Moral compass,” Paul Downey

July 15, 2020; Common Dreams

As public health experts and local political leaders struggle to control the pandemic, it is disturbing to learn that one segment of the nonprofit and philanthropic community is leading the fight to invalidate science. At a national level, conservative groups have pooled their resources to convince the public that the virus is easy to control and does not pose a serious threat, and that the helping the economy recover ought to be the only priority for public policy. They have taken to social media and to the streets to make individual rights seem more important than the community.

In April, several leading conservative free-market nonprofits, including the FreedomWorks Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Tea Party Patriots, and Committee to Unleash Prosperity formed a “partnership with a coalition of several conservative organizations and prominent individuals and launched the Save Our Country Coalition.” Their goal is to “bring about a quick, safe and responsible reopening of US society. This coalition will exist until it is clear that the US economy has once again stabilized.”

According to David Armiak, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy, writing in Common Dreams, the real agenda of the Coalition was to attack government interventions and push for rapid reopening despite the enactment of stay-at-home orders by many states after coronavirus cases skyrocketed. Neither public health and safety was their priority.

Organizations within the Coalition have tapped their mailing lists to generate turnouts for rallies to pressure governors and mayors to ease lockdowns and lessen requirements for social distancing. Using social media as a vehicle, the SOCC has also worked to amplify voices ready to discredit the scientific basis for a vigorous public health response to the virus. According to the Guardian, at a time when more than 1.5 million Americans had contracted the disease, the Coalition was featuring the views of Dr. Simone Gold, who told the Associated Press there was “no scientific basis that the average American should be concerned about COVID-19” and used talk radio to tout the efficacy of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine against the virus despite all the evidence that taking it carries health risks.

The funding for these efforts has come from organizations that operate with the independence and autonomy our laws give to private foundations. Leading the way is the has been the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee and worth almost $900 million. According to the Guardian, the Bradleys’ foundation has recently granted more than $1.275 million to the Coalition and its member organizations.

Bradley and foundations like it are also supporting local efforts to fight the public health response. According to Common Dreams, Bradley supported a lawsuit that challenged the power of Wisconsin’s governor to impose stay-at-home and other public safety orders:

GOP legislative leaders filed a legal challenge to the state’s April 16 “Safer at Home” order resulting in 4–3 State Supreme Court ruling on May 13 striking it down.

A number of Bradley-funded groups backed the GOP’s legal maneuver, by filing amicus briefs, including WMC, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), and Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin.

Bradley and its affiliated Bradley Impact Fund has granted WILL $7.7 million and Americans for Prosperity Foundation $1.4 million between 2011 and 2020, according to tax and grant records examined by CMD.

Following the Supreme Court decision, confusion ensued as people flocked to Wisconsin’s bars and pubs, and counties and cities scrambled to set their own rules to replace the state’s order.

Since then, the seven-day average number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin has more than doubled, from 286 on May 13, 2020, to 755 on July 13.

Jerry Taylor, who heads the nonpartisan Niskanen Center and used to work at ALEC, describes how pernicious these efforts are in comments to the Guardian: “These groups are united both in their hostility to mainstream science—which they consider a conspiratorial leftist plot to destroy free market capitalism—and their superficial understanding of economics. Fully reopening the economy will not produce an economic recovery until the coronavirus is contained and can stay contained.”

The Bradley Foundation’s principles support “limited government, federalism, separation of powers, and individual liberties.” Such stances become dangerous when interpreted to establish a right to sicken others.—Martin Levine