Ayn Rand Acolytes Have a Friend in This Philly Philanthropist

We first started digging into Ed Snider when he recently teamed up with billionaire Charles Koch, giving $5 million to the University of Maryland's business school for the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets.

That gift, like the higher ed gifts that Koch makes all the time, is aimed at advancing free market ideals on campus—in this case a campus located in a deep blue state and often associated with progressive thinking. 

But Snider doesn't just believe in the free market and other libertarian principles. He's an all out Randian. Er, I mean, an Objectivist. 

In the 1980s, Snider put down founding money to help establish the Ayn Rand Institute, which is currently headquartered in Irvine, California. Snider also earned an executive producer credit on Atlas Shrugged Part I, a film version of Rand's defining work, starring Orange is the New Black actress Taylor Schilling. (The last film of the trilogy was released in September). 

Snider is best known for owning the Philadelphia Flyers, and we don't see a lot hockey team owners in the thrall of Ayn Rand's ideas. (Not that the NFL or NBA is teeming with owners into Objectivism) 

So what's the backstory here?

According to Snider, he's had a "love affair" with Atlas Shrugged for fifty years because it is the "only book that provides a moral defense of capitalism." It's worth noting that Snider was born of a humble background, the son of a grocery chain owner. Snider was a scrappy kid who got into fights, graduated with an accounting degree but quit his job after a week, and mortaged his house to snag the Philadelphia Flyers. Now he chairs Comcast-Spectacor, which owns sports teams and stadiums. 

Snider didn't find immediate success and as he puts it: “I related to the Hank Reardon character [in Rand's book] because I was going through the same thing when it was published in 1957. My family and friends were also belittling me because I was working too hard.”

Snider has been active in philanthropy which some might say is inconsistent with Rand's Objectivism. Not so, says Snider, who claims that Rand wasn't against "helping poor people" but rather believed that help should come through private charities, not government programs.

To that end, apart from his recent gift with Koch, he's also founded the Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Research Center in his father's name at Wharton. The Snider Foundation, which Snider runs with his wife, held more than $16 million in assets and gave away just under $2 million at the end of April 2013.

Recent grantees include the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank in Washington D.C., Donors Trust, and Economics Pennsylvania, an economic and financial literacy program for young people, which also ties in the importance of liberty and freedom.

Streams of money have also gone to the Federalist Society, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Lawfare Project whose mission is to protect against  "the politicization of human rights." Interesting.

Some of the foundation's largest sums have gone to the David Horowitz Freedom Center which also advocates for free societies. 

While it might be easy to get caught up in Snider's beliefs and how they inform his philanthropy, Rand is not all he's into. Snider sits on the board of National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He's also supported Jewish causes including the Jewish Policy Center and the Israel American Academic Exchange. Finally, he founded the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation in 2005, which serves at-risk urban youth in Philadelphia and Camden, combining hockey and educational programming to improve outcomes. 

If there's one thing I've realized about philanthropy, it's that motivations for giving are just as diverse as the causes to which people give. As with Snider's gift to the University of Maryland with Koch, it isn't just that he felt indebted to his alma mater; he felt indebted to the philosophies that got him there. In this case, that's Ayn Rand.