Movements both left and right depend on a network of wealthy individuals and foundations, but that dependence is more awkward for the left.
That’s the nub of “The New Funding Heresies,” a lengthy and sure-footed account of the difficulties of financing progressive causes, published in In These Times and written by Christopher Hayes (a sometime Reader contributor).
“The conservative movement was motivated as much by class self-interest as it was by ideology," Hayes writes. "While key funders like Scaife and Coors were furthering their beliefs they were [also] lining their own pockets by agitating for reduced taxes on wealth, union-busting and deregulation. ‘There’s something much more authentic on the right about what they were doing,’ says Jeff Krehely, research director at NCRP [National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy]. ‘Spending $5 million on grants would bring so many more rewards in the long run because the policies would change to benefit them.’
“This isn’t the case for progressives, who will have to rely upon a kind of What’s the Matter With Kansas? effect in which ideological principles trump personal class interests. [In fact, as Hayes points out, the big “left-wing” foundations like Ford are more interested in social service than in building a movement anyway.] ‘Trying to fund an economically progressive movement from a bunch of rich people is a tough sell,’ says Krehely. ‘I don’t think anyone’s tried to figure out what we do about that. Until we figure that out I don’t think we’re going to get very far.’”
One time-tested approach, as Hayes observes, is to nurture a network of small and medium-sized donors, or dues-paying members (think ACORN). A movement funded that way might even prioritize different issues than one trying mainly to please grantmakers.