Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Campaign Cash

The Huge Clout of Bradley Foundation

Milwaukee foundation gave $37 million last year to conservative groups, and many then spend to elect Republicans.

By - Sep 6th, 2018 10:47 am
The Bradley Foundation Headquarters. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Bradley Foundation Headquarters. Photo by Dave Reid.

This Milwaukee-based conservative foundation with about $900 million in assets has become one of the nation’s largest funders of rightwing think tanks, political groups, and social and economic policies.

Bradley funds groups like the American MajorityFreedom FoundationWisconsin Club for GrowthAmerican Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)Americans for ProsperityCenter for Union FactsHeritage FoundationFederalist Society, and the Cato Institute, to name a few.

Many of these groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, then turn around and spend millions of dollars on dark money ads in favor of candidates who will represent big business.

Last year alone, the foundation doled out more than $37 million to support right-to-work, collective bargaining restrictions, and other anti-union laws, school voucher programs, tort reform, voter ID cards, weak campaign finance regulations, opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, and privatizing Social Security. Some of the foundation’s grants also fund civic and cultural projects and programs.

Foundation records that were leaked by hackers in 2016 revealed a long-term plan by the foundation to shift away from trying to influence the federal government, and instead concentrate on statehouses. The foundation’s plan focuses on building and funding a conservative network of political, media, and advocacy groups in about a dozen states, but concentrating on Wisconsin, North Carolina, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

Bradley’s money has fueled about a dozen groups and activities in Wisconsin in the last eight years. Some of those organizations spearheaded support for Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s successful effort to severely restrict public employee collective bargaining rights in 2011. The groups included the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Media Trackers, American Majority, Badger Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and the Center for Union Facts.

Overall, the foundation has granted more than $140 million since 2011 to conservative policy, media, legal, and advocacy groups nationwide, according to various media outlets.

The foundation also sponsors the annual Bradley Prizes, which are awards of $250,000 to four individuals whose work aligns with the foundation’s conservative principles. Some of its better-known past recipients included conservative columnist and commentator George Will, who was once on the foundation’s board of directors; former GOP presidential candidate and Florida governor Jeb Bush; actor and veterans advocate Gary Sinise; and former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, who worked in the Reagan administration.

The foundation is currently led by President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Graber, a former U.S. ambassador and state and federal Republican Party heavyweight. Its 11-member board is led by James Pope, president of Variety Wholesalers, and includes numerous longtime contributors to GOP and conservatives causes and candidates, including Patrick English, chief executive officer of Fiduciary Management in Milwaukee, and Diane Hendricks, the billionaire owner of ABC Supply in Beloit.

The original foundation was set up in 1942 after Lynde Bradley, co-founder of manufacturing giant Allen-Bradley, died. Its philanthropy focused on local civic needs and causes in Milwaukee. After Allen-Bradley was sold to Rockwell International in 1985, the foundation received millions of dollars in cash from the proceeds of the sale.

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