New York City

Scott Sherman, in “Target Ford” [June 5], quotes several people who theorize about why the Ford Foundation changed its grant letter in 2003. As surprising as it may seem, the truth is simple and straightforward. We were disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity at the United Nations Conference on Racism, at Durban. While Ford grantees were not responsible for the worst of this activity, the behavior and language of a few was disturbing and unacceptable to us. In response, we took a range of actions, including cessation of funding.

The language that we subsequently added to our grant letter is an explicit expression of our values–values that were implicit in our grant-making but which, after Durban, clearly needed to be explicitly articulated. Our letter has prompted useful conversations in some of the complex regions in which we work. Our values remain clear: We will not fund those who promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.

To date, only a handful of organizations have chosen not to sign our letter. Since 2004, when we revised the grant letter, approximately 4,500 have been signed by grantees who are moving forward with their work. All of the universities Sherman mentions have either signed or now applied for funds.

We continue to work in many trouble spots around the world, always seeking to promote civil society, human rights and achievement, and peaceful solutions to conflict. To suggest, as Sherman does, that the foundation has backed away from these ambitions ignores our funding for the courageous individuals and institutions worldwide who invest their energy and their faith in our shared values.

Vice president for communications,
The Ford Foundation

Washington, DC

Scott Sherman presents a very distorted picture of my actions vis-à-vis the Ford Foundation’s efforts to develop a policy reflecting its commitment to progressive philanthropy and against racism. Because of my work to protect civil liberties, including leading House opposition to the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, I have at times been accused of being soft on terrorism. Being accused of promoting censorship of progressive scholarship and advocacy is, however, a first. It is also untrue.

The policy that the Ford Foundation ultimately adopted requires that grant recipients not “promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.” When did it become inappropriate for a private foundation, especially one with Ford’s progressive track record, to refuse to fund those activities?

The government must be neutral toward different points of view. Private foundations, however, need not be. They exist to advance their own values. Sherman approvingly notes Ford’s “commitment to human rights, poverty reduction and racial justice” and that in response to right-wing attacks, it “defiantly stepped up its funding of a wide range of antipoverty and social justice groups.” Yet he seems to suggest that Ford’s historic commitment to these values should not extend to combating anti-Semitism in the same way it has to combating racism, homophobia or other forms of bigotry. Thankfully, Ford has taken a different view.

Sherman’s prediction that Ford would use its new grant language to limit free expression in some way other than by not subsidizing “violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state” would be troubling if it had actually happened. In fact, Sherman was unable to cite a single case in which this has occurred.

In addition, Sherman strangely dismisses my concern that Ford and other foundations were at risk of hostile action by right-wing members of Congress. This was no idle threat. Conservatives have spent years attacking foundations, the arts, scholars, scientists and any other independent voice that might run afoul of their agenda. These battles have been chronicled in the pages of this publication and indeed in Sherman’s article on Ford.

Make no mistake about it. In this particular case, some Senate Republicans saw a “perfect storm” gathering right before the 2004 election: a chance to work over the largest US progressive foundation and to exploit the issue to curry favor with Jewish voters. Senators Santorum and Grassley had already announced their desire to hold public hearings to begin the onslaught. By addressing the problem of bigotry among a small group of grantees, Ford both rededicated itself to its progressive mission and cut off the right-wing attack before it got off the ground.

Progressive foundations betray their mission when they support activities that promote violence, bigotry and terrorism. It is not just their right but their duty to insure that their funds go to organizations and initiatives that promote progressive values. Bigots are assured a steady stream of funding from the far right. They neither need nor deserve the support of the progressive community.

Member of Congress, Eighth District, New York

Gloucester, Mass.

The Ford Foundation’s policy of refusing funds to any organization that promotes the destruction of a state raises a hornet’s nest of interesting questions: Will this hold true for an Ethiopian relief organization whose members advocate the reconquest of Eritrea, which won its independence from them only fifteen years ago? Would this have applied to any Eritrean organization before 1991 that advocated the former colony’s independence then? What about grantees who advocated the dismantling of the Soviet Union? Or the former Yugoslavia? What about those that support independence for Quebec? Or Kurdistan?

Or are we really only talking about Israel?



Brooklyn, NY

Marta Tellado seems to be implying that since most Ford grantees have not openly resisted the grant language imposed in 2004, then the language must be acceptable to them. But as I noted in my piece, most grantees are not in a position to challenge Ford. A handful of groups who felt they could stand up to the foundation did so.

It’s true enough that certain Republicans have targeted liberal foundations in the past. But Nadler’s account of the “perfect storm” of 2003 overlooks the fact that Senator Grassley is primarily interested in regulating–not “destroying”–the foundation sector. (“Destroy” is the word Nadler used during our interview.)

But the real issue here is the wording of Ford’s grant-agreement letter–beginning with the word “promote.” In one of their letters to Susan Berresford, Ethan Nadelmann and Ira Glasser of the Drug Policy Alliance noted that in recent years the government has “explicitly characterized the use of illicit drugs as promoting terrorism.” They added: “The trouble with such ill-defined standards as ‘promoting terrorism’ or ‘promoting bigotry’ or ‘promoting the destruction of any state’ is that they inevitably embrace advocacy and speech. The rights of those who advocate for unpopular ideas and proposals are then at the mercy and discretion of those who interpret and enforce such vague and overbroad restrictions.”

Similarly, with regard to the “destruction of any state” clause, this could have been interpreted, during the antiapartheid era, as prohibiting grants to groups affiliated with, or supporting, the African National Congress. Dan Connell cites a number of other examples. The university provosts wielded similar arguments against the Ford Foundation.