Target Ford

Target Ford

When the Ford Foundation came under pressure, it revised its grant-making standards, restricting the political activities of its grantees.


On October 16, 2003, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a New York-based wire service that serves Jewish newspapers worldwide, launched a scorching four-part series on the Ford Foundation. Written by investigative reporter Edwin Black, the series, “Funding Hate,” alleged that Ford had provided financial support to several Palestinian nongovernmental organizations accused of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic behavior at the United Nations World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in late summer 2001. A Ford spokesman denied the thrust of Black’s allegations: “We have seen no indication that our grantees in Durban or elsewhere engaged in anti-Semitic speech or activities.”

One month later, after a political onslaught from members of Congress and some prominent Jewish organizations, Ford reversed itself. In a letter to Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic Congressman from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Susan Berresford, the president of Ford, declared that her institution was “disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity seen at Durban” and that “having reassessed our own information on the Durban Conference…we now recognize that we did not have a complete picture of the activities, organizations and people involved…. We deeply regret that Foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior.” Berresford reiterated those sentiments in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, which had published an editorial extolling the JTA series, lashing Ford and, sounding an old conservative refrain, lamenting the existence of “a foundation priesthood funded into perpetuity and insulated from public accountability.”

To some extent, the 2003 attack on Ford–the worst crisis to hit the foundation since 1969–could be regarded as an example of the increased political scrutiny that US nonprofits have faced since 9/11. Under Presidential Executive Order 13224, enacted in late September 2001, the government obtained broad new power to freeze the assets of any US foundation or charitable organization that is deemed to have provided financial or humanitarian support to “terrorist” organizations. Moreover, the government has encouraged grant-makers and nonprofits to regularly consult a series of computerized terror watch lists maintained by various federal and international agencies–watch lists that are full of dubious aliases, generic names and “false positive” matches. The vague, sweeping language surrounding these regulations and the ways they have put new burdens on charities and foundations have provoked considerable anxiety and confusion throughout the nonprofit sector.

The offensive against Ford, however, has deeper roots. It was a brazen attempt to punish a foundation that since the 1950s has disbursed more than $13 billion to more than 13,000 educational, environmental, human rights, social justice and other organizations in the United States and abroad. Under enormous pressure, and fearful that the accusations might trigger increased government oversight of the entire US foundation sector, Ford made a series of concessions to its critics. One of them–a pledge to alter the language in its standard grant-agreement letter, a decision that has powerful civil liberties implications–has left some of the foundation’s traditional allies simmering with displeasure and unease. “Historically, Ford’s best quality has been its willingness to take some risks and fund some controversial things,” says Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute and a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “But I think Berresford and Ford caved in unnecessarily to Nadler.” Many people in the foundation world agree with Eisenberg, but few will say so publicly.

Two weeks before 9/11, 18,000 people from more than 160 countries descended on Durban for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Racial and caste discrimination, along with the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, were at the top of the agenda, and the conference attempted to build common ground among a very wide range of groups, from the Roma to Australia’s Aborigines to Argentina’s and Chile’s Mapuche Indians. There were some notable successes at Durban–the large Dalit contingent embarrassed the Indian government by drawing attention to the plight of India’s 160 million “untouchables,” and the human rights of migrants received international recognition–but the conference became mired in controversy over Israel and Palestine.

Some organizations at Durban complained bitterly about anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior. Commentary described pamphlets featuring “hooknosed Jews grinning over the blood-soaked bodies of Palestinians” and leaflets that expressed admiration for Hitler. At a press conference held at Durban and sponsored by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee, declared: “Anti-Semitic sentiments expressed at the conference are repugnant and reprehensible.” Supporters of Israel were especially infuriated by the final text of the official NGO declaration, a controversial document that blamed Israel for “acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing”; demanded the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; and called for the imposition of a “policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.”

