The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank located in Washington, D.C., is considered one of the world's most influential public policy research institutes. Its operations have transformed the traditional concept of the "think tank" and significantly impacted the domestic and foreign policies of the United States government.
Founded in 1973, Heritage's initial funding came from political conservative Joseph Coors, owner of the Coors Brewing Company. Conservative activist Paul Weyrich was its first head. Since 1974, Heritage's president has been Edwin Feulner, Jr., previously the staff director of the House Republican Study Committee and a former staff assistant to Congressman Phil Crane (R-IL).
Until 2001, when it was acquired by the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation published Policy Review, a highly-regarded public policy journal.
History and major initiatives
The Heritage Foundation is known for the wide-ranging and influential nature of its work. Its 1981 book of policy analysis, "Mandate for Leadership," revolutionized the character of public policy advice-giving. At 1000-plus pages, it offered specific recommendations on policy, budget and administrative action for all Cabinet departments and many agencies to be staffed by political appointees in the incoming conservative administration of President Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Heritage Foundation was a key architect and advocate of the Reagan Doctrine, by which the United States government channeled overt and covert support to anti-Communist resistance movements in such places as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua and generally supported global anti-communism during the Cold War.
Heritage foreign policy analysts didn't restrict themselves to research, but became active in efforts to provide political and military guidance to rebel forces in Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua, and to dissidents in Eastern bloc nations and Soviet republics.
The foundation was instrumental in advancing President Ronald Reagan's belief that the former Soviet Union was an "evil empire" and that its defeat, not its mere containment, was a realistic foreign policy objective. Heritage also played a key role in building support for Reagan's plans to build an orbital ballistic missile shield, the ("Strategic Defense Initiative").
In domestic policy, Heritage is a proponent of "supply side" economics, which holds that reductions in the marginal rate of taxation can spur economic growth. Internationally, and in partnership with the Wall Street Journal, Heritage publishes the annual Index of Economic Freedom, which measures how a country's freedom in terms of property rights and freedom from government regulation. The factors used to calculate the Index score are corruption in government, barriers to international trade, income tax and corporate tax rates, government expenditures, rule of law and the ability to enforce contracts, regulatory burdens, banking restrictions, labor regulations, and black market activities. Deficiencies lower the score on Heritage's Index.
Unlike traditional think tanks, which tend to house scholars and politicians-in-exile who produce large books, Heritage tends to employ bright, aggressive public policy analysts who produce comparatively shorter policy papers intended to pass what Heritage calls "the briefcase test" for busy politicians to read on the run. Heritage also pioneered the "marketing" of policy ideas by astute packaging and public relations, now a staple feature of Washington think tank activity.
Although Heritage is just over 30 years old, it has earned a major place among Washington think tanks. Its major rivals are the American Enterprise Institute, a haven for neo-conservatives, and the libertarian Cato Institute on the right. Heritage's liberal counterparts include the venerable Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress. In keeping with its emphasis on political accessibility, Heritage maintains its eight-story headquarters on Capitol Hill, a short walk from the United States Congress; most other think-tanks maintain offices in downtown Washington.
Many Heritage Foundation personnel have held, or gone on to hold, influential roles in American business and government, including Richard V. Allen, L. Paul Bremer, Elaine Chao, Lawrence Di Rita, Michael Johns, John F. Lehman, Edwin Meese, and others.
Though it boasts considerable clout on Capitol Hill, the Heritage Foundation insists it doesn't "lobby." Like all other political advocacy groups, left and right, this allows Heritage to retain tax-exempt status as a "charity" under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This status, in part, helped it collect $29.7 million in 2004 corporate and individual donations. Core funding comes from conservative foundations and individual donors: In 1995, 31 checks accounted for $8.5 million; another 123 donors supplied $2.6 million. The foundation receives comparatively little from corporations, which shy away from Heritage's activist approach to policy advocacy. Through direct mail fundraising, Heritage obtains millions more from small donors. Among Washington think tanks, Heritage is unique in obtaining a large, popular base of funding support.
In 1973, beer baron Joseph Coors contributed a quarter-million dollars to launch The Heritage Foundation. Since then, money has come from the founders of Amway Corp. and right-leaning foundations like the Bradley, Olin and Scaife foundations. Billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and other wealthy philanthropists have been generous Heritage Foundation donors.
With a long history of receiving large donations from overseas, Heritage also continues to receive a minimum of several hundred thousand dollars from South Korea and Taiwan each year. U.S. News & World Report reported in 1989 that its South Korean ties included partnerships with Rev. Sun Myung Moon's messianic Unification Church.
In autumn of 1988, the South Korean National Assembly uncovered a document revealing that Korean intelligence gave $2.2 million to the Heritage Foundation on-the-sly during the early 1980s. Heritage has denied the allegation.
Heritage's latest annual report acknowledges a $400,000 grant from the Korean conglomerate Samsung. And another donor, the Korea Foundation, which conduits money from the South Korean government, has given Heritage almost $1 million in the past three years.