Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Dark Money Of The Bradley Foundation

Image courtesy of
One Wisconsin Now
Rick Cohen at Nonprofit Quarterly takes a look at the dark money group The Bradley Foundation and its head, Michael Grebe. Cohen starts with the hypocrisy of Grebe, who claims that he keeps his hyperpartisanship away from the group, when that is clearly not true:
A comment from Michael Grebe, the president and CEO of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, got us thinking. In a book produced by John J. Miller and Karl Zinsmeister for the Philanthropy Roundtable on how “wise givers” can influence public policy (Agenda Setting: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Influencing Public Policy), Grebe talks about how he has tried to keep the ideologically very conservative Bradley Foundation out of partisan politics. “I’m very careful about this,” Grebe said to the Roundtable authors. “I keep everything separate. I don’t make political calls from the foundation office. I do that from home or from campaign offices. I won’t let the foundation get mixed up in partisan politics.”

Easier said than done in the case of the Bradley Foundation and Michael Grebe. The former counsel to the Republican National Committee and the chair or co-chair of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s election campaigns in 2010, 2012, and 2014, Grebe is also the now-retired partner of the Foley & Lardner law firm whose clientele has included major Republican organizations and candidates over the years, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, former Senator Jim DeMint (now heading the Heritage Foundation), and Senator Marco Rubio, the latter announcing his presidential candidacy just yesterday.

Grebe is also one of the founders and funders of the Philanthropy Roundtable and the current chair of its board of directors. Governor Walker is lionized in the Roundtable’s Wise Givers book as a “national leader at reining in runaway state spending” (helped by what he might have learned from the Bradley Foundation’s Refocus Wisconsin monograph in 2010) and the leader of the state’s “Budget Repair Bill” which “dramatically reformed state government…[by] trimming the power of public-employee unions.” Grebe doesn’t appear to be publicly involved in a Walker presidential bid and is not yet listed as involved in the Our American Revival PAC, which has been taking the place of—perhaps inappropriately and illegally, as asserted by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21—an official Walker presidential exploratory committee. However, with the multiple arenas of the Bradley Foundation’s public policy funding of Wisconsin’s conservative political model dating back to the administration of Governor Tommy Thompson, including school choice policies and welfare reform, plus Grebe’s history of running Walker’s political campaigns, it would be surprising if Grebe stays aloof from a Walker presidential bid, should that officially emerge.
Then Cohen delves into some of the politicking done by the Bradley Foundation itself:
The Bradley Foundation is hardly alone in funding policy work that supports candidates, governors, and presidential candidates to its liking, a practice of foundations on both the right and the left. However, some of Bradley’s grantees have taken to a more direct role in electoral politics, sparking complaints from critics on the left. For example, according to Jack Craver, writing in the Capital Times, the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank significantly funded by the Bradley Foundation, joined with the Koch-founded and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity to run some very expensive ads touting Walker’s policies as he faced challenges in the 2011-2012 electoral cycle.

Another Bradley-connected electoral controversy involved the Bradley Foundation’s grant, admittedly small ($10,000), to the Einhorn Foundation, which ran billboards in minority neighborhoods of Milwaukee reading “Voter Fraud is a Felony.” The intent of the Einhorn-sponsored, Bradley-subsidized billboards was to intimidate minority voters, notable for the fact that Wisconsin’s legislature was considering and ultimately passed a Voter ID law in 2011 with Governor Walker’s support.

