Long a player on the national stage, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee has been quietly using its vast resources to construct state-by-state networks of activist groups to win support for its conservative agenda from coast to coast.
This previously undisclosed effort by the Bradley Foundation was revealed in hundreds of thousands of documents swiped by international hackers from the foundation’s server late last year.
Those internal documents, obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in recent months, show the conservative powerhouse is working to duplicate its success in Wisconsin under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, focusing on such swing states as North Carolina and Colorado.
“You have to take a longer view on some of the things we’re trying to accomplish,” said Bradley Foundation CEO Rick Graber in an interview. “You’re not going to see definitive results every three months. It can take decades.”
The records make clear the Bradley Foundation no longer simply favors groups promoting its signature issues: taxpayer-funded school choice and increased work requirements for welfare recipients. It now regularly funds nonprofits that are, among other things, hostile to labor unions, skeptical of climate change or critical of the loosening of sexual mores in American culture.
More important, the foundation has found success by changing its fundamental approach to putting policies into reality.
The Bradley Foundation is paying less attention to Washington, D.C. Instead, it is methodically building a coalition of outside groups aimed at influencing officials in statehouses from Pennsylvania to Arizona.
“Many say Washington is ‘broken.’ Whatever this might mean, it does not mean conservative policy advancement,” said one internal Bradley memo from August 2014. Instead, it continued, “there has been a recent increase in state-level receptivity to meaningful conservative policy reform.”
The result: Bradley Foundation, worth nearly $900 million, is underwriting local think tanks, opposition research centers, candidate recruitment groups, conservative media, bill-drafting organizations and litigation centers around the nation — what some critics call “shadow governments.”