Obama, Kamala Harris Share Family Ties to Ford Foundation

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/08/18/obama-kamala-harris-share-family-ties-to-ford-foundation/

If the Democrats win the presidential election, at least one $14 billion fortune can breathe a sigh of relief.

That sum is the endowment, roughly speaking, of the Ford Foundation. Maya Harris, the sister of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, did a stint at the Ford Foundation as vice president for democracy, rights, and justice. That’s the same Maya Harris who served as the chairman of the Kamala Harris presidential campaign.

And that’s the same Ford Foundation at which Barack Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Soetero, worked as a program officer in Indonesia. It is the same Ford Foundation at which Peter Geithner, the father of Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, worked for 28 years.

In 2014, as attorney general of California, Kamala Harris gave the keynote address at a Ford Foundation conference about criminal justice policy. “I want to say, ‘thank you, Ford Foundation,’” she said. In September 2018, the Ford Foundation’s official Facebook page promoted news about letters that Senator Kamala Harris wrote to the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about potential racial bias in facial recognition technology.

Federal Election Commission records show that two Ford Foundation executives, Judy Diers and Xavier Briggs, made donations to the Harris presidential campaign.

The Ford Foundation’s status as the bank account of the American left is, at this point, a half-century-old story. Kai Bird’s 1998 book The Color of Truth, which has a chapter about McGeorge Bundy’s tenure as president of the Ford Foundation, quotes a 1972 memo from Patrick Buchanan to President Richard Nixon asserting, “the Ford Foundation has become the Exchequer and Command Post for the entire American Left.”

Bird quotes Dwight Macdonald’s description of the Ford Foundation as “a large body of money completely surrounded by people who want some.” He also quotes Bundy’s preface to the foundation’s 1967 annual report: “the most-deep-seated and destructive of all the causes of the Negro problem is still the prejudice of the white man.” And he quotes a 1976 complaint by Henry Ford II, a member of the automaking family whose fortune that created the charity, that though the Ford Foundation “is a creature of capitalism … It is hard to discern recognition of this fact in anything the Foundation does.”

The durability of these descriptions points both to Ford’s power and to its limitations. Big Philanthropy has critics, both on the right and on the left.

The right complains that the foundations become unaccountable, unmoored from the intent of the founding donors, and in some cases even hostile to the system that created the fortunes than bankroll them.

The left considers the big foundations fundamentally undemocratic, a tax dodge for donors who never should have been allowed to get that rich in the first place.

Then there is the observation that while Ford and other foundations give away lots of money and pay their executives well, the problems they aim to solve — racism, poverty — don’t seem to improve much, at least by the grim conventional liberal account.

Paradoxically — or perhaps ironically — the Ford Foundation’s agenda sometimes seems aimed at defeating its own strength. “Ford Shifts Grant Making To Focus Entirely on Inequality” was the headline the Chronicle of Philanthropy put over its news article reporting on a 2015 letter by Ford’s president, Darren Walker, asserting that “inequality, in one form or another, is coded into just about every one of our social ills.”

What could be more unequal than a single foundation controlling $14 billion? Without “inequality,” fortunes of the size that created the Ford Foundation would never exist.

The tax policy logic of Obama and Harris and Biden and Geithner sometimes makes it seem as if the Democrats are determined to do whatever they can to prevent the accumulation of a Ford-sized fortune ever again.

That expression of gratitude by Harris — “thank you, Ford Foundation” — is the sort of thing that makes me glad Congress has never enacted proposals on the left or the right to outlaw the big foundations or to tax them out of existence. Whatever the limitations and faults are of big philanthropy, they can remind Democratic politicians like Harris and Obama that the power to propel personalities upward resides not only with tax-funded government programs but also with private-sector institutions paid for with capital earned in a system of free enterprise.


Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.