Giving Labels

A study of the philanthropic giving of 122 American corporations has concluded that there is “an obvious bias to the left,” and that most of them are “funding organizations clearly opposed to corporate interests.” That surprising conclusion, however, depends on definitions. A close reading of the report reveals that the lean leftward is perceptible only to those who, like the sponsoring Capital Research Center, regard protection of the environment, race relations, international relations and peace as issues and activities of the left and as weakening the free market.

A preface to the report by William E. Simon, the former secretary of the Treasury, removes all doubt that this is nothing more than a new exercise of the radical right to try to discourage participation in broadly based, mainstream public affairs programs by the private sector. Simon applauds gifts for the Red Cross, hospitals, religious institutions and “genuinely charitable causes.” But he asserts that “an astonishing amount of money also is given to organizations whose special-interest advocacy is geared solely to promoting the political interests and fashionable nostrums of the left.” He further says that “capitalism has no duty to underwrite its enemies,” and concludes that the study “vividly portrays the extent to which America’s corporate leadership is boring holes in the bottom of the ship so numerous and so large that those manning the pumps may soon be overwhelmed.”

Which holes are sinking the ship of state? Look, then, at some of the ratings.

The African American Institute, the single most effective American organization maintaining ties with the leadership of emerging Africa, is rated “left,” defined among other things as tending “to favor accommodation with anti-American Communist and Third World leaders.” Nature Conservancy, with its global effort to acquire additional land for preserves and parks, is rated “center left,” defined among other things as a group that “can be expected to favor more, or more expanded, government welfare and regulation.” The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, led by Coretta Scott King, is rated “radical left/left,” defined, among other things, as being among the groups that “favor a restructuring of the nation along generally socialist lines.” And so it goes, including a rating for the League of Women Voters as left/liberal. Moving rightward on the scale, one comes at last to the meager support found flowing to “conservative” groups--Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution--and “classical liberal"--Cato Institute. The right-most classification is “radical right,” but no recipient meeting that definition was uncovered in the research. Some, we among them, would argue that at least one of the groups seen as “conservative” might well be called “radical right.”


Given these definitions, it was inevitable that many of the most responsible American corporations, such as the St. Paul Companies, Dayton Hudson, Coca-Cola, Scott Paper and General Mills, would be listed as “left,” thus benefiting organizations “opposed to corporate interests.” That is nonsense. Rather than weaken the vitality of the marketplace in the United States, they have helped strengthen it, for the marketplace is integral to society and the lives of the people of that society.

Capital Research defines corporate responsibility and public interest in terms unworthy of the tradition of those American businesses that have a vigorous commitment to using a portion of their resources for the public good. Such careless classifications may betray deliberate mischief with ideological intent. They certainly show ignorance of the role, unique among all the industrial democracies, that American business has played in helping public causes that many other nations leave as the sole province of government.