In the wake of Durban, Black noted, Jewish organizational leaders singled out one Palestinian NGO–the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW)–for much of the anti-Israel agitation at the conference. In his series Black alleged that LAW staffers occupied leadership positions on key steering committees; conducted workshops at which Israel was pilloried; and gave South African delegates a preconference tour of Gaza and the West Bank to highlight the similarities between apartheid and the Israeli occupation. LAW, Black noted, was a Ford grantee–having received $1.1 million since 1997. (Another group at Durban, the Palestinian NGO Network, which had received more than $1.4 million from Ford, was also targeted by pro-Israel forces.) Black’s stark, tendentious series had one principal objective: to tar the Ford Foundation with the brush of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. One might have expected Ford to respond energetically to accusations of this sort, but at no point did the foundation provide a detailed public rebuttal to the allegations in Black’s series–allegations that still hang in the air. This past April the Detroit News proclaimed that Ford has a “reputation for backing causes tied to terrorism and anti-Semitism.” More than two years later, Ford is still very reluctant to confront Black’s reporting. Spokesperson Marta Tellado will only say this: “We did not, and do not today, believe that he accurately portrayed our grant-making.”

The reporting by Black–a blustery muckraker who has written extensively about the Holocaust and Zionism–was not limited to the events at Durban; it was also a deeper assault on Ford’s grant-making. Black obtained a sixty-page audit of LAW by the accounting firm Ernst & Young that had been commissioned by some of LAW’s thirty or so European and American donors–many of which, like Ford, had developed deep concerns about LAW’s fiduciary practices. According to Black, the audit showed that LAW had mismanaged several million dollars. Today LAW no longer exists, and none of its former executives could be located.

Black’s series had powerful reverberations. A few days after it concluded, the American Jewish Congress called on lawmakers in Washington to examine the tax-exempt status of foundations like Ford–on the grounds that Ford, through its Palestinian grantees, may have financed “terrorists and terror-related activities.” Shortly thereafter Berresford received a letter from Representative Nadler and nineteen members of Congress demanding that Ford “investigate these allegations fully and expeditiously.” On November 13, 2003, Senator Rick Santorum also requested a formal investigation of Ford, and Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed his concerns about the allegations directed at the foundation.

Ford’s critics included two of the most powerful members of the American Jewish establishment: Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Also critical were New Republic editor in chief (and Jewish Telegraphic Agency board member) Martin Peretz, who insisted that Ford “wanted to squeeze Israel, and they allied themselves with despicable people to do so”; the New York Sun, which printed the JTA series and subsequently asked for Berresford’s resignation in an editorial; and David Horowitz’s FrontPage Magazine. A month after Black’s series, the JTA reported that Ford “seems to be in disarray over its next move.”

On November 17, 2003, Ford issued its response to Nadler: a detailed and deferential letter in which Berresford announced that Ford had decided to stop funding LAW; that it had “engaged the international accounting firm KPMG to create a risk matrix” to establish which Ford grantees will be audited; and that the foundation would soon turn its attention and resources to the “alarming rise of anti-Semitism around the world.”

Perhaps most significant, Berresford announced that Ford’s standard grant-agreement letter would be overhauled. Seven weeks later, Ford unveiled the new language in a brief memo to its 5,000 grantees: “By countersigning this grant letter, you agree that your organization will not promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state, nor will it make sub-grants to any entity that engages in these activities.” Moreover, the prohibition “applies to all of the organization’s funds, not just those provided through a grant from Ford.” [Emphasis added.] Georgetown’s Pablo Eisenberg, a singular maverick in the tight-lipped foundation world, calls this a “most unusual” and “excessive” stipulation. Says Eisenberg, “Who is Ford to say what an organization can do with Soros money, for example?”

Berresford’s announcement triggered indignation and dismay from some Ford staffers who felt she had capitulated to outside critics by instituting grant language that is vague and open-ended, on the one hand, yet unmistakably direct in its unstated reference to Israel, on the other. “Susan is very tough and principled,” a former Ford staffer says, “so they must have really twisted her arm to get her to put in that new grant language.” Other foundation executives share that dismay. Says one: “This is the kind of language that, had it been from the government, the ACLU would have to sue.” (Ford is not the only private foundation whose grant language has been criticized. The Rockefeller Foundation’s language, while less problematic, was also debated, as was the language of other foundations.)

