How the Hoover Institution Vacuums Up Big Conservative Bucks

The Hoover Institution began as a library in 1919 and has grown into one of America's top think tanks over the years. It ranked number #19 on a 2014 UPenn think tank report, below such outfits as Brookings Institution (#1) and conservative giant the American Enterprise Institute (#12). That influence is striking, giving that Hoover is located nearly 3,000 miles from Washington, DC, on the campus of Stanford University.

Like AEI, Hoover might be described as a moderate conservative think tankin contrast, say, to the Heritage Foundation and other policy shops that push a harder line and have been aligned in recent years with the Tea Party. 

Hoover's moderate positioning makes sense, since Herbert Hoover himself was certainly no doctrinaire conservative and even considered being a Democrat at one time. The Hoover Institution's mission includes principles such as "representative government, private enterprise, peace, and personal freedom" and senior fellows at the institution have included Condoleezza Rice, economist Thomas Sowell, and author Shelby Steele.

Hoover's funding recently crossed our radar through reporting on the philanthropy of Giving Pledge signatory Tad Taube, who channels his philanthropy through the Taube Family Foundation, and once headed up the Koret Foundation.

Related: What to Know About the Koret Foundation's Bay Area Grantmaking

Both foundations have long been involved with the Hoover Institution, and a recent Koret grant went toward research on blended learning at the Hoover Institution. As well, the institution is also home to the Koret Task Force, which focuses on "education policy... that stresses choice, accountability, and transparency and includes systematic reform options such as vouchers, charter schools, and testing."

The meat of the Hoover Institution is policy research, but like AEI, providing a home to serious scholars is a big part of its mission. (In contrast to places like Heritage, which are mainly packed with ideologically motivated wonks cranking out policy briefs and reports.) We've written about the billionaire backers of AEI, folks such as Philip Anschutz, Daniel A. D'Aniello, and Bruce Kovner. Well, Hoover raises a comparable amount of money every year, showing that not all think tank money flows to Washington.

Related: Which Washington Think Tank Do Billionaires Love the Most? And Why?

Who are some of Hoover's larger funders? Let's take a look. 

1. The Sarah Scaife Foundation

One big name is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which has given at least $9 million to the Hoover Institution since 1990, and about $1.4 million since 2009. The Sarah Scaife Foundation is one of several philanthropic vehicles associated with the late Richard Mellon Scaife. Certainly those who've heard of Scaife probably aren't surprised with his association with Hoover.

The late Scaife had a personal fortune of $1.4 billion in 2013 according to Forbes, and was a principal heir to the Mellon banking, oil, and aluminum fortune. There are certainly conservative funders with deeper pockets than Scaife, as well as donors with higher profiles (think the Kochs on both counts), but Scaife stands as the pivotal figure in the rise of modern conservative philanthropy and his influence is set to extend into the future. As we recently reported, the Scaife Foundation's assets are are dramatically expanding, thanks to a bequest from Scaife. 

Related: Conservative Policy Wonks: Your Favorite Sugar Daddy is Gone, But He Left Big Treats

Scaife was a major early supporter of the Heritage Foundation, which was established in 1973, and has since raised and spent over $1 billion to push conservative policies on nearly every issue that congress works on. However, Scaife was also involved with the Hoover Institution for around half a century and was a member of Hoover's board of overseers. In 2000, Scaife was honored with the inaugural Uncommon Commitment Award, in recognition of his contributions to Hoover. 

2. Walton Family Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation are some of the strongest recent supporters of the the Hoover Institution. The Walton Family Foundation has given Hoover around $1.4 million since 2009, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has given Hoover around $1.3 million since 2009.

Walton's money for Hoover has supported its education research, helping expand this piece of the think tank's work over recent years. Bradley, meanwhile, has long backed Hoover as part of its larger effort to strengthen the conservative intellectual infrastructure. Bradley is also steady backer of the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Federalist Society, among other conservative groups. 

3. William E. Simon Foundation

The William E. Simon Foundation is another reliable funder of conservative groups, and has predictably supported the Hoover Institution over the years, with a little more than $1 million since 2009. The foundation runs programs in education, family, and faith. The late William Simon served in such positions as vice president of Weeden & Company and senior partner in charge of the Government and Municipal Bond departments at Soloman Brothers, where he served on the firm's seven-member executive committee. He also served as a trustee of several think tanks, including Heritage and Hoover. Like Scaife, Simon was a key figure in conservative philanthropy. The foundation's current president, James Piereson, is very plugged in to this world, too. 


Finally, it's worth noting that perhaps the largest backer of the Hoover Institution in recent years is the Howard Charitable Foundation. The foundation has given around $500,000 annually to Hoover recently, as well as given $1 million in 2007 and in 2008, and $5 million in 2006. There's little information about this outfit or its donor Robert S. Howard. However, recent 990s show support of both Hoover and Heritage, which is consistent with some of the other large funders in this space. 

In addition to the foundations and people we mentioned, other recent supporters of the Hoover Institution include Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. (a five-year $5 million pledge for a new building at Hoover), and Paul L. Davies Jr, as well as the Weiler Foundation, Bochnowski Family Foundation, and the Whitcomb Charitable Foundation. Hoover gets support at lower levels from many other foundations, too many to list here. Its conservative leanings, combined with the prestige of its Stanford home, is clearly appealing to a great many funders. 

In 2014, the Hoover Institution had an approximately $450 million endowment, and of its 2013-2014 budget of $56.1 million, around $33 million came from supporters.