The Witherspoon Institute — a conservative think tank based in Princeton that has many ties to the University — and a University-sponsored program for undergraduate students received substantial funding from the Koch brothers-backed DonorsTrust and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in the year 2012, according to Internal Revenue Service records.
The Institute's ties to the University include politics professor Robert George, who helped found the Institute in 2003 and who is currently a senior fellow there, as well as history professor Harold James and politics professor John Londregan, both of whom are also senior fellows. The Institute also has personnel ties to the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, a University-sponsored forum for undergraduates to discuss constitutional studies and political thought under the directorship of George.
The source of these funds is an example of how partisan foundations may support friendly institutions within academia — an area that is widely regarded as non-partisan or liberal depending on who you ask — which can in turn help amplify these groups’ views.
In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered donating millions of dollars to Florida State University's economics department in 2007, it came with the conditions that the curriculum must align with Koch's libertarian philosophy; that the Koch Foundation would have at least control over which faculty was hired; and that the department chairman stay for at least two three-year terms, even though he had told his wife he would only serve one term, the Center for Public Integrity revealed this month.
There is no evidence that donations to the Institute or to the University came with strings.
In total, the Witherspoon Institute received $766,000 from conservative foundations in 2012, according to a Daily Princetonian review of records compiled by Citizen Audit, a website that aggregates nonprofit's funding information. The James Madison Program also received $530,000 in funds from conservative foundations — including the Bradley Foundation and DonorsTrust — which were funneled through the University. Both institutions are educational nonprofits whose donors can receive tax-deductible donations.
While donations to think tanks and universities are usually not disclosed to the public, donations between nonprofits must be disclosed on the giver's end only, meaning the data exists but can be hard to string together.
Groups identified as conservative in this article are: The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, DonorsTrust, the related Donors Capital Fund, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Neal and Jane Freeman Foundation, the Scaife Foundations, the William H. Donner Foundation, the Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation, the Stuart Family Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, the William E. Simon Foundation and the Randolph Foundation.
Despite the links to the University, the Witherspoon Institute is an independent think tank and takes care to indicate that, said Luis Tellez, the Institute's president, who was in the past involved with the James Madison Program.
Major print publications of the Witherspoon Institute in the past few years include “The Social Costs of Pornography” and “Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.”
Current programs of the Institute, which seek to address philosophical and practical questions relating to their topics, include “Science and Ethics,” “Family, Marriage, and Democracy” and “Political Thought and Constitutional Government.”
The Bradley Foundation
In 2012, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — which had assets of about $630 million in 2013 — provided $180,000 in grants to the Witherspoon Institute to support the Bradley Graduate and Post-Graduate Fellowship Program, the Islam and Religious Freedom Media project and to support general operations and a public education project. The Bradley Foundation is known for establishing professorships and undergraduate and graduate programs at at least 27 prestigious colleges and universities throughout the country, as well as lending funding to the conservative intellectual Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” which examines the link between intelligence, race and class.
The University itself received a $65,000 grant from the Bradley Foundation in 2012 in order to support the James Madison Program and two separate $12,500 grants, both to support the Bradley Graduate and Post-Graduate Fellowship Program in the Wilson School.
Despite receiving donations from the same foundation in the same year, Tellez said there are no formal links between the Witherspoon Institute and these programs.
In the same year, the Bradley Foundation also provided a $25,000 grant to the National Organization for Marriage, which is currently litigating to save a law banning same-sex marriage in Oregon.
The Witherspoon Institute provided $695,000 in 2011 for a study by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regenerus which concluded that children in same-sex households were more likely to experience negative education, mental health and other outcomes. The results of the study were widely disputed by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Sociological Association, noting that the number of same-sex couples participating in the study was statistically small.
While the Witherspoon Institute assumed responsibility for the funding of the study, it also invited several pro- and anti-same sex marriage groups to participate in the funding, Tellez explained, adding that the Bradley Foundation was the only group to respond to the Witherspoon Institute’s appeal.
A link to a website discussing the findings of the study is currently included in the Institute’s home page.