In a ten-minute phone interview that Berresford granted to The Nation, she defended her decision to alter Ford’s grant letter and denied it was done under duress. “We wanted to make very explicit and clear what our values were,” Berresford said. “We don’t want to support organizations that promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state. Those are our values. I think that’s what the public expects of us. I’m very proud to state those values clearly.”

Nadler hailed the agreement with Ford as a “critical new chapter in the fight against anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist.” But other critics in Congress remained dissatisfied with Ford’s written response to Nadler: Santorum and Grassley expressed their desire to push ahead with hearings about the practices of American foundations, and the Wall Street Journal urged them to proceed with such an inquiry. Nadler’s own allies were somewhat divided about what to do next: Some Jewish leaders wanted a full Congressional investigation, while Abraham Foxman of the ADL declared himself against hearings. Nadler, for his part, feared that an investigation could unfairly target liberal foundations. A JTA story from early 2004 bluntly outlined some of the potential hazards of applying excessive pressure on the Ford Foundation: “Certainly, there are things for the Jewish community to gain from good relations with a foundation as big as Ford.” Foxman himself informed the JTA: “At the end of the day, I assume they will fund some project submitted to them by a mainstream Jewish organization.”

“The Ford Foundation,” Dwight Macdonald wrote in 1956, “is a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some.” Established in Michigan in 1936 by Edsel Ford, the foundation formally separated itself from Ford family control in 1950. (Over the past year, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, has waged a bare-knuckled offensive to pressure Ford to increase its spending in the state where it was chartered.) In 1955 the foundation made a decision to sell 10 million shares of auto company stock, for which it received $641 million, the bulk of which it promptly distributed to 600 colleges and universities, 3,500 nonprofit hospitals and 44 medical schools. In the 1950s and early ’60s Ford provided substantial funding for burgeoning area studies research at leading universities and for ambitious international projects involving population control and agricultural production in the developing world. Ford had close ties to the government in those years; according to The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders, Ford collaborated with the CIA.

Amid the political turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s, Ford, under the leadership of McGeorge Bundy, deepened its commitment to human rights, poverty reduction and racial justice. It gave major grants to the NAACP and helped to establish the Public Broadcasting Service, the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Urban Institute, the Native American Rights Fund and public-interest law centers in the United States, to name just a few of its grantees from that heady era. Today, from its headquarters on East 43rd Street, which rises from a lush atrium and is decorated with works by Picasso and Chagall, Ford, the second-largest foundation in the United States, with assets of $11.6 billion, remains ambitious in its grant-making: In 2004 it gave away nearly $500 million to 2,000 grantees, ranging from the Steve Biko Foundation of South Africa ($150,000 for activities commemorating the life and work of Biko) to the Navsarjan Trust of India ($200,000 to support the human rights of Dalits in the violence-prone state of Gujarat) and the Apollo Theater Foundation of Harlem ($250,000 to help restore the historic theater).

Right-wing assaults have been a recurring motif in Ford’s history. Westbrook Pegler, the midcentury syndicated columnist, dubbed Ford a “front for dangerous communists,” and in the early 1950s Ford was the subject of two separate Congressional investigations into subversive and Communist-influenced activity among foundations.

In 1969 critics of the foundation sector exacted their revenge. In the tumultuous days after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, Bundy had arranged fellowships totaling $131,000 for eight members of Kennedy’s staff. The following year, the House Ways and Means Committee opened hearings on the activities of American foundations, and Bundy was a star witness. He vigorously defended Ford and the entire foundation sector, but his arrogance infuriated his Congressional antagonists, who went on to enact legislation forcing all private foundations to pay a 4 percent excise tax on net annual investment income and to distribute 6 percent of their assets each year. The 1969 legislation was viewed as draconian by a foundation sector that–then as now–opposed any type of government oversight. Indeed, many foundation leaders held Bundy personally responsible for what they saw as a debacle; but other observers viewed the 1969 legislation as an essential step toward public accountability.

