Marketplace of Ideas

excerpted from the book

Banana Republicans

How the Right Wing Is Turning America into a One-Party State

by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber

Jeremy Tarcher/Penguin, 2004

Since 1992, [Grover Norquist] has hosted Wednesday morning meetings in the Washington, D.C., office of his organization, Americans for Tax Reform. The Wednesday meeting pulls together the heads of leading conservative organizations to coordinate activities and strategy. "The meeting functions as the weekly checklist so that everybody knows what's up, what to do," says Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, a conservative pollster and regular attendee.

George W. Bush began sending a representative to the Wednesday meeting even before he formally announced his candidacy for president. "Now a White House aide attends each week," reported USA Today in June 2001. "Vice President Cheney sends his own representative. So do GOP congressional leaders, right-leaning think tanks, conservative advocacy groups and some like-minded K Street lobbyists. The meeting has been valuable to the White House because it is the political equivalent of one-stop shopping. By making a single pitch, the administration can generate pressure on members of Congress, calls to radio talk shows and political buzz from dozens of grassroots organizations.""

Norquist's coalition advocates abolishing taxes, especially estate taxes and capital-gains taxes. Regulations they want abolished include minimum-wage laws, affirmative action, health and safety regulations for workers, environmental laws and gun controls. They also support cutting or eliminating a variety of government programs including student loans, state pension funds, welfare, Americorps, the National Endowment for the Arts, farm subsidies and research and policy initiatives on global warming. Even well entrenched and popular programs such as Medicare, Social Security and education are targeted for rollbacks, beginning with privatization. Most members of the coalition are anti-gay and anti-abortion,

... journalist Elizabeth Drew, profiled Norquist extensively in her book, Whatever It Takes: The Real Struggle for Political Power in America, 'He has a long-term view, which is the lower the revenues that the government takes in, the less spending it will be able to do, the less money will go to the groups that he sees as the base of the Democratic party and its power-the teachers' unions, welfare workers, municipal workers and so on. This is a big, long-term war. It's total. It's Armageddon. And I have to say that the people on the right, I think, have thought this through much more than their opponents on the other side who really don't much know what they do and how the opposition thinks and are just waking up to it."

For the past half-century, Democrats dominated the state legislatures-in the mid-1970s by 2-to-I ratios in the number of overall legislative seats. But when the dust settled after the 2002 elections, Republicans had emerged on top."

The shift to Republican control has also extended the part s fund-raising advantage, and as former California State Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh once observed, "money is the mother's milk of politics." To give just one example of how funding trends have shifted, tobacco industry contributions to politicians prior to 1990 were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. As Republicans have increasingly dominated traditionally tobacco-friendly states in the South, industry funding has swung accordingly. From 1991 to 1994, Republicans received 62 percent of the industry's political contributions; from 1995 to 2000, they received 82 percent. 31 Similar trends have occurred in other business sectors. In 1990, agribusiness gave 56 percent of its contributions to Republicans. By 2002, that figure had climbed to 72 percent. During the same period, contributions to Republicans from the defense industry went from 60 to 69 percent; from construction, 53 to 65 percent; energy and natural resource extraction, 53 to 65 percent; finance, insurance and real estate, 48 to 58 percent; health care, 48 to 6 5 percent; transportation, 5 3 to 71 percent; other businesses, 59 to 65 percent. The only business sector to buck the trend was communications and electronics, which increased its giving to Democrats slightly, from 58 to 61 percent.'

One-party, dominance has also muted political debates that would have otherwise greeted many of the actions of President George W. Bush. The presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush and Bill Clinton all had to contend with opposition from at least one other branch of government, and the resulting hearings in the House of Representatives or the Senate fueled controversy and media coverage. With the same party controlling all branches of government, there has been minimal public debate over the policies of the current Bush administration, even as it has launched two wars, reversed long-standing policies on worker safety and the environment and cut taxes for the rich while 2.7 million private-sector jobs have been lost and the number of unemployed Americans has increased by more than 45 percent under its watch.

Although Republicans frequently complain about the "liberal bias" of the news media-the so-called fourth branch of government-the reality is that conservatives have become increasingly influential within the media, with overwhelming domination of talk radio and a preponderant advantage on cable television ...

... the direction in which forces in the GOP are moving looks at times absurdly at times ominously similar to the "banana republics" of Latin America: nations dominated by narrow corporate elites, which use the pretext of national security to violate the rights of their citizens.

The Koch brothers began actively funding conservative political causes in the 1970s through the Koch Family Foundations, which consist of the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, the

Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Since then, they have lavished tens of millions of dollars on "free market" advocacy in and around Washington. According to their filings with the Internal Revenue Service, they gave away more than $9 million in 2001 alone, almost all of it to conservative groups such as the libertarian Cato Institute (which Charles co-founded in 1977), Citizens for a Sound Econorriv (\vhich David helped launch in 1986), the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Landmark Legal Foundation and Young America's Foundation." r

Like the Koch brothers, another conservative billionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife-a member of the Mellon banking and oil family-also began giving heavily to conservative causes in the 1970s. According to former Wall Street Journal reporter Karen Rothmyer, Scaife was "the biggest funder of the New Right, spending millions of dollars a year to help establish the Heritage Foundation and a host of other think tanks focused on marketing conservative ideas both to Congress and to the public. Since then, he has continued to be a prodigious funder of the right. After Republicans won a majority in Congress in the 1994 elections, political science professor Thomas Ferguson commented that Scaife "had as much to do with the Gingrich revolution as Gingrich himself" 14 By 1999, the Washington Post reported that Scaife's foundations-the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation-had given $340 million over a period of four decades to conservative causes and institutions." By 2002, they held more than $230 million in assets, and in that year alone the gave away more than $22 million."

