Michigan Attorney General Looks Into Policies of Ford Foundation

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has launched an investigation of the New York City-based Ford Foundation, saying it has ignored the Ford family's philanthropic wishes by reducing support for charities in the state, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

While the inquiry is focused primarily on whether the foundation, which is incorporated in Michigan, awards enough of its $11.6 billion endowment to charitable causes in the state, Cox has also raised questions about the foundation's conflict-of-interest and executive compensation policies. "The foundation, [which used to award 90 percent of its grants in the state], has drifted away from Michigan," said Nate Bailey, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "One of our goals in this, undoubtedly, is to bring some of Henry Ford's money home."

According to Marta L. Tellado, Ford's vice president of communications, the foundation still provides generous support to groups in the state, saying that since 1996 the foundation has donated $38 million to Michigan charities. "We have a long and proud history of grantmaking in Michigan," said Tellado. As for questions of conflict of interest, Tellado said all Ford board members recuse themselves from grant decisions involving charities with which they have been employed.

Established in 1936 by Edsel Ford, the son of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, the foundation primarily supported nonprofits connected with the family, including the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, for the first decade or so of its existence. In 1950, however, it broadened its mission to include the fight against global poverty, support for world peace, and the promotion of democracy. At that time, the foundation also ended its direct involvement with members of the Ford family; no member of the family has served on the foundation's board for more than two decades.

While nonprofit officials in Michigan support greater philanthropic support for the economically distressed region, many have dismissed Cox's investigation. "The question is what's an appropriate investment to the state you were created in?" said Sam Singh, chief executive of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, in Lansing. "That's a question for the board to answer. To me, it's not a legal question."

Ian Wilhelm. "Michigan Officials Investigate Ford Foundation." Chronicle of Philanthropy 04/06/2006.