Bradley Foundation Bankrolled Groups Tied to ‘Reopen’ Movement to Tune of $2 Million

Evers Briefing



By Jonathon Sadowski

July 17, 2020

Conservative coalition bankrolled by Wisconsin-based right-wing action group.

The Milwaukee-based conservative mega-donor Bradley Foundation gave a total of $1.9 million to right-wing groups and business lobbies who pushed to reopen the economy in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, and the foundation’s self-reported grant dispersals.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a longtime powerhouse in conservative Wisconsin politics that has taken its footprint national in recent years with nearly $900 million in the bank, funneled money to six conservative groups this year as they advocated for sending workers back out in a global pandemic, the investigation found.

That fight culminated in a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide stay-home order, leaving Wisconsin with no cohesive approach to fighting the deadly virus even as the state experiences its biggest surge yet.

Three groups received several hundred thousand dollars from the Bradley Foundation, CMD found. That includes payments of $100,000 and $275,000 to FreedomWorks Foundation, which ran the “Save Our Country Initiative,” $500,000 to the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, and $250,000 to the conservative National Review Institute.

Another $75,000 went to the Council for National Policy, $50,000 went to Wisconsin’s largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and $50,000 went to the First Liberty Institute.

All groups have ties to the “Save Our Country” initiative, which had a fundraising goal of $5 million to push messaging into radio, print, and the internet, The Guardian reported in June.

That organization became a powerful force as governors locked down their states to slow the spread of coronavirus. It even commissioned an internal poll from Scott Rasmussen, editor-at-large of political encyclopedia Ballotpedia, to help inform the reopen movement’s messaging, CMD found.

Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 voters, and the results pushed the “Save Our Country” coalition to refocus its efforts on “reopening society” instead of “reopening the economy,” according to documents reviewed by CMD.

“People do not necessarily care about going to businesses, but to be with each other,” the survey’s conclusion says, according to CMD. “When you introduce any action, emphasize social aspects and not the almighty dollar.”

When Legislative Republicans filed a lawsuit against Evers’ stay-home order on April 21, the suit’s language included inflammatory language about the damage to orderly society that Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm was allegedly causing.

The suit was needed, Republicans argued, “to preserve Wisconsin’s existing cultural and economic edifice.”

Three days later, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce introduced its “Back to Business” plan

WMC and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law Liberty, to which the Bradley Foundation gave $600,000 this year, according to the foundation’s list of recent grants, also filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the GOP lawsuit. 

Since the Supreme Court struck down the stay-home order, coronavirus cases in Wisconsin have nearly quadrupled, skyrocketing from 10,902 confirmed cases on May 13, the day of the ruling, to 40,507 as of Friday, according to DHS data. Deaths have almost doubled, from 421 to 833.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Bradley Foundation shoveled more than $13 million into the “Wisconsin Network,” a coalition of 14 right-wing groups, according to hacked documents reported on in 2017 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


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