The Bradley Foundation has provided grant support to entities that are much more politically activist than your usual academic think-tank operations. Among Bradley’s sizable grantees have been the American Legislative Exchange Council (whose 501(c)(3) status has been questioned on a number of occasions concerning the work it does to pursue the political agendas of some of its corporate donors), the American Civil Rights Institute (founded by Ward Connerly, taking a prominent role in fighting against racial equity issues in California and in other states), and Wisconsin’s two State Policy Network think tanks (the MacIver Institute and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, both of which have been prominent in Walker administration initiatives on school choice, suppression of union collective bargaining rights, and voter ID laws). Other public policy institutions that have received significant grant support from the Milwaukee-based foundation include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Conservative Union Foundation, the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Young Americas Foundation, the Leadership Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The Bradley Foundation has also made grants directly and through nonprofit grantees to such conservative public intellectuals as Marvin Olasky, Lawrence Mead, George Kelling (who helped design New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s anti-crime strategies), Jason Turner, Thomas Sowell, and Robert George, some of whom actually entered government service to implement their theories, not simply advise, such as Turner in his role as chief implementer of Governor Tommy Thompson’s welfare reform initiative.
While Cohen's article is thorough and a good read, it is not comprehensive.

For example, he mentions George Will being the recipient of $250,000 from the Bradley Foundation and how Will went after the John Doe investigation into Scott Walker. Cohen doesn't mention that Will is also a member of the board of directors of the foundation since 2008.

Cohen also missed that other hacks, like Paul Gigot and Michael Barone are also recipients of the quarter million prizes.

Another recipient of the Bradley Foundation's largess was Jeb Bush, for his betrayal of his state's children. (Does anyone else see these dark money groups starting to hedge their bets?)

Education profiteering is a big thing for the Bradley Foundation, who proudly sponsored The Bell Curve, which claimed that "the poor - mostly African Americans - are generally incapable of benefiting from an education."

It should also be noted that the Bradley Foundation is the main supporter for the misnamed front group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL). Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now explained WILL best when he said:
“The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is not simply a conservative, public interest law firm. It is a virtual extension of the political apparatus surrounding Gov. Scott Walker, engaging in ‘issue litigation’ to advance and protect his interests.”
If anyone wanted a reason to overturn Citizens United, Michael Grebe and his Bradley Foundation would be one of the poster children for it.


  1. People need to mobilize now about organizations like the Bradley Foundation. They are destroying our democracy, our constitution and our freedoms. We all sit here and let Walker and the Bradley Foundation break the rules and rewrite laws to benefit them. Meanwhile, WI has business after business closing, wage decline and an increase in poverty under Walker. Ask yourself how bad it has to get before you are ready to mobilize and take back WI?

  2. ...yes, very interconnected directorships...Coming from Waukesha County, I did notice coincidentally that Jim Sensenbrenner once won $250,000 in the lottery (although he'd made it known to other members of the congressional delegation from WI that he enjoyed buying lottery tickets). But really, something started to smell when I heard F & L lawyers on the Health team say to each other when the Clinton's attempt at a national single payer health care system failed in 1994, "I guess we showed her!" and then, for the first time in 40 years, America experienced a right-wing take-over by Republicans in the very next election! Well, something about all that bothered my nose (and intuition). How did that new stadium get approved by the legislature at 4 am anyway? And when WI voters' ballots got lost -- and found -- in Waukesha County and then, bubbling up like ooze from a wetland where something toxic was dumped illegally, came evidence of election fraud this past election:
    ...I read, in former mayor Zeidler's book "A Liberal in City Government," that he was solidly opposed by a block of Chamber of Commerce/WMC types...& that's how it happened... "America's Dairyland Turned Petro-State." I agree with Anonymous 11:04 that now is the time to move again, together with all the people who are not radical, but who want justice and are willing to figure out how to love and respect this sacred place, this Great Lakes state, and each other enough to get there.

  3. Capper, great analysis on top of NPQ's work, thanks.

  4. Keep up the noise level. If the average voter had an idea of who is behind Walker and how they work, things might begin to change. Voters need to realize our freedoms and our democracy is not protected by career politicians like Scott Kevin Walker. Walker has mismanaged tens of millions of taxpayer money via the WEDC - where is the accountability? When are we going to stand up and let Walker know that WE pay his salary and WE provide the tax base for Walker to give away to his donors. WE need to tell Scott Walker to come home and DO THE JOB HE IS BEING PAID FOR. What is WI waiting for?