[Marxism] How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 12 07:00:43 MST 2016

How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education
By Jane Mayer

If there was a single event that galvanized conservative donors to try 
to wrest control of higher education in America, it might have been the 
uprising at Cornell University on April 20, 1969. That afternoon, during 
parents’ weekend at the Ithaca, N.Y., campus, some 80 black students 
marched in formation out of the student union, which they had seized, 
with their clenched fists held high in black-power salutes. To the shock 
of the genteel Ivy League community, several were brandishing guns. At 
the head of the formation was a student who called himself the "Minister 
of Defense" for Cornell’s Afro-American Society. Strapped across his 
chest, Pancho Villa-style, was a sash-like bandolier studded with bullet 
cartridges. Gripped nonchalantly in his right hand, with its butt 
resting on his hip, was a glistening rifle. Chin held high and sporting 
an Afro, goatee, and eyeglasses reminiscent of Malcolm X, he was the 
face of a drama so infamous it was regarded for years by conservatives 
such as David Horowitz as "the most disgraceful occurrence in the 
history of American higher education."

John M. Olin, a multimillionaire industrialist, wasn’t there at Cornell, 
which was his alma mater, that weekend. He was traveling abroad. But as 
a former Cornell trustee, he could not have gone long without seeing the 
iconic photograph of the armed protesters. What came to be known as "the 
Picture" quickly ricocheted around the world, eventually going on to win 
that year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Traveling almost as fast was the news that Cornell’s administrators had 
quickly capitulated to the demands of the black militants, rather than 
risk a bloody confrontation. Under duress, the university’s president 
had promised to accelerate plans to establish an independent 
black-studies program at Cornell, as well as to investigate the burning 
of a cross outside a building in which several black female students 
lived. And to the deep consternation of many conservative faculty 
members and students on campus, the president also agreed to grant full 
amnesty to the protesters, some of whom were facing previous 
disciplinary proceedings following an earlier uprising in which they had 
reportedly flung books from the shelves of Cornell’s library, denouncing 
the works as "not relevant" to the black experience.

By all accounts, the confrontation was especially distressing to Olin. 
Cornell’s library was one of four buildings on the Cornell campus 
bearing his family’s name. Both he and his father had graduated from the 
university and had been proud and generous donors. Almost worse than the 
behavior of the protesters, from his standpoint, was the behavior of 
Cornell’s president, James A. Perkins, a committed liberal who had gone 
out of his way to open the university’s doors to inner-city minority 
students and now seemed to be bending the curriculum and lowering 
disciplinary standards to placate them.

It was an attempted takeover, but instead of waging it with bandoliers 
and rifles, Olin chose money as his weapon. "The catastrophe at Cornell 
inspired Olin to take his philanthropy in a bold, new direction," 
according to John J. Miller, whose authorized biography, A Gift of 
Freedom, provides a treasure trove of original research on Olin’s life 
and legacy. Olin "saw very clearly that students at Cornell, like those 
at most major universities, were hostile to businessmen and to business 
enterprise, and indeed had begun to question the ideals of the nation 
itself," a memo from his foundation recounts.
As a result, according to Miller, instead of continuing to direct the 
bulk of his charitable contributions to hospitals, museums, and other 
standard patrician causes, as he had in the early years after he set up 
the John M. Olin Foundation in 1953, Olin embarked on a radical new 
course. He began to fund an ambitious offensive to reorient the 
political slant of American higher education to the right.

His foundation aimed at the country’s most elite universities, the Ivy 
League and its peers, cognizant that these institutions were the 
incubators of those who would hold future power. If these young cadres 
could be trained to think more like him, then he and other donors could 
help secure the country’s political future. It was an attempted 
takeover, but instead of waging it with bandoliers and rifles, he chose 
money as his weapon.

By the time the John M. Olin Foundation spent itself out of existence in 
2005, as called for in its founder’s will, it had spent about half of 
its total assets of $370 million bankrolling the promotion of 
free-market ideology and other conservative ideas on the country’s 
campuses. In doing so, it molded and credentialed a whole new generation 
of conservative graduates and professors. "These efforts have been 
instrumental in challenging the campus left — or more specifically, the 
problem of radical activists’ gaining control of America’s colleges and 
universities," Miller concluded in a 2003 pamphlet published by the 
Philanthropy Roundtable, an organization run for conservative 

"These guys, individually and collectively, created a new philanthropic 
form, which was movement philanthropy," said Rob Stein, a progressive 
political strategist, speaking of the Olin foundation and a handful of 
other private foundations that funded the creation of a conservative 
counter-intelligentsia during this period. "What they started is the 
most potent machinery ever assembled in a democracy to promote a set of 
beliefs and to control the reins of government."

