In 1997, NCRP published a report by Sally Covington, Moving a Policy Agenda, that offered a chilling look at the rising influence of conservative philanthropy. Covington wrote, “Conservative funders see themselves as part of a larger movement to defeat ‘big-government liberalism’ and they fund accordingly, but mainstream foundations prefer to make modest, on-the-ground improvements in specific neighborhoods. As a result, mainstream foundations increasingly operate within the larger policy assumptions and parameters that conservative funders help shape.”
Covington’s report made waves in the foundation world and generated a lot of discussion, but few funders changed course. Then, during George W. Bush’s first term, Rob Stein started giving a PowerPoint presentation making many of the same points—and got traction with wealthy individual donors who were deeply alarmed by a president moving America in a hard-right direction. These donors stepped up to build such groups as the Democracy Alliance, the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America.