Bradley Foundation Fueled "Independent Women's Forum" Campaign Against Paid Sick Leave Laws and More

The Center for Media and Democracy has spearheaded analysis of newly available files from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. This story is part of CMD's ongoing series analyzing the files. Part one of this new analysis is focused on how Bradley has fueled groups working to undermine policies that benefit American women through the Independent Women's Forum.

The Bradley Files provide new insights into who underwrote recent efforts to undermine popular public policies that help women and families, such as paid sick leave laws. The Bradley Foundation did, through funding the controversial Independent Women's Forum.

The files indicate that Bradley gave the Independent Women's Forum more than one million dollars over the years.

That includes nearly half a million dollars in the past three years in response to its proposals for a campaign against public support for requiring paid sick leave, providing better child care policies, addressing the wage gap, and ensuring Americans can access life-saving medical treatment through the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare."

The Independent Women's Forum said the campaign--dubbed "Working for Women"--would cost at least $720,000 last year. Bradley staff recommended a gift of $200,000 in 2016 to cover more than a quarter of that budget.

In 2015, the group had sought $350,000 from Bradley for the precursor to that project. Bradley obliged by providing nearly half the amount requested, $150,000.

The Details about the Independent Women's Forum Campaign

Its sales pitch to Bradley was that it would develop "messaging to women which counter progressive appeals for ever-larger government programs to address policy issues of most concern to women."

The Bradley Files described IWF's preparations for the project as follows:

"One such controlled message experiment looked at whether women could be persuaded that the expanded family leave mandate is a bad idea.

Without any additional information or conservative arguments, women are broadly supportive of government-mandated paid leave: 59% to 16 in the control group IWF created.

In that same control group when free market arguments are introduced about how the mandate would hurt the economy and job market, support for proposal (sic) drops dramatically.

For example, even among progressive women a persuasive argument focused on how mandated leave creates a real economic threat of job loss drives down the margin of support among liberal women from 69% to 29%."

The Bradley Files note the project was based on a book the Independent Women's Forum published in 2014 called "Lean Together," which the Foundation promoted on its website, noting it funded IWF.

In 2014, IWF sought nearly a quarter of its annual budget from Bradley or $250,000.

That proposal was spearheaded by the Independent Women's Forum's board President, Heather Higgins. She is an heiress whose fortune comes from the corporation that was most famous for Vicks vapor rub and was most infamous for being the sole U.S. distributor of Thalidomide, which caused severe malformations of the limbs of babies born to women who were given the drug, as CMD documented last year.

The Bradley Files emphasize that her group "provides a voice to the many women not represented by liberal feminist organizations."

Bradley added: "IWF has built its reputation nationally as a leader in combatting the liberal conventional argument "women as victims" needs (sic) government: specifically, an ever expanding set of government programs to protect women and children."

And then, in a nod to their shared political agenda, the proposal summary noted: "IWF works to expand the conservative coalition by increasing the number of women committed to conservative policy reform. Moreover, IWF is dedicated to educating policymakers about how policy issues impact women and families." IWF's 990s, its tax filings, routinely tell the IRS that it spends zero on "lobbying."

The Bradley files contain proposal summaries for IWF from only 2014-2016. It is not known if Bradley has approved additional funding for this project in 2017.

What is known is that the six-figure sum from Bradley was specifically to create messaging to women to try to weaken public support for paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, and better government subsidies for the child care needs of American families.

What Did Bradley Buy with Its Big Investment in IWF?

IWF's "Working for Women" proposal is all about countering the very popular vision mainstream women's groups have advanced to help women and men in the workplace and the public square to insist on public policies that address the real world challenges people face, because everyone gets sick, most people have children, and most men and women have to work to survive. Those basic public policy needs include:

  • having paid time off if they are sick or caring for a child or parent who is ill,
  • having better public support for childcare arrangements,
  • addressing low pay and lesser retirement security, and
  • making sure people can access affordable health care to save their lives.