Stein was so impressed that he went on to try to build a liberal version 
of the model. Each side would argue that the other had more money and 
more influence, depending on how broadly they defined the rival camp. 
But beginning in the 1970s, the left felt hard-pressed to match the 
far-ranging propagation of ideology pioneered by a few enterprising 
donors on the right.

There is little doubt that the Cornell uprising radicalized Olin’s 
philanthropy, but the official account citing this as the key to his 
thinking is incomplete. The protest took place in 1969, and Olin didn’t 
begin to transform his foundation into an ideological instrument aimed 
at "saving the free enterprise system," as his lawyer put it, until four 
years later, in the spring of 1973. On closer inspection, it appears 
that there were additional factors involved that shed less flattering 
light on his motivations.

Founded by Olin’s father, Franklin, in 1892, the Olin Corporation had 
begun in East Alton, Ill., as a manufacturer of blasting powder for coal 
miners but expanded into making small arms and ammunition. By 1973, the 
Olin Corporation was embroiled in multiple serious controversies over 
its environmental practices, undermining its reputation, threatening its 
revenues, and ensnarling the company in expensive litigation. It was 
against this backdrop of serious clashes with the increasingly robust 
regulatory state that John Olin directed his lawyer to enlist his 
fortune in the battle to defend corporate America. As he put it, "My 
greatest ambition now is to see free enterprise reestablished in this 
country. Business and the public must be awakened to the creeping 
stranglehold that socialism has gained here since World War II."

At first, the foundation funneled money into the same conservative think 
tanks that Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors, a scion of the 
archconservative Colorado-based Coors brewery family, were supporting: 
the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the 
Hoover Institution, the think tank located on Stanford University’s campus.

But soon John Olin’s focus diverged. Perhaps because of his upset over 
Cornell, his foundation became uniquely centered on transforming 
academe. As he wrote in a private letter to the president of Cornell, he 
regarded the campus as overrun by scholars "with definite left-wing 
attitudes and convictions." Olin noted, "It matters little to me whether 
the economic development is classified as Marxism, Keynesianism, or 
whatnot." He said he regarded "liberalism" and "socialism" as 
"synonymous." All of these academic trends, he asserted, needed "very 
serious study and correction."

To get his bearings, Olin’s labor lawyer, Frank O’Connell, contacted a 
handful of other private conservative foundations. He sought advice from 
colleagues at the Koch and Scaife foundations, as well as a few others 
on the right such as the Earhart Foundation and the Smith Richardson 
Foundation, which was funded by the Vicks VapoRub fortune. George 
Pearson, who was running the Charles G. Koch Foundation at that point, 
guided O’Connell, assigning him a free-market reading list that included 
Hayek’s essay "The Intellectuals and Socialism." Hayek’s point was 
emphatic: To conquer politics, one must first conquer the intellectuals. 
O’Connell recalled, "It was like a home-study course."

The fledgling right-wing foundations were also studying their 
establishment counterparts during this period, particularly the giant 
Ford Foundation. By the late 1960s, Ford was pioneering what its head, 
McGeorge Bundy, a former dean at Harvard and national security adviser 
to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, called "advocacy 
philanthropy." Ford was, for instance, pouring money into the 
environmental movement, funding the Environmental Defense Fund and the 
Natural Resources Defense Council. By supporting public-interest 
litigation, it showed conservatives how philanthropy could achieve 
large-scale change through the courts while bypassing the democratic 
electoral process, just as the early critics of private foundations had 

'What they started is the most potent machinery ever assembled in a 
democracy to promote a set of beliefs and to control the reins of 
government.' In 1977, Olin raised his foundation’s stature by choosing 
William Simon as its president. Simon was a social acquaintance of 
Olin’s from East Hampton, where they both had beach houses, and Olin 
described Simon’s thinking as "almost identical with mine." While Olin 
kept a low profile, however, Simon loved the spotlight, the hotter the 
better. As William Voegeli, who was program officer at the Olin 
foundation from 1988 to 2003, recalled, Simon was like Alice Longworth’s 
description of her father, Theodore Roosevelt. "He wanted to be the 
bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral."
Simon had been energy czar and later Treasury secretary under Presidents 
Nixon and Ford and was a famously intemperate critic of those he 
considered "stupid." This large category included liberals, radicals, 
and moderate members of his own Republican Party. Like Olin, he was 
incensed by the expansion of the regulatory state. He especially 
detested environmentalists and other self-appointed guardians of the 
public interest, describing them as the "New Despots." In his 1978 
manifesto, A Time for Truth, he wrote, "Since the 60’s, the vast bulk of 
regulatory legislation passed by congress … [has] been largely initiated 
by a powerful new lobby that goes by the name of the Public Interest 

