Investigation: AHI Receives Funding From Koch Foundation, Other Conservative Foundations, Nonprofits
Article by The Monitor Editorial Board
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Colchete ‘21
With the Alexander Hamilton Institute at the forefront of campus discussion this week, students and professors are reflecting on the impact of the AHI on the Hamilton community. Maya Funanda’s diagram titled “Digital Infrastructures of the Internet Outrage Machine” illustrates the relationship between the AHI, it’s publication The Enquiry, and patterns of hostile behavior targeting liberal and left-wing activists on the Hill. After the resignations of several professors following this pattern of harassment by the AHI, an estimated 300-400 students protested at a Trustee-Faculty dinner on Friday, March 4, demanding genuine support for faculty of color at Hamilton. With so many students supporting progressive change on campus, one might ask who is supporting the AHI in their activities. This is to say, where are they getting their money?
Despite the fact that the bulk of the Alexander Hamilton Institute’s work is focused on Hamilton College, the organization is bankrolled by private donors and conservative foundations from throughout the country. These sources have provided a staggering amount of financial support to the AHI, regularly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often with vague and broad conditions for spending. This article details a variety of foundations that have sent the AHI funding over the past decade, including the Charles Koch Foundation and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
The following information was collected from the Form 990 returns of AHI’s contributors- Form 990, or “Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax”, is a publicly available tax document that federally tax-exempt organizations file each year with the IRS. Additional information was found from public releases on the Alexander Hamilton Institute’s website and are linked.
To be clear: this is far from a comprehensive list of the Alexander Hamilton Institute’s revenue sources. The information this research collected represents an unknown fraction of the total funding received.
The Charles Koch Foundation
AHI received $219,960 from The Charles Koch Foundation between 2010 and 2017. In 2010, the AHI used $14,160 from the Koch Foundation to establish two educational groups dedicated to the study of the economic theories of Friedrich Hayek. In 2011, the Charles Koch Foundation donated $9,000 for “educational programs”. In 2012, the Koch Foundation donated $27,800 for “general support”, and in 2013 sent another $20,000 to the AHI for “educational programs”. In 2016 and 2017 the Foundation donated $22,000 and $127,000, respectively, to be used for “general operating support”. AHI used the 2016 grant to support the annual Carl B. Menges Colloquium, an annual speaking event.
The most well-known conservative billionaires AHI receives funding from are undoubtedly the Koch brothers, heirs to the industrial and financial conglomerate Koch Industries. Charles and David Koch have spent vast sums of their fortune on conservative ideological causes through their network of foundations and charities that includes Americans for Prosperity, State Watch Network, the Charles Koch Foundation, and DonorsTrust. Their wealth funds union-busting efforts, climate change denial, and anti-LGBT hate groups.
The true scope of the Koch’s influence is unknown; as Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times writes, “because so much of their network’s money was funneled through an array of nonprofits, where full disclosure of finances is not required, it is near impossible to assess the full scope of their operations…” Koch funding extends beyond think tanks and often to colleges themselves, though it does not appear that Hamilton College itself receives any money directly from Koch-associated organizations.
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
AHI has received $215,000 from The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation since 2015. In 2015 the organization received $50,000 “To support the Smith Institute”. In 2016 AHI received $55,000 “to support an undergraduate program on national security”; this appears to be in reference to the AHI Washington Program on National Security, a two week long seminar focused on preparing “promising and motivated college students for the challenges of a rapidly changing global environment” that the AHI has hosted for the past several years. The Foundation donated another $55,000 in 2017 for the same reason. In 2018, AHI received $55,000 “to support program activity”.
The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation is a charitable organization founded in 1942 in memory of the Bradley brothers, co-founders of the Allen-Bradley Company; the Company manufactures “industrial control products” and was purchased by Rockwell International in 1985. The Bradley Foundation disperses its funds to a wide array of causes including climate change skeptics and Islamophobic think tanks. In 2016, the Foundation was hacked and documents were leaked indicating a focus on building “conservative infrastructure” throughout the country, including supporting Republican state politicians, bankrolling anti-union campaigns and funding right-wing think tanks.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation
AHI has received $450,000 from The Thomas W. Smith Foundation since 2011. In 2011, AHI received $150,000 for a three year grant from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. In 2014, AHI received another $150,000 for a three year grant. The Smith Foundation donated another $150,000 between 2017 and 2019. These grants served a variety of purposes, including funding the publication of AHI’s campus publication The Enquiry.
The Thomas W. Smith Foundation does not maintain a website. Over the past year, the foundation has become increasingly active in the movement opposing critical race theory in classrooms, donating more than $12.7 million to 21 organizations supporting anti-CRT efforts. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at The Thomas W. Smith Foundation, published a 2021 op-ed in the New York Post arguing that “public schools… are pushing toxic racial theories onto children, teaching them that they should be judged on the basis of race and must atone for historical crimes committed by members of their racial group.” Organizations including the Cato Institute and DonorsTrust as well as academic institutions including Brown University and Boston College have received funding from the foundation.
