Giving Review

The underappreciated benefits of “other-side” policy-oriented giving

Jul 16, 2019

It may sometimes be a good idea for policy-oriented givers to consider supporting those on the other side of an otherwise-overarching ideological divide or with another worldview.

During the early part of the Cold War, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covertly supported the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), as famously uncovered in 1967. Founded in 1950, CCF convened leading intellectuals—writers, poets, artists, cultural critics, philosophers, and historians from around the world—of the left. They were non-communist, formerly communist, or anti-communist, but they were of the left.

CCF’s members’ very existence made an argument that leftism needn’t necessarily be communist, of course. Through CCF-related periodicals, including Encounter magazine, and at its conferences and seminars, the members essentially made versions of the same actual argument in their respective fields of interest. The group divided and demoralized the larger global left. Paraphrasing former Comintern delegate and labor leader Jay Lovestone, who helped the CIA with the effort, some of the best anti-communists were former Communists. There is a small library’s worth of discussion about and criticism of the project, but much of it at least recognizes that for American democratic capitalism, support of the group served substantive and strategic long-term purposes. 

It yielded equally long-term benefits. It was good giving, actually.

There are many circumstances under which it might be advisable for policy-oriented givers to consider supporting organizations and projects undertaken by those on the other side of an otherwise-overarching ideological divide or with another worldview. In fact, some American philanthropic foundations, most prominently including the Ford Foundation, cooperatively participated in the CIA’s effort.  

“Other-side” giving of this nature clearly entails some risks and has some downsides—by definition, it’s explicitly supporting the other side, after all–but if done well, there can be benefits. These potential benefits are underappreciated, perhaps especially in the current hyper-politicized context. That context’s much-coarsened public discourse, along with its attendant donor demand for ideological purity among any and all grantees and even funding allies, can essentially boost the cost of “other-side” giving.

The “Lovestone principle”

Without the CIA’s covertness, there are subsequent examples of successful “other-side” policy-oriented giving. In the 1990s, the decidedly conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, for instance, consciously provided modest general-operating support to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council. PPI played a role in the movement of liberalism and the Democratic Party towards the center led by Bill Clinton, who signed the federal, work-based, welfare-reform bill in 1996. The federal bill was, in large part, based on Wisconsin’s previous, similarly work-based welfare reform led by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

“Other-side” giving in line with what Bradley internally considered the “Lovestone principle” can also be issue-specific, of course, which is probably a more-common application.  Bradley also consciously funded the liberal Brookings Institution for John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s 1990 book Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools, for example, which played a role in the movement of school vouchers towards passage and implementation—beginning in Milwaukee, with support from Thompson, Milwaukee’s Democrat Mayor John Norquist, the business community, the religious community, and the black community, and then spreading elsewhere around the country. Benefits.

Bradley later also supported several groups founded or led by pro-school-choice former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent Howard Fuller—including, among others, the Black Alliance for Educational Options–along with the pro-choice Hispanic CREO and a National Council of La Raza (NCLR) charter-school project. Fuller, Hispanic CREO, and NCLR were and are not for Social Security privatization or a flat tax. Support of their school-choice stances yielded benefits, however. No one was duplicitously being “used;” they and Bradley both knew where everyone stood, and everyone (liked and) respected each other. 

Again, good giving.

A buyer’s market

It sure seems as if there are many new opportunities for more successful “other-side” policy-oriented giving right now. As before, by definition, taking advantage of such opportunities would require a giver to forsake any concern with ideological purity. Admittedly, such a forsaking might be more difficult than it has been in the past, given the current coarsening of the discourse. But so what?

With whatever worldview, a giver willing and able to consider “other-side” giving should see potential openings for it amidst the serious substantive divisions within both the right and the left. It is an “other-side” buyer’s market. 

Conservatives should look for liberal Lovestones and discreetly support those wary of progressives’ attempted capture of all the left. Liberals should look for and support those conservatives skittish about what’s happening to conservatism. Conservatives and liberals should think about “other-side” giving, moreover, both generally and if not, more easily, issue-specifically. In the current context, moreover—maybe more so than before—any “other-side” grantee should be made fully aware of the defense they may have to mount among their allies for accepting support from what is their “other side” too.

There are very many issue openings—more so than usual—for both sides to explore “other-side” giving. Non-exhaustively, an initial list of those among them: national identity and populism in general and, in particular, crony capitalism and equal opportunity; the prominent role of Big Tech in our lives and its effects on privacy and national security; globalization, the future of work, and immigration; criminal-justice reform and implementation of that reform; the administrative state and its effects in general; the effect of environmental laws and regulations on employability and labor in particular; the ethical implications of technological “advancements,” including medical biological ones; and internationally.

There could be risks, yes. Again, though, so what? Philanthropy’s in a unique position to absorb them. After due diligence, maybe consider confidently and courageously assuming them. Make a modest, “other-side” grant or two. 

Could be good giving, yielding benefits.


Co-editor William A. Schambra shares further thoughts on “other-side” giving here.