Other leading conservative funders include the following:

* The Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, with assets exceeding $532 million" was founded by brothers Lynde and Harry Bradley, who made their fortunes producing electronic and radio components. Harry Bradley was an early financial supporter of the John Birch Society and a contributor to William F. Buckley's National Review." The foundation gives away more than $25 million a year to promote the deregulation of business, privatization of public education, the rollback of social welfare programs and the privatization of government services. Bradley money supports major conservative groups such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

* The John M. Olin Foundation, which grew out of a family manufacturing business in chemicals and munitions, had assets of approximately $90 million in 1998. Since the year 2000, however, it has begun spending down its endowment at a rate of about $20 million per year, with the goal of putting itself out of business by the end of the year 2005." This policy reflects the wishes of John Olin, who selected politically like-minded colleagues to manage the fund upon his death and who wanted to make sure that following their deaths, the fund would not pass into the hands of people with contrary views.

* The Adolph Coors Foundation, funded by the family that owns the Adolph Coors brewery, earned notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s for its anti-union, anti-gay, anti-minority stance. Recipients of its funding have included Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, which has filed legal briefs opposing gay marriage, calling it "an infamous crime against nature." It also helped fund publication of Catholic priest Enrique Rueda's books, The Homosexual Network and Gays, AIDS and You, which refer ominously to "the evil nature" of homosexuality. It has also funded the Heritage Foundation, which opposes gays and lesbians serving in the military and other actions that "advance the goals of homosexual activists." Other recipients of Coors funding have included anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and Stop ERA campaign, the John Birch Society and a variety of organizations affiliated with the religious right. In the 1990s, however, the Coors company launched an aggressive public relations campaign to repair its image with supporters of gay rights who were boycotting Coors beer. It offered money to gay and lesbian rights groups and became one of the first companies in the United States to offer marriage benefits to employees in same-sex relationships. It hired Mar-y Cheney, the openly lesbian daughter of current vice president Dick Cheney, as its "corporate relations manager for the gay and lesbian market" and signed a marketing contract with Witeck-Combs Communications, a public relations firm that specializes in niche marketing to the gay community. The Coors family also took steps to distance the Coors name from its political activities. In 1993, it established the Castle Rock Foundation with a $36.6 million endowment from the Coors Foundation .21 Under the family's direction, Castle Rock continues to pour $2 to $3 million of Coors profits each year into anti-gay and other conservative causes 2' but the company itself is officially gay-friendly.

* Other significant conservative foundations include: the Smith Richardson Foundation, financed by the Vicks VapoRub fortune, with assets of about $250 million, which gives grants totaling more than $20 million per year; the Michigan-based Earhart Foundation, which gives away about $5 million annually, including grants and fellowships to help conservative college students; and the JM Foundation and Philip M. McKenna Foundation, each of which gives away more than $1 million annually.

As conservative groups point out when their finances are scrutinized, theirs is only a tiny slice of the money that foundations give away every year in the United States. The foundations listed above give a total of approximately $110 million each year, which is only one-third of one percent of the $30.5 billion that foundations of all types-left, right, center and apolitical-gave in 2001. The assets held by conservative foundations are also tiny compared to the $24.1 billion held by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation's $9.3 billion, or the Rockefeller Foundation's $2.6 billion. The Gates Foundation gives hundreds of millions of dollars to the National Institutes of Health, the Children's Hospital Foundation, Knowledge Works Foundation, the Seattle Art Museum, Mexico's public libraries - recipients that reflect their interest in education and global health. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations concentrate on projects like economic development, human rights and eliminating hunger. Most foundations spend their money on "brick and mortar" philanthropy- hospitals, museums, universities and symphonies. Many foundations have progressive intentions that they express by funding food banks, housing for the homeless and other direct services to the poor, disabled or disadvantaged. What makes conservative foundations different is that they are remarkably unencumbered by these sorts of distractions, enabling them to focus in a disciplined way on achieving their direct political goals. Whereas other foundations mostly try to change the world by offering services, the conservative foundations have prioritized influencing ideas and policies.

"Things take time. It takes at least ten years for a radical new idea to emerge from obscurity," said Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute, who spoke at a conference organized by the Philanthropy Roundtable in 2002.

The last available annual financial reports showed that the major conservative think tanks-American Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Cato Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institution and Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research-had annual budgets totaling $146.5 million. This is more than six times the combined annual budget of $22.6 million for the leading progressive think tanks-the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Center for Policy Alternatives, Center for Public Integrity, Economic Policy Institute and Institute for Policy Studies."

"To achieve its legislative goals," the CPI reported, "Enron employed multi-pronged strategies that included doling out campaign contributions to influential politicians, employing a nationwide network of lobbyists and building grassroots support for policy changes by bankrolling think tanks and other organizations that advocated those changes."

In addition to using election campaign contributions to cultivate support, the Post reported, "Enron 'collected visible people, by gathering up pundits, journalists and politicians and placing them on lucrative retainers. For a couple [of] days spent chatting about current events with executives at Enron's Houston headquarters, advisers could walk away with five-figure payments ."62 From 1989 to 2001, Enron gave 74 percent of its election contributions to Republicans," and most of the pundits on the payroll were conservatives as well, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, commentator Larry Kudrow of the National Review, Bush economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey, Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, and Republican National Committee chairman Mark Racicot.

Banana Republicans

Index of Website

Home Page