Some of Bundy’s generosity in bestowing money upon others was parochial—in particular a grant of $131,000 to eight members of Robert Kennedy’ s staff in 1969 to help them overcome their grief after Sirhan Sirhan had gunned down their boss. Those grants came under the rubric of “Broadening opportunities for young men and women who might otherwise be unable to develop their abilities.”
The politicized grants continued after that, as the Ford Foundation, particularly during the Nixon years, came to see itself as a government-in-exile, an engine for social transformation.
Bundy transformed the Foundation into a leading sponsor of left-wing causes such as the expansion of the welfare state, nuclear disarmament, environmental advocacy, and the creation of “civil rights” interest groups that emphasized ethnic identity and ethnic power, or “multiculturalism,” over integration and assimilation into the American culture.
Ford gave as much as $300 million per year throughout the 1960’s to support such causes. Ford’s sponsorship of these radical causes frequently proved destructive to those whom it was intended to help. In 1967, for instance, on the advice of academic radicals in New York, Bundy aligned his Foundation with members of the Brooklyn Black Power movement to establish a community-run set of schools in the borough’s predominantly black Ocean Hill-Brownsville section. Between 1967 and 1968, Ford gave more than $900,000 to fund schools as part of these so-called “community control experiments” in New York City.
In theory, the Ford-funded project was supposed to empower minority communities and improve inner-city education by giving minority parents full control over their school districts. In practice, it was a disaster. The mostly-black school board precipitated a bitter and drawn-out fight with the city’s teacher’s union when the board fired the mostly white teachers as part of the project and the union came to their defense. At the same time, many of the teachers who had been appointed as part of the program were not remotely qualified for the job. Often the Ford-backed schools were staffed with anti-white militants and anti-Semites who fueled racial tensions in New York. A poem by one of the teachers appointed through the Ocean Hill-Brownsville program allegedly read: “Hey Jewboy, with the yarmulke on your head/You paleface Jewboy, I wish you were dead.” (Many of the white teachers in the school district and the New York teachers’ union were Jewish.) Still other teachers were white graduate students with no teaching experience who were drawn to the project for political reasons. As a result, the quality of education at participating schools deteriorated markedly. When the project ended after three years, minority students at Ocean Hill-Brownsville schools actually performed worse on reading tests than they had performed before the project began.
Ford again bankrolled the Black Power movement when it steered grants to the Cleveland chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), to support its voter-registration drive among blacks. Indeed, Ford funds paid for black youths to attend classes at CORE’s headquarters. Ostensibly about black history and heritage, these classes actually stoked racial division by teaching what one black councilman described as “race hatred.” Most notoriously, in 1967, Ford grants to CORE helped tip the balance in Cleveland’s mayoral race to elect Democrat Carl Stokes—a politician linked with the radical Black Power movement—as the city’s first black mayor. In what many observers saw as a clearly partisan effort, Ford gave CORE a grant of $175,000, of which $30,000 went toward voter-registration efforts aimed exclusively at black voters. Buoyed by the registration drive, Stokes was able to prevail in a tightly contested race. These registration drives were the seeds that led to the creation of organizations involved in similar efforts nationally, such as the radical group ACORN, which eventually came under scrutiny for massive election fraud in behalf of Democrats in more than a dozen states.
Ford’s “march to the Left” would ultimately provoke a bitter falling out between, on the one hand, the Foundation’s staff and trustees, and on the other, Edsel Ford’s son Henry Ford II, the last member of the Ford family to serve on the Foundation’s board.
In 1976 a disillusioned Henry Ford II terminated his 34-tenure with a protest against the leftward course his family’s Foundation had pursued. In a stinging letter of resignation, Mr. Ford excoriated the trustees for using the Foundation’s funds to support left-wing causes while abandoning the commitment to free enterprise that had made possible the profits from which the Foundation was created. “The Foundation exists and thrives on the fruits of our economic system,” he said. “The dividends of competitive enterprise make it all possible. A significant portion of the abundance created by U.S. business enables the foundation and like institutions to carry on their work. In effect, the foundation is a creature of capitalism – a statement that, I’m sure, would be shocking to many people in the field of philanthropy. It is hard to discern recognition of this fact in anything the foundation does. It is even more difficult to find an understanding of this in many of the institutions, particularly the universities, that are the recipients of the foundation’s grant programs.” Mr. Ford also observed “that the system that makes the foundation possible very probably is worth preserving.”