Simon disparaged these "college-educated idealists" who claimed to be 
working for "the well being of ‘consumers,’ the ‘environment,’ 
‘minorities,’" and other nonmaterial causes, accusing them of wanting to 
"expand the police powers of the state over American producers." He 
challenged their purity. Noting that they claimed to care little for 
money, he accused them of being driven by another kind of self-interest. 
Quoting his colleague Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, 
he charged that these usurpers wanted "the power to shape our 
civilization." That power, he argued, should belong exclusively to "the 
free market."

Simon’s hatred and suspicion of the liberal elite approached Nixonian 
levels in his 1980 sequel manifesto, A Time for Action. He claimed that 
a "secret system" of academics, media figures, bureaucrats, and 
public-interest advocates ran the country. Simon warned that unless 
businessmen fought back, "Our freedom is in dire peril."

Simon’s foreboding, like that of Olin, is somewhat hard to fathom given 
that both men had reached pinnacles of American power and wealth. They 
were both millionaires many times over, with more properties, 
possessions, titles, honors, and accomplishments than they could easily 
count. Both men were born into privilege. Simon was chauffeured to grade 
school, and his family was so wealthy he likened his parents to the 
carefree and careless characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction.

Nonetheless, he regarded himself proudly as self-made. His father 
evidently lost his mother’s fortune, motivating Simon to make his own. 
On Wall Street, he became a hugely successful partner at Salomon 
Brothers, where he was an early leader in the lucrative new craze for 
leveraged buyouts. But what neither Olin nor Simon had was influence 
over the next generation. "We are careening with frightening speed 
towards collectivism," Simon warned.

Only an ideological battle could save the country, in Simon’s view. 
"What we need is a counter-intelligentsia. … [It] can be organized to 
challenge our ruling ‘new class’ — opinion makers," Simon wrote. "Ideas 
are weapons — indeed the only weapons with which other ideas can be 
fought." He argued, "Capitalism has no duty to subsidize its enemies." 
Private and corporate foundations, he said, must cease "the mindless 
subsidizing of colleges and universities whose departments of politics, 
economics and history are hostile to capitalism." Instead, they "must 
take pains to funnel desperately needed funds to scholars, social 
scientists and writers who understand the relationship between political 
and economic liberty," as he put it. "They must be given grants, grants, 
and more grants in exchange for books, books, and more books."

Under Simon’s guidance, the Olin foundation tried to fund the new 
"counter-intelligentsia." At first, it tried supporting little-known 
colleges where conservative ideas — and money — were welcome. But Simon 
and his associates soon realized that this was a losing strategy. If the 
Olin foundation wanted impact, it needed to infiltrate prestigious 
universities, especially the Ivy League.

The man who put his mark on the Olin foundation more than its namesake, 
or even Simon, was its executive director, Michael Joyce, a fierce 
former liberal who had become an acolyte of Kristol’s. A friend of 
Joyce’s said that he believed philanthropy was about power and that 
those with great fortunes needed political capos like him to tell them 
how to wield it. Joyce was a brawler who wanted to take on America’s 
liberal establishment, not just supplement it in some milquetoast way. 
In the words of Ralph Benko, a libertarian blogger for Forbes, "Joyce 
was a true radical. He was inspired by Antonio Gramsci. He wanted to 
effect radical transformation."

In Miller’s view, Joyce was "an intellectual among activists, and an 
activist among intellectuals. He understood how the world of ideas 
influenced the real world." Joyce was characteristically more blunt. "My 
style," he said, "was the style of the toddler and the adolescent: 
fight, fight, fight, rest, get up, fight, fight, fight. No one ever 
accused me of being pleasant. I made a difference. It was acknowledged 
by friend and foe."

