By Denise Tessier
The Albuquerque Journal ran yet another Rio Grande Foundation column last Monday (Aug. 20), but this time Journal editors actually added something new to the conservative think tank’s description at the column’s close:
The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt New Mexico research and educational organization. The Donors Capital Fund in suburban Washington, D.C., is a major donor.
The line about the “major donor” is the addition on the renovated blurb, and it comes courtesy of information Journal investigative reporter Thom Cole dug up and published in a July 28 Upfront piece.
Cole’s column, “Foundation Pushes Conservative, Libertarian Causes,” shone a Page One spotlight on the self-described “research institute”. It was a first-time, long overdue look by the Journal into RGF’s history.
Hence, the Journal can confidently add a line to the columns it has run verbatim and with little or no questioning for the past several years.
Cole himself wrote that “Authors associated with the foundation are frequent contributors to the opinion pages of the Journal, with more than 80 articles appearing since 2001.”
With that, the Journal acknowledges it has consistently given RGF a solid public platform for its mission, which RGF describes on its web site as “informing New Mexicans of the importance of individual freedom, limited government and economic opportunity.”
In an opinion piece in the Weekly Alibi last summer, progressive columnist Jerry Ortiz y Pino remarked:
I have often envied the apparent ease with which the Rio Grande Foundation manages to access the editorial pages of the morning paper. . .
Even Cole’s 80-article figure doesn’t include the number of times RGF principals have been quoted in news stories. As we’ve point out frequently at ABQJournalWatch, using RGF as a quote source gives the foundation legitimacy as a stakeholder in whatever issue is at hand. That legitimacy is reinforced with readers via the foundation’s frequent presence on the Journal’s opinion, letters and business pages. And it took years (and a bit of prodding from this web site) before the Journal routinely ran any description about the foundation at the end of RGF opinion articles, which are rarely questioned – all of which makes it noteworthy that the Journal has finally modified RGF’s canned self-description.
What remains questionable, however, is how helpful it is to the reader that the Journal modified the description to merely add the reference to the Donors Capital Fund. Print version readers will have to go to a computer or electronic device to look up this little-known group, unless one happens to remember Cole’s article from nearly a month before.
And there’s no link to the Donors Capital Fund on the Journal’s online version of the RGF column.
Still, it’s a welcome addition, and information the reader did not have previously.
What is the Donors Capital Fund? Cole’s column in July reported:
. . .Tax returns of the Donors Capital Fund in suburban Washington, D.C., show the group gave $297,000 to the Rio Grande Foundation in 2010 and $122,500 in 2009. Its sister organization, DonorsTrust, gave another $7,500 to the Rio Grande Foundation in 2010.
The Donors groups are dedicated to limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise. DonorsTrust also describes itself as “a conservative free-market alternative to the big liberal foundations.”
Also from Cole’s piece:
Donors Capital reported making grants of $41.1 million in 2010 to about 200 organizations across the country. DonorsTrust gave another $22.2 million.
Whitney Ball, president of Donors Capital and DonorsTrust, is also board member of the State Policy Network, and Donors Capital is a major financial backer of the network, the Franklin Center and other groups related to the Rio Grande Foundation.
Cole went on to list others who have received grants from Donors Capital and/or DonorsTrust. Verbatim from his article, those groups are:
♦ The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank whose trustees include former Vice President Dick Cheney.
♦ The American Majority, headed by Ned Ryun, who is described as a rising star in the conservative and tea party movements.
♦ The Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes limits on campaign contributors.
♦ God’s World Publications, which says it trains students in critical thinking with a biblical foundation.
♦ The Acton Institute, which seeks to integrate “Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles.”
♦ The Middle East Forum, which says it protects the freedom of public speech of anti-Islamist authority, activists and publishers.
♦ The Project on Fair Representation, a legal project that has challenged the use of race in university admissions, according to The New York Times.
Cole also listed groups — other than Donors — who support the Rio Grande Foundation. Again, from Cole’s article:
Others who have publicly disclosed financial support of the Rio Grande Foundation include the JM Foundation of New Jersey — which supports activities to promote self-sufficiency, personal responsibility and private initiative — and the Union Pacific Foundation, the primary philanthropic arm of the parent company of Union Pacific Railroad.
The JM Foundation gave $25,000 to the Rio Grande Foundation in 2011; the Union Pacific Foundation gave $15,000 this year.
Again, it’s about time the Journal took a look at the RGF.
It would be helpful to the reader if the Journal would do a follow-up looking also into the backgrounds of RGF’s essay contributors – its “adjunct fellows” — considering they are the ones whose pieces the Journal publishes with regularity. (Cole did mention some of the background of Director Paul Gessing who, it should be noted, came to New Mexico after working with Grover Norquist in Washington, D.C.)
Perusal of the “Staff” list of the foundation — whose name gives the impression the group is home-grown (or at least sown in proximity to the “Rio Grande”) — reveals that as many as five of the eight “adjunct” or “senior” fellows might not even live in New Mexico. One, J. Scott Moody, is the chief executive officer of a conservative policy group in Maine ; others are based in Oregon, in Korea and in Hawaii. Another fellow, Wendy P. Warcholik, appears to be based in New Hampshire, working also with think tanks in Maine and Oklahoma.
Moody and Warcholik are fellows at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and in that state the two co-authored work such as this Urban Tulsa Weekly piece on family planning. The two also worked together at the New Hampshire Center for Economic Policy.
Last week’s RGF essay in the Journal, which opposed raising the minimum wage in New Mexico, was written by a new name in terms of Journal publication — Ben Sugg, listed as a “policy analyst” with RGF. According to RGF’s web site, Sugg is an intern who recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. His essay covers points made by Gessing in an RGF “report” issued Aug. 15.