[Marxism] How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education
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Fri Feb 12 07:00:43 MST 2016
THE CHRONICLE REVIEW, FEBRUARY 12, 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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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