Two months before the election, IWF unveiled polling commissioned for the Working for Women project on paid leave. That polling promoted the idea of "Personal Care Accounts" (PCAs) as an alternative to what IWF calls "Universal Paid Leave Mandates."

The Independent Women's Forum touted that if women were given an "honest" message about these two options, their support for PCAs would increase. Here is how IWF's pollsters explained that message:

"Supporters of so-called 'universal paid leave,' which forces almost all businesses to provide paid family and medical leave benefits, aren’t being honest – they ignore the very real costs of these government mandates. Let’s be honest about the tradeoffs.

Many businesses can’t afford a costly new benefit, and they will either reduce pay, cut jobs and hours, or go out of business. That's bad news for everyone,especially low-income workers who are most vulnerable to losing hours or their jobs.

A government mandate also means fewer choices for workers. Some people want to take home more money save up in case they need time off. Some want more benefits and will take a lower salary for that security.

Others want to work part-time, work from home, or arrange something else at work. Government-mandated paid leave gets in the way of that kind of flexibility.

Nearly 8 out of 10 full-time workers already have paid sick leave. Almost 9 out of 10 have paid vacation time. And taking time off to deal with a family medical problem is already guaranteed by law.

What people need most are good job opportunities and a growing, stable but flexible job market. This government mandate will actually hurt those they are supposed to help.

It’s a costly, one-size-fits-all government mandate that will impact all workers—even those who already have plenty of paid leave.

We can’t just wave a magic wand and give people unlimited time off. The real world doesn’t work that way. There are flexible solutions to help more people. But we can’t fall for the false promise of a one-size-fits-all government mandate.

IWF's video on this issue repeats much of the messaging from the polling, along with folksy music and cutesy cartoon characters. That video has more than 16,000 views.

Despite the contention that this represents the honest message on paid leave, IWF's messaging is misleading, for example, through what it omits or obscures.

Although IWF claims 80% of full-time workers already have paid sick leave, that means that at least 25 million Americans who work full-time do not have paid sick leave and millions of Americans who work part-time do not either.

With a U.S. workforce of nearly 150 million people that means one in every three American workers does not have "a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses," as noted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. That includes "more than 80% of low-wage workers" in the private sector. NPWF has issued a renewed call for a national paid leave policy to help Americans care for their families.

The failure to have a federal law requiring paid sick leave falls disproportionately on women. As the Kaiser Family Foundation documented last year, "the lower likelihood of paid sick days for part-time workers has a disproportionate impact on women, who are more likely than men to hold part-time jobs. Women are also more likely than men to care for children when they are sick and have to stay home from school."

Yet, the Independent Women's Forum, which describes itself as representing mainstream women in the U.S., is advocating against the interests of millions of women in the workplace. Its claim is that women need "flexibility" more than they need laws that guarantee they will not lose income needed to pay for basic necessities just because they or their children get sick.

These are just a few of the problems with IWF's messaging on this issue.

IWF's new Executive Director Carrie Lukas has argued that to address the desire for paid sick leave "Policymakers can start by making it easier for people to save on their own for periods of leave and encourage Americans to assist those with lower incomes who lack paid leave benefits through tax incentives or private charity."

Private charity? IWF's "solution" is an unrealistic, elitist non-"solution" for most working Americans, whose median take-home income is about $36,000 a year.

IWF's deep roots in Koch doctrine are plain when it rails against public policy solutions that would help make people's lives better and instead proposes that the "free market," i.e. the private sector and private charity, will solve working people's problems.

Need paid sick leave? Here's a solution that works for millionaires but not for most Americans: just pay yourself. Just take money out of your paychecks each month to fund personal savings accounts you can use every time you get sick or need to care for someone in your family, urges IWF as part of its "solution." Or you can seek charity from a church. Just don't support laws requiring corporations to pay sick leave--like the rest of the world--if you want to follow the IWF "Working for Women" plan.