Ford watchers insist that the trauma of 1969 remains, to this day, embedded in the DNA of top Ford executives. (Berresford began her career at Ford in 1970, when she was 27, and worked her way to the top.) “Ford lives with the legacy that Bundy’s arrogance cost the field,” says Emmett Carson, president of the Minneapolis Foundation and a leading figure in the philanthropic sector. Meanwhile, prominent conservatives maintained a keen interest in the foundation. “The Ford Foundation,” presidential aide Patrick Buchanan wrote in a memo to Richard Nixon in 1972, “has become the Exchequer and Command Post for the entire American Left.” Buchanan had fantasies of his own. Attempts to expose Ford’s ties to liberal organizations might well, he suggested to Nixon, “produce a cornucopia of Ford funds for Republican and Conservative causes–to spare Ford from being taken apart by the Congress at some future tax reform hearings.”

Historically, criticism of foundations has not been the exclusive province of the right. The principal critic of the sector in the 1960s, Representative Wright Patman of Texas, was a Democrat. Likewise, in 2003 Ford’s primary antagonist was Jerrold Nadler, a stalwart progressive who is also a powerful supporter of Israel. In a recent interview Nadler noted that antifoundation sentiment was rising within the Senate Finance Committee in 2003, and especially among Grassley and Santorum. To some extent, that sentiment flowed from newspaper reports about lavish salaries and perks for foundation executives. Black’s series thrust the foundation sector under a harsh glare once again. In Nadler’s words, a “well-orchestrated campaign to destroy the sector…a Republican jihad” was gathering force, and it became his duty to discipline the Ford Foundation in order to save it. “My principal concern,” Nadler says, “was with the anti-Semitism that was being tolerated by some of these nonprofits on the left. And I didn’t want this to be used as a weapon with which to destroy very essential institutions like the Ford Foundation.” (Nadler boasts that his maneuvering was successful: Santorum and Grassley never held the promised hearings because “we cut the ground out from under them.”) Some foundation experts contend that Nadler overstates the extent to which the sector was under siege by Republicans in 2003 and that he conflates “destruction” with regulation. Says Pablo Eisenberg, “I never heard anything about any ‘jihad,’ or that they had a vengeance against foundations.”

Nadler’s office worked closely with Ford to draft the new grant language. Berresford declined to elaborate on the specific ways the new language was formulated, and the full extent to which outside parties contributed to the final text. But it was clearly a collaborative effort. Says Nadler: “It was a back-and-forth negotiation between my office and Ford and some of the Jewish groups.” In late 2003 the Forward named the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League as groups that were deeply involved in the Ford negotiations. Berresford insists that the grant language was “not forced on us in any way, shape, or form.”

Ford’s grantees, many of whom are dependent on the foundation’s largesse, were hardly in a position to contest the new grant language. But a handful of grantees did resist–beginning with the nation’s top universities. On April 27, 2004, Ford received a letter signed by nine university provosts, from Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Yale and Cornell. These are some of Ford’s most distinguished grantees, with whom it has a lengthy history. In 1965, for instance, Harvard established its John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics with a $2 million Ford grant.

In their letter, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, the provosts expressed their “serious concerns” about the new language, on the grounds that it attempts to “regulate universities’ behavior and speech beyond the scope of the grant.” “It is difficult to see,” they wrote, “how this clause would not run up against the basic principle of protected speech on our campuses.” For instance, if Columbia University, a major Ford grantee, were to sponsor a Palestinian film festival–as it did in 2003–all of Columbia’s Ford grants could theoretically be jeopardized if a film in that series was deemed to be supportive of “violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.” Pro-Israel critics at Columbia assailed the film festival on those very grounds.

In mid-2004 Ford responded to the provosts with a “side letter” affirming that the foundation had no desire to interfere with the speech “in classrooms, faculty publications, student remarks in chat rooms, or other speech that express the views of the individuals.” The grant letter, Ford insisted, applies only “to the official speech and conduct of the university and to speech or conduct that the university explicitly endorses.” The unity of the nine universities collapsed when Harvard accepted Ford’s side letter in the summer of 2004. (Harvard’s provost, Steven Hyman, and its president, Lawrence Summers, declined to be interviewed.) Some people close to the negotiations between Ford and the provosts are convinced that if the nine elite universities had maintained their unity, they might, in the end, have pressured Ford to change the language. (In their letter, the provosts had offered a proposed revision that Ford found unacceptable.)