Joining Joyce was James Piereson, a thoughtful, soft-spoken 
neoconservative whose path to the Olin foundation had also run through 
Irving Kristol. Piereson had befriended the Kristol family at the 
University of Pennsylvania, where he taught government and political 
theory alongside Irving’s son, Bill. Both had felt marginalized by their 
more liberal peers. Having closely observed America’s academic 
intelligentsia, Piereson concluded that the foundation needed to 
"penetrate" the most elite institutions "because they were emulated by 
other colleges and universities of lesser stature." As Hillel Fradkin, 
who also worked at the Olin foundation, put it, "The only way you’re 
going to change the debate in this country is by looking to those 
schools. Giving money to conservative outposts won’t get much done."

What emerged was a strategy they called the "beachhead" theory. The aim, 
as Piereson later described it in an essay offering advice to fellow 
conservative philanthropists, was to establish conservative cells, or 
"beachheads," at "the most influential schools in order to gain the 
greatest leverage." The formula required subtlety, indirection, and 
perhaps even some misdirection.

The key, Piereson explained, was to fund the conservative intelligentsia 
in such a way that it would not "raise questions about academic 
integrity." Instead of trying to earmark a chair or dictate a faculty 
appointment, both of which he noted were bound to "generate fierce 
controversy," he suggested that conservative donors look for like-minded 
faculty members whose influence could be enlarged by outside funding. In 
time, such a professor could administer an expanded program. But 
Piereson warned that it was "essential for the integrity and reputation 
of the programs that they be defined not by ideological points of view."

To overtly acknowledge "pre-ordained conclusions" would doom a program. 
Instead of saying the program was designed to "demonstrate the falsity 
of Marxism" or to promote "free enterprise," he advised that it was 
better to "define programs in terms of fields of study, [like the] John 
M. Olin Fellowships in Military History." He wrote, "Often a program can 
be given a philosophical or principled identity by giving it the name of 
an important historical figure, such as the James Madison Program on 
American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University." (Indeed, 
after years of trial and error, the Olin foundation funded Princeton’s 
Madison Program with $525,000 in start-up grants in 2000. Run by Robert 
George, an outspoken social and religious conservative, the program 
serves as the beau ideal of the "beachhead" theory. As a friend of 
George’s described him to The Nation in 2006, he is "a savvy right-wing 
operative, boring from within the liberal infrastructure.")

Piereson warned conservative philanthropists that taking the liberal out 
of liberal-arts education would require patience and cunning. As a 
former academic himself, he knew how politically charged a frontal 
assault would be. Rather than openly trying to overhaul academia 
overnight, he suggested, "perhaps we should think instead about 
challenging it by adding new voices." As he put it, "This may well be 
the best means of changing the college culture, for a few powerful 
voices of criticism may at some point bring the entire ideological house 
of cards crashing down upon itself."

If the Olin foundation was less than transparent about its mission, it 
was not for the first time. Between 1958 and 1966, it secretly served as 
a bank for the Central Intelligence Agency. During these eight years, 
the CIA laundered $1.95 million through the foundation. Olin, according 
to Miller, regarded his undercover role as part of his patriotic duty. 
Many of the government funds went to anti-Communist intellectuals and 
publications. But in 1967, the press exposed the covert propaganda 
operation, triggering a political furor and causing the CIA to fold the 
program. The CIA money at the Olin foundation, which was not publicized 
at the time, disappeared as quietly as it had arrived. The idea of using 
the private foundation to fund ideologically aligned intellectuals, 
however, persisted.

The Olin foundation invested in William F. Buckley Jr., whose television 
show, Firing Line, the foundation supported. It also funded Allan Bloom, 
author of the best-selling slam from the right at American higher 
education, The Closing of the American Mind (in which Bloom also lashed 
out at rock music as a "nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbation 
fantasy"). The foundation also supported Dinesh D’Souza, author of 
Illiberal Education, which blasted "political correctness," castigating 
rules requiring sensitivity to women and minorities as the overreaching 
of liberal thought police.

In addition, the Olin foundation funded professors at leading 
universities all over the country, including Harvard’s Harvey C. 
Mansfield and Samuel P. Huntington. It donated $3.3 million to 
Mansfield’s Program on Constitutional Government at Harvard, which 
emphasized a conservative interpretation of American government, and the 
foundation donated $8.4 million to Huntington’s John M. Olin Institute 
for Strategic Studies, which inculcated a hawkish approach to foreign 
policy and national security.

