Untangling the hairball of right-wing non-profits is a job worthy of the DuPont family genealogist. First cousins, second cousins, intermarrying, charities that aren't really charitable, you name it, you'll find it in the dark recesses of the back pages of federal disclosures. But if you look long enough, and take the time to get to know the various families and their incestuous patterns, a picture emerges. If I had Glenn Beck's blackboard I might be able to even illustrate it, but since I don't, I'll just use pictures.
Up to now, most of the focus on funding has been on Koch Industries, and rightly so. You should all download and read this comprehensive report by the Center for American Progress. It gives a great high-level overview of their political and business dealings.
But the Koch family is only one of several just like them. They're not on the Dow Jones exchange, and if you aren't living in their state or within their direct sphere of influence, you won't really be aware of what they're doing. There's no better state to begin to shed light on them than Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, the descendants and keepers of the Bradley Brothers' legacy - Lynde and Harry - are who you need to know if you want to get ahead in state and/or national conservative politics.
Wisconsin's Conservative Powerhouse
A 2004 report prepared by the National Committee on Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP) about the conservative funding network ranked the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation second on their list of top conservative funders, with the Sarah Scaife Foundation at the top. That was 2004. Like Fred Koch, Harry Bradley was a founding member of the John Birch Society. The asset value of the Bradley Foundation skyrocketed after the Allen-Bradley Co. was sold to Rockwell International Corp. in 1985. The report also notes that Wisconsin was third in a list of top recipient states for conservative philanthropy.
Bradley Foundation Grants
The 2004 NCRP report listed total foundation grants from 1999-2001 as $38,858,118. For the years 2007-2009, total Bradley Foundation grants were $98,154,552, a 252% increase.
The president of the Bradley Foundation is Michael Grebe. From the NCRP report:
Grebe views Milwaukee as a "laboratory" in which it generates and funds various public policy programs that ultimately serve as models for national programs. School choice and welfare reform have been longstanding issues of interest to the Bradley Foundation, and its work on these issues began at the local level but continues at the state and national levels.
Specific grants support that claim. The Bradley Foundation is one of the biggest donors to the State Policy Network, which funds and creates state-based think tanks to influence policy. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute received a grant of $400,000 in 2009 and another $1,075,000 in 2010, earmarked for "a project on Wisconsin policymaking." In 2009, the Employment Policies Institute received $250,000 with a follow-up payment in 2010 of $750,000. The Employment Policies Institute is currently active in the area of opposing minimum wage laws, among other things. Donors' Trust received $500,000 in 2009 to support the "Health Freedom Fund". Most notably in the context of current Wisconsin politics, the Center for Union Facts has received $1,250,000 from 2007-2009 from the foundation for "public education programs." The Center for Union Facts is responsible for spreading the false claim that public employees earn more than private employees, attacks on public school teachers, and other anti-union talking points and public relations. It is a Rick Berman production. Berman is a favorite front guy for astroturf groups funded by the Bradley Foundation and others, including the Walmart dynasty.
In 2009, the Bradley Foundation hired Robert E. Norton, II to fill a newly-created position: Vice President of Donor Relations. Here's his job description:
In 2009, Robert Norton was named Vice President for Donor Relations at the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this role he serves as the primary interface to create collaborative giving options with other foundations, entities and individuals whose mission is similar to that of The Foundation’s efforts.
About Michael Grebe
Michael Grebe is not only the director of the Bradley Foundation. Here are his other associations:
- Chairman, Scott Walker Transition Team
- Chairman, Scott Walker Campaign
- Board Member, Oshkosh Truck Company
- Board Member, Donors Trust
- Chairman, Philanthropy Roundtable
- Board Member, Church Mutual Insurance Company
- CEO, Foley and Lardner (now retired)
The Philanthropy Roundtable and Donors Trust connections enable Grebe to be at the heartbeat of national right-wing giving efforts and campaigns. Adam Meyerson, President of Donors Capital Fund (a donor-advised fund), also sits on the Board of Directors of the State Policy Network and is President of Philanthropy Roundtable.
How Scott Walker got elected
This post began because two questions kept sticking in my head. First, how did a preacher's kid with no college degree manage such a meteoric rise from county executive to Governor? And second, what is it about Wisconsin that has made it such a hotbed of controversy and policy fights? How is it that a state can be so deeply divided, ideologically?
It seems to me that the divide is created by systematically investing huge sums of money in policy "research", media influence, and political causes over a long period of time. This is to say that I think Wisconsin was inherently progressive-leaning and has been pushed right by the institutions funded with conservative, far-right wing money.
Look at Scott Walker. Scott Walker is a face. He's a guy carrying out the orders of his keepers. He's got the look and he's got the ambition. Scott Walker is the face of the John Birch society writ large in Wisconsin.
With Mike Grebe at the helm of Walker's campaign, $11.3 million was spent to elect him. Outside donors included the Republican Governors' Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, who spent millions on independent expenditures. Here's a breakdown of individual donors by industry.
Scott Walker, like the policy institutes the Bradley Foundation funds, is another "laboratory". The formula goes like this. Get a guy with the right bio to appeal to independents. The conservative vote is a given, so it's the independent vote they're going after. Walker had the right populist blend for Wisconsin. Son of a preacher who gave up the education for "hard work", he presented himself as an 'ordinary guy' who had trouble even paying for a suit.
Put a ton of money into his campaign. Inundate the state. Get him elected. Then start putting the policy issues so heavily funded, researched and publicized into effect. Bust unions? No problem, because the WPRI laid the foundation with a series of "research papers" on union-busting. Same with tax cuts and the rest.
Walker's just the puppet. But don't assume it's the Koch family pulling the strings. They hold one. The Bradley Foundation holds two or three. There are other players too, but that's a topic for another post.
This is why we can't give up. I do not accept the takeover of this country by rich John Birch Society members and you shouldn't either. We keep pushing, standing up, showing up. Eventually we will win.
Updated: Here is an excellent resource to identify people in Wisconsin who are associated with the far right. I just discovered it. Marvelous effort.