The Philanthropy Roundtable is a conservative research and advocacy group whose mission is "to foster excellence in philanthropy, to protect philanthropic freedom, to assist donors in achieving their philanthropic intent, and to help donors advance liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility in America and abroad." Closely associated with various neoconservative and other rightwing figures and institutions, the Philanthropy Roundtable has been at the forefront of efforts to challenge the "liberal establishment" by strategically channeling charitable giving.
In February 2013, the Philanthropy Roundtable drew public attention when various sources, including the Guardian newspaper, reported on the organization's connections to a club of rightist donors, including Donors Trust and the Koch Foundation, that have been funding efforts to debunk climate change science and environmental regulations. Commenting on this aspect of the Roundtable's work, Media Matter reported: "One of its board members, Jeff Sandefer, is a former oilman. It is partially funded by The Charles G. Koch Foundation, and in 2011 it gave Charles G. Koch an award for 'Philanthropic Leadership.' In 2010, oil tycoon Philip Anschutz [owner of the Weekly Standard] received the award."
According to Media Matters, the "Philanthropy Roundtable gave $250,000 to Donors Trust in 2010," just as that trust began "funneling" money to "climate denial groups." Donors Trust is also notorious for serving as a pass through foundation for donors supporting anti-Islamic causes in the United States, as reported in a widely noted 2011 Center for American Progress report, Fear, Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.
The Philanthropy Roundtable was informally launched in the late 1970s by a group of political strategists and philanthropists. In 1991, it became an official organization with a governing board of directors. Membership is open to all philanthropists and representatives of philanthropic organizations. The organization claims to have "an annual budget of over $6 million, a staff of 24, and a membership of more than 550 philanthropic organizations, families, and individuals."
Members are encouraged to join one of the organization's various "Breakthrough Groups," which are thematic groupings—on conservation, higher education, national security, among others—aimed at providing philanthropists "with more in-depth service and greater opportunities for strategic collaboration." The group on national security "seeks to build a critical mass of donors focused on making important advances toward victory over terrorism. Our national security meetings encourage innovative thinking through private initiatives like independent scholarship and research and metropolitan and regional disaster preparedness which exist outside of the government."
Philanthropy Roundtable directors have included Leslie Lenkwosky and John Waters, both of whom served in the George W. Bush administration, as well as Kim Dennis, now executive director of the Searle Freedom Trust. Adam Meyerson, a former vice president of the Heritage Foundation, has been the director since 2001. Meyerson is co-editor of the Wall Street Journal on Management, former editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, former managing editor of the American Spectator, and the spouse of Nina Shea, a long-standing neoconservative activist based at the Hudson Institute who was formerly director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House. Karl Zinsmeister, a domestic policy aide to the George W. Bush White House, is the group's vice president for publications.
The board of directors listed on the website as of 2013 included: Michael W. Grebe (chairman), James Piereson (vice chairman), John Tyler (secretary), Donn Weinberg (treasurer), Ana Thompson, Heather Higgins, Daniel S. Peters, and Jeff D. Sandefer. Grebe is the president of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of neoconservative and Islamophobic causes, as well as a former overseer of the Hoover Institution and general council for the Republican National Committee; James Piereson served as the executive director and trustee of the conservative John M. Olin Foundation; Daniel S. Peters serves as president and director of the Ruth & Lovett Peters Foundation; and Jeff D. Sandefer is a director of the National Review magazine.
History, Connections, Activities
The Philanthropy Roundtable arose as part of a strategy to build a rightwing funding base to contest the power of the "liberal establishment." The organization was initially financed by the Institute for Education Affairs, founded in 1978 by Irving Kristol and former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Olin Foundation president William Simon, two key figures in shaping the strategies of corporate and rightwing philanthropy. Under their direction, the IEA aimed to funnel millions of dollars into the "war of ideas" with what they called the "adversary culture"—meaning liberals, progressives, and secularists.
