The paranoia among conservatives about the ubiquitous tentacles of ACORN has reached the Corporation for National and Community Service. Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center, a Washington-based conservative think-tank on nonprofit and philanthropic issues, wrote a piece in newsbusters.com responding to a story by Alex Koppelman on Salon.com, where he describes Patrick Corvington, the new CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, as a “friend of ACORN.” To Vadum, Corvington is one more unrepentant, extremist left-winger appointed to a senior post by President Obama.
Apparently, the ACORN-fellow-traveler charge didn’t emerge in Corvington’s confirmation process from either Democrats or Republicans, both of them on the look-out for potential violations of the Defund ACORN Act and for Administration nominees who might slip federal dollars into ACORN’s coffers (Corvington was confirmed unanimously).
Vadum’s evidence is that Corvington worked for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore. AECF has given grants to ACORN in the past, according to Vadum as part of the foundation’s “vile, America-hating, left-wing” ideology and agenda. Although Corvington’s program at the foundation on leadership development never gave ACORN a penny, Corvington is “tainted” by his association with the foundation, its “radical left-wing” goals, and its funding of ACORN (a total of $1.7 million since 2001).
No offense to our friends at Capital Research – the Annie E. Casey Foundation may be a “liberal” foundation, but is hardly a vile, America-hating foundation. Moreover, within the corridors of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one finds people of quite diverse political persuasions. We’ll offer one useful example.
At this purportedly left-wing foundation, the Senior Program Associate for education for more than a decade, until sometime in 2009, was one Bruno Manno. A raving left-winger this Manno? Hardly. After starting in the Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan, Manno became Assistant Secretary of Education and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Education. The Secretary of the department at that time was former Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, appointed to the position by President George H.W. Bush.
Manno left the federal government when Bill Clinton took office and joined the Hudson Institute, a well known conservative think-tank in Washington whose programs are regularly frequented by the editors of Nonprofit Quarterly, and all of us can attest to finding the Hudson Institute leadership staff devoid of radical left-wingers. At Hudson, Manno served under Alexander as executive director of the National Commission on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, articulating a cogent conservative view of the role of foundations.
Among his many publications on education policy, Manno coauthored Charter Schools in Action with Chester Finn in 2000. Finn is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a significant promoter of charter schools and market-based alternatives to traditional public education (Manno also serves as a Fordham Institute trustee).
From 1998 to 2009, Manno was in charge of the Casey Foundation’s education grantmaking (he left to become a senior advisor to the Walton Family Foundation), with a significant stream of support to the charter school movement and other market-oriented approaches to fixing the U.S. education system. Was Manno snookered by all the raving lefties at the Casey Foundation, waking up like a modern Rip van Winkle in 2009 to realize he was better off with the Walton family philanthropists?
If the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a hotbed of America-hating leftwing staff, maybe someone should tell the Casey Foundation board of trustees, which includes former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who serves as President of the National Association of Manufacturers. As Engler, Manno, and others on staff and on the board demonstrate, there is a considerable diversity of ideological perspectives in the Annie E. Casey Foundation family.
Rather than using the fellow traveler taint to impugn Corvington’s politics, Vadum’s analysis might have been better served by watching and listening to Corvington’s video-taped message on his first day at the Corporation, a paean to “America’s greatness,” “the extraordinary acts of everyday citizens,” “the promise of America,” and his “pledge of allegiance to this country” when he became an American citizen (his family came from Haiti). We suspect most “American-haters” wouldn’t have dared utter what Corvington had to say.
Here at NPQ, we have many times described the challenges that Corvington faces at the Corporation. There is a ton on his plate to do for the Corporation and, more importantly, for the nonprofit sector. But neither Matthew Vadum nor President Obama need be worried that Corvington’s strategy for the Corporation is in the playbooks of Chairman Mao or Leon Trotsky.