from the pages of../

Who’s Running the Right?

Craig McGrath


Just about everybody thought he was gone, dissolved and disappeared. The alter ego of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and former attorney general of the United States, Edwin Meese is back. Author of the famous Meese commission report on pornography and player in the Iran-Contra affair, Meese was forced out in the wake of that scandal.

But like a specter haunting the political landscape, Meese has returned in a big way. Indeed, he has been coming back almost from the moment of his official exit from government in the late 80s. "No problems: Ed Meese, as he was known, has reemerged from the shadows as one of the prime movers of the ultra-right’s increasingly powerful think tank apparatus. From his interlocking directorate at the Capital Research Center in Washington, where he buddies around with Arianna Huffington (herself a member of Newt’s Progress and Freedom Foundation), to his seat at the Heritage foundation on Capital Hill, Meese has been directing, along with a handful of other well-financed and in some cases semi-secret leaders, the right’s governmental and media attack campaigns against environmentalists, community activists, and a whole range of liberal and progressive causes.

While the Center’s publications portray it as a populist oracle, a look at the people connected with it reveals something else. The board of Capital Research Center reads like a Who’s Who of the establishment right. The chair is Terrance Scanlon, formerly vice-president of the Heritage Foundation and a Reagan appointee. Also on the board is a second godfather of the far right think tanks, William Simon, former secretary of the Treasury under Nixon and Ford and head of the John M. Olin Foundation since 1977. Added to this mix are former Reagan National Security Adviser Richard Allen and Reagan White House liaison and Iran-Contra fund-raiser Linda Chavez.

William E. Simon is a central figure of the think tank syndicate and was one of the premier corporate raiders of the 1980s, making, according to the Los Angeles Times, tens of millions of dollars by taking over and asset stripping such companies as Anchor Hocking Glass and the Simplicity clothing pattern company. By directing the investment group. Wesray Inc., Simon used junk bonds to finance hostile takeovers of companies, raid pension funds, sell off parts of companies, and fire thousands of employees.

The money Simon and his associates made form the implosion of these companies and the laying off of workers helped finance the conservative think tank movement and change the boundaries of acceptable political debate in this country. It also made Simon by 1991 a member of the Forbes 400, one of the richest individuals in the country, worth an estimated $300 million.

Simultaneously, with his junk bond financed corporate raiding Simon was ideologically promoting, through the think tanks, the philosophy of unregulated, unrestrained free enterprise. The tanks in the early 1980s began pushing ideas that had for years been notions of the fringe right: privatizing education, eliminating Social Security, repealing environmental laws and touting private charities as a substitute for government welfare programs. In February of this year, presidential candidate Steven Forbes, a contributor to CRC publications, issued a call for the privatizing of Social Security. The effect of this kind of move could put hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of wealthy speculations in the stock and bond market, and mark the end of the Social Security system’s reliance on government secured Treasury notes as a way to safely finance the system.

Simon, in his other incarnation, sits at the pinnacle of the money distribution system of the laissez-faire right. As president of the John M. Olin Foundation in New York, he is a pivotal player in the $40 million a year grants awarded by Olin to target hard right causes. Olin is also a think tank that gives millions of dollars to other right wing think tanks. In 1994 alone Olin gave over $225,000 to support the John M. Olin chair in legal studies held by former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Nearly $180,000 went to AEI fellow Dinesh D’Souza, who was writing his controversial book The End of Racism. An additional $42,000 went to Michael Novak at AEI for a program on Religion and Public Policy. Novak, as chance would have it, also sits on the board of Capital Research Center.

CRC has also become a focal point for the Newt revolution on Capitol Hill and operates as a kind of front-line tactical outpost for the high congressional right in Washington. It puts out three monthly newsletters and an annual analysis of corporate and foundation giving. The annual analysis, Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy, and the newsletters serve as information-attack vehicles for the right, particularly for the right radicals in the Republican House and are distributed through the maze of ultra-right conservative tanks at the state level.

The Center also serves up an array of studies and books attacking environmentalists, consumer activists, civil rights organizations, and the sanctuary movement. Authors are usually think tank financed academics or board members of other tanks such as Clint Bolick, litigation director of the Washington-based Institute for Justice and an associate of Clarence Thomas from their days at EEOC. Bolick was the guy, who, with a well-placed editorial in the Wall Street Journal, brought down Lani Guinier, Clinton’s choice to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Another CRC regular is Martin Morse Wooster, a CRC visiting fellow and columnist for the Moonie-owned Washington Times.

