The Money Behind the Conservative Women's Groups Still Fighting the Culture War

If you thought the culture war was over, think again. The fight to advance traditional moral values is still going strong, fueled by some serious donor dollars. 

Today's exhibits A and B: Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and Concerned Women for America (CWA), two women-led conservative groups touting a family-values approach on issues of gender and beyond.

Of the two, IWF—and its 501(c)(4) sister organization Independent Women’s Voice—takes a libertarian approach, emphasizing a brand of women’s politics that denies the existence of an oppressive patriarchy. IWF doesn’t confine itself to issues like the wage gap, abortion and feminism. Its slogan is “All issues are women’s issues.” As we note in our previous coverage, the organization is more like “a libertarian think tank influenced by Christian moralistic teachings.” 

On the other hand, CWA is all about Christian moralistic teachings. Founded by Beverly LaHaye, wife of evangelical minister Timothy LaHaye, CWA opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, stumping all the way for conservative family values. Under the leadership of current CEO and president Penny Young Nance, CWA also arrays itself against pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking, and supports public school reform and a pro-Israel foreign policy.

While both organizations have female leadership, they aren’t afraid to dip into male-led funding sources. One stream of money comes from the bottomless coffers of the brothers liberal America loves to hate, David and Charles Koch. Over the years, the Kochs have channeled close to $1 million directly to IWF. Other contributions have come from the community of conservative/libertarian funders we often write about. IWF's backers have included the Randolph, Sarah Scaife, Bradley, and Carthage foundations, as well as the Searle Freedom Trust. 

Other key sources of money for IWF are the right-wing funding institutions DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, which have channeled at least $5 million to IWF from major anonymous individual donors. 

In an article, the Center for Media and Democracy identifies IWF board chair Heather Higgins as its largest individual donor. She’s an interesting figure in this space. Born into the Richardson family (see Vick’s VapoRub and the Smith Richardson Foundation), she pursued a career on Wall Street and as a political commentator. Higgins rose to prominence in the world of not-for-profits stumping for the free market.

Beyond her position at IWF, she has led the Randolph Foundation (an offshoot of Richardson family philanthropy and a big IWF donor) since the early 1990s. She’s also a vice chairman at the Philanthropy Roundtable. Previously, Higgins was among the leadership of the Hoover Institution.

Despite Higgins’s dedication, uniting women and the conservative movement looks like an increasingly difficult task with Donald Trump's rise and IWF’s apparent donations from feminist luminaries like Rush Limbaugh and the infamous Todd Akin. But women are a politically diverse group. The culture wars aren’t over yet, and we’ll have to see where the chips fall.

Meanwhile, CWA has a clearer-cut challenge, as a familiar kind of institution on the Christian right, rallying supporters to push back against attacks on traditional values. It's done well with donors, too. Despite their outward libertarianism, the Kochs’ contributions to the group have been substantial: Over $10 million has come from Freedom Partners, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and the TC4 Trust, three Koch funding arms.