The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund are two major right-wing donor groups funded by a 19th century industrial fortune. Since its inception, the Bradley Foundation has given away more than $1 billion, much of it to conservative causes related to civil rights, voting rights, welfare, education, climate change, and labor, among other issue areas. From 2001 to 2010, the Bradley Foundation gave out more than $350 million in grants. During this period, 38% of the organization’s grants were distributed to Wisconsin-based groups.
The Bradley Impact Fund was created in 2012 as a donor-advised fund affiliated with the Bradley Foundation. Its creation allowed individuals to donate to the Impact Fund and then recommend where that money should go in the form of grants.
The Bradley Foundation and Impact Fund have had an outsized impact on spreading far-right politics in America by:
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund are the legacies of two brothers from Wisconsin who earned their wealth from pioneering electric motor technology in the early 1900s. Lynde died in 1942, and his brother Harry set up the Bradley Foundation the same year in his honor.
Harry was a founding member of the far-right conspiracist group the John Birch Society, which influenced his political and philanthropic endeavors. Harry died in 1965, and in 1985 his company was sold for $1.65 billion, a large portion of which went to the Bradley Foundation. This turned the Foundation from a relatively small nonprofit into a major funding source for conservative issues and projects.
The Bradley Impact Fund was created in 2012 as a donor-advised fund affiliated with the Bradley Foundation. Its creation allowed individuals to donate to the Impact Fund and then recommend where that money should go in the form of grants. The Impact Fund’s supporters include corporate donors such as ABC Supply Co., Boelter Companies, and Brandon Golf Courses.
Harry Bradley’s ascension in right-wing American politics began with his brother, Lynde. Milwaukee high school dropout Lynde Bradley invented the compression rheostat, which was able to control the speed of electrical motors without reducing a high electrical current. Lynde and Dr. Allen Bradley founded what would be called the Allen-Bradley Company in 1903 to produce industrial controls. Lynde’s brother, Harry, joined in 1904. The business was relatively small until World War I dramatically increased demand for the company’s products, helping turn it into a national powerhouse by the end of the 1920s.
Lynde died in 1942, and Harry set up the Lynde Bradley Foundation that same year in his honor. Harry’s political journey began in 1939 with a strike at his company, the first the Allen-Bradley Company had ever experienced. The strike strained what the Bradley Brothers saw as a familial relationship between themselves and their workers. The company’s business boomed again due to government contracts during World War II, and labor actions increased in frequency and efficacy. According to Think Progress, one particularly bitter strike jump-started Harry’s descent into far-right beliefs, attacking labor organizers as communists while simultaneously studying Lennists beliefs to build an anti-leftist vanguard in America. (The Koch Brothers’ political network also studied Leninist vanguard politics in their early years to figure out how to combat the left).
Harry’s political views crystalized as the company’s runaway success continued into the 1960s. Harry was a founding member of the John Birch Society, established in 1958. The Society was created by “11 of the nation’s richest businessmen” on the principle that an international communist conspiracy threatened the foundations of American society. The communist conspiracy had purportedly captured elements of the church, the government, the media, the education system – and wanted to turn America into “a human race of enslaved robots, in which every civilized trait has been destroyed,” according to the Society’s founding document. The United Nations, the civil rights movement, and even Republican President Dwight Eisenhower were all supposed pieces of the conspiracy.
Harry’s interpretation of Bircher’s ideals extended not just to unions and labor movements, which he considered part of the communist plot, but to women’s and minority rights. Harry fought to prevent women from being paid the same as their male counterparts at his company. His company, the last major employer in Milwaukee to racially integrate, only did so out of pressure from a federal judge.
The Bradley Foundation’s first president after the cash infusion and rebrand in 1985 was Michael S. Joyce. Joyce previously worked at the Jon Olin Foundation, an early adopter of using charitable family foundations to fund right-wing causes. Joyce claimed that other family foundations were “fossilized in their opinions”. At the same time, Olin and Bradley, under his leadership, aimed to fight the “war of ideas” in support of right-wing ideology.
