Change in the Air at Leading Conservative Foundations

Three of the nations leading conservative foundations are on the brink of major leadership and organizational changes, the New York Times reports.

The chief executives of both the Pittsburgh-based Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation have or will have stepped down by July, and neither foundation has chosen a successor. Meanwhile, the New York-based John M. Olin Foundation will be dissolving — in accordance with the wishes of its founder, who made it clear before he passed away in 1982 that he wanted the foundation to have a limited lifespan.

After the Olin Foundation's president, William E. Simon, died last summer, the foundation's board decided it was the right time to dissolve the foundation. In order to accomplish that, the board decided to disburse $20 million a year in grants for the next three years and, at the end of that period, to give the remaining funds to several chosen grantees.

"[John Olin] never put it in any trust, or wrote down anything definite, but he had always expressed the idea that the foundation would close down at some point," said Olin Foundation executive director James Piereson. "He didn't want it to be captured by someone who didn't agree with his philosophy. He knew that once the donor isn't around the corner, the natural course of events is for the philosophy to drift."

While none of the three foundations ranks among the wealthiest foundations in the country — the Bradley Foundation is the largest, with more than $719 million in assets — each has played a leading role in the arena of conservative thought, providing significant financial support to the likes of the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Hudson Institute, and the Federalist Society.

"They've been very effective, said Rick Cohen, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. "Unlike most liberal foundations, they've put their money into organizations, rather than projects, to build the infrastructure of those very conservative organizations."

Tamar Lewin. "3 Conservative Foundations are in the Throes of Change" New York Times 05/20/2001.