If Harvard was particularly eager to settle with Ford, Stanford held out the longest before reluctantly accepting the side letter in late 2004. But the issue remains somewhat controversial at Stanford. At a meeting of its academic council on January 20, 2005, Provost John Etchemendy informed the faculty about Ford’s “official speech…of the university” clause and declared, “Unfortunately they would not clarify exactly what that meant.” Etchemendy warned the faculty that Stanford’s administration could not protect their Ford grants. Today, Stanford administrators are quick to acknowledge that they are still concerned about the lack of clarity in the side letter and still unclear about the limits of the “official speech” clause. Does it cover the speech of professors? Does it cover Stanford University Press (which has a distinguished list in Middle East Studies)? Does it cover the Stanford alumni magazine? Says vice provost Stephanie Kalfayan: “Those are great questions. You should ask Ford.” Susan Berresford says, “This is something we worked out with the universities. The side letters are clear. I don’t see the value of going further into this.”

In 2004 one other Ford grantee, the Drug Policy Alliance, joined the elite universities in contesting Ford’s grant language. DPA is led by Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, and the tenacious Ira Glasser, DPA’s president and the former head of the ACLU. On June 18, 2004, Nadelmann and Glasser dispatched a blunt letter to Berresford: “We believe that on its face, the overbreadth and vagueness of your language sweeps within its ban speech and advocacy that are critical to our work.” They went on, as the provosts did, to request a minor revision in Ford’s grant language: “a simple, supplementary sentence making clear that the ban…does not extend to advocacy or speech, but only to lawless, violent or discriminatory conduct.” [Emphasis in original.] And they warned Berresford that an ominous precedent was being established:

The infamous blacklists of the 1950s were similarly imposed by the private sector (in response, as here, to pressure from government officials) and similarly implemented their restrictions through economic, not criminal, sanctions…. Today, everyone wonders how those blacklists got started, how they became so entrenched, why so few (except the victims) protested. This is how it begins: with restrictions on speech and advocacy that would be unconstitutional if the state imposed them, imposed instead by private sector funding, with the government lurking in the background.

In the end Ford and DPA could not agree, and in late 2004 DPA returned a $200,000 grant to the Ford Foundation. “Some of DPA’s supporters have told me that we should just take the money, regardless of the way the grant letter is worded,” Nadelmann wrote in a 2004 letter to his membership. “But this is a fight about fundamental principles from which we could not walk away.”

In late June 2004 DPA’s letters to Berresford were released to the ACLU national board, several of whose members had, six weeks earlier, scrutinized the Wall Street Journal article about Ford’s conflict with the elite universities and wondered why an ACLU spokesman quoted therein neglected to criticize Ford’s restrictions. Two gadflies on the ACLU board, Wendy Kaminer and Michael Meyers, immediately questioned executive director Anthony Romero’s decision in early 2004 to accept a grant from Ford, which had been a generous benefactor: Between 1999 and 2004, the ACLU Foundation received $17 million from Ford. Romero, who spent ten years as a high-ranking Ford executive, was soon forced to admit to his board that not only had he advised Ford on the new language but that he had urged the foundation to “just parrot back language in existing federal law”–i.e., the Patriot Act, which the ACLU was then contesting with considerable vigor. In October 2004 the ACLU refused several Ford grants, which totaled more than $1 million.

Today Romero is contrite about his 2003 advice to Ford. “I made a mistake,” he says. “I was too slow to understand the broader context. I didn’t connect the dots.” And he is blunt about his former employer: “Ford made a big mistake with the grant language,” Romero says. “I think it has created a pall over the foundation and its grantees. It has only emboldened its critics. And it has cast a shadow over the work of one of the most important foundations at a very critical time.”

