In the public policy arena, Queensbury’s rules no longer apply


Alan Fowler


Alan Fowler

Alan Fowler

The recent article on the ‘bare-knuckle’ philanthropy of the Koch brothers (Alliance Extra, 1 August) reaffirms what Moving a Public Policy – a 1997 study by Sally Covington of 12 conservative US foundations, including Koch – found in terms of making a significant policy impact. While perhaps more subtle than today’s bare-knuckle approach, a dedication to defeat ‘big government liberalism’ relied on a sophisticated strategy aimed at the production and marketing of ideas through long-term financing of conservative think tanks, allied to effective media outreach and public policy training programmes. One can speculate that this concerted effort is why, for many years, the language of ‘solidarity’ has seldom featured in America’s mainstream political lexicon.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which published the 1997 study, drew the following general lessons for grantmakers seeking to influence policy trends: 1) Understand the importance of ideology and overarching frameworks; 2) Help to build strong institutions by providing ample general operating support; 3) Maintain a national policy focus and concentrate resources; 4) Recognize the importance of media, marketing and persuasive communications; 5) Create and cultivate public intellectuals and policy leaders; 6) Support multiple social change strategies including advocacy, leadership development and constituency mobilization; and 7) Take a long-haul approach.

Her conclusion (p49): ‘… it is the combination of all seven that has made conservative philanthropy especially consequential. The demonstrated willingness of these foundations to act in such political and strategic terms serves as a sharp reminder of how much can be accomplished given clarity of vision and steadiness of purpose.’

If an increasingly polarized American politics and public policy arena are anything to go by, some 16 years later this original recipe is still proving its worth. One should not be surprised that its ideological co-founders are emboldened to take the gloves off. Philanthropists, please take note. To the extent that they ever did, Queensbury’s rules no longer apply to fights over public policy.

Alan Fowler is Emeritus Professor, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University.

Tagged in: Conservative philanthropy influence Koch brothers think-tanks

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