Philanthropy Booms In the Trump Era—But It Also Gets Political
Such advocacy fails to provide direct and tangible benefits to individuals in need.
The Trump administration has turned out to be a bonanza for the nonprofit world. Liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have reported great fundraising success since last year’s election. In addition, many large foundations have decided to direct hundreds of millions of dollars toward new ventures to combat the supposedly ill effects of administration policies. Though few conservatives will applaud the aims of these campaigns, the expenditures have ironically helped to demonstrate a core conservative principle: When government steps back, private money often fills the void.
A few leaders in the liberal philanthropic world saw this dilemma approaching. After the 2016 election, Caleb Gayle, a former program officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, argued in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that the nonprofit sector shouldn’t spend more to make up for gaps in government funding. Instead he counseled exercising “strategic restraint.” Why? “To many foundations,” he wrote, “it might seem cruel to resist calls to spend more . . . But if grant makers start to far exceed the 5 percent annual minimum, they will validate the conservative desire to strip money from government antipoverty measures.”
This summer, the Chronicle collected information on “foundation actions taken in direct response to Trump administration policies or more generally linked by grant makers to the current political environment.” As of August, total commitments exceeded $700 million, “not including those by groups that announced proportional increases in grant making but did not give dollar amounts.”
These grants include $375 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for “responding to Trump administration plans to cut federal spending on international family planning”; $100 million from the Omidyar Network to “support investigative journalism, help citizens engage with government, and reduce hate speech”; and $35 million from the California Foundation, which is “shifting its entire grant-making budget to focus on access to health care for Californians, including immigrants; maintaining the social safety net for low-income residents; and preventing hate crimes.”
Between new money given to combat discrimination, climate change and “fake news,” and funds to provide for abortion and other liberal advocacy groups, liberal foundations are doing a great deal to make up for any reductions in government money going toward these causes. Moreover, according to the Chronicle, “the Ford and MacArthur funds said their grant-making strategies were already aligned with the challenges posed by the current political and economic environment.”
Mr. Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Ms. Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal