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The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation.svg
MottoLeadership for America
FormationFebruary 16, 1973; 46 years ago (1973-02-16)
TypeThink tank
Headquarters214 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington, D.C., U.S.
  • Washington, D.C., U.S.
Kay Coles James
Thomas A. Saunders III
AffiliationsRepublican Party
Thatcherism (Margaret Thatcher)
Reaganomics (Ronald Reagan)
Revenue: $86,808,369
Expenses: $75,065,736
(FYE December 2018)[3]

The Heritage Foundation (abbreviated to Heritage)[1][2] is an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., primarily geared towards public policy. The foundation took a leading role in the conservative movement during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose policies were taken from Heritage's policy study Mandate for Leadership.[4] Since then, The Heritage Foundation has continued to have a significant influence in U.S. public policy making, and is considered to be one of the most influential conservative public policy organizations in the United States.

History and major initiatives

Early years

The Heritage Foundation's headquarters building, on Massachusetts Avenue on Capitol Hill.

The Heritage Foundation was founded on February 16, 1973 by Paul Weyrich, Edwin Feulner, and Joseph Coors.[5][6] Growing out of the new business activist movement inspired by the Powell Memorandum,[7][8] discontent with Richard Nixon's embrace of the "liberal consensus" and the nonpolemical, cautious nature of existing think tanks,[9] Weyrich and Feulner sought to create a version of the Brookings Institution that advanced conservative activism.[5] Coors was the primary funder of the Heritage Foundation in its early years.[5] Weyrich was its first president. Later, under president Frank J. Walton, the Heritage Foundation began using direct mail fundraising and Heritage's annual income grew to $1 million per year in 1976.[10] By 1981, the annual budget grew to $5.3 million.[5]

Heritage advocated for pro-business policies, anti-communism and neoconservatism in its early years, but distinguished itself from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) by also advocating for Christian Right .[5] Through the 1970s, Heritage would remain small relative to Brookings and the AEI.[5]

Reagan administration

In January 1981, Heritage published the Mandate for Leadership, a comprehensive report aimed at reducing the size of the federal government, providing public policy guidance to the incoming Reagan administration, including more than 2,000 specific suggestions to move the federal government in a conservative direction. The report was well received by the White House, and several of its authors went on to take positions in the Reagan administration.[11] Reagan liked the ideas so much that he gave a copy to each member of his cabinet to review.[12] Approximately 60% of the 2,000 proposals were implemented or initiated by the end of Reagan's first year in office.[11][13] Ronald Reagan later said that the Heritage Foundation played a "vital force" in the successes during his presidency.[12]

Heritage was influential in developing and advancing of the so-called "Reagan Doctrine," a Reagan administration foreign policy initiative in which the U.S. provided military and other support to anti-communist resistance movements fighting Soviet-aligned governments in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua and other nations during the final years of the Cold War.[14]

Heritage also advocated the development of new ballistic missile defense systems for the United States. Reagan adopted this as his top defense priority in 1983, calling it the Strategic Defense Initiative.[11] By mid-decade, The Heritage Foundation had emerged as a key organization in the national conservative movement, publishing influential reports on domestic and defense issues, as well as pieces by prominent conservative figures, such as Bob Dole and Pat Robertson.[15] In 1986, Time Magazine called Heritage "the foremost of the new breed of advocacy tanks".[16] During the Reagan and Bush administrations, The Heritage Foundation served as the President's brain trust on foreign policy.[17]

George H. W. Bush administration

The Heritage Foundation remained an influential voice on domestic and foreign policy issues during President George H. W. Bush's administration. It was a leading proponent of Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, and – according to Frank Starr, head of the Baltimore Sun's Washington bureau – the foundation's studies "laid much of the groundwork for Bush administration thinking" about post-Soviet foreign policy.[18] In domestic policy, the Bush administration agreed with six of the ten budget reforms contained in Mandate for Leadership III and included them in their 1990 budget proposal. Heritage also became involved in the culture wars of the 1990s with the publication of "The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators" by William Bennett. The Index documented how crime, illegitimacy, divorce, teenage suicide, drug use and fourteen other social indicators had become measurably worse since the 1960s.[19]

Clinton administration

Heritage continued to grow throughout the 1990s and its journal, Policy Review, hit an all-time-high circulation of 23,000. Heritage was an opponent of the Clinton health care plan of 1993. President Clinton's welfare reforms were analogous with Heritage's recommendations and were adopted in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. In 1995, Heritage published the first Index of Economic Freedom, co-authored by policy analyst Bryan T. Johnson and Thomas P. Sheehy. In 1997, the Index became a joint project between the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.[19]

In 1994, Heritage advised Newt Gingrich and other conservatives on the development of the "Contract with America", which was credited with helping to produce a Republican majority in Congress. The "Contract" was a pact of principles that directly challenged both the political status-quo in Washington and many of the ideas at the heart of the Clinton administration.

George W. Bush administration

The Heritage Foundation supported the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq.[20][21] According to a 2004 study in the journal International Security, the Heritage Foundation confused public debate by challenging widespread opposition to the Iraq War by international relations scholars and experts by contradicting them "with experts of apparently equal authority... this undermined the possibility that any criticisms [of the war] might be seen as authoritative or have much persuasive effect."[22] The organization defended the Bush administration's Guantanamo Bay practices.[20]

In 2005, The Washington Post criticized the Heritage Foundation for softening its criticism of Malaysia following a business relationship between Heritage's president and Malaysia's prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Heritage Foundation denied any conflict of interest, stating its views on Malaysia changed following the country's cooperation with the U.S. after the September 11 attacks in 2001,[23] and changes by Malaysia "moving in the right economic and political direction." [24][25]

Obama administration

The health insurance mandate in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is an idea hatched in 1989 by Stuart Butler at Heritage in a publication titled "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans".[26] This was also the model for Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts.[27]

In December 2012, an announcement was made that Senator Jim DeMint would resign from the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation.[28] Pundits predicted his tenure would bring a sharper, more politicized edge to the Foundation.[29] DeMint's eventual ouster in 2017 led some, such as Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), to believe Heritage sought to pare back its partisan edge and restore its reputation as a pioneering think tank.[30]

On May 10, 2013, Jason Richwine, who co-authored the think tank's controversial report on the costs of amnesty, resigned his position following intensive media attention on his Harvard PhD thesis from 2009 and comments he made at a 2008 American Enterprise Institute forum. Richwine argued that Hispanics and blacks are intellectually inferior to whites and have trouble assimilating because of a supposed genetic predisposition to lower IQ.[31][32]

A 2011 study on poverty in America[33] was criticized for what critics called an overly narrow definition of poverty. Criticism was published in opinion editorials in The New Republic, The Nation, the Center for American Progress, and The Washington Post.[34][35][36][37]

A 2013 study by Heritage senior fellow Robert Rector on the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013) was criticized for its methodology by critics from across the political spectrum.[38] Notably, outlets like Reason magazine and the Cato Institute criticized the report for failing to employ dynamic scoring despite Heritage's support for such methodology in analyzing other policy proposals.[39] The study was also criticized because its co-author, Jason Richwine, said in his 2009 doctoral dissertation that immigrants' IQs should be considered when crafting public policy.[40]

In July 2013, following disputes over the farm bill, the Republican Study Committee of 172 conservative U.S. House members reversed a decades-old tradition of access by barring Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol, but continues cooperation through "regular joint events and briefings".[41]

In September 2015, the Foundation stated publicly that it had been targeted by hackers and had experienced a breach in which donors' information was taken. The Hill publication compared the attack to another notable data breach at the Office of Personnel Management a few months before. The identity of those that attacked the Foundation and their motivations are unknown.[42]

Trump administration

The Heritage Foundation has been described as a major influence on the presidential transition of Donald Trump and the Trump administration.[43][44][45] The foundation had a powerful say in the staffing of the administration, with CNN noting during the transition that "no other Washington institution has that kind of footprint in the transition."[43] One reason for the Heritage Foundation's disproportionate influence relative to other conservative think tanks is that other conservative think tanks had members who identified as "never-Trumpers" during the 2016 election whereas the Heritage Foundation signaled early on to Trump that it would be supportive of him.[43][44]

In 2014, the Heritage Foundation began building a database of approximately 3,000 conservatives who they trusted to serve in a hypothetical Republican administration for the upcoming 2016 election.[44] According to individuals involved in crafting the database, several hundred people from the Heritage database ultimately received jobs in the Trump administration.[44][need quotation to verify] At least 66 foundation employees and alumni got positions in the administration.[44] The foundation also recommended cabinet members Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, and Jeff Sessions.[44] Heritage head Jim DeMint personally intervened on behalf of Mulvaney, who would go on to head the Office of Management and Budget, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and later become acting White House Chief of Staff.[44]

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gary Roughead speaks at The Heritage Foundation.


The Heritage Foundation has regularly ranked as one of the world's most influential think tanks. The 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report published by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania ranks Heritage 12th among "Top Think Tanks Worldwide" and seventh among "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[46] Several Heritage Foundation personnel have served, or gone on to serve, in senior governmental roles, including: Richard V. Allen, Paul Bremer, Elaine Chao, Lawrence Di Rita, Michael Johns, John Lehman, and Edwin Meese.[47]

Heritage published a 1981 book of policy analysis, Mandate for Leadership, which offered specific recommendations on policy, budget and administrative action for all Cabinet departments. The Heritage Foundation also publishes The Insider, a quarterly magazine about public policy. Until 2001, the Heritage Foundation published Policy Review, a public policy journal, which was then acquired by the Hoover Institution. From 1995 to 2005, the Heritage Foundation ran, a conservative website that was subsequently acquired by Camarillo, California-based Salem Communications.[48] In 2005, the Foundation published The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, a clause-by-clause analysis of the United States Constitution. Once per year Heritage publishes its Budget Chart Book using visual graphs and charts to demonstrate the growth of federal spending, revenue, debt and deficits, and entitlement programs.[49][50]

Under Jim DeMint's leadership, the process involved in publishing policy papers changed at the Heritage Foundation.[44] Whereas previous senior staff reviewed policy papers by staff, DeMint and his team heavily edited policy papers or shelved them.[44] In response to this, several scholars at the foundation quit.[44]

Internationally, Heritage publishes the annual Index of Economic Freedom, which measures 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. A British-born academic, Charles W. L. Hill, after discussing the international shift toward a market-based economic system and Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, said "given that the Heritage Foundation has a political agenda, its work should be viewed with caution."[51]

In 2002, Heritage began publishing its annual Index of Dependence report on the growth of federal government programs that constrain private sector or local government alternatives and impact the dependence of individuals on the federal government. It examines programs in five broad categories: housing; health care and welfare; retirement; higher education; and rural and agricultural services.[52] The report has found that each year the number of Americans who pay nothing in federal personal income taxes continues to increase, while there is a simultaneous increase in the number who rely on government services.[53] The 2010 report found that Americans' dependence on government grew by 13.6% in 2009 during the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression. According to Heritage, this is the biggest increase since 1976 and the fifth largest going back to 1962, when the foundation began tracking dependence.[52] The report stated that in the previous eight years, the index of government dependence has grown by almost 33 percent.[54]

Until 2014, the Heritage Foundation published a blog, The Foundry. In 2014, The Foundry was phased out and replaced with The Daily Signal.[55][56] Since 2006, the Foundation has hosted "The Bloggers Briefing", a meeting of conservative and independent bloggers organized by Robert Bluey.[57]

In 2009, Heritage produced 33 Minutes, a one-hour documentary film about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States.[58][59]

