Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement
By Nicole Hoplin and Ron Robinson
(Regnery Publishing, 248 pages, $27.95)
IN NOVEMBER OF 1958, Barry Goldwater was reelected to a second term in the Senate, but Republicans lost 48 seats in the House, 12 in the Senate and 13 of 21 governorships. November 2008 doesn’t look as bad by comparison. The party’s enormous losses did not discourage Dean Clarence Manion, who decided that this was a fine time to draft Goldwater for the Republican nomination for president. A former dean of Notre Dame law school, Manion wrote Goldwater on July 27, 1959, to suggest that the Arizona senator write a book outlining his philosophy. He suggested that the title be “The Conscience of a Conservative,” and he offered Goldwater a $1,000 advance.
Manion then filed the paperwork to start a nonprofit publishing house after New York publishers declined to acquire a book with no manuscript. (Manion decided a nonprofit would allow Goldwater supporters to take a tax deduction when they made bulk purchases of the book.) Manion was the man behind the scenes, according to authors Ron Robinson, president of Young America’s Foundation, and Nicole Hoplin, who tell his story in their fine new book Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Con servative Movement. He was ever-present, urging Goldwater ghostwriter Brent Bozell to get on with the writing of The Conscience of a Conservative, and helping with proofreading, layout, promotion, and distribution to get the book into the hands of Republican delegates before the party’s state caucuses and conventions met in 1960. Goldwater didn’t win the nomination in 1960 or the presidency in 1964. But his book’s words inspired.
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden.
Who will write that today? Hoplin and Robinson tell Manion’s story because they want to inspire their readers to be donors and activists like him—entrepreneurs of political ideas who will not let a bad election cycle undermine their determination to invest in ideas they believe in. Timing, they suggest, is far less important than commitment and clarity. Donors, in particular, need to take heart. They can make a difference if they retain confidence in their capacity to give wisely. Hoplin and Robinson warn against too often demoralizing donors by telling stories about donor mistakes and the neglect of donor intentions by the foundations they create. What’s needed, they write, is a new generation of courageous philanthropists, men and women who will make great gifts supporting conservative ideas and institutions. Such gifts will inspire others to imitate their example.
Funding Fathers is a celebration of the unheralded achievements of great donors. For instance, the names of Kansas City philanthropist William Volker (1859–1947) and his nephew Harold Luhnow (1895–1978) are forgotten. In part, that’s because they put a time limit on the life of the grant-making Volker Fund they established. Unlike a Ford Foundation or Pew Charitable Trust, which exist in perpetuity to support causes contrary to the donors who created them, the Volker Fund honored its donors’ intentions during their lifetimes. During its three decades of existence the Volker Fund achieved far more than William Volker could have imagined.
In a Kansas City archive Hoplin and Robinson located a scrap of paper dated May 7, 1945, on which William Volker authorized a $2,000 grant request by Friedrich Hayek to defray the travel expenses of 17 Americans to the first Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Switzerland. It was during the high tide of Keynesianism (and one day before Nazi Germany’s surrender) that Volker made it possible for American free-market economists and writers to meet their counterparts in war-torn Europe.
The $2,000 grant helped pay for economists Milton Friedman, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, and George Stigler, writers Felix Morley, John Davenport, and Henry Hazlitt, and institution-builders Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Education and F. A. Harper, who would found the Institute for Humane Studies, to confer with like-minded Europeans about the fate of the postwar world. Hoplin and Robinson’s diligent research also uncovers that Volker subsequently provided teaching stipends for Hayek, Mises, Morley, and economist Murray Rothbard and sponsored lectures by Milton Friedman that would become his book Capitalism and Freedom. One wonders what grants might have a comparable impact today.
FUNDING FATHERS contains chapters on the vision and generosity of Henry Regnery and William F. Buckley Jr.; auto dealer Holmes Tuttle and the oil men Henry Salvatori and Cy Rubel—Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet”; and Britain’s Antony Fisher, the chicken farmer-turned- Margaret Thatcher adviser who arguably invented the entrepreneurial public-policy think tank and encouraged others to start them around the world. It tells the stories of Spike Hennessy, a major benefactor of Hillsdale College, and Joseph Coors, whose $250,000 gift jump-started the creation of the Heritage Foundation. While they often repeat stories contained in other memoirs, biographies, and histories, Hoplin and Robinson have uncovered new information about the philanthropy undergirding the conservative movement, particularly during its early days. Their archival research and interviews provide many examples of how big ideas have often depended on modest and not-so-modest contributions from savvy donors.
The authors’ concluding chapter describes the odyssey of John Engalitcheff. Born a Russian prince, he was forced by the Bolshevik revolution to emigrate in 1924 to the United States, where he eventually made his fortune manufacturing air- conditioning products. The entrepreneur began making contributions to anti-Communist and pro-defense groups. On November 15, 1984, he collapsed just as he was about to shake hands with President Ronald Reagan in a White House receiving line, days after the President’s reelection, and he died several days later. In 1990, upon his widow’s death, Engalitcheff’s estate was divided among nine organizations, which each received a minimum of $4 million and some up to $13 million, the bequest totaling $102 million. The organizations included the Young America’s Foundation, where Robinson is president and Hoplin is director of foundation relations. Engalitcheff’s bequest to the foundation eventually allowed it to buy the hilltop Reagan Ranch, the president’s getaway retreat outside Santa Barbara, California.
Robinson and Hoplin observe that by funding the property purchase Engalitcheff’s gift not only assisted Mrs. Reagan with her husband’s medical costs but it preserved a tangible part of the president’s legacy. Today the Reagan Ranch serves as a Young America’s Foundation conference venue and historic site.
Funding Fathers is a timely book because it reminds conservatives that while elections come and go, good ideas prevail. But spreading those ideas requires organization, which requires money, which, for conservatives, requires donors.