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With more assets than Koch or DeVos, the Bradley Foundation also impacts policy in Michigan and the Midwest

June 8, 2017

We all know what influence that the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy had in making Michigan a Right to Work state a few years ago. Funding from the DeVos Family certainly played a role in pushing for Michigan to become a Right to Work state.

However, new research coming out of the Wisconsin-based group, the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD), has uncovered the influence of a little known entity known as the Bradley Foundation. According to the CMD: 

Documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) expose a national effort funded by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to assess and expand right-wing “infrastructure” to influence policies and politicians in statehouses nationwide.

The documents open a window to the behind-the-scenes workings of one of America’s largest right-wing foundations. With $835 million in assets as of June 2016, the Bradley Foundation is as large as the three Koch family foundations combined, yet receives much less attention as a significant funder of the right.

CMD has examined thousands of these documents, including Bradley board documents between 2013-2016. The documents indicate that Bradley has a new stream of funding to build this “conservative infrastructure” and is using a metric to assess the strength and depth of that infrastructure in individual states — including “receptive” politicians, right-wing “think tanks,” symbiotic “grassroots” groups, friendly media, litigation centers, and opposition research — to guide Bradley’s strategic funding initiatives.

Watch this Bradley Foundation video, which seeks to recruit others in their efforts to maintain Blue Lakes and create Red States.

One area in particular that the Bradley Foundation has focused their energy is on attacking and undermining labor unions. One of their partner organizations in this work is Berman and Co,, founded by Richard Berman.

Berman came to Grand Rapids in 2010, to present an anti-union strategy at the West Michigan Policy Forum Conference. 

This is consistent with the CMD documentation on Michigan and Right to Work, where the Bradley Foundation has essentially bankrolled the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Since 1993, Bradley has provided $1,357,000 in support of Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s (MCPP) activities, almost all for its anti-union “Labor Education Project.” Mackinac, a member of SPN, has also worked aggressively to roll out and defend ALEC-style “right to work” legislation in Michigan and other states (Mackinac, Grant Proposal Record, 2/24/15).

In 2015, Bradley gave the group $175,000 to support general operations. “Mackinac is among the most aggressive and, as the right-to-work victory shows, successful state think tanks in America. With many Bradley-supported allies, Mackinac and its labor, legal, and educational efforts provide good programmatic and organizational models for the rest of the country.” Bradley has funded the group’s app, called VoteSpotter, which”provides a concise, neutral, ‘plain-English’ descriptions [sic] of specific legislative actions, in real time” (Mackinac, Grant Proposal Record, 2/24/15).

In 2014, Bradley gave Mackinac $50,000 to support general operations. The grant describes some of Mackinac’s activities: “Bradley’s recent support of Mackinac has been styled as for its Labor and Education Project. Mackinac would also like to use some of any continued Bradley support for its Mackinac Center Legal Foundation (MCLF), the attorneys of which do most of their work on labor- and education-related matters. Mackinac’s director of labor policy is Vincent Vernuccio, who chairs a committee of the labor task force of the Bradley-supported American Legislative Exchange Council and previously has worked at the Bradley-supported Capital Research Center and Bradley-supported Competitive Enterprise Institute… MCLF spent much of last year helping to defend the new right-to-work law, in policy and legal arguments, as well as in the larger public discourse in the state and nationally… MCLF is working with the Bradley-supported National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation on this and several other legal matters surrounding implementation of right to work in Michigan… On education, among other things, Mackinac is analyzing mroe [sic] than 200 collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the state, covering some 75% of the state’s public-school students, to see if and if so, how, they are adhering to the teacher-tenure and -evaluation policy changes. The results will be an important, in-depth, one-state version of the larger, national study of CBAs being done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute…” (Mackinac, Grant Proposal Record, 2/25/14).

“Its labor and education work in particular has been funded by the Dow, Earhart, Herrick Foundations and Chrysler,” say the Bradley files (Mackinac, Grant Proposal Record, 2/25/14).

Like Bradley, Mackinac is a tax-exempt “charitable” organization. It is prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities and can only engage in very limited “grassroots” lobbying. It reported zero direct or grassroots lobbying to the IRS in 2012.

Yet audio released by Progress Michigan reveals Mackinac Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio telling supporters at an Americans for Prosperity gathering in 2012 that he had met with Michigan lawmakers to make a plan for ramming a “right to work” bill through the state legislature during a lame-duck session. Right-wing pundit and Trump campaign advisor, Stephen Moore, also wrote that Mackinac “persuaded Lansing lawmakers to pass a right-to-work law in the Wolverine State.”

The Bradley Foundation also has a long history of funding charter schools, school privatization and opposing marriage equality. With this new information, it is an important reminder for any social movement to always do a power analysis and understand what forces are organized to push back against the current freedom struggles.

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