradley commission member Chester Finn is a colorful character and former assistant secretary of education when William Bennett headed that agency under Ronald Reagan. He's a guy who likes to use McCarthyite rhetoric to tar his opponents, once calling the non-conservative Joyce Foundation and its director Deborah Leff "a fellow traveler of the education establishment." Finn was given an Olin Foundation fellowship at the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute worth $250,000 in grants during 1994-95. In 1993, Olin gave Hudson $100,000 for a fellowship for William Bennett and another $25,000 so Dan Quayle could have a competitiveness project at the think tank. Bennett need not worry, for the last two years he has been given a $125,000 annual grant by Olin to work at the Heritage Foundation on Capitol Hill.

The Olin fortune that funds its foundation was built on the ammunition and weapons business. The Olin Foundation's president for many years has been former corporate raider William E. Simon. The Bradley Foundation-Olin Foundation fusion is all the more clear since Bradley Foundation president Michael Joyce was the executive director of the Olin Foundation from 1979 to 1985 before he moved out to head Bradley in Wisconsin.

The financial support of the New York-based Olin Foundation ripples through the membership roster of the Bradley civic renewal commission. Commission member Kimberly Dennis, for instance, worked as a staffer for the Olin Foundation for five years and recently left her executive director position at the Philanthropy Roundtable, an Indianapolis-based group of 400 right non-profits set up in 1991 to counter the larger and more mainstream Council of Foundations. The president of the Roundtable is, guess who, none other than Bradley Foundation president Michael Joyce. It's probably worth mentioning that Bradley Commission chairman Lamar Alexander has himself been a grantee of the Bradley Foundation to the tune of $50,000 given to him through the Hudson Institute for a project called the "American Dream." The balance of the membership of the Bradley commission are local charity directors from around the country, some of whom have been grantees of the Bradley Foundation.

Most observers remember that Lamar Alexander ran against Bob Dole in 1996 and will no doubt be a candidate for president in 2000. With his chairmanship of the Bradley-sponsored commission on civic renewal, he has a launching platform for his presidential aspirations. He will have instant media cachet when it comes to welfare reform, volunteerism and what is "good" for civil society over the next few years. The question is how much influence his benefactors at the Bradley Foundation and their far right ideology will have, not only over the debate on welfare reform and volunteerism, but over Alexander's political aspirations. The report of the Bradley-sponsored National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal is due out in mid-June when the Congress will likely be in recess.

Craig McGrath is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 1995-1997 The Progressive Populist