A Conflict Of Wills
December 6, 2014

Years ago, the Bradley Foundation, the ultra-conservative dark money pool, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Wisconsin-based legal hack named Rick Esenberg to start up a lawyerly front group for them. The group was ironically and inaccurately called the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL).

WILL's main purpose is to harass law makers and school boards and unions in order to advance their agenda of plantation economics. Their other purpose is to regurgitate the Bradley Foundation's talking points in order to give it the illusion of credibility.

Calumnist* George Will had recently wrote glowingly about this front group as they try to push the agenda to privatize the state's education system.

However, as Erik Wemple of the Washington Post points out, Will forgot to mention that he has a vested interest in WILL:

In George Will tradition, the column is tight and eloquently argued, but it features one omission: Will’s connection to WILL. Since 2008, Will has been a member of the board of directors at the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which dedicates itself to “preserving and defending the tradition of free representative government and private enterprise” in the United States. That mission entails issuing grants to organizations across the country that support the foundation’s objectives.

The foundation’s 2011 annual report includes a record of a $500,000 grant to WILL, to “support general operations.” WILL’s Form 990 for 2011, which appears to be its first year in operation, shows a contribution total of $505,000, meaning that the Bradley Foundation gave critical seed money to the outfit. Its 2012 and 2013 reports also detail grants of $500,000 to WILL.

As a member of the Bradley Foundation board of directors, how much influence does Will have over the foundation’s funding decisions? Plenty, at least according to the group’s annual report: “The programs and funding decisions of the Bradley Foundation are the responsibility of the Board of Directors,” according to a section on grantmaking policies.

This case highlights Will’s intersecting lines of influence. He’s a director of the Bradley Foundation, an entity with more than $800 million in assets and 2013 grants totaling nearly $34 million to organizations in Wisconsin and across the country, including big-time Beltway entities like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society. His column is syndicated to about 450 newspapers. Keeping those two worlds separate is quite a job, as the Nov. 19 column demonstrates: Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist’s kind words, WILL may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest — an offense of which Will has been accused before.

It should be noted, as the gentle reader could have guessed, that WILL has also had their own ethics issues, including illegally giving free legal advice to Republican "rising star" Deanna Alexander, who has gotten in trouble for using taxpayer money for voter suppression and illegally using her office to raise money.

*No, calumnist is not a misspelling.

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