Not only did Ford Foundation’s executives not heed Henry Ford II’s warning that its social investments were undermining the very system that underwrote its philanthropy, but they moved aggressively to create a network of progressive groups who would use their non-profit tax status to promote radical agendas.
Under McGeorge Bundy’s leadership, the Ford Foundation made it a priority to support what it considered “civil rights” causes, but which in fact were politically left-wing agendas within the civil rights movement. That task fell to Sanford Jaffe, the director of the Ford Foundation’s Government and Law Program from 1968-83. Prior to his appointment, Jaffe had served as executive director of the “Select Commission on Civil Disorder,” established in 1968 by New Jersey’s governor, Democrat Richard Hughes. Publishing a study that examined the underlying causes of the violent riots that had erupted in the predominantly black inner-city section of Newark in the summer of 1967, this Commission made policy recommendations for dealing with the problems facing inner-city communities. Like the “President’s Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders” initiated by President Lyndon Johnson, the New Jersey commission concluded that white racism and systemic inequities were the primary causes of the Newark riots. As Jaffe later put it, the riots had been sparked by “the inattention to the needs and aspirations of the black community, and the absence of opportunities available across the board.”
The Commission’s report, blaming the riots on poverty and racism, reflected a rapidly forming consensus on the left. Its prescriptions were of a similar cast, proposing vast increases in government welfare programs as a “solution” to the “root causes” of the violence — in particular lack of income. That both the riots and the poverty might have been the result of disintegrating family and community structures in the inner city, as warned by the Moynihan Report, a groundbreaking 1965 study of the African American family, was not part of the new political calculus.
The challenge faced by Jaffe and the other progressives at the Ford Foundation was to promote agendas favored by liberals and Democrats while camouflaging its political nature, so as to conform to the legal requirements of a tax-exempt organization. Aware that this was uncharted territory and legally problematic, Jaffe wondered how he might insulate the Foundation from “criticism both from some people on the Ford board and a lot of people from the outside?” The strategy he devised was to form a Public Interest Law Advisory Committee. Consisting of four ex-presidents of the American Bar Association, this Committee would assess the Foundation’s grants and lend the stamp of non-partisan prestige to an increasingly political grant-making strategy. When the Foundation’s grants then came under attack for their political nature, Jaffe could tell the Foundation’s board, “Look, I got the advice of these four people.”
The strategy was so successful, that it initially helped diffuse opposition even from critics on the board like Henry Ford II. In order to win Ford’s approval, Jaffe made William Gossett, Ford’s general counsel, one of the members of his Advisory Committee. As Jaffe would later recall, “That became a key element to say to Henry Ford if he had a problem, ‘Well, Bill Gossett, your lawyer, thinks that this is a worthwhile enterprise, he’s joining us in looking at it.”
Jaffe’s approach cleared the way for the Ford Foundation to fund the creation of left-wing public interest law firms when otherwise the Foundation’s board might have been reluctant to endorse such nakedly partisan grants. As further insurance, Jaffe made sure that every firm would have a “litigation committee” comprising the kind of white-shoe lawyers that served on Ford’s board. That way, if the firms which Ford backed endorsed partisan liberal causes, Jaffe could claim that it was all approved at the highest levels: “We’d say, ‘Now, wait a minute, they have a distinguished board and besides that they have a litigation committee and they cannot file a lawsuit unless the litigation’s committee’s approved it.’ Now look who’s on the litigation committee. Arthur Goldberg, you know, was a former Supreme Court justice, this person and that person are all senior partners at law firms.” As one critic notes, “The program’s officers did all they could to give this potentially explosive program a smooth, establishment veneer.”
Despite its authorization as a tax-exempt entity intended to promote the general (non-partisan) welfare, the Ford Foundation would go on to create an army of progressive “public-interest” law firms, designed to advance the agendas of the Left. In time, these groups would become a Shadow Party for the political Left, shaping policy and politics in America while disenfranchising the very groups they were created to represent. Among the most influential of these tax-exempt advocacy groups were the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Council of La Raza(NCLR),