The U.S. is, in fact, the only industrialized country that has no national law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, including paid maternity leave. Indeed, out of 170 countries, only the United States and the island nation of New Guinea require no paid maternity leave.

However, IWF's Lukas has argued against paid sick leave laws by contending that requiring paid leave results in European women holding fewer management jobs--concerns she says she has heard from friends abroad. There may be a range of factors for the relative rates of management jobs for women in different countries, including the persistence of sexism or chauvinism, aside from equating a correlation with causation for paid leave laws.

Notably, Ellen Bravo of Family Values @ Work has documented the many benefits for American women and men who have paid leave:

"Women who take paid leave after a child’s birth are more likely to be employed the following year and report increased wages than women who do not take leave. First-time mothers who utilized paid leave were 26.3% less likely to quit their jobs and 18.2% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child. Family and medical leave insurance also increases men’s role in caregiving by making it possible for them to be involved without the family taking a big financial hit. In Rhode Island, during the first year that paid time off for caregiving was available, nearly one-third of all leave takers were men. Fathers in the U.S. who take longer paternity leave are more involved with their child’s care nine months later...."

That's partly why such measures have proven so popular, but such successes are not touted in IWF's messaging to try to undermine support for paid leave laws.

It has been ten years since San Francisco passed the first paid sick leave law by initiative. Since then, several states and more than two dozen cities and some counties "have passed laws requiring that eligible employees get paid time off to care for themselves or sick children. Several of these laws also specifically allow workers to use paid sick days for reasons related to caring for other sick family members, or in cases of sexual assault, harassment, or domestic violence," as the Kaiser Family Foundation noted.

With six-figure sums from the Bradley Foundation and other funders, however, IWF is busy trying to undermine support for these popular initiatives and other progressive ideas.

So far, IWF has produced messaging kits on paid leave, childcare, and the wage gap that are available with passwords that IWF published in its 2016 annual report to help readers "check out all of the messaging kits from 2016." Earlier this year, IWF also created a messaging kit to help support the controversial effort to repeal the ACA/Obamacare.

The Bradley Files indicate that the IWF messaging kits cost $120,000 a piece: "Of that amount $60,000 is allocated for on-going messaging testing, kit materials development requires $25,0000, briefings/promotions/distribution will cost $15,000, and $20,000 for video creation."

Who Are the Architects of IWF's "Working for Women" Project and What's Next?

As noted, the big money for the Independent Women's Forum from Bradley began to roll in when it asked the Foundation for $350,000 to fund what is was calling its "Women's Policy Project" to expand its "Lean Together" book into a series of messaging kits.

In 2014, IWF told Bradley it was creating a high-profile working group of experts to develop materials on "pay equity, childcare and preschool subsidies, family leave policies, workplace fairness, tax policies (including women as second earners and child tax policy), and retirement and social security."

By 2016, as described in the Bradley Files' proposal summaries, IWF expanded its vision for the messaging kits to include "toolkits" on:

  • "economic opportunity for women (alternative to the minimum wage, deregulation, job creation);
  • workplace flexibility (reforming labor laws such as [the] Fair Labor Standards Act);
  • personal care--paid leave--savings accounts (alternative to paid leave mandate or entitlement);
  • child-center tax relief (alternative to government daycare subsidies);
  • equal pay for equal work (alternative to Paycheck Fairness Act [introduced each year since 1997, most recently by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)] and government Standardization of Compensation);
  • affordability and control (tax reform and spending reform to return resources to women and families rather than more government waste)."

That year, IWF released a “Working for Women” report. It consisted of twenty recycled rightwing policies without any solid record of working for real people in real life. IWF repackaged and presented yet another report late that year entitled, “Working for Young Women,” which largely promoted the same old ideas--the primary difference being a younger demographic focus/images and the occasional insertion of the word “young." The substance of the report was again the fervent promotion of tax cuts and deregulation to solve all of the legitimate challenges that millennial women face. IWF presented its Working for Women report at ALEC's annual meeting last year, as Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor has confirmed to CMD.

