The Timid Foundations–Reluctance to Study Corporate Behavior

WASHINGTON–Are Foundations reluctant to support studies of corporate behavior or the concentration of wealth in the econ­omy? Figures recently available from The Foundation Center underscore a resounding “yes” to this question. For the period 1972 and 1973, the Center reports that out of 18,700 grants, only 34 grants came under the heading of “economic studies.” None of these grant descriptions mentioned the word “corporation”; rather they dealt largely with prosaic studies of aggre­gate economic data.

Apart from one grant dealing with imbalances in the distribution of wealth, no grants related to such basic subjects as insurance, banking, inflation, urban transportation, product safety, food supply, or studies of any industry or corporation.

One reason for Foundations’ neglecting corporate studies is that many of these philanthropic institutions are part and parcel of the corporate world. The huge Duke Endowment is enmeshed with Duke Power Company. The Endowment is not about to fund studies of utilities such as Duke Power’s nuclear plant program or its battle with the United Mine Workers.

Nor are the giant Pew and Mellon Foundations about to finance inquiries into the oil or banking industries. It is not likely that the 36 DuPont foundations in Delaware will backinvestigations into that state’s dominant corporation. The Nemours Foundation, a Dupont legacy in Florida, is worth one billion dollars which gives it vast interests in Florida land and banks. A grant application to study “Who Owns Florida?” would not receive a sympathetic hearing. Indeed, many of the bigger Foundations have little or no professional staff that could even entertain any such applications.

With assets of $30 billion and a grants level of about $2.2 billion yearly, the Foundations could launch a fraction of their resources very productively into corporate studies.

For example, support could be given to serious inquiries into the causes and remedies for the present corporate crime wave including studies of kickbacks and bribes to government officials, and violations of pollution, consumer, property tax, campaign finance and other laws. Additional topics in great need of analysis involve corporate taxation, trade secrets as cover-up devices, corporate obstacles to innovations, the due-process rights of individuals within corporate institutions regarding policy disagreements, pension practices and corporate control of governmental institutions.

The trustees or directors of many large Foundations are interlocked with banks, industries and other segments of the “business class” who, in the words of Waldemar Nielsen’s study, The Big Foundations, control the major foundations. To the extent that public activity illuminates the abuses of corporations and underlines the erosions on society, the Foundations may begin to respond but no earlier.
This “follow the eruption” syndrome occurred after the civil rights, environmental and women’s rights upheavals. It is such external jolting which has provided the metabolism to shake the Foundations out of their lassitude or defense of the status quo interests. Given the serious necessity for examining the corporate impact on this country and abroad, and given the many bright people willing to work in this field, the opportunity for Foundations to exercise their independent judgment should be avoided no longer.

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