Philanthropic Groups Continue Assault on Free Speech

Published May 31, 2016

Columnist John Fund has put the spotlight on the Pew philanthropic operations in an article in the Wall Street Journal

Fund observes many of the same left-of-center donors are trying to do to Internet speech through network neutrality regulations what they did earlier to political speech when they advocated for the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.

The article deserves attention precisely because of the larger issues it raises about a big and powerful part of the philanthropic sector.

Net Neutrality Agenda
Let’s review Fund’s case:

1. There’s little evidence the public wants net neutrality rules. Even a Democrat-controlled Congress did not pass a net neutrality law last year; opposition to it was bipartisan, and the newly elected Congress strongly opposes it.

2. The President, however, has long supported net neutrality and has appointed a former law school pal to head the Federal Communication Commission. The two men have met at least 11 times at the White House. (As a former White House staffer, I can assure you many agency heads never get one such meeting.)

3. After the campaign-finance bill passed in 2002, media reform organization Free Press was founded; it now has 40 staffers and a $4 million annual budget.

4. Free Press has been funded by “a network of liberal foundations that helped the lobby invent the purported problem that net neutrality is supposed to solve,” in a manner similar to the previous campaign-finance fairy tale. “The idea,” as former Pew staffer Sean Treglia told journalists in 2004 at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism, “was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot,” because “if Congress thought this was a Pew effort it’d be worthless.”

5. The Free Press’s press flack is now the FCC press flack, and another top FCC staffer coauthored a Free Press report that calls for stringent new regulations that will change the “imbalance” in talk radio. (The Free Press continually pushes for more government regulation of the media.) And, the report adds, if those regulations don’t make the media capitalist pigs toe the line, the swine must be slapped with a fee that will go straight to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “to cover controversial and political issues in a fair and balanced manner”!

6. A Political Money Line study of campaign-finance reform found eight liberal foundations were the source of $123 million of the $140 million spent in 1994-2004 to directly promote campaign-finance reform. Pew was the biggest donor, giving nearly 1 in every 3 dollars of the $123 million.

7. According to Fund: “Of the eight major foundations that provided the vast bulk of money for campaign-finance reform, six became major funders of the media-reform movement. (They are the Pew Charitable Trusts, Bill Moyers’s Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.)”

Pew’s ‘Media Reform’
Although Fund did not go into further detail in his article, he could easily have shown how Pew’s tentacles are entwined in the “media reform” movement.

For example, during the last decade, Pew gave millions of dollars to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and the like. Many of those millions were passed through the Tides Center, which is intriguing because Pew didn’t need a middleman to fund its own projects and centers. (You’ll find more of these grants to Tides if you use than if you search Pew’s own database.)

Pew’s Internet Project has added its two cents with such things as a recent study on Internet use that industry observers at headlined, “New Pew Stats to Fuel Net Neutrality Fans.” Pew research certainly is popular with Free Press. Search their Web site for “Pew” and you’ll get hundreds of hits.

‘Pretense of Nonpartisanship’
The pretense of nonpartisanship, expert wisdom, desire for good government, and objective journalism still works its Oz magic on many. The best-paid—pardon me, “most respected”—media consistently report any research put forth under these auspices as if it descended from Mount Olympus.

A spell is also woven for other, less prominent donors who can be induced to enter the funding stream. That’s why you are not likely to hear someone at, say, a Council on Foundations meeting ever argue against net neutrality or campaign-finance reform from the Right.

Personally, I don’t doubt that things as complicated as the Internet and the broadband industry will operate imperfectly in countless ways. But one of the greatest virtues of a free civil society—as opposed to cabals of the moneyed and the office-holding—is that citizens and private groups, including “media capitalists,” can criticize others’ imperfections and create new and better ways of doing things without government bureaucrats silencing them.

Want real media reform? Then let a billion electrons bloom.

Scott Walter ([email protected]) is president of Campion Consulting, a philanthropic consulting firm for donors in the fields of education, civic literacy, and aid to the underprivileged. Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Philanthropy Daily ( and the author.

On the Internet:

John Fund, “The Net Neutrality Coup,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2010:

Scott Walter, “Pew’s Non-Neutrality, Part 1:

Scott Walter, “Pew’s Non-Neutrality, Part 2:

Andrew Wallstein, “New Pew Stats to Fuel Net Neutrality Fans,” PaidContent, November 24, 2010: