The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is, alongside the Koch brothers’ network, one of the chief funders of the conservative nonprofit world. Although the organization focused in its early years on local anti-poverty projects in Milwaukee and anti-animal cruelty nonprofits, as journalist Jane Mayer notes in Dark Money, a 1985 acquisition of the Allen-Bradley company by Rockwell International boosted the Foundation’s assets from $14 million to more than $290 million, “making it one of the twenty largest foundations in the country.” The cash infusion shifted the foundation’s focus to anti-government ideology.
The shift to conservativism, though, was ironic, given that both the Rockwell International and Allen-Bradley fortunes were built on government defense contracts. Allen-Bradley teetered on the brink of insolvency until World War I and World War II more than tripled its production, with seventy and eighty percent of its business coming from government contracts, according to Mayer. And Rockwell International was, at the time of its acquisition of Allen-Bradley, the country’s largest defense contractor. In fact, Mayer notes, the purchase of Allen-Bradley was a result of demands by economic analysts that the company diversify its business away from solely defense contracts.
The newly ideological organization quickly hired Mike Joyce, a higher-up at the Olin Foundation, to run its grantmaking. At the time, Joyce was told that the Bradley Foundation wanted to be “Olin West” and duplicate the massive funding of conservative ideology. The National Review called Joyce “the chief operating officer of the conservative movement…. 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.” From 1985 through 2000, the Bradley Foundation would give away more than $280 million to conservative causes, more than two-thirds of its total grantmaking, according to Dark Money.
Unlike the Olin Foundation, which was mandated to spend itself out of existence by 2005, the Bradley Foundation invested its assets, which ballooned from the initial $290 million in 1985 to more than $630 million in 2012, “enabling it to dole more than $32 million in grants during that year alone.” Mayer writes that the Bradley Foundation has “paid for some six hundred graduate and postgraduate fellowships, right-wing think tanks, conservative journals, activists fighting Communism abroad, and its own publishing house, Encounter Books.” Additionally, according to Dark Money, Bradley “virtually drove the early national ‘school choice’ movement, waging an all-out assault on teachers’ unions and traditional public schools.”
Besides the Olin Foundation’s mandated expiration, there was little daylight between the two foundations. Mayer writes that at the Bradley Foundation, Joyce “continued to fund many of the same academic organizations he had at Olin, including half of the same colleges and universities.” In fact, according to Bruce Murphy at Milwaukee Magazine, “Typically, it was not just the same university but the same department, and in some cases, the same scholar,” which led to “intellectual cronyism” and funding of academics who were strong ideologues but “rarely great scholars.”
One such example was the continued funding of Charles Murray at the Manhattan Institute, where he worked on anti-welfare research. Murray was fired from the Manhattan Institute after his book The Bell Curve, which suggested an inherent IQ difference between blacks and whites, was widely discredited. However, Joyce and the Bradley Foundation ensured Murray that his “fellowship was portable,” and Murray found a new home at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Bradley Foundation hands out Bradley Prizes annually at a gala that Mayer describes as the “Academy Awards ceremony for conservatives, a night at the 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.” Past winners have included columnist George Will, the founders of the Federalist Society, Bill Kristol, Fox News’ Roger Ailes, and Heritage’s Ed Meese.
- According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, from 2001 to 2009 the Bradley Foundation “doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined.”