'If the conservative intellectual movement were a Nascar race, and if 
the scholars and organizations who compose it were drivers zipping 
around a race track, virtually all of their vehicles would sport an Olin 
bumper sticker.' Through these carefully curated programs, the 
foundation trained the next generation of conservatives, whom Joyce 
likened to "a wine collection" that would grow more valuable as its 
members aged, increasing in stature and power. The foundation kept track 
of those who passed through Huntington’s Olin program, proudly noting 
that many went into public service and academia. Between 1990 and 2001, 
56 of the 88 Olin fellows at the Harvard program continued on to teach 
at the University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, 
MIT, Penn, and Yale. Many others became public figures in government, 
think tanks, and the media.
In all, by the time it closed its doors in 2005, the Olin foundation had 
supported 11 separate programs at Harvard, burnishing the foundation’s 
name and ideas and proving that even the best-endowed American 
university would allow an outside ideological group to build 
"beachheads," so long as the project was properly packaged and funded.

On top of these programs, the foundation doled out $8 million to more 
than a hundred John M. Olin faculty fellows. These funds enabled scores 
of young academics to take the time needed to do research and write in 
order to further their careers. The roster of recipients includes John 
Yoo, the legal scholar who went on to become the author of the George W. 
Bush administration’s controversial "torture memo" legalizing the 
American government’s brutalization of terror suspects.

Without the rigorous peer-review standards required by prestigious 
academic publications, the Olin foundation was able to inject into the 
mainstream a number of works whose scholarship was debatable at best. 
For example, Olin-foundation funds enabled John R. Lott Jr., then an 
Olin fellow at the University of Chicago, to write his influential book 
More Guns, Less Crime. In the work, Lott argued that more guns actually 
reduce crime and that the legalization of concealed weapons would make 
citizens safer.

Politicians advocating weaker gun-control laws frequently cited Lott’s 
findings. But according to Adam Winkler, the author of Gunfight, Lott’s 
scholarship was suspect. Winkler wrote that "Lott’s claimed source for 
this information was ‘national surveys,’" which under questioning he 
revised to just one survey that he and research assistants had 
conducted. When asked to provide the data, Winkler recounts, Lott said 
he had lost it in a computer crash. Asked for any evidence of the 
survey, writes Winkler, "Lott said he had no such evidence." (Proving 
that the recipients of Olin funds weren’t ideologically monolithic, 
Winkler, too, had received funds from the foundation.)

Another Olin-funded book that made headlines and ended in accusations of 
intellectual dishonesty was David Brock’s The Real Anita Hill, to which 
the foundation gave a small research stipend. In the book, Brock 
defended the Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas by accusing Hill of 
fabricating her sworn testimony against him during his Senate 
confirmation hearings. Later, though, Brock recanted, admitting that he 
had been wrong. He apologized for the book and said that he had been 
deceived by conservative sources who had misled him.

Still, the combined impact of the Olin grantees was "a triumph," 
according to Miller. Writing in 2003, he enthused that "a small handful 
of foundations have essentially provided the conservative movement with 
its venture capital." He noted that in contrast to the days when Lionel 
Trilling had declared conservatism over, "conservative ideas are in 
broad circulation, and many believe they are now ascendant." He added, 
"If the conservative intellectual movement were a Nascar race, and if 
the scholars and organizations who compose it were drivers zipping 
around a race track, virtually all of their vehicles would sport an Olin 
bumper sticker."

In time, the Olin foundation’s success in minting right-leaning thinkers 
drew the envy of the left. "On the right, they understood that books 
matter," says Steve Wasserman, executive editor at large for Yale 
University Press, who formerly tried but failed to get wealthy liberal 
donors to match the intellectual investments being made by 
conservatives. "I remember meeting at a restaurant in California with 
some of the major Democratic operatives and funders, Margery Tabankin, 
Stanley Sheinbaum and Gary David Goldberg. I was telling them that they 
needed to figure out a way to fund books on the left. But books aren’t 
sexy. They weren’t interested. They didn’t think that in the political 
culture it mattered. The Democrats were hostage to star personalities 
and electoral politics."

The Olin foundation’s most significant beachheads, however, were 
established in America’s law schools, where it bankrolled a new approach 
to jurisprudence known as Law and Economics. Lewis Powell, in an 
influential 1971 memo, had argued that "the judiciary may be the most 
important instrument for social, economic and political change." The 
Olin foundation agreed. As the courts expanded consumer, labor, and 
environmental rights and demanded racial and sexual equality and greater 
workplace safety, conservatives in business were desperate to find more 
legal leverage. Law and Economics became their tool.

