Pew Trusts, Other Foundations Criticized for Influencing Passage of Campaign-Finance Legislation

Along with a number of foundations and nonprofit organizations, the Pew Charitable Trusts has come under fire recently for bankrolling efforts to ensure passage in 2002 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

According to the Tribune-Review, the disclosures regarding the role Pew — at that time a private foundation — and other foundations played in getting the legislation, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act, passed illustrate how easily federal law prohibiting such organizations from supporting a particular candidate or bill can be skirted. In March, New York Post columnist Ryan Sager reported that as far back as 1994, a group of nonprofits began financing various experts and organizations to make it appear that a groundswell of support existed for campaign-finance reform.

Over an eight-year period, eight foundations funneled $123 million to organizations working to pass the campaign-finance law. In addition to Pew, the other groups involved were the Schumann Center for Media & Democracy (also known as the Florence & John Schumann Foundation), the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Open Society Institute, the Jerome Kohlberg Trust, and the Joyce, Ford, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations. According to the Tribune-Review, Pew spent $40.1 million on its campaign, the most of any foundation, and its beneficiaries included the University of Utah, which received $2.4 million to pay for a center to act on behalf of the public in administrative actions relating to campaign-finance and media public-interest laws, and Brigham Young University, which received $2.3 million for a study on campaign spending by interest groups and political parties in federal elections.

Pew's "lobbying and academic research paid off handsomely," John Samples, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government, wrote in the National Review Online in January 2004. "They convinced five Supreme Court justices — three of whom were appointed by Republicans — to completely empower Congress to restrict political fundraising and electoral advertising."

Pew CEO Rebecca M. Rimel denies any intent on the part of the Trusts to hide its activities. "Any assertion that we tried to hide our support of campaign-finance reform is false," said Rimel. "As we do with all of our work, we have fully disclosed our support for grantees working on campaign finance reform in a variety of forms."

Eric Heyl. "Big Bucks Spurred Ban on Soft Money." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 07/03/2005.