Some ACLU board members wish that Romero had used whatever influence he had with Berresford, of whom he is something of a protégé, to forestall the new grant language. “Because he was consulted by Berresford privately, before the new grant restrictions were written in stone, Anthony had a unique opportunity to advise her how to prohibit grantees from engaging in activities related to terrorism without restricting or chilling their speech,” says Kaminer. “We can’t know if his advice would have been followed, but we do know that he squandered the opportunity to give it.” Kaminer adds: “The advocacy rights of all Ford grantees have been chilled. The censorious efforts of private groups angered by Ford’s funding policies–and the intimidation of Ford by elected officials enlisted by these groups–have been rewarded.”

Nadler denies that he coerced Ford, and says he has no misgivings about the foundation’s new grant language. He insists that Ford, as a private-sector institution with no constitutional obligations, can do as it wishes. “It’s not a restriction on speech,” Nadler says of the new language. “It’s an agreement not to engage in terrorism. It hasn’t restricted anybody’s speech.”

But some leading experts on philanthropy are much less sanguine than Nadler. “Nadler is certainly technically correct. The First Amendment is a limitation on government, not private, action,” says Princeton’s Stanley Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies. “So strictly speaking Ford cannot be criticized for violating a constitutional right. But Ford has set itself up as a liberal philanthropic foundation, and the issue is whether it is violating its own freedom-of-expression principles. I think it has, and I would be surprised if Susan Berresford and others there were not keenly conscious of a tension between what they felt forced to do and what they truly believe in. Ford would not fund a private organization it knew to be systematically violating the freedom of expression, and it ought not to engage in such practices itself.”

” ‘Violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state’ is very problematic” grant language, says Professor Michael Olivas of the University of Houston Law Center, who closely monitors the nonprofit sector. Olivas wonders why Ford included vague and open-ended terminology like “bigotry” in its grant letter when it could simply have stated that it will not fund any organization proscribed by the State Department.

Why did Ford agree to alter its grant language? Berresford is reticent on the subject, as is one Ford trustee who met with Nadler. But one reason behind Ford’s action may have been its desire to prevent additional government regulation of the foundation sector. In May 2003, five months before the JTA series, the sector–in which Berresford is very much a leader–was jolted by legislation proposed by Roy Blunt and Harold Ford Jr. that was designed to stimulate charitable giving. Federal law now requires foundations to pay out 5 percent of their assets annually, and the legislation would have required that the mandatory minimum payout exclude administrative costs such as rent and salaries–a provision that could have forced foundations to spend more money. The Ford Foundation (and the Council on Foundations, which represents 2,000 grant-makers) strenuously opposed the provision. Indeed, the foundation was involved in the sector’s decision to hire Bill Paxon, the former Republican Congressman, currently a lobbyist for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, to represent its interests before Congress.

Some foundation experts insist that the foundation overreacted to what it saw as a higher payout requirement. According to Pablo Eisenberg, who advocates higher foundation payout rates, “Susan Berresford, whose Eleventh Commandment is ‘Thou Shalt Not Increase the Payout,'” privately argued that “this was an attack by the right wing to do away with liberal foundations like the Ford Foundation, which is total nonsense.”

The Congressional effort to exclude administrative costs was eventually beaten back by the foundations, but suspicion toward the sector lingered in the minds of some in Congress. And then Black’s series appeared in the JTA. People close to Berresford say that, faced with massive pressure from Nadler, Jewish organizations and newspapers like the New York Sun, she recalled the events of 1969 and the political price the entire sector could, once again, pay if Black’s series reignited the campaign for a higher payout or other regulatory measures.

