NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Foundation Founders Would Roll Over In Their Graves

January 5, 2001

Baby boomers will inherit more than $12 trillion over the next few years -- and tens of thousands of estates in the $10 million to $30 million range will be created by them. Hundreds of them are already starting a foundation each week -- bringing the number of U.S. philanthropic foundations to 50,000.

But the geniuses and hard workers whose toil built their estates might be aghast at where their money is going. According to Economics America, assets of activist liberal foundations are 17 times greater than those of conservative activist foundations.

  • For example, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation -- he who went from grade-school dropout to builder of business empires ranging from insurance to media, oil drilling and banking -- has given out "genius" grants to such stellar performers as a La Raza lobbyist and a cartoonist who "captures the detritus of city life."
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- built on the assets of the health-care giant Johnson & Johnson -- promotes health policy issues fiercely opposed by the company.
  • The foundation established by the late David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, supports the neo-Luddite sustainable development movement.
  • The Pew Foundation -- which has become one of the most influential critics of the resource-extraction industry -- was endowed from the profits of the Sun Oil Company.

Experts caution philanthropists to be careful in setting up foundations -- because the intentions of donors are often ignored after their death.

Source: Neal B. Freeman (Foundation Management Institute), "When Bad Things Happen to Good Money," USA Today, January 4, 2001.


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