Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ron Robinson, president of Young America’s Foundation for more than thirty years. He is an attorney and a board member of numerous granting and grantor foundations. TIME has referred to him as one of the "seasoned generals of the right," leading a diverse and well funded" generation of conservatives who are "winning battles on campus." He is the co-author (with Nicole Hoplin) of the new book, Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement.
FP: Ron Robinson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
What inspired you to write this book?
Robinson: Thank you for the opportunity to share details of this story.
The immediate inspiration came in 1989 when I was seeking permission from Barry Goldwater to bring The Conscience of a Conservative back into print. Barry referred me to Virginia Manion because Dean Clarence Manion played such a pivotal role in its publication.
Virginia Manion explained Dean Manion’s role, but she also asked me to share the story with others. From that day forward, I started to collect stories of the generous, insightful, and farsighted conservatives I met. This became the core of Funding Fathers.
FP: Tell us some of the information in this book that has never before disclosed. Share with us, for instance, how the stories of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley are connected to this phenomenon.
Robinson: Most conservatives know Bill Buckley as the witty, fearless, intellectual who advanced conservatism’s popularity. He was also a generous donor to conservative causes. He gave his leadership, time, speeches, and financial gifts to our Movement.
Buckley’s magazine lost $25 million in National Review’s first 50 years. That gap was overcome by Buckley’s energy and generosity. The episode I like to cite is how Buckley innovated to elicit his readership’s participation in saving NR. In 1958, after four years of sustaining NR with his own gifts, Buckley sent a long letter to his subscribers requesting a donation in addition to the subscription cost. This was never done by an editor or publisher before, but National Review’s readers were eager to advance their ideas.
That combination of a leadership gift, or gifts, coupled with grassroots gifts was also crucial in Ronald Reagan’s career. Henry Salvatori, Cy Rubel and Holmes Tuttle provided the $100,000 for Ronald Reagan to give his “Time for Choosing” speech for Barry Goldwater at the end of the 1964 presidential race. However, those who saw the speech on TV sent in an additional eight million dollars! This convinced Reagan that, although Goldwater lost the election, there was broad support for advancing conservative ideas.
FP: How and why are gifts to conservative causes crucial for our country’s well being?
Robinson: Conservative institutions rely upon voluntary donations. We do not seek coerced tax dollars to sustain our organizations, and few conservatives are wealthy enough to underwrite our Movement on their own. So, if you believe the conservative cause is essential to America’s future, you need to help fund its institutions.
Almost every great conservative institution—Hillsdale College, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Fund for American Studies—has a story of an individual giving a breakthrough gift and then thousands of smaller gifts that make their very existence possible.
FP: Why are anonymous donations to the conservative movement harmful?
Robinson: My co-author, Nicole Hoplin, said it best: Gifts given by conservatives often remain in secrecy, and this deprives the giver of feedback—positive or negative. Anonymity means future gifts are given without the benefit of hindsight, reflection, or full appraisal. By the very nature of a gift, a donor provides legitimacy to the recipient institution or cause…This is especially so with newly emerging groups.
I know some conservatives seek to remain anonymous because they believe Scripture suggests this. But how many of us have been inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the widow’s mite? The gift itself has a public policy dimension we should share.
When conservative organization highlight the effects of a great gift, but do not say who gave it, they become vulnerable to the claims that suggest there is an illicit or ulterior motive.
FP: Who are some of the major players of the Conservative Movement? How much influence have they really had? How have they changed the course of the history of this country?
Robinson: Five hundred million people in Eastern Europe live in greater freedom because of Ronald Reagan and the Conservative Movement. Before Reagan changed our nation’s Cold War strategy, the prospects of the Iron Curtain coming down was viewed as remote or non-existent. Even Vice-President Bush was skeptical. Reagan forced the Soviet Union to change its ways…there are ample testimonials to his success from Gulag inmates.
The Reagan tax cuts, reducing tax rates from 70% to 28%, allowed Americans to decide how their earnings would be allocated. More Americans had the resources to pay for their own homes, education, and health care. They had more resources to give to their favorite charities. The Reagan tax cuts launched the longest era of peacetime prosperity in American history.
These two accomplishments alone made the Conservative Movement an historic success. President Reagan would be the very first person to credit conservatives for making this possible.