It’s too early to determine how the events of 2003 have influenced Ford’s overall grant-making, and the possible extent to which program officers and trustees are distancing themselves from grantees that undertake controversial and politically risky work. What seems clear is that Ford has turned its attention to anti-Semitism, as it promised Nadler it would. And the foundation has done it in part by funding some of its chief antagonists from 2003. In 2004 Ford gave $361,000 to Abraham Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League for its World of Difference Institute, whose mission is to “combat racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry,” followed by an additional $1.1 million in 2006 for the same project. (ADL’s last Ford grant was in 1967, and Foxman declined to be interviewed.) The American Jewish Committee received $400,000 in 2006, its first grant since 1998. David Harris, head of the AJC, did not return phone calls. In 2004 Ford also gave $625,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center–which chaired the delegation of Jewish organizations at Durban–to develop a tolerance and diversity training program for New York’s criminal justice community, the first grant the Wiesenthal Center has received from Ford.

ADL still has Ford under a microscope, and has heavily criticized recent actions by the foundation, including its decision to fund a conference on academic boycotts sponsored by the American Association of University Professors in Bellagio, Italy. The conference was eventually canceled.

“Large foundations,” Dwight Macdonald observed in 1956, “are timid beasts.” To compare Berresford’s response to the crisis of 2003 with McGeorge Bundy’s response to the events of 1969, when he was dragged before Congress, is to realize that Macdonald’s quip is largely but not completely accurate. In The Color of Truth, his fine biography of McGeorge and William Bundy, Kai Bird noted that in response to the political assault from conservative critics in 1969, Bundy “essentially refused to back off.” Under his direction, Ford defiantly stepped up its funding of a wide range of antipoverty and social justice groups. In his last annual report as president, in 1978, Bundy urged his colleagues at Ford not to “shy away from controversial activity.”

By instituting the new grant language in 2004, Berresford undoubtedly believed that she was acting in the best interests of both Ford and the foundation sector. Emmett Carson of the Minneapolis Foundation says that Ford may have seen the grant language as “a compromise they could live with.” Carson adds: “In hindsight, ten or twenty years from now, we may be prepared to say it was a very shrewd decision, a very modest compromise, at a time when the field lacked the voice, lacked the courage, lacked the sophistication to have the level of debate that was necessary.”

The historical evidence is beginning to accumulate, and not in a way that honors Ford. In one of their letters to Berresford, Nadelmann and Glasser wrote, “On the day the government decides to use your restriction as a precedent and model for its own, it will be too late to say you’re sorry. Do not do this, Susan.” That day arrived on February 7, 2005, when the Justice Department approvingly (and repeatedly) cited Ford’s new grant language–along with the grant language of the Rockefeller and Charles Stewart Mott foundations–in its motion to dismiss in American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, et al.

In 2004 the ACLU and a dozen other organizations sued the OPM, a government agency, to prevent it from forcing nonprofits to certify that they do “not knowingly employ individuals or contribute funds to organizations” on terrorist watch lists before receiving any of the $250 million donated annually through the Combined Federal Campaign, which allows federal employees to allocate funds to various charities and nonprofits. Berresford’s response to the Justice Department’s citation of Ford? “The government finds its own language to express its own standards and views,” she says, “and they’re free to do that in whatever way they see fit.” Wendy Kaminer of the ACLU laments the fact that “the Bush Administration has invoked Ford’s restrictions as a model for its own restrictions on US charities.”

In recent months, however, the Rockefeller Foundation has distanced itself from Ford. Rockefeller has changed its grant language for 2006 in a way that satisfies groups like the ACLU and in a way that is consistent with what the elite universities requested of Ford in 2004. Indeed, Rockefeller’s president, Judith Rodin, was the president of the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 when that institution challenged Ford. Susan Berresford insists she has no plans to alter Ford’s grant language. “Ford,” says Anthony Romero of the ACLU, “really stands alone at this point.”

Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed the article you just read. It’s just one of the many deeply-reported and boundary-pushing stories we publish everyday at The Nation. In a time of continued erosion of our fundamental rights and urgent global struggles for peace, independent journalism is now more vital than ever.

As a Nation reader, you are likely an engaged progressive who is passionate about bold ideas. I know I can count on you to help sustain our mission-driven journalism.

This month, we’re kicking off an ambitious Summer Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. With your support, we can continue to produce the hard-hitting journalism you rely on to cut through the noise of conservative, corporate media. Please, donate today.

A better world is out there—and we need your support to reach it.


Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Ad Policy