According to IWF's 2016 annual report, the advisory committee for the "Working for Women" project ultimately consisted of three men (academics Brian Brenberg and Casey Mulligan plus Randel Johnson from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and two women (Tammy McCutchen and Diana Furchtgott-Roth) from outside IWF, plus the group's top leaders (Carrie Lukas and Sabrina Schaeffer, who has since stepped down as IWF's director).

The Chamber of Commerce's participation in the IWF effort to undermine support for paid sick leave laws is noteworthy, in part, because the Chamber and its state affiliate Chambers of Commerce were instrumental to in-depth polling of CEOs in December 2015 that perhaps surprisingly documented wide support by business leaders across the country for progressive measures, as CMD detailed last year.

CMD's investigation revealed the Chambers' polling by the Frank Luntz group and showed how state chambers of commerce were being given arguments to overcome the "empathy" CEOs had expressed toward employees. The Luntz powerpoint sought to overcome that empathy in order to help combat popular support for state and city laws requiring paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and more.

According to the Bradley Files, IWF's initial advisory group also included Kim Strassel.

Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, was given a $250,000 award from the Bradley Foundation in 2014. She subsequently wrote a book attacking CMD, among others, for its exposure of the Koch-funded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which Bradley also funded to help respond to CMD's continuing investigation.

Another member of the IWF working group with Koch ties is Furchgott-Roth. She is with the Manhattan Institute, a think tank has received more than $3 million from Bradley, at least half a million from the Koch family fortune, and Exxon funding as well. She is known for her opposition to raising the minimum wage for American workers and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, was named to the Trump Transition Team for the U.S. Department of Labor.

IWF's Kellyanne Conway (and Donald J. Trump)

It's not just IWF ally Furchgott-Roth who is aligned with Trump.

There is an IWF insider literally inside the Trump White House.

One of Trump's main advocates on TV, the controversial Kellyanne Conway, is on a "leave of absence" from IWF's board. She has worked closely with IWF for years.

IWF is not the only group Conway is closely tied to. According to a recent required public financial disclosure report, Conway's consulting firm, "the polling company/Woman Trend," had $800,000 in revenue last year. Her main clients included: Donald J. Trump for President, Trump for America Inc., Mike Pence for Indiana, the Kochs' network of billionaires called "Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce," David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP/AFPF), and FreedomWorks (which was formed from the predecessor of AFP).

Other Conway clients include IWF's 501(c)(4) that Higgins directs, the Independent Women's Voice (IWV), along with the group called "Citizens United," the Judicial Crisis Network, and Steve King for Congress, among others. Notably, one of Conway's clients last year was Cambridge Analytica, the murky corporation controlled by the billionaire Mercer family and Steve Bannon, which has taken credit for the deployment of a sophisticated strategy of social media attack ads against Hillary Clinton that helped Trump register wins in key Electoral College states.

Conway's dissembling defense of whatever Trump does--as a White House "Counselor" who is slated to be paid nearly $200k a year by taxpayers--has led to a major ethics complaint by law professors from across the country seeking her disbarment from the practice of law. Among other things, Conway infamously deployed the phrase "alternative facts," claimed repeatedly there was a "Bowling Green Massacre" even though that was completely false, and even shilled for Ivanka Trump's retail sales, which was a violation of federal ethics rules.

Nevertheless, IWF has announced that it plans to honor Conway with its highest award, the Woman of Valor, at its annual gala on November 15, 2017.

While the U.S. military gives it highest Medal of Honor for acts of valor or "great courage in the face of danger," IWF is recognizing Conway for a different kind of valor, one that seems audacious or even brazen--which is one way to describe her statements for Trump.

In many ways, the "Working for Women" project that the Bradley Foundation has funded is consistent with just that kind of alternative facts approach to public policymaking.

Sidebar: What Else Do the Bradley Files Reveal about IWF?

One of the most revealing pieces of information about the Independent Women's Forum from the Bradley Files is that as of February 2014, the group had only a couple dozen funders.