As a discipline, Law and Economics was seen at first as a fringe theory 
embraced largely by libertarian mavericks until the Olin foundation 
spent $68 million underwriting its growth. Like an academic Johnny 
Appleseed, the Olin foundation underwrote 83 percent of the costs for 
all Law and Economics programs in American law schools between the years 
of 1985 and 1989. Over all, it scattered more than $10 million to 
Harvard, $7 million to Yale and Chicago, and over $2 million to 
Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, and the University of Virginia. Miller 
writes, "John Olin, in fact, was prouder of Law and Economics than any 
other program he supported."

Following Piereson’s cautious playbook, the program’s title conveyed no 
ideology. Law and Economics stresses the need to analyze laws, including 
government regulations, not just for their fairness but also for their 
economic impact. Its proponents describe it in apolitical terms as 
bringing "efficiency" and "clarity" to the law, rather than relying on 
fuzzy, hard-to-quantify concepts like social justice.

Piereson, however, admitted that the beauty of the program was that it 
was a stealth political attack and that the country’s best law schools 
didn’t grasp this and therefore didn’t block the ideological punch it 
packed. "I saw it as a way into the law schools — I probably shouldn’t 
confess that," he told The New York Times in 2005. "Economic analysis 
tends to have conservatizing effects."

In a later interview with the Johns Hopkins University political 
scientist Steven M. Teles, Piereson added that he would have preferred 
to fund a conservative constitutional-law program, but had the 
foundation tried such a direct political challenge, it probably would 
have been barred entry to America’s best law schools. "If you said to a 
dean that you wanted to fund conservative constitutional law, he would 
reject the idea out of hand. But if you said you wanted to support Law 
and Economics, he would be much more open to the idea," he confided. 
"Law and Economics is neutral, but it has a philosophical thrust in the 
direction of free markets and limited government. That is, like many 
disciplines, it seems neutral, but it isn’t in fact."

The Olin foundation’s route into the country’s best law schools was 
circuitous. The foundation began by financially supporting an early 
leading figure in Law and Economics, the libertarian Henry Manne, an 
acolyte of the Chicago school of free-market economics. Brilliant, 
impolitic, and an ideological purist, Manne "was considered a marginal, 
even eccentric character in the legal academy," according to Teles, when 
the Olin foundation first started funding him in the early 1970s. To the 
frustration of the foundation, he didn’t teach at high-prestige schools.

In 1985, however, the foundation seized a golden opportunity to 
establish a beachhead at the pinnacle of legal prestige. That year, 
Harvard Law School was riven by controversy. Leftist professors were 
urging students to "sabotage" corporate law firms from within. 
Conservative professors and alumni were scandalized. The ruckus 
attracted national press coverage in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Among 
the many outraged Harvard Law School alumni was one of the Olin 
foundation’s trustees, George Gillespie. Sensing an opening, he 
contacted a conservative Harvard Law School professor, Phillip Areeda, 
whom he had been in school with, and offered the foundation’s help.

The Olin foundation took the initiative, and Harvard took the cash. Out 
of this ideological pact came the John M. Olin Center for Law, 
Economics, and Business at Harvard Law School, on which the foundation 
ultimately spent $18 million. The donation was the biggest in Olin’s 
history. Harvard’s president at the time, Derek Bok, was reportedly 
delighted at the new source of funding and the opportunity to soothe the 
disgruntled alumni.

After Harvard approved Law and Economics, other schools soon followed. 
By 1990, nearly 80 law schools taught the subject. Olin fellows in Law 
and Economics, meanwhile, began to beat a path to the top of the legal 
profession, winning Supreme Court clerkships at a rate of approximately 
one each year, starting in 1985. Many of the adherents were outstanding 
lawyers and not all were conservative, but they were changing the 
prevailing legal culture.

By 1986, Bruce Ackerman, then a professor at Columbia Law School, called 
Law and Economics "the most important thing in legal education since the 
birth of Harvard Law School." Teles, in his 2008 book, The Rise of the 
Conservative Legal Movement, described Law and Economics as "the most 
successful intellectual movement in the law of the past 30 years, having 
rapidly moved from insurgency to hegemony."

As Law and Economics spread, underwritten at each step by the Olin 
foundation and other conservative backers including the Kochs and 
Scaife, liberal critics grew alarmed. The Alliance for Justice, a 
liberal nonprofit in Washington, published a critical report in 1993 
warning that "a small wealthy group" was trying to "fundamentally alter 
the way that justice is dispensed in our society." It revealed that the 
Olin foundation was paying students thousands of dollars to take classes 
in Law and Economics at Georgetown Law School and to attend workshops on 
the subject at Columbia Law School.

