Friday, April 01, 2005

The P[h]ew Research Center

OpinionJournal has a great expose of what the Pew Charitable Trusts, once unabashedly free market and libertarian, have become.

At a recent conference in California, Sean Treglia, a former program officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts, stated that the "mass movement" demanding campaign-finance reform, culminating in 2002's McCain-Feingold bill, was orchestrated by Pew and other like-minded foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Open Society Institute.

In a tape obtained by Ryan Sager of the New York Post--who broke the story--Mr. Treglia was heard to admit that his foundation's lavish support of such groups as Common Cause and the Center for Public Integrity was designed to convince Congress that there was widespread public demand for campaign-finance reform when, in fact, there wasn't. [emphasis added] Campaign-finance partisans, according to Mr. Treglia, had lost legitimacy in Washington, lacking "a constituency that would punish Congress if they didn't vote for reform." So, "to convey the impression that this was something coming naturally from outside the Beltway, I felt it best that Pew stay in the background."

What is striking about this confession has less to do with campaign-finance reform--a bust anyway--than with the stealth politics of Pew and foundations like it. There are certain do-good entities, and Pew is one of them, that enjoy a charmed life: On NPR and in David Broder columns, to take a couple of leading indicators, they are treated as benign truth-tellers, so high-minded as to be beyond politics. But they are, naturally, as partisan as any "special interest" could be.
What, exactly, is Pew's agenda? Its founders derived their wealth from Sun Oil and were all Republicans.
The Pews' philanthropy increased in the 1940s and '50s when they created several new charities. The J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, founded in 1957, had the most decisive charter. J. Howard instructed that it be used to acquaint the American people with "the evils of bureaucracy" and "the values of a free market" and "to inform our people of the struggle, persecution, hardship, sacrifice and death by which freedom of the individual was won."

But by 1980 all the founders of the Pew trusts were dead, and Pew philanthropy drifted away from its donors' intent. The drift became a purposeful rush when Rebecca Rimel became Pew's executive director in 1988.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1992 that Pew grants going to local organizations--a tradition of the Philadelphia-based family--fell to 23% of all giving in 1991 from 56% in 1980, with organizations long favored by the family cut off. More important, Pew moved left. The "political ghosts" of the Pews "were gone," Ms. Rimel told Foundation News in 1991. That year she told Town & Country: "If we could reinfuse the idealism of the Sixties into our work, it could get the country out of this morass that problems are insoluble." [emphasis added]
There is no reason that Pew should not do all it can to encourage the castor-oil liberalism that it so loves. But it might help if the rest of us took note of Mr. Treglia's belated honesty and treated Pew as something other than neutrality incarnate. And it might help if, out of simple fairness, the trust dropped the name Pew in the same way it has dropped the principles that guided its founders.

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