Specifically, Bradley noted that: "In the past 18 months, the organization has received support from individuals, corporations, and foundations totaling 60 in number."

That is, in a nation with a population of more than 300 million people, more than half of whom are women or girls, a women's group that claims to "provide a voice for responsible, mainstream women" was funded by .0000004 of the female population--if all 60 of those funders were women, but they were not. The figure includes corporations and foundations, but Bradley does not list the corporate underwriters of IWF.

The Bradley Files list just three of IWF's major individual donors, two of whom are men: William "Jerry" Hume and John Templeton, Jr.

Hume has been described as one of the "California power brokers" working "to further inequality." He made his fortune through his family's instant mashed potato company, and he has spent it on efforts that undermine public schools and unions. He has also been a director of Donors Trust, which Mother Jones called the "dark money ATM" for secretive funding of groups by billionaires who are part of the Koch network. Donors Trust is the second largest foundation funder of IWF, with donations totaling more than $3.7 million.

Templeton, who passed away in 2015, ran the $3 billion Templeton Foundation, which was founded through his father's wealth. He and his wife spent millions and millions on rightwing groups, including giving at least $1 million to the Proposition 8 campaign to bar gay marriage in California.

The only other individual donor listed for IWF in the Bradley Files was Mary Kohler of Wisconsin. She's the widow of Terry Kohler, who was the heir to the Kohler faucet fortune, and like Templeton and Hume, a major GOP donor.

Among the 60 donors to IWF, the Bradley Files list several foundation donors whose gifts are required by law to be disclosed in tax filings, including rightwing foundations started or controlled by the uber-rich Coors, Pope, Maclellan, and Taube families.

The Bradley Files also list the biggest publicly known funder of IWF: the Randolph Foundation. It is controlled by Higgins, who is also the President of IWF's Board and the leader of its related 501(c)(4), IWV. According to Conservative Transparency, the Randolph Foundation has given IWF $3,779,850 as of 2015.

It is not known how many of IWF's 60 donors referenced in the Bradley Files are women.

This question is significant because the group describes itself as representing independent women of America and, yet, last year CMD discovered that IWV's biggest publicly reported funders were actually men, like the billionaire Foster Friess.

That is, IWF's sister group, which calls itself the "Independent Women's Voice," was actually throwing the voices of men. It did so through ads and robo-calls backing some of the most controversial U.S. Senate candidates in the War on Women. CMD's investigation showed how IWV had spent the money of men who funded it to back other men, like extreme U.S. Senate candidate Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, in the name of "independent women." (CMD has also filed an FEC complaint against IWV based on its investigation, which is available here, as reported by NBC News.)

Other Revelations: Bradley Funded IWF to Undermine Title IX

The Bradley Files also list all funding provided to the Independent Women's Forum since 1993. That includes not only general support but also funding for three specific projects.

The list shows that the Bradley Foundation funded an IWF project called "Play Fair," which was focused on attacks on Title IX, a law that has transformed generations of women's lives by ensuring that girls and women have equal opportunities to play sports in publicly funded schools.

Through that project, IWF attacked Title IX and even took the side of men's wrestling teams claiming that Title IX's protections for women discriminated against men.

The National Women's Law Center and Women's Sports Foundation, along with other groups that actually represent mainstream women, debunked the kind of headline-grabbing myths about Title IX that were peddled by IWF.

Bradley also helped fund IWF's "The American Promise" project in 2006, which was focused on the "Break Down of the American Family." IWF has said that project was about addressing "deterrents" to "family formation" that lead to children being "born out of wedlock." That project also pushed for "school choice" to address what IWF called the "Failing Public Education System."

Bradley also spent more than $165,000 funding fellowships for Kate O'Beirne and related work. O'Beirne, who passed away in April, was described by the National Review, which published her column for many years, as "the den mother of the modern American right." She was a regular commentator on the "Capital Gang."

