Philanthropic Correctness By Marvin Olasky Heterodoxy Magazine October 1992
Ask James Joseph about Jesus and he sweats. The powerful president of the Council on Foundations, trade association for major American money-givers such as Ford, Rockefeller, and a thousand other philanthropic foundations, is cool before the television cameras as he promotes his favorite cause: the politicization of charity. Yet, sit in a small interview room with him, pop a theological opener ("What do you think of Christ?"), and the water starts to flow.
The question may be provocative but it is not irrelevant. Before he became the Jack Valenti of the charity world ten years ago, Joseph was a man of God. Part of a black family that regularly attended a traditional church, he "grew" from those roots by matriculating at Yale Divinity School during the New Age Sixties and gaining ordination in the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination so socially liberal and theologically tepid that one wag said that its churches ought to have a question mark rather than a cross on their steeples. Later, Joseph found a home in the Carter Administration as a cabinet undersecretary and after that, when Reaganomics left him unemployed, a place in the philanthropic sun with the Council on Foundations.
In his new job he has pushed hundreds of big money foundations to follow the politicized path set by Ford in the 1960s when it financed black separatists in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school battle, funded Democratic Party registrars in the Cleveland mayoral election and sent Bobby Kennedy's staff on an international junket following his assassination. A study published by the Capital Research Center last year spelled out the bottom line of Joseph's reign of political virtue: a reduction in over-all foundation emphasis on traditional charities for the needy and a dramatic increase in ideologically-loaded grants, with 80% of the politicized expenditure going to left and left-of-center groups promoting "progressive" social change.
For Joseph and philanthropoids like him who grew up in a religion that emphasizes acts of charity rather than political agendas, there is probably some remembrance of beliefs past, some consequent guilt, and some...sweat.
Many American foundations grew out of a Protestantism that was evangelical early in this century and drifted into secular humanism later on. Some pioneer philanthropists like John Wanamaker worked hard, lived frugally, and then retired from business to devote their time and resources to personally helping those in need. Today, the annual conferences of the Council on Foundations are held in settings like the Chicago Hilton's Grand Ballroom, which appears to have been inspired by Versailles, with its inset murals, carvings sparkling chandeliers hanging from 34-foot-high ceilings, with 22 karat gold leaf on the walls and mirrors everywhere.
Some philanthropoids, of course, shamelessly love the splendor even as they speak of their solidarity with the poor and oppressed. "We live in a time of terrible somnolence and anesthesia... a time of broken promises," declared Columbia Professor Maxine Green in a recent example of conference oratory. Professor Green, who was protesting the "orientation of this government to the military," virtually called for civil disobedience, and many audience members responded enthusiastically: "I agree. We can choose social change, we can choose justice, or we can back away from that...I try to fund civil disobedience, but I just call it leadership development.... Yes, we hold an incredible amount of power as funders."
The Council on Foundations is ostensibly an apolitical trade association for members with over $74 billion in assets. And this indeed was once its role. But the Council has metamorphosed into a vanguard organization seeking to carry the descendents and representatives of crusty entrepreneurs toward a brave new socially progressive future.
It is a change that would have the foundation fathers, many of whom were practical skinflints, rolling in their graves. S.S. Kresge, builder of a chain of stores, scrimped for a lifetime, endowed a foundation, and did not want to waste any of its $350 million of assets: "I've never spent more then 30 cents a day for lunch in my life and it hasn't killed me." James Duke told his estate's trustees exactly where his money should be spent: 32% to hospitals ("If [people] ain't healthy they can't work, and if they don't work they ain't healthy"), and the rest to schools, churches, retired ministers and their widows, and orphanages.
These founders emphasized direct help, not cosmic causes. Now, however, steering committees for the Council on Foundations conferences seem to be made up of people who have spent too much time watching Ted Turner's Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Rainforests and the ozone layer are foundation heroes for the nineties, and the business leaders whose creative efforts made the foundations possible are its ubiquitous villains.
