The next time you see people demonstrating against something, you should ask yourself this uncomfortable question—“Are they getting paid by the government?”
As associate editor of City Journal Seth Barron notes in his piece Radical Politics on the Public Dime, in New York City it is safe to assume that many of the people picketing against a government organization have some, and perhaps a majority, of their salaries paid for by local and state government.
“What most New Yorkers don’t realize,” Barron writes, “is that many of the protests…aren’t simply the work of civic-minded private citizens. On the contrary: they are funded, sometimes lavishly, by local and state government.”
The issue of ostensibly independent nonprofits using their government grants for political radicalism has been an issue in New York City for some time. In my book Great Philanthropic Mistakes, I looked at how the Ford Foundation, in the early 1960s, funded a group of community organizers through the “Gray Areas” program. One of these organizations was Mobilization for Youth, where radicals took over and proposed freeing the poor through rent strikes and investigations of alleged police brutality. The FBI’s response was to investigate the group (including sending in spies), and New York City Mayor Robert Wagner declared that Mobilization for Youth “was filled with communists from top to bottom.”
It’s far from clear that Mobilization for Youth had any Communists, but when federal antipoverty dollars began to flow to the organization after 1964, the group understood it couldn’t use government funds to fight the government. As Woody Klein, a writer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun, put it: “Lesson learned from Mobilization’s experience: if a private agency receives public money, it must become part of the public establishment, subject to public restrictions.”
Fifty years later, it’s clear the lesson learned in the 1960s has been forgotten in this century. Seth Barron shows that many of the protesters against New York City agencies today work for organizations that get much of their funding from local and state government.
New York City spends about $95 billion a year, and 13 percent of it goes for “human services” for the 43 percent of its population below the city-defined poverty line. Some of these contracts, such as the one to Lutheran Social Services of Metropolitan New York, can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Smaller contracts go to community-based organizations, and every member of the New York City Council gets to dole out $2 million to favored groups.
Even organizations that you wouldn’t expect to get government funds have some. The Hispanic Federation was founded by Luis A. Miranda, Jr. (father of Lin-Manuel Miranda) as an umbrella organization for Hispanic nonprofits. It doesn’t deal directly with the public, but nevertheless got $1.3 million from the New York City Council’s Communities of Color Nonprofit Stabilization Fund, which is supposed to aid much smaller groups.
Barron shows that some groups blithely ignore the restrictions against using government money to engage in politics.
Make the Road New York gets $9 million annually from the city, ostensibly to provide Latinos with literacy classes and cultural activities. But leaders of the Working Families Party control the group, “which urges its clients to participate in political indoctrination as an implicit condition of receiving aid.” Make the Road gives money both to Make the Road Action, a 501(c)4 that endorses political candidates and engages in political activity, and New York Communities for Change, one of the successors to ACORN. The founders of Make the Road then started the Center for Popular Democracy, a national nonprofit that gets money from Ford, Rockefeller, and the Open Society Foundations and whose offices are in the same building as Make the Road Action. Finally, there’s considerable overlap in the boards of Make the Road, Make the Road Action, and the Center for Popular Democracy.
Democratic Party politicians, Barron writes, “know they can count on Make the Road to thicken crowds at rallies and stand behind them at press appearances.” The support Make the Road provides is national; when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in Las Vegas prior to starting his presidential bid, the audience was filled with members of Make the Road Nevada.
Last year, Make the Road and the Center for Popular Democracy made headlines when Sen. Jeff Flake decided to ask the FBI for a full investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh after two women screamed at him in a Senate elevator that they were rape survivors. One of these two women was Ana Marie Archila, who is co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy and was executive director of Make the Road when she screamed at Sen. Flake. In February, Archila was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s guest at the State of the Union address.
Government-funded New York City nonprofits are involved in a wide range of issues.
Make the Road was a leader in the successful effort to block Amazon from establishing a headquarters in Long Island City; the group’s co-executive director, Deborah Axt, said “this is a huge victory. We are thrilled” when Amazon withdrew. The New York Immigration Coalition gets a million dollars a year from the city for immigrant causes, but the group co-sponsored the New York City’s Women’s March, and the group routinely gives speeches at pro-choice rallies.
It’s unlikely the government gravy train for these groups will stop as long as a liberal Democrat resides in Gracie Mansion. But the next time you see protesters picketing something in Manhattan, be aware that a third—or more—of their salaries comes from New York City and the state of New York.
“New York’s multi-billion-dollar human services complex generally provides the aid that it promises,” Barron concludes, “but it also has become the operating environment for radicals, posing as social workers, who siphon off public money to promote their political agenda.”
(Hat tip: William Schambra)
 A worthwhile analysis of the way once-independent nonprofits became wards of the state as a result of the New Deal and the Great Society is provided by Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky in Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State In the Age of Contracting.