By Ruth Conniff on April 30, 2013

It's "the most powerful organization in America that no one seems to know about."

That's how Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive think tank One Wisconsin Institute, describes the Bradley Foundation.

Unlike David Koch of the Koch Brothers, whose cover was blown when a gonzo blogger named Ian Murphy (editor of the Buffalo Beast and a frequent contributor to The Progressive), impersonated him in a prank call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation operates off the mainstream media radar. Yet the group has made more than $530 million in grants and awards since 1985, making it a much, much bigger giver to rightwing causes than the Koch brothers. With more than $290 million in assets, Bradley is one of the biggest foundations in the United States.

A new report by Ross's group One Wisconsin Now reveals the Bradley Foundation's particular focus on privatizing the public schools.

Among the report's findings:

--The Bradley Foundation, headed by Governor Scott Walker's campaign co-chair Michael Grebe, has underwritten a massive, pro-privatization propaganda campaign, including "a systematic and relentless campaign to turn public opinion against the public school system."

--Bradley has spent more than $31 million since 2001 supporting organizations promoting education privatization, academics providing favorable pro-privatization pseudo-science, media personalities promoting the privatization agenda, and lobbying organizations advocating for privatization legislation.

--The Bradley-financed campaign has manufactured an education "crisis," proposed a "solution," attacked and undermined the ability of potential opponents to block their agenda, and funded aggressive pro-privatization media and lobbying efforts.

--The Bradley-financed Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has manipulated research and pressured a University of Wisconsin professor to downplay results that show school vouchers in a negative light, while highlighting scientifically dubious favorable results.

Way back in 1990, Bradley backed the first private-school voucher program in the nation, right in Milwaukee.

This year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker plans to expand the voucher program to nine new counties, despite test results that show voucher students underperform compared with their public school peers.

Across the country, Bradley has given money to groups like Americans for Prosperity to tout school vouchers and other privatization efforts as an answer to "failing" public schools.

"Their financing is the cornerstone for the privatization of public schools not just in Wisconsin, but across America," Ross explains.

Ross calls the interlocking efforts of Bradley and other groups "a tax-deductible SuperPAC." The groups that have received funds from Bradley include the MacIver Institute, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, the Manhattan Institute, and rightwing pundits including George Will, a member of the Bradley Foundation board of directors and recipient of a $250,000 Bradley "outstanding achievement" cash prize.

The free-market mission of the Bradley Foundation fits in nicely with a national rightwing pro-privatization agenda.

"We've seen this influx of out-of-state corporate money into Wisconsin," says Ross, who was active in the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. "Here we have this homegrown foundation pouring more money into the rightwing foundation network than probably any other entity in America."

Those close ties between the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation and the national rightwing network have had a helped turn Wisconsin, despite its progressive history, into an incubator for rightwing politics nationally.

Bradley CEO Michael Grebe was not only Scott Walker's campaign co-chair, Ross points out, "he's the person Paul Ryan calls his 'political godfather,' and the guy who sent the letter to the Republican Party saying Reince Priebus should be the next RNC chair."

Can a Scott Walker Presidential campaign be far behind?

Many bad rightwing ideas can be traced back to Bradley.

In a previous report, One Wisconsin Now found that Bradley financed voter suppression efforts back in 2010, including billboards in Wisconsin warning people of criminal penalties for voters who turned out to be ineligible to cast ballots.

School privatization is, arguably, the biggest, baddest rightwing idea sweeping the nation at the moment.

In Wisconsin, which has historically boasted excellent public schools, Walker's current budget calls for a huge funding increase to expand the private school voucher program and independent charter schools free from school-board oversight.

"To understand the scope of the raid on public education," the One Wisconsin Now report points out, "consider that the total funding for private school vouchers, charter and virtual schools will have increased over $150 million" between the introduction of Walker's first budget two years ago and the current one.

"Meanwhile, over the same two budgets, total state and local revenue available to fund public K-12 schools will have been reduced by well over $1 billion."

All across the country, similar legislative efforts to transfer tax money from public to private schools threaten the very idea of public education.

The more the public understands this coordinated, ideologically driven attack, the better armed they are to defend their local public schools.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Progressives Say They'll Primary Dems Who Vote for Chained CPI."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.

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BREAKING NEWS: Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson of Bhopal infamy died a fugitive from justice. The Progressive got...

This Halloween movie will scare anyone who cares about news.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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