Funding policy

Mainstream and liberal foundations spend more than four times more to fund public policy groups than do conservative foundations, a new report says, but conservative think-tanks wield much more influence.

The report, “War of Ideas,” written by Andrew Rich and published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, analyzes the dollars funders spend to influence thinking on public-policy issues.

The 15 largest U.S. foundations, ranked by assets and considered “mainstream”, spent $136 million in 2002 to support public-policy institutes, the report says.

The Ford Foundation in New York City led the way, spending almost $39 million, followed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., which spent $24.6 million.

Conservative foundations, all significantly smaller, spent a total of $29.5 million on public-policy institutes, the report says, with the Sarah Scaife Foundation in Pittsburgh giving $7 million, followed by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, which gave $6.3 million.

Although conservative foundations spend considerably less than mainstream foundations, the report says, conservative funders tend to rank policy support as a higher funding priority, and conservative policy groups are better marketers of their ideas and so have a greater impact on public opinion.

Liberal funders tend to support policy groups that strive to be neutral in their research, the report says, and as a result much of their money tends to go to groups that do not classify themselves as liberal or conservative.

Conservative foundations, however, seek out policy groups that make conservative ideas a priority, making these groups well funded and influential, the report says.

“At this moment, conservatives are still winning the war of ideas,” the report says.  “And that success cannot be chalked up only to the power of their ideas.  It is because these ideas have a winning organization behind them.”

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