Not to be left out, the CRC monthly newsletter Organizational Trends, takes on groups ranging from historic preservationists—for their attempts to save historic landmarks and slow the spread of Wal-Mart—to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for efforts to eliminate the "root causes of poverty" rather than offering the poor—in CRC’s words "examples of success." In its publications, CRC often portrays non-profit advocacy groups as government financed conspirators determined to undermine or eliminate the free enterprise way of life. Other publications have attacked the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association for stands against smoking.

CRC’s influence extends in numerous, but quiet ways into the mass media. Board members Walter Williams, Linda Chavez, Adam Myerson (a vice-president of Heritage Foundation), and Robert Woodson are promoted as free-market/personal responsibility experts in various fields. They are frequent talking heads on CNN, PBS Newshour and a wide variety of electronic media.

In some cases media personalities actually gravitate to CRC. The preface for a recently released CRC book. Environmentalism at the Crossroads, was written by ABC’s 20/20 reporter John Stossel. Stossel, with his government bashing reports, fits neatly into the CRC profile. Back in 1994, Stossel was on the dais when the Heartland Institute in Chicago, a state level clone of the national hard right think tanks, presented an award to CRC board member Walter Williams. Williams, an economist at George Mason university, is one of a tiny cadre of African-American supply-side laissez-faireists sprinkled throughout the think tank apparatus. At George Mason, Williams holds—you guessed it—the John M. Olin distinguished professorship, financed by a $50,000 a year grant from Simon’s Olin Foundation.

With the coming of the Republican majority on Capitol Hill in 1995, the Meese/Simon axis at Capital Research Center saw its chance to finally move in a preemptive way against its adversaries. It began pumping position papers into the offices of Republican members of the new Congress with the aim of "defunding the left." By mid-1995, the lines were blurring between the CRC and the Republican "revolutionaries" in the House when the new majority leader, Dick Armey, decided to take on the CEO’s of 82 large U.S. companies. He blamed the parent companies and their foundations for giving money to notorious left-wing causes like the environment, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, and supporting "the welfare state." Problem was that Armey’s letter on Congressional stationary was sent out by CRC—a violation of House rules.

One of the most insidious attempts by the free-ranging and increasingly aggressive right apparatchiks to intimidate other nonconservative foundations occurred last year in Wisconsin. A bit of covert infiltration of the peace and justice community in Milwaukee was engineered by members of a Meese-created think tank, the Institute for Contemporary Studies headquartered in San Francisco. Cameron Humphries and Daniel McGroarty, allegedly writing a book on school vouchers, were the point men of the operation. Humphries, posing as a volunteer and using the assumed name of Jack Cameron, infiltrated the Milwaukee Peace Center. The Peace Center houses offices for a wide range of organizations including Campaign for a Sustainable Milwaukee, an alliance of labor, environmental, church , and community activists working for jobs and heath care.

The group was about to be the recipient of a $5.1 million dollar grant for job creation in Milwaukee from the Annie Casey Foundation of Baltimore. Humphries, the twentysomething think tanker, no longer calling himself Jack Cameron, together with McGroarty, reported back on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal that the Milwaukee Peace Center was a subversive Marxist con operation being run on what they called the "gullible spinsters" of the business and political community of Milwaukee who had signed on to the grant project. The basis for their charge was that low-life Sustainable Milwaukee was working for a livable minimum wage of $7.70 an hour and that the campaign would demand of city contractors that they make employer paid healthcare plans available to their employees.

The Humphries/Cameron "school vouchers" venture at Contemporary Studies was financed, it just so happens, with a six figure grant from the right’s Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee. Bradley president Michael Joyce was, until 1985, a deputy of—guess who—William E. Simon at the Olin Foundation in New York.

Newt Gingrich and his poll numbers may be plummeting, but the activities of the hard right think tank insiders are far from on the wane. In face a right wing thing tans is probably coming to a town near you soon if it’s not there already. There are now over 50 state level right think tanks and they are growing and cloning at the rate of one every three to four weeks. They are dedicated to pushing a unified and same sounding agenda of attacking public education, non-profits, and progressive activists through media massaging, faxes, conferences, and perhaps, as in Milwaukee, covert means.


Craig McGrath is a free lance writer based in Washington, DC.