How did this happen? In some ways the Council is one more institutional victim of the Sixties and its afterlife. Wilmer Shields Rich, its executive director from 1957 through 1967, opposed politicization, saw no need for a large national organization, and tried to "hold overhead to a minimum." But she was succeeded by David Freeman, a Ford and Rockefeller veteran. Freeman knew how to think big, and during his decade as president the Council became a large national organization with 835 members and an influential voice in Washington.
Freeman also emphasized "adult education" for foundation trustees and staffers. When I first interviewed him in 1984, he recalled his "feeling that the Council ought to become more of a spokesman about the [foundation] field, not necessarily/or its members, but to its members." One piece of advice was to turn away from the philosophy of entrepreneur-ship and private enterprise that characterized the careers and lives of most of the founding donors, and towards the idea of government "partnership" with the specific goal of influencing various government policies. Freeman and the Council's chairman, former PrincetonUniversity president Robert Goheen, stressed the need for "private-public collaboration," with "governments and foundations working alongside one another."
For some, the idea of partnership had a radical twist. Thus David Freeman of the Ford Foundation told the Council's annual conference in 1974, "We need to look at all the laws on the books and change them." At the same conference, the radical environmentalist Barry Commoner elaborated: "We are all children of private enterprise. We're getting ready to bite the hand that feeds us."
A Boston Globe reporter excitedly described the scene at this conference, which in retrospect proved to be a watershed event: "At a convention of the heads of foundations set up by the Ford, the Rockefellers, the Pews, the Carnegies, the Kresges, the Mellons and other "malefactors of great wealth' for the purpose of giving away $2.5 billion to $3 billion of the profits of private enterprise every year, the message seems as much a departure as would be, say, a paean to capitalism by Chairman Mao..."
Conference time was not the only time for political propagandizing. Council leaders also used Foundation News, the organizations' bimonthly magazine, to praise foundations that funded — in their words —"anti-imperialism, corporate responsibility, access to media, and the rights of tenants, GIs, prisoners, workers, third-world communities and women." This particular politically correct message even offered an apology and justification in advance for any inconvenience its radical objectives might cause: the need to "be protective of the physical, social and mental well-being of mankind...will result in some limitations of our freedom as entrepreneurs, but the cost benefits to us as human beings will gainsay all of these."
Throughout the 1970s Foundation News extended its agitation in behalf of radical agendas to the familial realm as well. Council members were told that "our marriage and family system is undergoing a major transition from the traditional pattern of the past — rigid, legal, hierarchical and based on the performance of closely defined roles — to the new companionship pattern — fluid, flexible and based on loving and creative interpersonal relationships." There might be some resistance to these changes, but foundations could help to "get couples everywhere involved in a massive, well-organized retraining program....the importance of which no serious and responsible citizen is likely to question."
By 1982 the Council had laid the groundwork for establishing its social gospel in the foundation community. It was time to spread the word. "The role of a prophet is a good one for Joseph," said William Dietel of the Rockefeller Foundation, a member of the search committee instrumental in choosing him from among 200 applicants. At his first annual conference as president, Joseph began by saying he would follow the pattern of "what a famed circuit rider named Paul used to do when he returned from the provinces of Rome."
Indeed, that inaugural address was full of good news: "Everywhere I have been there is a feeling that this is a new era for philanthropy, one of those moments of time which transcend other moments of time, proclaiming a special message and calling us to a special mission." Joseph said he had detected "a new enthusiasm, a liberated spirit, even an audacity to be provocative." Mixing theological metaphors (and religious messages), he compared conference participants to "Prometheus chained to the rocks, yet defying the gods and raging openly..." It was no accident that Joseph had invoked Karl Marx's favorite myth: "Rarely in human history," he continued, "has there been so intense a discussion of the nature of the social contract between a society and its people." It was a time when the philanthropoids were getting acquainted with the marxoids.
