A decade of research in corporate philanthropy by the Capital Research Center has shown that the non-profit left holds a clear position of structural dominance over the non-profit right, as left-wing groups receive $3.23 for every dollar that right-wing groups receive from corporate giving dedicated to political organizations.
The Capital Research Center was founded in 1987 by Dr. Marvin Olasky, now a senior fellow at CRC. As a former public relations program coordinator and contributions adviser for the DuPont company, Olasky rejected the commonly held notion that there was conservative bias in corporate giving.
“Some exceptions shine through,” Olasky said, “but the overall picture for those who favor free enterprise, a strong national defense and traditional social values is gloomy.”
More than 10 years later, the CRC has continued to examine some of the largest publicly owned American corporations — about 250 of them — and found many of these organizations still contribute to left-leaning political advocacy and public policy research. These contributions, the CRC has pointed out, could be undermining the public corporations’ own goals.
The reason for this was explained by Christopher Yablonski, the center’s editor of Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy, a book that has reported the CRC’s findings on corporate philanthropy every year for the past 10 years. Yablonski said that the left-wing advocacy groups are — by nature — groups that push for more regulation of the economy and more taxes. This, Yablonski explained, creates a bad environment for businesses long term.
Regarding this “misuse” of philanthropic giving by major corporations, Yablonski added, “(They’re) doing this with shareholders’ money which adds insult to injury.”
In other words, he says, commitment by corporations to invest dollars in other organizations deserves scrutiny by shareholders who have vested interests in the company’s profits.
“This does not mean that corporate philanthropy is fruitless,” said Yablonski. “But it does suggest that a company’s grant-making should serve the shareholder’s interest.”
The CRC’s most recent report reveals that of the $34.67 million that American corporations contributed to public affairs groups in 1995, the last year data was available to CRC, more than $25 million went to left-wing activists while less than $8 million went to right-wing activists supporting limited government intervention in Corporate America.
The Ford Motor Company, for example, gave a $250,000 gift to the Conservation International Foundation in 1995. Yablonski questions Ford Motor’s motives since Conservation International is one of many environmental advocacy groups presently asking that government restrictions be imposed on industrial production.
PNC Bank gave, what Yablonski would consider to be, a questionable contribution of $97,000 to another anti-free market organization, ACORN. ACORN is a group that exists due to the federal government’s Community Reinvestment Act. With this act, ACORN can literally hold banks for ransom and pressure them for contributions and preferential loans. The group also lobbies for government regulations to be imposed on lending practices, bank mergers and acquisitions.
Yet, banks such as PNC Bank, still give to ACORN due largely to the fact that ACORN has created a niche for itself in the banking industry. Giving to ACORN has literally become a part of many banks’ programs.
Although legal pressures may contribute to the type of giving seen in some corporations, the gift of a quarter of a million dollars that Ford Motors gave to Conservation International can’t be explained by government pressures.
Yablonski believes that companies that are in positions similar to Ford Motors give because it’s good publicity for their corporation. Since automobiles often get a bad rap for being the worst air polluters, it may help the image of companies such as Ford Motors to give to quasi environmentalist groups even though these same groups are pushing for more industry regulations and restrictions that could hurt business.
Corporations may also choose to give to non-profit political groups as part of their advertising campaigns although Yablonski stated that most gifts are made in an attempt to satisfy specific constituencies.
“A giving program is primarily a public relations tool,” he said.
Besides being used as a public relations tool, though, corporate gifts may sometimes be used as a means to hurt another competitor. Case and point is the ongoing campaign against Microsoft. In 1997, Ralph Nader’s Consumer Project on Technology created an alliance between Microsoft competitors and left-wing activist groups which lobbied for anti-trust proceedings against the software conglomerate. “Whatever the short-term tactical advantage, the firms collaborating with left-wing activists set a precedent for industry regulation,” said Yablonski.
Although giving to political action groups has become a popular practice among American corporations, it hasn’t always been. Corporations used to concern themselves more with traditional charities that had outreach programs for the public.
However, according to Yablonski, current law allows many political advocacy groups to be considered charitable organizations under the Internal Revenue Code. Thus, giving to a charity such as the Salvation Army is just as tax deductible as giving to political groups such as the Children’s Defense Fund which received over a half million dollars in contributions from corporations such as AT&T, Aetna, Chrysler and Procter & Gamble Co. in 1995.
Although sounding like an actual charity, the Children’s Defense Fund’s mission is one of pro-welfare political activism, according to Yablonski. A stated goal of the CDF is “to improve the lives of children by promoting action on the local, state and national levels.”
“Make no mistake, the ‘action’ it (CDF) promotes is spending more tax dollars on social services and gutting the landmark 1996 welfare reform law,” said Yablonski.
Although much of Corporate America’s charitable donations is going to the non-profit left, Yablonski believes that there have been subtle changes of late. For example, in 1993, more than $4 went to left-wing political groups for every dollar that went to right-wing groups, but by 1995, more than a 20 percent decrease occurred in that ratio.
Other signs of “improvement,” according to Yablonski, come from the fact that some of the nation’s biggest givers to left-wing causes, BankAmerica and Fannie Mae, cut down on left-wing gifts and gave more to right-wing groups.
“Clearly, some companies are beginning to recover from their destructive alliance with the left,” said Yablonski.
Yablonski commented that the trends in corporate giving often reflect that of trends in the nation’s politics. “We continue to find a correlation between shifts in political power and corporate public affairs giving,” said Yablonski. “Of course, this was always suspected. Past editions of the group’s report noted the 1993 surge in corporate support to the Children’s Defense Fund. We argued that this was the likely result of CDF’s ties to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. Both are former CDF chairmen.”
Yablonski said that it is difficult to predict the trends of corporate philanthropy for the future, but he hopes that it will continue going in the direction it has been.