A conversation with the American Alliance for Equal Rights’ Edward Blum (Part 1 of 2)

Sep 25, 2023
Edward Blum

The successful conservative legal strategist and activist talks with Michael E. Hartmann about the challenges of raising money for public-interest law in general and the mismatch between the perception and the reality of some of that funding in particular.

Edward Blum has founded several nonprofit public-interest legal organizations that have helped secure several major legal victories against policies and practices that accord preferences to people based on race. The groups include the Project on Fair Representation, Students for Fair Admissions, and the new American Alliance for Equal Rights. 

Their most-prominent wins are the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina earlier this year. In the cases, the Court held that Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s race-conscious admissions processes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The victories were decades in the making, and Blum’s, the groups’, and the plaintiffs’ pursuit of them required much patience and a very high tolerance of criticism and scrutiny. Some of the patience was required in approaching and dealing with philanthropies. And some of the tolerance of criticism was required when it was levied against the groups for the level and nature of their funding. 

The winsome Blum was kind enough to join me for a conversation earlier this month. The just less than 12-minute video below is the first part of our discussion; the second is here. In the first part, he talks about the challenges of raising money for public-interest law in general and the mismatch between the perception and the reality of some of that funding in particular.

“[T]he power of our philanthropy really came from conservative foundations and high-net-worth individuals,” Blum tells me. “I use the modifier conservative. As it turns out, there are quite a few kind of center-left individuals who thought that race-based affirmative action in college admissions was wrong, and they were very generous in helping us litigate.”

As for approaching foundations for funding, “It’s enormously more complex and complicated going to a foundation and saying, ‘Here’s who we are. This is our goal. We have sued Harvard. We have sued the University of North Carolina. That’s all we do. If we win, then race-based affirmative action will be over ….,’” according to Blum. “Not having these budgets, not having the ability to provide the kinds of things that larger foundations want, was a challenge. And we got a lot of thumbs down, I think, because of that.”

And as for the perception-reality mismatch, “You can look what we raised and what we spent and how we spent it every year from the time that we filed these lawsuits,” Blum says.

To be classified as [a] deep-pocketed, “dark-money” organization, the numbers are there. You cannot litigate cases like this over an eight-year period of time on the budget that we did. No one can. No one has done anything like this. We tightened our belts. The law firm had a very modest hourly rate. You will compare what Harvard spent and UNC spent. It is in the public record that it’s likely to exceed somewhere between $65 and $70 million. We spent one-twelfth of that.

In the conversation’s second part, Blum talks specifically about his groups’ current and contemplated activities in the wake of the Supreme Court victories, as well as the future of public-interest law in general.