The Heritage Foundation Soars

by Bill Berkowitz

Z magazine, June 2001


In early April, the Heritage Foundation announced its most ambitious expansion plans in its 28-year history. Thanks to the family of the late Thomas Johnson of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the foundation unveiled plans for a new 63,000 square foot building, located next to Heritage's current headquarters, which will effectively double its size.

With the Bush administration in office, the Heritage Foundation has struck the mother lode. By parlaying extraordinary sums of right-wing money, a highly developed infrastructure and the Supreme Court's December decision, Heritage has risen to unprecedented political prominence.

Despite this ascension, Edward J. Fuelner, president of the Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation remains in a feisty mood. Not long after Bush's inauguration he wrote a note to supporters, published in the American Reporter, warning conservatives to be prepared because "conservative opportunity and liberal opposition are about to collide like warm and cold fronts on a summer's day, and the probability of thunderstorms is 100 percent. This will be a take-no-prisoners war, and there are going to be winners and losers. Make no mistake about that. "

Fuelner's bombast seems to fly in the face of President Bush's oft-repeated refrain that while there will be disagreements with Democrats over policy issues, the debate will be carried out amicably and without rancor. Fuelner's rhetoric more accurately reflects the current climate in the nation's capital. "Because the early battles are likely to foreshadow the outcome of the war," Fuelner insists, "the first few months of the Bush administration will be critical. Conservatives must win early and decisively. "

Well past its first 100 days, it is clear that the Bush administration has embarked on a program of regulation cleansing combined with an assault on what's left of the social safety net.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential conservative operatives, boldly and in Bushbonic style, told the New York Times, "There isn't an us and them with this administration. They is us. We is them." The connective tissue between the White House and conservatives is their relationship with Karl Rove, Bush's "political czar." According to the New York Times' Robin Toner, "Norquist has known Mr. Rove for 22 years, since they met when they were both members of College Republicans." Fuelner told the Times that he talks with Rove a couple of times a week.

The Heritage Foundation has been working closely with the Administration. Church & State, the monthly magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, reported that in early January, Rove told a group of right-wing leaders "that Bush had asked the Heritage review all the executive orders put in place by President Clinton during his eight years in office and recommend which ones should be overturned.' Donald Lambro of the Washington Times reported that Heritage had passed its recommendations on to the White House.

During the transition period when issue-specific teams were being formed, Heritage staffers were involved in key decision-making positions. Toner says, "officials at the foundation passed on 1,200 to 1,300 names and resumes to the Bush administration and say they are quite pleased with the results so far, at the cabinet level and at the next tier."

According to the foundation's website, Heritage staffers who have gone from the foundation to the Bush administration include:

* Elaine Chao: formerly Distinguished Fellow, now Secretary of Labor

* Kay Cole James: (an African American women and a long time favorite of the Christian Right) former Senior Fellow, now Director of Personnel Management

* Stephen Yates: former Senior Policy Analyst, now Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs

* Nina Shokrai Rees: (the education and voucher person) former Senior Policy Analyst, now Special Assistant to the Vice President for Domestic Policy;

* Kris Ardizzone: former Director of U.S. Senate Relations, now Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Policy Development

* Sarah Youssef: former Research assistant, now Associate Director, Domestic Policy

* Angela Antonelli: former Director of Economic Policy Studies, now Chief Financial Officer, Department of Housing and Urban Development

Heritage policy wonks are contributing to the legislative process by testifying at congressional hearings on critical economic and social issues on a regular basis. During the last ten days in March alone, a gaggle of Heritage representatives testified at House and Senate hearings, including:

Todd Gaziano on Executive Orders and Presidential Directives before the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, March 22

* Robert Moffit on Transcending Medicare's Regulatory Regime before the House Subcommittee on Health, March 15

* Robert Rector on The Effects of Welfare Reform before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, March 15

* Gaziano again on Election Reform before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, March 14

* Daniel J. Mitchell on The Economic Outlook and the President's Budget Priorities, 2002-2011 before the House Budget Committee, March 7

* Rector again on Means-Tested Welfare Spending: Past and Future Growth before the House Committee on the Budget, March 7

Fuelner ended his Pattonesque American Reporter spiel with another appeal for money. Why do these folks who are powering the Bush administration and providing "expertise" to Congress keep asking for more money? Because they can. According to Media Transparency, a website tracking right-wing money, from 1986 through 1999, right-wing foundations doled out more than $35,500,000 to the Heritage Foundation. Its recent multi-year campaign celebrating the foundations 25th anniversary netted more than $100 million.

Conservative godfather Paul Weyrich and its current president Edward Fuelner founded the Heritage Foundation in 1973. Start-up funds came from Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife-two names that are synonymous with the funding of the right's social and economic agenda. In the early 1980s, Heritage acknowledged that "87 top corporations" were supporters. Heritage is the largest conservative think tank and the one most frequently quoted by the mainstream media.