The Armstrong Foundation
AHI received $15,000 from the Armstrong Foundation between 2011 and 2014 for the purpose of “educational programs”. The Armstrong Foundation donated $2,500 in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and $7,500 in 2014.
The Armstrong Foundation was founded in 1951 by Judge George Washington Armstrong. Armstrong was a Texas oilman notorious for his extreme and controversial beliefs, including strong support for segregation, the repeal of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, anti-Zionism, white supremacy, and opposition to the Federal Reserve System. His foundation was originally dedicated to promoting his perspective on a wide variety of political issues, though it now officially “provides funding to support educational mediums advocating the value of the U.S. Constitution”. The Armstrong Foundation has virtually no online presence.
AHI received $23,000 from DonorsTrust in 2010; $13,000 was allocated towards “general operations”, while $10,000 was marked for “the organization’s work with Encounter Books”. Encounter Books is a conservative book publisher founded by Roger Kimball, who sits on the AHI’s Board of Academic Advisors. Since 2009, AHI has housed the Encounter Bookshelf, a bookstore featuring “publications by Encounter Books and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute”, another conservative educational organization.
DonorsTrust is a donor-advised fund founded in 1999 by Whitney Lynn Ball, a libertarian philanthropist. Unlike the Koch and Bradley Foundations, the fund is not an extension of a single ultrarich family; DonorsTrust instead relies on donations from a variety of wealthy benefactors. The organization pitches itself as a safe space for rich conservatives who fear their fortunes being misspent by liberal heirs, as well as for donors who wish to remain anonymous. The fund has received money either directly or indirectly from the Koch and Bradley Foundations, as well as from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
Described as the “dark money ATM of the right” by MotherJones, DonorsTrust is extremely active in funding climate change deniers, Project Veritas sting operations, and white nationalists; the fund tends to attract proponents of controversial causes who don’t want to be associated with their donations.
AHI received $30,000 from the Apgar Foundation in 2016, which the Institute used to “expand the reach of AHI in communications and development”.
A relatively small financial vehicle, The Apgar Foundation was created from the wealth of John Apgar Jr., founder of New Jersey automotive service and tire company Somerset Tire Service. The Foundation donates to a variety of programs and foundations that “promote an understanding of the Western and American intellectual heritage” as well as “traditional Judeo-Christian thought”. Institutions similar to the AHI at Middlebury, Ohio State and Xavier University receive funding from Apgar.
Following the Money
The funding the Alexander Hamilton Institute receives from right-wing foundations is significant but not unique. The AHI represents just one point in a sprawling constellation of conservative organizations, think tanks, and billionaires. Hundreds of organizations similar to the AHI are part of an intellectual project organized over the past several decades to promote right-wing ideology and policy on college campuses. The names of these groups are usually vague and opaque; where Hamilton has the “Alexander Hamilton Institute For the Study of Western Civilization”, Suffolk University has the Beacon Hill Institute and Princeton has the Witherspoon Institute. Like the AHI, the relationship between these groups and the university is often unofficial and strained. At other schools, activist organizations like Turning Point USA host club meetings, annual conferences, and curate lists of professors accused of “liberal bias”.
These types of organizations also extend far outside of colleges and universities. Big-name conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute influence federal policy in DC, while smaller groups like the Washington Policy Center and the Montana Policy Institute lobby for “free market policies'' within their respective states. Some, like the Reason Foundation or the Competitive Enterprise Institute, focus primarily on conserative economic issues, while others, including the Acton Institute, attempt to “integrate Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles.” While some groups, like the AHI, vehemently deny any accusations of political bias, other organizations proudly declare their conservative slant.
These groups differ greatly in terms of size, geography and operations; what they have in common is where they receive funding. A small, closely connected network of right-wing billionaires, including the Kochs, Bradleys, and DeVoses, have spent decades building an infrastructure of conservative organizations. The foundations that fund the AHI appear over and over on the contribution lists of hundreds of right-wing think tanks and groups, including those referenced in the last few paragraphs.
This network of obfuscated wealth allows conservative operatives to create a veneer of ideological diversity and legitimacy that would be lost if it became immediately clear that the same handful of ultra-wealthy reactionaries were behind virtually every one of these “movements”. A few billionaires can donate to and operate a variety of foundations, exploiting non-profit status to pursue an extensive political agenda. These foundations fund a gigantic network of think tanks, institutions, and other organizations, one of which is the Alexander Hamilton Institute. If this is confusing, it’s because it was designed to be that way.
It is ironic that an organization dedicated to the cultivation of a “genuinely free marketplace of ideas” is so deeply reliant on financial support from ultra-wealthy donors with explicitly political motives. As the AHI attempts to influence discourse at Hamilton, it’s important to remember that the Institute is part of a much larger ecosystem of organizations and individuals actively trying to shift public discourse to the right. There’s a huge amount of money circulating within this network, and it’s not as unbiased and “intellectually diverse” as some people would like you to believe.