The Jon Olin Foundation was one of the first funders of the influential Federalist Society and a major supporter of free market pro-business programs at major universities. Joyce was described by his friends and allies as the inventor of “modern conservative philanthropy.” His National Review obituary says Joyce was “responsible for tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of spending on conservative ideas and causes.”
Joyce also served on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 transition team, and Olin and Joyce also had an immense influence on the administration. Joyce was also an informal advisor to the George W. Bush administration’s implementation of programs to promote religion-based initiatives.
Joyce helped turn the Bradley Foundation into “Olin West,” the $290 million acquired in 1985 to fund right-wing intellectuals and thought. Joyce also made sure to invest heavily in local and state initiatives throughout Wisconsin, a tradition the Bradley Foundation honors to this day.
The Bradley Foundation under Joyce was immensely influential in creating the intellectual underpinnings of welfare reform of the 1990s and mainstreaming school choice ideology, both of which have drawn criticisms for furthering racial inequities in America. Academics have noted the intense racial characterization of the welfare reform push, which often employed racial stereotypes such as the ‘welfare queen.’ A study published by the University Of Cambridge found that the welfare reform reinforced racial inequities. The core principle behind school school ideology, “freedom of choice,” was originally a means of defying the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which required the desegregation of public schools, but not private ones. Groups interested in privatizing government services and resources later found common causes with those who wanted to perpetuate racial segregation.
It was also under Joyce that the Bradley Foundation funded Charles Murray’s academic research, which resulted in the infamous racist pseudoscience found in Murray’s book The Bell Curve, which argued women and non-whites were genetically inferior.
Former George W. Bush Administration Ambassador and Honeywell International executive Richard Graber became the head of the Bradley Foundation in 2016. Graber has served on the Bradley Foundation’s board since 2013. He is a former chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party and member of the Republican National Committee, as well as a former Republican congressional candidate from Wisconsin and executive at Honeywell International.
In addition to his role at the Bradley Foundation, Graber also serves on the boards of the Kern Family Foundation and Curt Joa, Inc. He is also a Wake Forest University Law School Board of Visitors member.
Cleta Mitchell joined the board of directors at the Bradley Foundation In 2012. Mitchell is a long-time activist who has played a key role in right-wing circles for decades. She is known for her legal activism around election laws and her belief in rampant voter fraud, a claim which has been called “a myth” by legal experts. Her former colleagues characterized her as the “fringe of the fringe” and someone who told “clients what they wanted to hear, regardless of the law or reality.” She was a key Trump advisor during his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and currently serves on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. She is also a member of the Federalist Society.
Since Mitchell joined the Bradley Foundation, it is estimated the group has spent roughly $18 million on efforts to stoke conspiracies about election fraud and efforts to enact voter suppression. Mitchell has steered Bradley funds to voter suppression groups she is directly involved with such as Public Interest Legal Foundation and True The Vote and has helped turn the Bradley Foundation into a leader in mainstreaming election fraud ideology in conservative circles.
Mitchell played a major role in driving American conservative politics into increasingly far-right and conspiratorial territory, particularly regarding election security and systematic voter fraud:
Michael Grebe was the President of the Bradley Foundation from 2002 to 2016. Prior to joining the Bradley Foundation, Grebe was the longtime head and founder of Philanthropy Roundtable. Philanthropy Roundtable began as a “small, informal” network of advisors, foundations, and donors who want to fund conservative causes. It has been called “the leading institution shaping US philanthropy” by academic researchers for setting a blueprint for conservative philanthropic giving. One of its early executive directors said Philanthropy Roundtable was an answer to other philanthropic efforts that were “more animated by trendy notions of social justice than by donors’ unique preferences and interests.”
Under Grebe’s leadership, the Bradley Foundation focused more on media and electoral campaigns. During his time at the Bradley Foundation, Grebe served as the president of former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign and as counsel to the Republican National Committee.