The specifics of Joseph's gospel became clearer in statements throughout the 1980s that built on his animosity toward private enterprise and showed no awareness of socialism's failure around the globe. For instance, Joseph told a YaleUniversity audience that decisions about investments of private pension funds should be made by "officials accountable to a public constituency." Their goal should be "to build a secure and just economy" rather than just a secure retirement.
During a speech to students at StanfordUniversity in 1984, he amplified the revolutionary note: "It is the peculiar destiny of this generation to live between two worlds — an old order which is dying but not yet dead, and a new order which is conceived but not yet born." The idea of being between two worlds may have been Matthew Arnold's but the twist Joseph gave it had a decidedly Jacobin ring. "For two hundred years this system [of American democracy] worked quite well," he went on to explain; but now the "communications revolution" should enable us to put into practice "what we are now learning from the new forms of direct democracy emerging."
Joseph was aware that the radical nature of the agenda he was advancing, not only for American society but for tax-exempt foundations he was encouraging to become the spearhead of his "new order" revolution, could inspire political opposition. In the Fifties, Congressional investigators had targeted foundations engaged in what they regarded as subversive and partisan activities. Even a public wary of Congressional investigations might become alarmed at the prospect of billions of dollars administered by self-appointed, self-perpetuating and unaccountable bureaucracies with radical political agendas.
The problem, Joseph realized, would surface if foundations openly united behind any single cause, or if foundation executives were too explicit about their agendas. Such problems could be avoided, on the other hand, if Council members were discreet, not to say Machiavellian in the way they packaged their schemes: "We must find ways to translate what we know into the policy options our public officials are debating; and we must do so without appearing to be either partisan or political."
By the end of the 1980s, the means for advancing policies without appearing to be political were well-established: use Council on Philanthropy conferences, publications, and training to change attitudes among key board members at foundations that remained conservative. Or better still, ease them out altogether. Foundation News described this last technique in a fictional article which detailed how a new board member learns ways to pressure senior members to leave so that philanthropic correctness can be introduced into the foundation's programs. The article amounted to advice on how to subvert a foundation's board: "Introduce a discussion of rotating terms...gather an advisory committee...use some of the foundation's administrative funds to hire consultants...bring on younger members of the family to counter-balance the calcification...[Suggest that those] who have been serving for years should move on by moving off."
The changes were subtle at first. A foundation staffer hired here, a trustee eased out there, a more radical project funded here. But in 1991 the years of proselytizing and agitation bore truly dramatic fruit. Joseph's Foundation News reported that the Pew Trusts, worth $3.8 billion, had "eliminated almost all of their right-wing grant making" and "engaged an activist, socially liberal executive director..."
The heroine of the Foundation News story was 37-year-old Rebecca W. Rimel, a nurse turned administrator who'd risen through Pew's ranks to become a vice president for programs. Although Rimel, after seizing power, "push[ed] out most of the senior staff, a degree of bloodletting seldom seen in the foundation world," there was no need to worry: "her fast-talking, almost breezy public persona masks the heart of a dedicated manager." Not only did Foundation News endorse the coup, but it crowed over the stark disregard of donors' wishes. Joking that the move probably sent the late J. Howard Pew and Joseph N. Pew Jr. spinning in the family crypt, the article concluded with a fanciful possibility: "J. Howard and Joe Jr. stopped spinning — and smiled."
But why would they smile? J. Howard Pew, a devout Presbyterian, supported Christian causes and charitable activity in his hometown of Philadelphia. Pew disliked big government programs, thought the Ivy League colleges were too liberal, and disliked publicity. For years, the Pew Trusts gave to causes and charities that reflected these ideas. Pew founded the conservative Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and backed such traditional charities as the Edith R. Rudolphy Residence for the Blind and the AdoptionCenter of the DelawareValley. Now Pew is funding the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene, Oregon, and a host of other liberal research groups and environmental organizations.