These two examples cite the great public policy victories. Although we do not write of David Horowitz’s great contributions in our book, his witness of the vicious nature of the Radical Left surely saved others from the lure of that ideology. Only God knows how many lives have been saved from the destructive forces of the Left because of David’s work and those who support him.
Individuals are alive today because of the work of the Right to Life groups. We still have some Second Amendment rights because of the NRA and other Conservative Movement organizations. Conservative legal organizations have saved many of our freedoms because of their vigilance. Students have the right to meet with Defense recruiters, attend ROTC, or to hear a guest lecture on campus because of Young America’s Foundation and our allies. These are all part of the legacy of the Conservative Movement and those whose gifts sustain it.
FP: The media perpetually praises liberals for their supposed selfless giving and caricatures conservatives for their supposed selfishness. Tell us how your book exposes this myth and what lies behind it.
Robinson: Arthur Brooks’ book, Who Really Cares, is the definitive source to go to answer this question, and we credit Brooks’ research in Funding Fathers. Nicole Hoplin and I cite the double standard. Leftist George Soros is a “mover of markets,” a “guru,” a “philosopher” and “The Man Who Would Mend the World” according to the mainstream media. Conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, in contrast, is “the sugardaddy of the New Right,” “The Right’s Daddy Morebucks”, an “extremist,” and a “reclusive heir.”
Leftist equate taxing other people as being generous. However, in practice they give very little or nothing of their own money to charity. Conservatives, in contrast, make no claims to be more compassionate, but their record of personal generosity is exemplary.
I don’t fulfill my obligation to help others by calling for increase taxation of George Soros, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. I fulfill my obligation by what I give of my own income. Our book highlights how underreported conservative gifts have enhanced freedom.
FP: Why does the Left and the Right take steps to suppress conservative philanthropy? What are the consequences of that?
Robinson: The Left knows the importance of funding their institutions. Look at ACORN. Pelosi’s Congress and the Obama administration couldn’t wait to shovel tax payers dollars to that corrupt leftist group. The New York Times proclaimed, “Funding Makes All the Difference” when PBS received the Kroc family inheritance. Obama proclaimed his support for restrictive campaign contributions limitations for others, but spent $750 million on his campaign.
The Left seeks to suppress conservative contributions by elaborate IRS and FEC regulations, negative news stories, or by ignoring conservative successes. The funding of Reagan’s “Time for Choosing” speech would be illegal today because of leftist-backed laws and regulations. There was nothing corrupting about the private funding of that speech. It launched the greatest reform movement in the past 50 years!
Al Franken heavily criticized Boone Pickens for helping to tell the truth about John Kerry’s war record in the 2004 campaign. That is typical of the Left’s efforts to suppress conservatives’ involvement in public affairs. They label every conservative fact-based campaign as an illicit assault on public decency.
Conservatives also suppress their own supporters’ philanthropy by failing to report their own success stories. I suspect too many organizations fear competition for major gifts as if a conservative supporter is the proprietary possession of just one group.
Conservatives are also quick to recount how our nation’s major universities distort donors’ intent and take conservative dollars and spend it on liberal programs. You can cite those cases, but be sure you tell the great stories of conservative institutions that have stayed true to their principles. Otherwise, prospective supporters may just shut down assuming there is too great a risk of diverting their donations to causes they would rather not support.
The consequences are that the institutions on the left are better funded, including taxpayer funding, and there are more of them. Conservative organizations receive a suppressed level of support and conservative donors receive little positive reinforcement for the sacrifices they make. This is part of the reason that a mostly conservative electorate is being governed by a liberal elite.
FP: What do you hope this book will help achieve?
Robinson: At a minimum I want to be part of a “Thank You” process for those who gave sacrificially to build the modern day Conservative Movement. Nicole and I tried to stay clear of case studies that highlight gifts to Young America’s Foundation and the Reagan Ranch. We are leaders in those efforts, but we wanted to write how much we appreciated gifts to so many other conservative organizations.
We also hope this will begin a process of the conservative movement celebrating the breakthrough gifts. By knowing what others have done, and the wonderful results that followed, we believe new donors will be motivated to give.
Our cause is dependent on individual philanthropy. We are not going to turn to coercion and use the government to support us. So it is critical that we celebrate, and increase, gifts to conservative institutions. Our future depends upon this.
FP: Ron Robinson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.