In 2005, Heritage established the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom in honor of the former British Prime Minister.[60] Thatcher herself maintained a long relationship with The Heritage Foundation. Shortly after leaving office, Thatcher was honored by Heritage at a September 1991 dinner.[61] Seven years later, Thatcher delivered the keynote address during Heritage's 25th anniversary celebration.[62] In 2002, Thatcher was again honored by Heritage as the recipient of its annual Clare Boothe Luce Award.[63] Thatcher was later named Patron of the Heritage Foundation, her only official association with any U.S.-based group.[64]

The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) co-hosted one of the 2012 Republican Party presidential debates on foreign policy and national defense.on November 22, 2011.[65] It was the first presidential debate to be sponsored by either Heritage or AEI.[66][67] During the debate, Heritage fellows Edwin Meese and David Addington were among those who questioned candidates on policy.[68] The debate was praised by The New York Times for putting "pressure on candidates to show their policy expertise".[68] According to conservative commentator Michael Barone, the debate was "probably the most substantive and serious presidential debate of this election cycle."[69]

The Heritage Foundation is an associate member of the State Policy Network.[70][71]

Climate change denial

The Heritage Foundation rejects the scientific consensus on climate change.[72][73] The Heritage Foundation is one of many climate change denial organization that has been funded by ExxonMobil.[72][74] The Heritage Foundation strongly criticized the Kyoto Agreement, which was intended to curb climate change, saying American participation in the treaty would "result in lower economic growth in every state and nearly every sector of the economy."[75] The Heritage Foundation projected that the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, would result in a cost of $1,870 per family in 2025 and $6,800 by 2035; on the other hand, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected that it would only cost the average family $175 in 2020.


In 1973, businessman Joseph Coors contributed $250,000 to establish The Heritage Foundation and continued to fund it through the Adolph Coors Foundation.[76][77] In 1973, it had trustees from Chase Manhattan Bank, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Pfizer, Sears and Mobil.[78]

Heritage is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization as well as a BBB Wise Giving Alliance accredited charity funded by donations from private individuals, corporations and charitable foundations.[79][80][81] As a 501(c)(3), Heritage is not required to disclose its donors and donations to the foundation are tax-deductible.[80] According to a MediaTransparency report in 2006, donors have included John M. Olin Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Bradley Foundation.[82][unreliable source?][importance?] Other financing as of 2016 includes $28,129,000 from the combined Scaife Foundations of the late billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.[83][84] Heritage is a grantee of the Donors Trust, a nonprofit donor-advised fund.[85][86][importance?][87] As of 2010, Heritage reported 710,000 supporters.[88]

For the fiscal year ending December 31, 2011, Charity Watch reported that Edwin Feulner, past president of The Heritage Foundation, received the highest compensation in its top 25 list of compensation received by charity members. According to Charity Watch, Feulner received $2,702,687 in 2013. This sum includes investment earnings of $1,656,230 accrued over a period of 33 years.[89]

Heritage's total revenue for 2011 was $72,170,983 and its expenses were $80,033,828.[90][91]

In popular culture

The Heritage Foundation was mentioned periodically in the NBC fictional television series The West Wing. The character Patricia Calhoun, a former member of the Office of Management and Budget and a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission in the fictional Bartlet administration, is identified as the former Director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Calhoun is depicted in the series as an aggressive advocate of campaign finance reform.[92] This is not a focus of the modern Foundation which has endorsed controversial Citizens United effectively removing such controls.

Notable board of trustees members

Honorary and emeritus board members

  • Midge Decter, Trustee from 1981 to 2015 and Society of Emeritus Trustees since 2015; journalist.[93]
  • Frank Shakespeare, Honorary Trustee since 1979; United States Ambassador to the Vatican (1986–1989).[93]
  • William E. Simon, Jr., Trustee from 2008 to 2015 and Member of the Society of Emeritus Trustees since 2015; Politician and banker.[93]


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