The Pot, the Kettle, and the Heritage Foundation

On June 14, former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese welcomed author and conservative activist Phil Kent to the miniature auditorium just off the Heritage Foundation's lobby. Kent, a former aide to Strom Thurmond, was promoting his new book, Foundations of Betrayal: How the Liberal Super Rich Undermine America. In the book and during the event, he took vitriolic aim at the "liberal super rich elites" wielding ideas that he described as "a dagger pointed at the heart of traditional America."

Kent singled out the Ford Foundation as "the number one villain," which is "extremely active in undermining America." Also included on his traitors' list were philanthropic stalwarts like the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations as well as newcomers such as the Turner and Clinton Foundations. Kent nicknames billionaire financier George Soros "the Dr. Evil of this whole left wing foundation world" who is "really trying to beat the Ford Foundation in being radical and anti-American." These philanthropies, Kent claims, bear responsibility for destroying Christian values by fueling the sexual revolution; eroding American sovereignty in order to impose "one-world government"; and even supporting terrorism by funneling money to suicide bombers.

Kent called on Congress to step up regulation of these tax-exempt organizations. He accuses them of abusing their 501(c)(3) status by funding research with the "ultimate goal [of] changing America." He asserted that such organizations serve as "a political battering ram … that float trial balloons that then get into the public policy arena" and tenaciously fight to advance their agenda year after year. These 501(c)(3) groups even engage in "blatant partisan lobbying that is forbidden under federal law."

Of course, the irony of a conservative calling for increased government regulation was more than matched by the irony of such an attack against politically motivated foundation research coming from the stage of the Heritage Foundation -- a 501(c)(3) that routinely crows about its political influence. While 501(c)(3)s are allowed to do a limited amount of lobbying as long as they report it to the IRS, the Heritage Foundation does not use this allowance -- it actually certifies to the IRS that it has not "attempted to influence national, state, or local legislation, including any attempt to influence public opinion." (Heritage also claims to have spent zero dollars on lobbying activities in 2006, despite an estimated $40,000 paid to the lobbying firm Foley and Lardner in 2006 disclosed in the Senate's lobbyist registry.)

When asked about this apparent contradiction, Kent responded, "There certainly are foundations in the center and on the right that do grantmaking and they have an agenda. And there's nothing wrong with that, per se. My whole point … is that Christian conservative centrist organizations aren't the ones who are undermining America. These are the people who are undermining America." Though he denied that he was calling on Congress to police the ideology of philanthropic organizations, he referred to the Cold War-era Reese Hearings as a possible model for congressional investigations into liberal foundations.

Kent also accused the IRS itself of liberal bias, referring obliquely to Heritage's past experience being audited for violating its tax status. "Liberals at the IRS will wink and nod at this stuff, but they would go after the Heritage Foundation , and have, in a second."

The Heritage Foundation declined to comment.