Despite this ethically dubious situation, only one law school, at the 
University of California in Los Angeles, turned the Olin funds away, 
arguing that by plying students with grant money, the foundation was 
"taking advantage of students’ financial need to indoctrinate them with 
a particular ideology."

More controversial still were Law and Economics seminars that the Olin 
foundation funded for judges. The seminars were initiated by Henry 
Manne, who had become dean of the George Mason University School of Law, 
which he was trying to transform into a hub of libertarian 
jurisprudence. The seminars treated judges to two-week-long, 
all-expenses-paid immersion training in Law and Economics, usually in 
luxurious settings like the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida. They 
soon became popular free vacations for the judges, a cross between 
Maoist cultural re-education camps and Club Med. After a few hours of 
learning why environmental and labor laws were anathema, or why, as 
Manne argued, insider-trading laws did more harm than good, the judges 
broke for golf, swimming, and delightful dinners with their hosts.

Within a few years, 660 judges had gone on these junkets, some, like the 
U.S. Court of Appeals judge and unconfirmed Supreme Court nominee 
Douglas Ginsburg, many times. By one count, 40 percent of the federal 
judiciary had participated, including the future Supreme Court justices 
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas.

A variety of major corporations eagerly joined Olin and other 
conservative foundations in footing the bills. A study by the 
nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity found that between 2008 and 2012 
close to 185 federal judges attended judicial seminars sponsored by 
conservative interests, several of which had cases before the courts. 
The lead underwriters were the Charles Koch Foundation, the Searle 
Freedom Trust, ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, 
and State Farm, the insurance company. Topics ranged from "The Moral 
Foundations of Capitalism" to "Terrorism, Climate, and Central Planning: 
Challenges to Liberty and the Rule of Law."

Simultaneously, the Olin foundation provided crucial start-up funds for 
the Federalist Society, an organization for conservative law students 
founded in 1982. With $5.5 million from the Olin foundation, as well as 
large donations from foundations tied to Scaife, the Kochs, and other 
conservative legacies, the Federalist Society grew from a pipe dream 
shared by three ragtag law students into a powerful professional network 
of 42,000 right-leaning lawyers, with 150 law-school campus chapters and 
about 75 lawyers’ groups nationally. All of the conservative justices on 
the Supreme Court are members, as are former vice president Dick Cheney, 
the former attorneys general Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft, and numerous 
members of the federal bench. Its president, Eugene B. Meyer, son of a 
founding editor of National Review, acknowledged that without Olin 
funding "it possibly wouldn’t exist at all." Looking back, the Olin 
foundation’s staff described it as "one of the best investments" the 
foundation ever made.

The Olin foundation also backed what came to be known as the Collegiate 
Network, privately financing a string of right-wing newspapers on 
America’s college campuses. Among them was The Dartmouth Review, which 
infamously published an editorial in Ebonics proclaiming, "Now we be 
comin’ to Dartmut’ and be up over our ’fros in studies, but we still be 
not graduatin’ Phi Beta Kappa." The paper hosted a feast of lobster and 
champagne to mock a student fast against global hunger, sledgehammered 
shantytowns erected by students protesting apartheid in South Africa, 
and published a transcript of a secretly taped meeting of students 
belonging to Dartmouth’s gay student association. The Dartmouth Review 
became an incubator for right-wing media figures like D’Souza and the 
future conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. Its counterpart at 
Vassar, meanwhile, gave starts in journalism to the ABC correspondent 
Jonathan Karl and Marc Thiessen, an online columnist at The Washington 
Post best known for his defense of the Bush administration’s use of torture.

John M. Olin died in 1982 at the age of 89, but after his death his 
foundation became even more robust. He left it about $50 million in his 
estate and another $50 million in a trust for his widow, which came to 
the foundation in 1993 after she died. The funds were well invested, 
growing to some $370 million in all before the foundation spent it down 
and closed its doors in 2005. Olin had directed his foundation to shut 
down during the lifetime of the trustees for fear that it would fall 
into the hands of liberals, as he believed the Ford Foundation had 
tragically done.

