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The Biggest Funder of the Left By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 23, 2003


The Ford Foundation was quick to claim credit for helping win the recent Supreme Court rulings on "affirmative action" (upholding the University of Michigan Law School's race-based admissions system) and "gay rights" (striking down a Texas law criminalizing homosexual activity). On its website, the multibillion organization proclaimed, "These landmark decisions reaffirm the Ford Foundation's values of social justice and bolster continuing work for racial, sexual and economic equality....foundation grantees played significant roles, from litigation to research to educating policy makers and the public."

The Ford supported litigants included the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the racial diversity admissions case, and Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project in the sodomy case. Though specifics were not given in the press release, a quick look at the Ford Foundation's 2002 Annual Report reveals the extent and purpose of its funding to these groups.

The Ford Foundation in 2002 gave the NAACP-LDEF $500,000 "for litigation and advocacy to combat racial discrimination in employment, education and economic access" and MALDEF $200,000 "for advocacy and litigation to advance the rights of immigrants in the United States." Ford had midwifed the creation of MALDEF with $2.2 million in startup money in 1968, seeking to create a more radical Hispanic movement to displace the more socially conservative and integration-minded groups that then represented the Mexican-American community.

The Lambda Legal Defense Fund was granted $300,000 by Ford in 2002 as "general support for human rights advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people." Another $300,000 went to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force "for advocacy on behalf of underserved gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender populations on issues of poverty, aging and racial justice."

The ACLU received $925,000 "for capacity building and leadership transition designed to respond to a changing policy environment and new challenges to civil liberties in the United States." The relationship between the ACLU and the Ford Foundation has always been close, with Ford giving $7 million to the ACLU endowment fund in 1999. When Anthony D. Romero became ACLU Executive Director in 2001, it was after a decade of work at Ford. When he left Ford, he was director of Human Rights and International Cooperation, which was the foundation's largest program, giving away some $90 million that year.

High among the new challenges of concern to Ford is the American reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In a speech to the Federation for Community Planning's Human Services Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, April 5, 2002, Ford Foundation President Susan V. Berresford took pride in providing $12 million in funding to relief and non-profit organizations after the attacks, but "we soon turned our attention to the 9/11-related national and international problems best suited to Ford's grantmaking operations....Immediately after the events, Ford and its grantees felt it was important for multiple perspectives to be heard through the media. This meant, for example, voices of people from moderate Islamic communities. It included people speaking about earlier periods when the U.S. felt at risk from foreigners and its reaction to the foreigners within our borders, some of which our country now regrets, such as the internment of Japanese individuals and families. It was important to help experts explore the issues behind the headlines and broaden understanding about the countries from which the attacks came." According to Berresford "with other large foundations, notably MacArthur and Hewlett, Ford began to ask how we could help improve public understanding in the U.S. about foreign affairs."

The resulting programs were, of course, in accord with the standard left-wing response to the attacks, which was that Americans shouldn't overreact, as they had only themselves to blame.

The Center for Constitutional Rights was given $150,000 in 2002 "for racial justice litigation, advocacy, and educational outreach activities related to the detention and racial profiling of Arab Americans and Muslims following the World Trade Center attack." The CCR has filed seven suits against various anti-terrorist measures, including the detention of captured terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The CCR also opposed the invasion of Iraq, arguing "Blood for Oil is not a reasonable or equitable equation for the majority of Americans. Nor is Bush's quest for world domination an acceptable ambition."

Another $100,000 was given to the notorious National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers' Guild as "core support for activities to ensure the human rights of noncitizens detained in the United States in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001." The National Lawyers' Guild has been at the center of left-wing activism for decades, and played a leading role in reviving the boisterous antiwar movement after September 11.

An even larger grant of $300,000 was made to Fenton Communications "for strategic communications activities to promote informed voices in response to the September 11th attacks, with an emphasis on the protection of civil liberties and prevention of discrimination." These disbursements were all under the Ford Foundation's programmatic heading of "Peace and Social Justice." Smaller groups and even individual authors were given money to advance the leftist interpretation of events and to contest increased domestic security measures.

As the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was coming up, the radical Wisconsin teachers group Rethinking Schools put out a special report, "War, Terrorism, and America's Classroom," which offered the views of scholars, journalists, poets, and activists opposed to American actions. It also offered teaching suggestions, writing topics and role-playing exercises to promote the leftist interpretation of events.

The Ford Foundation paid to have 30,000 copies of the Rethinking Schools report sent to middle school and high school teachers across the country. The report was favorably reviewed in a Fall 2002 "Ford Foundation Report" by Neil F. Carlson, editor for the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy which seeks to set the agenda for funding political causes. Carlson found the Rethinking Schools report important because of its "disposition to question the official story, to view with skepticism the stark us-against-them (or us good, them bad) portrait of the world."

The Rethinking Schools collection opened with an essay by arch-radical Howard Zinn, a historian specializing in deconstructing so-called American imperialism, and ended with a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. denouncing the Vietnam War. In between were puff pieces on Islam and a supposedly "evenhanded" primer on the  Palestinian uprising provided by the Middle East Research and Information Project. The MERIP is an openly pro-Palestinian, anti-American group. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the MERIP praised street demonstrations as "the most vital and representative antiwar movement the country has seen in a very long time."

As Berresford said in Cleveland, "For many living and working near ground zero, the 9/11 attacks had the same effect as any terrible shock. They forced us to think more deeply about what we do, how we live our lives, and whether we can do better." For the Ford Foundation, that means intensifying their own attacks on American society from every angle, backed by $11 billion in assets. 

Fifty years ago Congress began to look into the Ford Foundation's use of taxpayer funds to underwrite the partisan political agendas of the left. It's time to look again. 


William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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