Conservative Colloquium

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Conservatives Donate Too Much to Think Tanks and Partisan Orgs

Posted by Tony Listi on December 20, 2010

Conservatives will never actually halt and roll back the uninterrupted statist trend over the past century if conservative donors are not funding movement organizations that actually make American culture more conservative, get conservatives elected, and get conservative legislation passed. Think tanks and partisan organizations don’t do any of these things. The organizations that do accomplish these things focus on grassroots organizing, activism, legal action, media & communication, arts & entertainment, and training.

Think tanks don’t win policy battles. Throwing a policy paper at a politician and hoping he will change his mind is insane. Unless the politician is a true believer (and there are many more on the left than on the right) who is willing to lose an election to further an agenda, organized votes and money (or some really bad publicity) are the only thing that will change his mind.

Think tanks are most effective when conservatives are already in power. Then the policy analysis can be used and quoted by conservatives in power to lend an air of scientific accuracy and credibility to policies that common sense, reason, and basic principles already prove to be true. When conservatives are not in power, the policy papers and eggheads of the political right are ignored. These are the facts of history: the Heritage Foundation was riding high in being listened to during the Reagan years, the Gingrich years, and Republican dominance from 2002-2006. But when the Democrats gained power in 2006 and 2008, they couldn’t have cared less what the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, or American Enterprise Institute thought.

The very fact that the Heritage Foundation has now started Heritage Action, a 501(c)4 proves the limits of the think tank.

Partisan organizations are most effective when conservatives are already the Republican Party nominees. Why are conservatives giving so much money to partisan organs when there is no guarantee that the money will actually support conservative candidates (and when in fact the money has gone to RINOs in the past)? Conservatives should focus their money on primaries, and then the Republican hacks will have to follow.

Basically, 501(c)4s, legal foundations, and PACs of various sorts have the potential to make substantial contributions to the conservative movement because they organize votes, money, and/or legal action. 501(c)3s that focus on mass education do not have this potential and are largely useless, despite the media attention they may get or buy. But 501(c)3s that focus on youth culture, youth education, youth politics, and youth training do well. They sow deep and powerful seeds for the future.

But the budgets of think tanks and partisan organizations are much larger than those of the more effective organizations. Here are the annual budgets of various organizations:

Republican National Committee: $320 million (2008, revenue)

Think Tanks
Focus on the Family: $130.3 million (2009, revenue)
Heritage Foundation: $71.6 million (2009, revenue); $63.6 million (2008, revenue)
Hoover Institution: $36.7 million (2006-7, revenue; endowment worth $437 million)
Cato Institute: $20.4 million (FY 2010, revenue); $20.6 (FY 2009, revenue)
American Enterprise Institute: $20.2 million (2008, revenue)
Family Research Council: $12.1 million (2009, revenue)
Media Research Center: $11.3 million (2008, revenue)
Mercatus Center: $7.9 million (2009, revenue)
Acton Institute: $6.2 million (2008, revenue)
Competitive Enterprise Institute: $4.7 million (2009, revenue)
Claremont Institute: $3.3 million (2009, revenue)
Ludwig von Mises Institute: $2.7 million (2008, revenue)
Independent Institute: $1.9 million (2009, revenue)

Effective Organizations
Alliance Defense Fund
: $30.1 million (2009, revenue)
Institute for Justice: $10.2 million (2009, revenue)
Federalist Society: $9.9 million (2009, revenue)
Americans for Prosperity: $7.5 million (2008, revenue)
Leadership Institute: $7.4 million (2009, revenue)
Institute for Humane Studies: $6.8 million (2009, revenue)
FreedomWorks: $4.2 million (2009, revenue)
National Organization for Marriage: $3 million (2009, revenue)
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: $2.8 million (2009, revenue)
National Right to Life Committee: $2.6 million (2009, revenue)

And what do you think the left spends its money on? On organizations that mould young minds and that can get money and votes for liberal politicians. The left didn’t even start funding think tanks until recently. The left doesn’t need think tanks; it has colleges and universities! The left supplements the funding it gets from millionaires and billionaires with taxpayer money and union dues.

Here are the annual budgets of some top leftist organizations:

United Nations: $13.9 billion
National Education Association (NEA): $307 million
Service Employees International Union (SEIU): $300 million
Democratic National Committee: $260.1 million
AFL-CIO: $120 million
Planned Parenthood Federation of America: $106.4 million
ACLU: $73.1 million
Center for American Progress: $27 million ($2.5 million of which is devoted to Campus Progress, a youth outreach arm)
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN): $25 million
Center for Community Change: $17.7 million
Human Rights Campaign Foundation : $9.6 million
People for the American Way Foundation: $8.3 million
Greenpeace Fund: $7.6 million

There’s a ton of small, left-wing community organizing groups nationwide. They are decentralized, effective, and well funded.

Because the education system is largely monopolized by the state, taxpayers fund the left in our schools from kindergarten through college.

Because the arts & entertainment industry is a profitable enterprise, irresponsible parents and young adults are primarily funding the left in its artistic efforts against traditional moral values.

How do conservatives expect to win eventually when we are outspent and not even spending our own resources wisely?!

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2 Responses to “Conservatives Donate Too Much to Think Tanks and Partisan Orgs”

  1. Focus on the Family doesn’t belong on the list of “think tanks.” They have an enormous radio network, they do call-in shows, they encourage people to write to their Congressional representatives, etc. Most of the “thinktank” type of material that they write are for mailing material. They’re basically the polar opposite of what you’re critiquing, and they’re remarkably good at motivating the religious conservative base on specific issues (like Prop 8 in California, for example).

    • Tony Listi said

      Fair enough, I guess. What constitutes “enormous”? It might fall under media & communication. But syndicated conservative talk radio and Fox News were what I had in mind.

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