Additionally, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, the Bradley Foundation was the third largest funding source of the “U.S. climate change countermovement” between 2003 and 2010, spending $29.5 million to dispute the hypothesis of man-made climate change and related issues.
The Bradley Foundation supports professorships and research programs at universities across the country, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which found that it donated nearly $38 million for this purpose in the period 2001-09.
The Bradley Foundation could not be reached for comment for this article.
DonorsTrust, a nonprofit organization that is backed by the Koch brothers, issued grants totaling $125,000 to the Witherspoon Institute in 2012 for “Jennifer Bryson’s work on Islam and civil society.” Bryson headed the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute.
Charles and David Koch are best known for another political advocacy nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity, which spent $122 million in the 2012 election cycle, most notably on advertisements to defeat U.S. President Barack Obama and a number of Democrats in Congress.
According to a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress, titled “Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in the U.S.,” the three largest organizations that have donated to allegedly Islamophobic causes are the Donors Capital Fund, which is related to DonorsTrust, at over $20 million; the Richard Scaife foundations at nearly $7.9 million; and the Bradley Foundation at nearly $5.4 million.
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, which has received funds from both the Bradley Foundation and the Donors Capital Fund, has said, “All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.”
Princeton University also received $50,000 for the James Madison Program from DonorsTrust in 2012.
Unlike the Bradley Foundation, which is a charitable family trust, DonorsTrust is a “donor-advised fund,” meaning donors don’t have the final say over how their money is spent, but they can make recommendations and receive a larger tax write-off than if they had donated their money through a family foundation.
DonorsTrust promises its donors that, even if they die or are incapacitated, their heirs can’t donate their money to causes that DonorsTrust deems unacceptable, such as some liberal causes. The Tides Foundation is a similar donor-advised fund for liberal issues.
By 2010, DonorsTrust had distributed $118 million to groups “which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations,” according to The Guardian newspaper.
The webpage for the DonorsTrust’s VERITAS Fund says that its “lodestar is Professor Robert George's James Madison Program in American Ideals … In its inaugural year, the VERITAS Fund raised and largely committed $2,500,000 to seeding centers on the campuses of [various universities] … VERITAS sees itself as an angel investor in these programs.”
According to the Center for Public Integrity, DonorsTrust had as its largest donor in 2010 the Knowledge and Progress Fund, whose chairman is billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.
DonorsTrust also receives money from organizations other than Koch-sponsored ones, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
The Bradley Foundation contributed $656,565 to DonorsTrust in 2012 to support the Bradley Gifted Education Fund; $250,000 to support the Colorado Freedom Project, which helps to elect Republicans to Congress in Colorado; and $100,000 to support the Project on Fair Representation, which litigates to “challenge government distinctions and preferences made on the basis of race and ethnicity.”
The Princeton-based National Organization for Marriage has also benefited from DonorsTrust’s funding.
DonorsTrust gave $50,500 to NOM’s Education Fund in 2012. George is the chairman emeritus of NOM.
The Bradley Foundation also sponsored 51 out of 109 expenses-paid conferences for federal judges identified by the Center for Public Integrity between 2008 and 2012, and DonorsTrust gave George Mason’s Law & Economics Center, which hosts some of such conferences, almost $450,000 in 2010.
The Center for Public Integrity allegedly identified “instances where judges who attended seminars underwritten by certain firms and trade groups later issued rulings in the funders’ favor.” Other frequent sponsors included ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, Pfizer, and State Farm.
DonorsTrust was not available for comment for this article as of press time.
Other organizations from which the Witherspoon Institute received funding in 2012 include the Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Organization ($21,000); the Earhart Foundation ($40,000); the Randolph Foundation ($100,000); and the William E. Simon Foundation ($300,000).
The Earhart Foundation funded anti-affirmative action campaigns at major universities in the early 2000s and is a supporter of the George C. Marshall Institute, which has disputed the scientific consensus on climate change.
The Randolph Foundation contributed over $1.3 million in funding to DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund between 2002 and 2012.
James Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation, is also vice chairman of DonorsTrust.