In his 1978 book, A Time for Truth, Simon wrote that rightwing and corporate philanthropy could play a central role in combating the power of the liberal establishment: "Most private funds … flow ceaselessly to the very institutions which are philosophically committed to the destruction of capitalism. … [T]he great corporations of America sustain the major universities, with no regard for the content of their teachings [and sustain] the major foundations, which nurture the most destructive egalitarian trends." He argued that business leaders and donors needed to channel "multimillions" to places where individual liberty was "beleaguered" in order to protect "traditional American values".
In the early 1980s, the Philanthropy Roundtable came into its own after conservative donors split from the centrist Council on Foundations to protest the organization's adoption of The Principles and Practices of Effective Grantmaking, claiming that this report encouraged the "politicization of philanthropy."
The organization notes it emerged as the result of "an increasing lack of political and intellectual diversity within parts of the philanthropic community." Its stated purpose was "to promote greater respect for private, voluntary approaches to individual and community betterment" and provide "a forum where donors could discuss the principles and practices that inform the best of America's charitable tradition." Thus, the newly reorganized Philanthropy Roundtable aimed to create a force in corporate, individual, and foundation giving that would boost rightwing ideas and causes.
The offices of the Philanthropy Roundtable are located in the same Washington D.C. building that has housed such neoconservative institutions as the Weekly Standard, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), and the American Enterprise Institute. The Roundtable and the now-defunct PNAC shared a common connection to the Bradley Foundation and had an overlapping employee base. For example, former Roundtable policy director Daniel McKivergan was a founding member of the Project for the New Republican Future, a project directed by William Kristol and sponsored by the Bradley Foundation, which aimed to orchestrate Republican victories in congressional and presidential elections. McKivergan later joined the neoconservative Weekly Standard, and then took up a post as PNAC's deputy director.
Michael Joyce played a key role in shaping the political direction of the Philanthropy Roundtable. As the longtime president (1986-2000) of the Bradley Foundation, Joyce served until 2003 as chair of the roundtable's board of directors. Bill Kristol, like his father Irving, cultivated close ties with Joyce (who passed away in 2006), Bradley, and other rightwing philanthropists. Joyce, a PNAC signatory, said that it was inevitable that Bush would embrace the neoconservative agenda. "I'm not sure September 11 did more than push the timetable up," Joyce noted. Commenting on the special role of right-wing foundations, Michael Grebe, current president of the Bradley Foundation and chair of the Philanthropy Roundtable, said: "We have a role in sustaining a conservative intellectual infrastructure."
The organization publishes the quarterly magazine Philanthropy, which it describes as "'must reading' among donors committed to promoting freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility." The journal focuses on providing guidance for strategic philanthropy in line with their key principles.
In a 1999 article for Philanthropy, the siblings Devon Gaffney Cross and Frank Gaffney authored a 1999 article on philanthropy's role in shaping policy. They criticized such liberal foundations as Rockefeller and MacArthur for their "ironic vision of international orderliness," which they said "must be contrasted with the world as it actually is." They considered private philanthropy "among the least recognized forces in the shaping of United States security policy. Specifically, the leading funders in international security programs at U.S. think-tanks, academic institutions, and grassroots groups are generously underwriting an ambitious and highly politicized agenda. Today, as in the past, arms control and other international legal endeavors are the organizing principle behind much of what the Rockefeller Brothers' Fund calls the 'One World Program.' The operative premise has been described by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer as 'a world imagined [where] laws, treaties and binding international agreements can domesticate the international arena.'"
The Philanthropy Roundtable has received considerable funding from a number of rightist foundations, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Alleghany Foundation, Earhart Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, Scaife Family Foundation, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Philip M. McKenna Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Castle Rock Foundation, JM Foundation, and Sarah Scaife Foundation. According to Media Matters Action Network, from 1993 to 2010, Philanthropy Roundtable received grants amounting to more than $9 million from these organizations. In 2010, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO is Roundtable chairman Michael W. Greebe, was the organization's leading source of foundation financial support.