What Are Foundations For?

What Are Foundations For?

Hrab Op-ed in CRC Highlights
June 04, 2004

Full article available as a pdf.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary event in the history of American foundations.  In July 1953, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives allocated $50,000 to create a "Special Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations." The Committee is remembered now, if at all, as the Reece Committee, after its chairman, east Tennessee Republican B. Carroll Reece.  The committee was given the mandate "to conduct a full and complete investigation and study of educational and philanthropic foundations…which are exempt from Federal income taxation to determine if any foundations…are using their resources for purposes other than the purposes for which they were established…"   <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The following year the Committee issued its report.  It found that major <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />U.S. grant makers were funding studies highly critical of American values and institutions.  More importantly, it concluded that foundations were failing to respect the views of their founding donors.  Regrettably, the concerns raised in the Reece report are no less pertinent today than fifty years ago.


Born on a farm in east Tennessee in 1889, Brazilla Carroll Reece was a highly decorated veteran of the First World War.  He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1921 and served there for all but six years until his death in 1961.  He was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1946-1948.


In July 1953, the House of Representatives by vote of 209 – 163 authorized Rep. Reece to head up a committee to investigate foundations.  Soon after it first convened, Reece picked Rene Wormser, a prominent lawyer, to become committee general counsel.  The committee wound up its operations in the summer of 1954; four years later Wormser published Foundations: Their Power and Influence (reprinted in 1993) an account of the Reece Committee’s conduct and findings.