The Growing Menace of the 'Non-Profit' Sector

Steven F. Hayward24 May, 2024 5 Min Read
The ratchet mechanism is now on steroids.

There’s a joke going around that it must be maddening to be a “direct action” climate-change protestor setting out in the morning to block a highway or deface a museum piece before gluing yourself in place, only to arrive and find the pro-Hamas protestors got up earlier and are already blocking the highway.

Of course this problem was quickly solved by fusing the two issues, which is easy for the left since the issue is never the issue—it’s only the revolution that counts. It only took days after October 7 for banners to appear at pro-Hamas marches declaring that saving Gaza necessarily involved “climate justice,” while The Nation magazine, apparently with a straight face, announced that “The Single Most Important Thing President Biden Can Do for the Climate Is Enforce an Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza.” Just to make sure no one missed the linkage, St. Greta Thunberg ratified the marriage of the two issues by turning up to protest the Israeli contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest decked out in a large keffiyeh scarf, which totally isn’t a cultural appropriation when someone of the left does it.

From Gaia to Gaza, the imp that won't go away.

Beyond the all-too-easy and predictable union of the left’s two main current obsessions is how massive the lavishly funded “non-profit sector” has become to the overall project of the left. It is important to understand the playbook, because the left’s grand strategy goes beyond private philanthropy to radical causes, and now includes direct taxpayer support (in the form of federal grants and legal fee reimbursements) as well as buying off corporate support with tax breaks and subsidies. Universities are always the main hub for these efforts, but the spokes now radiate out deep into the corporate world and the halls of government.

Hence what we have seen in recent weeks over the “Palestine” issue is an ominous case study. Observers stunned at the campus-based protest movement on behalf of Hamas have come to learn that this protest movement is far from spontaneous, but has in fact been lavishly financed and developed for years by leading left-wing philanthropies along with Arab states in the Middle East. Park MacDougald reports the architecture of the effort in detail at The Tablet. It includes all of the usual suspects, including George Soros, the Tides Foundation, but also many lesser-known donors and activists.

For many years Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and their main demands—an academic boycott of Israel, divestment of university endowments in any companies that do substantial business in Israel, and sanctions against Israel similar to the South Africa sanctions of the 1990s (or BDS for short)—made little headway, but leftist movements are always patient and like perennial growths spring back to life regularly.

In recent weeks the pro-Hamas campus protests have seen concession after concession from weak or allied college administrators (are there any other kind?), offering to “review” investment positions of college endowments and, in the case of Northwestern University, expanding scholarships for Palestinian students and the hiring of additional pro-Palestinian faculty. Given that universities are the brain trust of the Democratic Party, we should not be surprised to see the Biden administration’s slow tilt away from Israel.

A key point is: all of the recent protest frenzy has had little effect on public opinion. Despite some erosion, repeated surveys show strong public support for Israel over Hamas. But public opinion is not the target audience for leftist protest; elite opinion is. And it is elite opinion, formed chiefly in universities and slavishly followed by, for example, the State Department, that drives policy.

The enemy within.

A convulsion like the October 7 attack by Hamas presents great opportunities for the left. But even without a sudden convulsion, this playbook still works over time.

Such is the case with "climate change." Despite the constant refrain about a “climate crisis,” and the determination of the media in trying to make weather events (like Hurricane Katrina in 2005) into a cataclysmic moment that changes everything, the American public has never bought it. Poll results for more than 20 years have been remarkably consistent: Americans rank :climate change" near the bottom of issues of concern. Moreover, more detailed surveys show little public appetite for higher energy prices and other costly green goo.

On the surface, it would seem the billions of dollars the green groups have spent to elevate the cause of "climate change" over the last 25 years have been wasted, such as the Environmental Defense Fund’s $300 million public education campaign in the mid-2000s, or Michael Bloomberg’s more recent $500 million “climate education” campaign. Below the surface of these headline-grabbing public campaigns are countless fillips for climate activism, often from taxpayers. Every omnibus government funding bill that Congress passes in haste every year contains hundreds of small grants for leftist projects, most of which are de facto adjuncts of the Democratic Party or its favored interest groups. Last year’s omnibus budget bill, for example, included $3 million from the State Department to support “a movement of girl-centered climate action,” because Greta Thunberg is apparently underfunded or something.

It is a testimony to the good sense of Americans that public opinion has largely resisted this massive propaganda blitz. But as with the pro-Hamas cause, mass public opinion isn’t the real target, and the climate campaign has achieved many of its goals without public opinion on its side because our weak-minded ruling elites are so susceptible to sustained ideological pressure. And thus we're getting higher energy prices and the rest of the green goo anyway. As with the recent campus protests and the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism, the climate campaign has hit the jackpot with the Biden administration, getting gigantic green energy subsidies and extraordinary regulatory proposals in motion that the Obama administration considered but rejected out of political fear.

And pigs "could" fly, too.

Add up all of these macro-and-micro funding sluices across the full spectrum of leftist causes and we arrive at a point where the supposedly ancillary “non-profit sector” has become a key instrument on par with the permanent bureaucracy of the administrative state, and a menace to democratic self-government.

By the way, the next item on the agenda for leftist philanthropy will be large public subsidies for the media, which will be called “non-profit journalism.” In other words, subsidies for leftist flacks. The MacArthur Foundation has pledged $500 million in seed money for these noxious media weeds.

As with the administrative state, the object is to seal off leftist measures from public criticism and accountability. Subsequent efforts by a new administration to roll back Biden’s climate and energy policy madness will summon forth volcanic opposition from the “non-profit sector,” abetted by bought-off corporations and the pliant media. This is the way the big government ratchet has worked for decades, but the ratchet mechanism is now on steroids, provided by capitalist-generated wealth hijacked by heirs afflicted with liberal guilt or defective university educations.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at


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7 comments on “The Growing Menace of the 'Non-Profit' Sector”

  1. You raise a great point about the menace of so-called non-profits. Genuine philanthropy seems to have all but disappeared and has been replaced by non-stop political agitprop outfits run by chauffeured Marxists who earn a fat salary that would be the envy of the top ranks of Fortune 100 execs.

  2. An organization that touts their credentials with the term “non-profit” reveals much about their own bankrupt philosophy. The basis of all moral human interaction is profit for mutual benefit. My advice to anyone that is confronted with an individual or organization that holds altruistic non-profit as a virtue: RUN!

  3. Climate? Palestine? The issue is and has been getting us to spend 35 Trillion more than we take in, add another Trillion every 100-days, until we collapse.

  4. The funding apparatus is the central government's way of further insinuating itself into controlling more and more of our everyday lives. Like the camel's nose under the tent flap, soon you have the entire beast as a tent mate. And of course only the bien pensant receive funding. He who pays the piper calls the tune. This is just the nonprofit angle. Funding also corrupts municipal goverments, local police and most of all schools. Every nickel comes with the explicit demand of compliance to and demonstration of fealty to the lefts favorite pet sanctities.

  5. All non-profits should be taxed - churches, universities, the Red Cross, all. Donations and grants are income.

  6. Another problem with NGOs: Many NGO's are just a money machine. Donors gain influence by donating. Their donation is subsidized by the taxpayer through its deductibility. The donors are then in a position to employee their favorites at an inflated salary regardless of qualifications and that salary is paid for using the taxpayer subsidized dollars previously donated. The activities of the NGO are largely not surveilled resulting in many unnecessary expenditures involving travel, luxury hotels, conferences in exotic places, and palatial offices. They are abusing the the original intent of the deductibility clauses of the legislation.

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