How This Veteran Television Producer Bankrolls Public Policy Outfits

Veteran television producer Marcy Carsey received an English literature degree from the University of New Hampshire before starting her career in show business. She worked her way up the ladder, from NBC tour guide and production assistant to forming her own independent production company, Carsey-Werner Company, with Tom Werner in 1981. The producing team is behind such hits as The Cosby Show, Roseanne, and That 70s Show.

Carsey and her late husband John Jay Carsey, a comedy writer, established the Carsey Family Foundation in the late 1980s. Carsey has recently supported human services outfits such as Weymouth Council of the Hungry in her home state of Massachusetts. Sums have also gone to arts and culture and Carsey recently became chair of Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Carsey's largest sums, though, have gone to a number of public policy and media outfits. Casey has been a steady donor to the Democratic Party and has bankrolled outfits such as Media Matters for America. But before I say more on that, you should also know that Carsey gave millions to create an entire public policy school at her alma mater.

The seeds of the school were planted back in 2002 when Carsey gave University of New Hampshire $7.5 million to create the Carsey Institute, which conducted policy research on vulnerable children, youth, and families. In 2013, Carsey gave a large, $20 million gift to create University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy, whose mission is to provide "top quality research, leadership development, and engaged scholarship relevant to public policy."

The school is directed by Michael Ettlinger, a veteran of the progressive policy world, and the school's current areas of interest include social innovation and finance, vulnerable families, demographics, andcommunity and environment.

A component of Carsey's philanthropy also involves women's rights, with support going to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Other grants have gone toward media outfits such as ProPublica and American Independent News Network, which provided state-based reporting but has since rebranded. Support has also recently gone to outfits such as Free Press, "a progressive lobbying group that advocates for increased government oversight of internet service providers," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Agenda Project, whose goal is to "build a powerful, intelligent, well-connected political movement," and Sojourners, a magazine and online publication that "sits at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture."

Carsey isn't the only entertainment winner to fund policy policy work, or to back progressive causes. Other funders from the industry who've been active in this space include Norman Lear and Barbra Streisand. Still, policy is definitely not one of the top areas of giving by entertainment philanthropists, much less donors from other sectors. More tangible issue-based causes, like the environment or women's rights, tend to get a lot more attention. So we're always interested to find individual donors who believe in the power of policy. 

Related: Marcy Carsey Profile