Who Gives Money to Conservative Think Tanks?

The Heritage Foundation just landed a hefty $2.7 million gift to promote marriage and family. What kind of donor is excited by that kind of work? 

Well, first some background.

Wealthy Americans are a diverse group, at least when it comes to how they made their money. Sure, the fields of tech and finance mint an outsized number of billionaires these days, but take a glance at the Forbes 400 and you'll be surprised by how much wealth is created within industries you barely think about, like logistics or mining. 

The far upper class is also pretty diverse when it come to their political beliefs. While this group is, by and large, more conservative on economic issues than most Americans, they're otherwise all over the map ideologically. Many are much more liberal than conventional wisdom would suggest. 

And, as it turns out, there are some close correlations between how people make their fortunes and their ideologies. For example, if you parlayed your computer science Ph.D. into tech wealth, you're probably more liberal than if you amassed it through building a real estate empire in Phoenix. Ditto if you made money in the entertainment industry as opposed to trucking. 

This is true for different reasons. One is that those who get rich in the knowledge industry have often grown up in coastal America, logged years in elite universities, and live in places like the Bay Area—personal traits associated with a liberal worldview. As well, if you employ lots of educated people and work in a complex, global industry, you may be more likely to see wealth creation as the outgrowth of an interdependent societyas opposed to the more personal virtues that conservatives emphasize of hard work and persistence. If you think people get rich thanks to societal supports, you're more likely to support government than if you give most credit to the triumphant individual. 

There are plenty of exceptions to these generalizations, but overall, it's fair to say that wealthy people emerging from the new economy, largely based on the coasts, are more liberal than those who got rich in the old economy in the heartland or Sun Belt. The finance world, which sort of straddles the new and old economies, tends to produce rich people with a range of views—from quite progressive to fiercely libertarian. 

While AEI and Cato draw a lot of support from finance, including quite a few New Yorkers, Heritage is definitely the think tank of traditional heartland conservatives. 

And whenever I see a big new gift to Heritage, I think to myself: "It's probably another rich guy from the Midwest or the South writing the check."

In the case of the most recent gift, the donor was a woman, Betty A. Anderlik of Clearwater, Florida, who contributed to Heritage to "design and promote public policies that 'place marriage and the family at the center of civil society.'" The money will create a fellowship that honors her late husband, Ray Anderlink.

And who was Ray? A successful executive at a civil engineering and architectural firm in the Twin Cities. He was a guy who lived in a landlocked state and made his fortune building stuff. 

The last big Heritage gift that crossed my desk, in December, was an eight-figure donation to the conference center. And where'd the wealth behind that gift come from? One of the largest auto dealerships in the Southwest.