As the Olin foundation spent itself out of existence, Michael Joyce 
jumped to a new and far more powerful private foundation, started by 
another conservative family. In 1985, a corporate merger in Milwaukee 
created a spectacular windfall, boosting a previously sleepy local 
charity, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, overnight into a 
nonprofit juggernaut. Its assets rocketed from $14 million to over $290 
million, making it one of the 20 largest foundations in the country. 
Swimming in cash, the foundation’s small, unpaid staff, which had mostly 
focused on conventional local do-gooding until then, sought out Joyce, 
telling him, "We’ve got money, and we want to do what you did at Olin. 
We want to become Olin West."

Almost on the spot, Joyce moved to Milwaukee to run the Bradley 
foundation himself. At the Bradley foundation, Joyce had a freer hand. 
"He basically invented the field of modern conservative philanthropy," 
according to Piereson. During the next 15 years, the Bradley foundation 
would give away $280 million to his favorite conservative causes. It was 
small in comparison with older research foundations like the Ford 
Foundation, but unlike Ford, under Joyce’s direction Bradley regarded 
itself as a righteous combatant in an ideological war, giving it a 
single-minded focus.

At least two-thirds of its grants, according to one analysis, financed 
conservative intellectual activity. It paid for some 600 graduate and 
postgraduate fellowships, right-wing think tanks, conservative journals, 
activists fighting Communism abroad, and its own publishing house, 
Encounter Books.

When Joyce took over the Bradley foundation, he funded many of the same 
academic organizations he had at Olin, including half of the same 
colleges and universities. (The Bradley foundation gave both Harvard and 
Yale $5.5 million during its first decade under Joyce’s management.) 
"Typically, it was not just the same university but the same department, 
and in some cases, the same scholar," Bruce Murphy wrote in Milwaukee 
Magazine, charging that this led to a kind of "intellectual cronyism."

The anointed scholars were good ideological warriors but "rarely great 
scholars," he wrote. For instance, Joyce stuck with Charles Murray in 
the face of growing controversy over his 1994 book, The Bell Curve, 
which correlated race and low IQ scores to argue that blacks were less 
likely than whites to join the "cognitive elite," and was loudly and 
convincingly discredited. The Manhattan Institute fired Murray over the 
controversial project. "They didn’t want the grief," says Murray. But 
Joyce reportedly kept an estimated $1 million in grants flowing to 
Murray, who decamped to the American Enterprise Institute. "I knew from 
Mike Joyce my fellowship was portable," Murray says. But the controversy 
stirred by the book clouded the Bradley foundation’s reputation. Joyce, 
who was accused of racism, said he had received death threats. He felt 
so threatened he demanded enhanced security. The book, he acknowledged, 
left "an indelible imprint on us."

When Joyce stepped down from Bradley in 2001 amid rumors of alcoholism 
and erratic and self-destructive behavior, his achievements transcended 
his personal problems. He was showered with accolades from the right. 
National Review described him as "the chief operating officer of the 
conservative movement." It added, "Wherever you looked in the battle of 
ideas, a light dusting would have turned up his finger-prints." The 
tribute concluded, "Over the period of his Bradley service, it’s 
difficult to recall a single, serious thrust against incumbent 
liberalism that did not begin or end with Mike Joyce."

By 2012, the Bradley foundation’s assets had reached more than $630 
million, enabling it to dole out more than $32 million in grants during 
that year alone. The funds continued to finance welfare-reform 
initiatives that required the poor to find jobs, as well as attacks on 
public schools. The foundation also continued to support conservative 
beachheads in 35 different elite colleges and universities including 
Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The foundation’s annual Bradley Prizes had by then become the glittering 
Academy Awards ceremony for conservatives, a night at Washington’s 
Kennedy Center on the banks of the Potomac filled with evening gowns, 
tuxedos, overlong acceptance speeches, live musical fanfares, and up to 
four annual $250,000 prizes given to a Who’s Who of the movement.

Over the years, winners have included the columnist George Will, who 
subsequently became a trustee of the foundation. Also honored with the 
award were the founders of the Federalist Society as well as Princeton’s 
Robert George; Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard; the 
Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield; the Fox News president, Roger Ailes; 
and the Heritage Foundation’s stalwarts Ed Meese and Ed Feulner. Almost 
all of the recipients had played major roles in tugging the American 
political debate to the right. And almost all had also been supported 
over the years by a tiny constellation of private foundations filled 
with tax-deductible gifts from a handful of wealthy reactionaries whose 
identities and stories very few Americans knew but whose "overarching 
purpose," as Joyce said, "was to use philanthropy to support a war of 

Jane Mayer is a staff writer at The New Yorker. This article is adapted 
from her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaries 
Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, just out from Doubleday.

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