Would Pew smile now that control of his foundation rests with professional grantmakers whose loyalty is to plots hatched by the Council on Foundations, rather than to the Pew vision? Those local charities that directly provide services to the needy no longer fit new Pew guidelines for giving, but Ivy League colleges are in. Although J. Howard Pew hated government welfare programs, the Pew Trusts now operate in partnership with government programs on homelessness, AIDS, health policy and a variety of social and scientific programs.
Could there be two, three many Pews? Could others among the small number of conservative foundations slither left as older board members leave, as bloodlettings occur, and as power-seeking executives encounter board members willing to be dominated?
Already, a majority of foundation officials — according to a Capital Research Center study — believe that the American private enterprise system is unfair to working people, that families and other basic institutions cause alienation, and that a systemic restructuring of American society is necessary. Already foundations are putting their money where the Council's mouth is: over one billion dollars in left wing grants have been made during the past five years, with the big winners including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund. Already, big leftist philanthropies such as the John D. and Catharine T. MacArthur Foundation, the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the New World Foundation and the George Gund Foundation, make over twice as many grants to leftwing organizations as their counterparts on the right make to conservatives. But even this disparity is not enough for the Council: it demands unconditional surrender.
James Joseph has seen ten fat years since his elevation to the Council presidency. His staffers are on call to answer questions on topics such as computer systems and foundation investments. They offer tips on management to foundation boards and to donors interested in starting a foundation. The Council's annual survey of salaries helps foundation executives who hope for raises above the $100,000 per year level. It is the best of all possible worlds.
At their 1992 gathering in Miami Beach, Council on Philanthropy conference attendees sat on the floor of the Fontainebleau Hilton ballroom, put on hats bearing the names of Third World countries and pretended to be starving while others ate lunch. But in the evening, safe behind barricades that kept cars four blocks away from Miami Beach's Lincoln Road, they had their own private feast of clams, steak fajitas, chocolate mousse, and other fine dishes offered at feeding stations every few yards.
There was occasional unpleasantness — I saw two black children turned away from this groaning board — but one retired New York cabbie knew enough to trail the name.
The conference-goers did lots of complaining in Miami, as tropical sunlight fell softly on the carved rosewood and antique bronze of the Fontainebleau Hilton. Ted Turner, who now has a foundation of his own, complained that "we have 10 million, I don't know, different species, and one species uses up half the resources of the planet." Peter Goldmark, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, complained that "a lot of us, a lot of my friends, feel isolated," and the goal now should be government-guaranteed jobs and nationalized health care.
Melanne Verveer of People for the American Way argued that any federal de-funding of pornography was "government censorship" through use of the purse. Mark Rosenman of the Union Institute complained that any restriction on use of non-profit postal rates for advocacy mailings is a plot "to deny the sector its full capacity to speak forcefully in the public interest." Summing up, Council on Foundations board member Ira Hirschfield declared that many money-givers need the Council to "create vision, grab them, and motivate them."
Over the past two decades the Council on Philanthropy seems to have been successful in its task of grabbing and reeducating, but there's always room for innovation. For much of two days the Council placed 66 conference attendees in a closed room where they received instruction in New Age visualization techniques and then used crayons and construction paper to portray what they had learned concerning the purpose of their lives and dollars. The Dream Catchers initially were led by Peter Russell, who studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and argues that if humanity were to evolve into a healthy, integrated, social super-organism, this transformation could signal the maturation and awakening of the global nervous system....Gaia would become a conscious, thinking, perceiving being."
The short-term material remnants after the Dream Catchers' closing session were unimpressive: some crumpled-up drawings, an empty box of Carr's Assorted Biscuits for cheese, and one brown crayon. But the stage is now set for the contest of the 1990s and the 21st century: Environmental pantheism vs. the religious theism that laid the base for American philanthropy. James Joseph has abandoned that vision. He concluded one of his speeches to Council members with the ringing proclamation, "We are the revolution. We are the future."
It may look like smooth sailing to Joseph and his brethren, but one of these days these self aggrandizing liberation philanthropists will find themselves colliding with the people whose destiny they arrogantly try to direct.