Former Bradley Foundation Vice President Dan Schmidt was found to be close with Russian oligarchs following a leak of hacked emails from Russian authorities. Schmidt attended a gala that was targeted by Russian operatives who aimed to cultivate influence in the American religious right shortly after the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Right-wing opposition research firm Capital Research Center called Schmidt “A Hero of Conservative Philanthropy.”
The Bradley Foundation and Bradley Impact Fund have used their sizable endowment to influence the landscape of voting in America:
Bradley Foundation founder Harry Bradley was also a founding member of the John Birch Society, established in 1958. The Society was created by “11 of the nation’s richest businessmen” on the principle that an international communist conspiracy threatened the foundations of American society. The communist conspiracy had purportedly captured elements of the church, the government, the media, the education system – and wanted to turn America into “a human race of enslaved robots, in which every civilized trait has been destroyed,” according to the Society’s founding document. The United Nations, the civil rights movement, and even Republican President Dwight Eisenhower were all supposed pieces of the conspiracy.
In the 1970s, the Birchers rallied behind opposition to abortion, taxes, and sex education—issues that were key to Reagan’s presidential run that are still central to the contemporary American conservative movement. The influence of the Birchers is evident in the anti-government extremism of the militia movement, the conspiratorial rhetoric of Alex Jones, and in QAnon’s belief in a secret left-wing cabal that aims to destroy America. During the Trump years, once dormant chapters of the John Birch Society exploded in popularity. It’s reasonable to argue that the Bradley Foundation, which has given away nearly $1 billion since its inception in the 40s, is at least partially responsible for animating the John Birch Society’s legacy.
The Bradley organizations have funded a large network of climate denial groups. The Foundation and Impact Fund gave $6.4 million to climate denial groups in 2019 alone, according to The Center For Media And Democracy. Some of these groups include the Capital Research Center, which called climate scientists “alamists, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which argued that climate change would create a “milder, greener, more prosperous world,” The Cato Institute, which has advocated against the passage of any climate legislation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has written model legislation furthering climate denial–such as a 2021 model bill that bans states from divesting from fossil fuels.
The Bradley Foundation has funded legal, research, and policy efforts that challenge civil rights and reinforce racial inequities.
Bradley Foundation founder Harry considered labor unions a key part of a communist plot that aimed to destroy America and his Foundation has continued his anti-union crusade.
Michael Grebe, the Bradley Foundation’s long-time former president, said in a 2013 interview that school choice-driven education reform was always a key goal of the Bradley Foundation and Impact Fund. “Freedom of choice” in schooling was originally a means of defying the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which required the desegregation of public schools, but not private ones. Groups interested in privatizing government services and resources later found common causes with those who wanted to perpetuate racial segregation.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had close ties to the Bradley Foundation during his administration, particularly through his 2010 campaign manager and top advisor Michael Grebe. A New York Times headline after Walker’s election claimed the Bradley Foundation and Walker were united by a common anti-union cause.
Shortly after his 2012 election, a criminal probe was launched into Walker and members of Club For Growth Wisconsin for illegal campaign coordination. The matter eventually went before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but only after The Wisconsin Club For Growth had spent nearly $400,000 in Wisconsin Supreme Court elections – ensuring a conservative majority. The Bradley Foundation also funded groups that campaigned against a criminal probe of Walker. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled there was no instance of wrongdoing in 2015.
Historically, Wisconsin was seen as a stronghold of labor, but Governor Walker waged what has been characterized as a “war” on unions. As governor, Walker passed Act 10, which gutted the collective bargaining rights of labor unions and devastated the resources and membership rolls of the state teachers union” and made him a “conservative legend” according to Politico.
After breaking the teachers union, Walker began to pursue widespread education reform. Walker was a strong proponent of school vouchers, a “school choice” policy.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is known as a corporate “bill mill” composed of state legislators and corporate stakeholders that draft and disseminate right-wing model legislation. ALEC’s model legislation has been introduced in every state in the country, and nearly a quarter of the country’s state legislators are members of the council. ALEC was formed in 1973 as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislatures in the wake of the influential Powell Memo, a document Greenpeace describes as a “blueprint for corporate domination of American Democracy.”