As the New York Times noted, "She was the author of 'Women Who Make the World Worse and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military and Sports' (2005), which cited Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal, the former president of the National Organization for Women..." (The Bradley Foundation did not fund her to write that book.)

Other Revelations

This is how the Bradley Foundation described IWF's role in the rightwing infrastructure, in the files:

"[IWF] has been working hard to creating for women a sensible, attractive alternative to the radical leftist feminist organizations focused on making women actively committed to exercising their rights to secure benefits and status owing to their gender, from the municipal, state, and federal government. IWF aspires to stand for a vision which is in stark contrast to leftist organizations such as the National Organization of Women, National Women's Law Center, Emily's List, and the [American] Association of University Women."

IWF's website routinely describes one of its goals as reclaiming "real feminism," asserting, for example, that American women's groups have narrowed their "focus to magnifying discrimination where there may be none and scaring young woman into thinking that we are constantly victims of some atrocity or another where government law is the only solution."

That is typical of IWF's approach to issues, deploying straw man--or straw woman--fallacies. Meanwhile, IWF has vociferously objected to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. and has even attacked reporting about the epidemic of rape on campuses.

As CMD recently noted in its investigation of Tucker Carlson:

"IWF has sponsored a forum where its panelists contended that 'rape culture statistics have been blown out of proportion in the United States, and that this is largely a product of the media’s focus on rape and sexual assault.' That’s the description from The Daily Caller’s coverage of the event. Another piece, titled 'Restraining Orders Hurt Women' also credited IWF’s analysis."

IWF has made a name for itself by making claims at odds with public policies that most women support--all the while claiming to represent mainstream women.

CMD has issued major reports on IWF and IWV that detail these contradictions and more.

As CMD noted, IWF was founded to defend Clarence Thomas in the midst of the uproar over the testimony of Professor Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In the words of Bradley, though, now IWF's "primary goal is to change how women think about conservative political principles and their relationship to the formation of public policy."

IWF's legal policy agenda recites the mantra of almost all Koch-fueled groups, including the GOP: "personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government." As CMD has documented, IWF has deep ties to the billionaire Koch brothers, including shacking up with David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and its predecessor and being led for years by Koch Industries' former top DC lobbyist.

CMD's report illustrates how IWF is not independent, mainstream, and neutral, despite its claims.

As Joan Walsh noted in the Nation: "the IWF website looks like it still shares content with Americans for Prosperity, with posts devoted to lowering corporate tax rates and ending the 'death tax,' criticizing food stamps... alongside screeds against Hillary Clinton and on how Title IX hurts boys. On its website, IWV says its five core issues areas are 'healthcare, responsible government, workplace regulation, energy and economic literacy,' which are all core concerns of the Kochs and their allies."

About the Bradley Foundation

IWF's approach to women's issues was richly rewarded by Bradley with Dan Schmidt as the foundation's Vice President. During Schmidt's tenure, Bradley steered more than $1 million to IWF.

Schmidt has been credited on the right with turning Bradley into "one of the most influential" foundations in the country, working for former RNC lawyer Michael Grebe and Michael Joyce. Bradley's new leader is Rick Graber, who helmed the Wisconsin Republican party for years shortly before Reince Preibus, who later became the RNC chair and now is Trump's Chief of Staff.

Schmidt's recommendations for major funding for IWF and other groups went to Bradley's Board of Directors, which includes two of the biggest GOP funders in the country: Koch allies Art Pope and Diane Hendricks.

They each have reputations for using millions of their own billions to push aggressively divisive legislative and their personal political wish lists, like right to work in Wisconsin for Hendricks and an array of disastrous legislation in Pope's home state of North Carolina.

Through their role on Bradley's board, they now have the ability to have influence beyond even their own vast personal fortunes. They are tasked with helping to direct the nearly one billion in assets of the Bradley Foundation, whose assets exceed the Koch brothers' foundations, though not the personal wealth of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, themselves.

CMD's research team, including David Armiak and Evan James, assisted on this report, with the help of Nick Surgey.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”