Although Heritage's founders and many of its funders come directly out of the right's homophobic auxiliary, the foundation's stock-in-trade is bedrock free-market issues including opposition to government regulation and support for privatization, welfare reform, school vouchers, and state's rights. While the foundation doesn't place a heavy emphasis on either gay issues or reproductive rights per se, its Town Hall website promotes the work of several virulently anti-gay and antiabortion groups. Town Hall, which features up-to-date news

from a network of conservative organizations, advances the work of such groups as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition. Town Hall's featured columnists represent the nation's most reactionary voices.

Although the foundation hasn't directly been involved in campaigns opposing same-sex marriage, most of Heritage's social policy emphasis is centered on the so-called sanctity of marriage. In policy papers and testimony before Congress, Heritage operatives make the case that the preservation of the traditional family is the most important answer to solving America's social problems-from welfare to teenage pregnancy. Another area where gay and lesbians are discounted is the question of sex education. Heritage supports abstinence-only education, opposing gay positive references in schools or open discussions of AIDS and other issues of particular importance to gay youth.

A Media Transparency profile documents that Heritage was one of the primary initiators of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America. No friend to labor, Heritage has published a number of anti-union policy papers and reports including "Beware of the Union Label," "The Case for Plant Closures, " and "Upsetting the Balance of U.S. Labor Law: The Striker Replacement Bill."

If you want to understand the Bush administration's so-called "common sense" environmentalism, look no further than the think tank's "Issues 2000: The Candidate's Briefing Book," where Angela Antonelli spells out the foundation's environmental philosophy. She writes: "The plethora of laws it has instituted during the past three decades to address water, air, public land, and endangered species relies on the stick instead of the carrot to protect the environment. Rather than providing incentives to promote environmentally beneficial behavior, the federal government has empowered bureaucrats to force people-regardless of whether they in fact are harming the environment- into restrictive behaviors. The result is a conundrum of rules and regulations that everyone has an incentive to violate or manipulate, and the continued funding of outdated programs that cannot address either current or future causes of pollution effectively. "

These days, Heritage is the best investment right-wing foundations, conservative philanthropists and corporate lobbyists can make.

In a ten-day period in early Spring, Heritage published reports and articles on:

* Health Care: "Taking the Scare Tactics Out of Medicare Reform (Op-ed, 3/28) and Using the Breaux-Frist Medicare Proposals to Craft Solid Medicare Reform (3127)

* Patients' Rights? Try Prisoners' Rights (Op-ed, 3/28)

* National Security: Citizens & Soldiers: Don't Widen the Gap (Op-ed, 3/29) and Guidelines for Modernizing America's Armed Forces (03/28/01)

* Asia and the Pacific: Time for Expanded Trade Relations with India (3/29); Taxes: Why Congress Should Renew Its Efforts to End the Marriage Penalty (3128)

* Family: Encouraging Marriage and Discouraging Divorce (3/26)

The Foundation is the right's primary engine for new ideas and online innovation. Check out the Heritage Foundation's newly reconstructed and incredibly expansive web site (, unveiled in late March.

The site is crafted to move public policy, shape political debate, respond to the specific needs of targeted groups, and trumpet new and developing issues. The front page provides a road map linking visitors to areas designed specifically to meet the needs of lawmakers, journalists, researchers, coalitions, scholars and members.

Lawmakers can keep up with the status of significant bills and find in-depth reports on current issues before Congress like the so-called Marriage Penalty, the Budget, and Campaign Finance Reform.

Heritage simplifies life for journalists by providing recent foundation press releases, access to recently published opinion pieces, as well as a "What's Hot Today" section. Heritage boldly asks: "Need a quote? Contact an analyst. On a deadline? Reach Heritage PR. Stay Informed. Join the press list. Radio Broadcast? Use our studios."

Researchers receive the Daily Briefing (tax cuts and the budget, for example), access to Heritage's voluminous publications library, and a "Research Tools & Resources" section with extensive links.

Coalition building is supported by the foundation's "Policy Experts 2000," a "searchable online database of more than 2,250 conservative, free-market experts, and over 500 public policy organizations providing contact data, areas of expertise, and mission statements." There's also a job bank for unemployed conservatives and ample opportunities for young folks to become interns.

In March, the Washington Post reported, "President Bush is quietly building the most conservative administration in modern times, surpassing even Ronald Reagan in the ideological commitment of his appointments." Bush may be leading the band, but the Heritage Foundation is the playing many of the instruments. Since so many of the Administration's team remains to be appointed, expect many more Heritage staffers to make that short journey to the White House.


Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland, California-based writer covering the religious right and related conservative issues.

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