ALEC played a key role in incubating strategies to challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. In a speech at the Council for National Policy months before the 2020 election, the leader of ALEC said that the group was working closely with Bradley Foundation board member Cleta Mitchell and election-fraud-conspiracist leader Hans von Spakovksy to explore means to challenge the validity of the election preemptively should Trump lose. Mitchell and ALEC also worked to develop the legal groundwork to allow state legislators to utilize the Electoral College to overturn the results of the popular vote in their state over fraud concerns.
The American Legislative Exchange Council received over $5.4 million from the Bradley Foundation and Impact Fund from 2011 to 2021.
Leonard Leo is an American lawyer and conservative activist who has been called “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system.” Leo has been active in American politics since the early 1990s when he joined the Federalist Society, the United States’ most prominent law association for conservatives. Since then, Leo has operated a “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges and champion right-wing causes through “dark money” media campaigns.
According to internal documents, Leo coordinated with the Bradley Foundation in 2014 to provide funding to his Judicial Education Project (now known as the 85 Fund) to flood the Supreme Court with amicus briefs supporting right-wing causes. The 85 Fund has continued to receive funding from the Bradley Foundation after its rebranding. Leo and key Federalist Society members also received the 2009 Bradley Prize for their work.
In 2022, the Florida Department of Consumer Services announced it was investigating whether former first lady Melania Trump violated the state regulations by failing to register her charitable organizations with the state. One event put on by Melania’s groups, a fundraising gala called “Tulips & Topiaries,” reportedly featured $50,000 V.I.P. tickets and did not disclose how much would be going to charity.
In response to the Department of Consumer Services investigation, Melania announced that the Bradley Impact Fund would select the charities that would receive the proceeds from tulips and topiaries high tea.
LYNDE AND HARRY BRADLEY FOUNDATION TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS
|Bradley Impact Fund||$2,315,646.00|
|Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education||$1,000,000.00|
|American Legislative Exchange Council||$750,000.00|
|Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty||$750,000.00|
|Foundation for Government Accountability||$500,000.00|
|Mackinac Center for Public Policy||$375,000.00|
|Ethics and Public Policy Center||$350,000.00|
|Capital Research Center||$300,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||$300,000.00|
|Public Interest Legal Foundation||$300,000.00|
|Jack Miller Center||$300,000.00|
|California Policy Center||$275,000.00|
|Franklin News Foundation||$250,000.00|
|Illinois Policy Institute||$250,000.00|
|Institute for Humane Studies||$250,000.00|
|National Center for Public Policy Research||$250,000.00|
|National Review Institute||$250,000.00|
|Prager University Foundation||$210,000.00|
|American Enterprise Institute||$200,000.00|
|Institute for Justice||$200,000.00|
|New Civil Liberties Alliance||$200,000.00|
|America’s Future Foundation||$200,000.00|
|Foundation for Cultural Review||$200,000.00|
|Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs||$195,000.00|
|Fund for American Studies||$180,000.00|
|Independent Women’s Forum||$175,000.00|
|Center for American Greatness||$175,000.00|
|David Horowitz Freedom Center||$150,000.00|
|Institute for Free Speech||$150,000.00|
|Intercollegiate Studies Institute||$150,000.00|
|State Policy Network||$150,000.00|
|Texas Public Policy Foundation||$150,000.00|
|Georgia Center for Opportunity||$150,000.00|
|John K. Maciver Institute||$150,000.00|
|Lucy Burns Institute||$150,000.00|
|National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation||$150,000.00|
|James Madison Institute||$150,000.00|
|Center of the American Experiment||$125,000.00|
|Conservative Partnership Institute||$100,000.00|
