Charitable Foundations Have Fallen Far From The Family Tree

Will Coggin Senior Research Analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom
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Let’s say you’re a multi-millionaire, or even a billionaire. Once you’ve conquered the business world and made your fortune, what’s left to do? For many of the wealthiest Americans the answer is simple: start a private foundation and start doling out your wealth to pet causes.

After these wealthy philanthropists die, their decedents usually take over control of their foundations and direct the grant-making of the founders’ fortune. But as control shifts hands, many of these foundations began financially supporting causes that would probably make their founders roll over in their graves.

Consider the Ford Foundation. Named after founders Edsel and Henry Ford, it is one of the largest foundations in the world thanks to shares of the Ford Motor Company it sold.

Henry Ford and his motor company thrived thanks to American capitalism. His grandson, Henry Ford II, wrote that the foundation “exists and thrives on the fruits of our economic system. The dividends of competitive enterprise make it all possible. A significant portion of all abundance created by U.S. business enables the foundation and like institutions to carry on their work. In effect, the foundation is a creature of capitalism.”

It might seem strange, then, to learn that the Ford Foundation now bankrolls a number of radical, anti-capitalist causes.

From 2009 to 2012, the Ford Foundation donated over $1 million to the “Labor Community Strategy Center,” an organization that openly promotes the communist ideology and laments the fall of the Soviet Union. With Ford’s funding in hand, the center trains applicants for its “National School for Strategic Organizing” — a school that advertises its applicants should work to achieve “radical social change through the strategy of building an international united front to challenge the U.S. Empire.”

Henry Ford isn’t the only turn-of-the-20th-century capitalist who might oppose his foundation’s current work. Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller might not appreciate the anti-fossil fuel agenda of his descendants.

The Rockefeller Foundation, founded in 1913 with money from Standard Oil, in recent years has become one of the biggest backers of radical environmentalist organizations that hope to shut down oil production entirely, harming millions of American families.

Rockefeller-funded groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund don’t believe there is any role for fossil fuels like oil (or even nuclear energy) in our nation’s energy portfolio, though wind and solar power — their preferred alternatives — currently comprise less than five percent of all the electricity produced in the United States and are far more expensive than the alternatives.

The Rockefellers aren’t the only wealthy family funding environmentalist causes. The Park Foundation, founded with the fortune of Roy Hampton Park, is one of the biggest supporters of anti-fossil fuel and anti-chemical campaigns.

Park made a large portion of his fortune thanks to the Hines-Park Food Company, creator of Duncan Hines Cake Mix. The company was acquired by Procter & Gamble, where Park worked as an executive for several years. He eventually used his shares of the consumer product company to build his media empire.

Proctor & Gamble remains one of the largest consumer goods companies in the U.S., and like all such companies has been a target of environmental activists for using chemicals. One of the biggest critics of the use of such chemicals is the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition (SCHF).

SCHF has received over $200,000 from the Park Foundation for its quest to scare the public about the chemicals in everyday consumer products — often without much scientific evidence to back up its claims. For instance, the group claims Bisphenol A (BPA), a common chemical in many consumer products, causes all sorts of health problems and ought to be banned. Yet after evaluating hundreds of peer review studies on the chemical, scientists with the European Food Safety Administration and Food and Drug Administration confirm BPA poses no threat to our health.

These foundations wouldn’t have such vast financial resources without their namesakes’ work, but that hasn’t stopped them from doling out the fruits of their founders’ labor to groups seeking to undermine the very industries that allowed these foundations to exist in the first place.