|Empire Center for Public Policy||$100,000.00|
|Foundation for Economic Education||$100,000.00|
|Foundation for Individual Rights in Education||$100,000.00|
|Pacific Research Institute||$100,000.00|
|Real Clear Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity||$100,000.00|
|American Juris Link||$100,000.00|
|Educational Freedom Institute||$100,000.00|
|Empower Mississippi Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Fair Lines America Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Institute for Reforming Government||$100,000.00|
|Millennial Debt Foundation||$100,000.00|
|American Spectator Foundation, Inc.||$100,000.00|
|Young America’s Foundation||$100,000.00|
|Kansas Policy Institute||$84,450.00|
|John Locke Foundation||$76,700.00|
|Alaska Policy Forum||$76,500.00|
|Benjamin Rush Institute||$75,000.00|
|Center for Individual Rights||$75,000.00|
|Institute for Family Studies||$75,000.00|
|Liberty Justice Center||$75,000.00|
|Pacific Legal Foundation||$75,000.00|
|Council for National Policy||$75,000.00|
|Washington Policy Center||$70,000.00|
|Government Accountability Institute||$60,000.00|
|American Private Radio||$50,000.00|
|Americans for Fair Treatment||$50,000.00|
|Committee to Unleash Prosperity||$50,000.00|
|Daily Caller News Foundation||$50,000.00|
|Garden State Initiative||$50,000.00|
|Network of Enlightened Women||$50,000.00|
|American Studies Center||$50,000.00|
|American Institute for Economic Research||$50,000.00|
|Americans for Tax Reform Foundation||$50,000.00|
|First Liberty Institute||$50,000.00|
|Maine Policy Institute||$50,000.00|
|Napa Legal Institute||$50,000.00|
|National Association of Scholars||$50,000.00|
|Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal||$40,000.00|
|Cardinal Institute for West Virginia||$37,500.00|
|Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization||$35,000.00|
|Georgia Public Policy Foundation||$29,750.00|
|Student Free Press Association||$25,000.00|
|Center for the Study of Technology and Society||$20,000.00|
|American Constitutional Rights Union||$15,000.00|
|American Council of Trustees and Alumni||$15,000.00|
|Collegiate Cultural Foundation||$8,000.00|
|Center for Education Reform||$5,000.00|
|John Jay Institute||$3,000.00|
BRADLEY IMPACT FUND TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS
|Judicial Education Project (85 Fund)||$2,500,000.00|
|Vision America Mobilized||$580,000.00|
|Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty||$230,000.00|
|American Enterprise Institute||$200,000.00|
|Evergreen Freedom Foundation||$122,309.00|
|Bill of Rights Institute||$112,575.00|
|Clare Boothe Luce Center||$100,000.00|
|John K. Maciver Institute||$95,000.00|
|Jack Miller Center||$80,400.00|
|Foundation for Individual Rights in Education||$70,000.00|
|Franklin News Foundation||$55,000.00|
|Public Interest Legal Foundation||$51,300.00|
|Capital Research Center||$50,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||$50,000.00|
|Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education||$45,000.00|
|Intercollegiate Studies Institute||$30,000.00|
|Prager University Foundation||$30,000.00|
|National Center for Public Policy Research||$26,900.00|
|Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs||$26,300.00|
|Americans for Prosperity Foundation||$25,000.00|
|National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation||$25,000.00|
|Texas Public Policy Foundation||$25,000.00|
|American Foreign Policy Council||$15,000.00|
|Educational Freedom Institute||$15,000.00|
|Foundation for Cultural Review||$15,000.00|
|National Review Institute||$15,000.00|
|Fund for American Studies||$15,000.00|
|Fair Lines America Foundation||$10,000.00|
|Independent Women’s Forum||$10,000.00|
|Institute for Free Speech||$10,000.00|
|International Justice Mission||$10,000.00|
|Liberty Justice Center||$10,000.00|
|My Faith Votes||$10,000.00|
|National Association of Scholars||$10,000.00|
|Pacific Research Institute||$10,000.00|
|Property and Environment Research Center||$10,000.00|
|Real Clear Foundation||$10,000.00|
|James Madison Institute||$10,000.00|
|Young America’s Foundation||$10,000.00|
|American Ideas Institute||$8,000.00|
|Conservative Partnership Institute||$6,000.00|