by Ben Smith
The Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by the duty-free tycoon Chuck Feeney, have emerged as a major force on the left, and in an online forum today the group discussed its role in Health Care for America Now!, which it gave $25 million to push health care legislation to passage.
The low-profile charity’s role is one of the less told stories health care bill, and its work was viewed with some ambivalence by a White House skeptical of independent efforts.
“The role of HCAN was really in many ways to be the ground-game for this effort. A critical difference between this and (1994) was the organized presence that was sustained over time in member’s districts,” said Atlantic’s Antha N. Williams in an online chat today about how other philanthropic and nonprofit groups can become involved in issue advocacy.
Though HCAN couldn’t effectively counter the swell of conservative grassroots energy that eventually mobilized against the health care bill and the ensuing media narrative, their big investment in an independent liberal advocacy group could provide a blueprint for other organizations going forward.
And the involvement of liberal charity and non-profit groups in the political process is something to watch as progressive groups try to counter the rise of conservative 501(c)4s that dominated the airwaves this cycle.
“Atlantic’s investment in health care reform was a calculated bet that paid huge dividends. It showed what forward thinking philanthropy can accomplish in advocacy campaigns,” said Tom Novick, executive vice president of M+R Strategic Services, who helped evaluate Atlantic and HCAN’s campaign.
“Supporting HCAN was a risky investment but it achieved a huge victory. While some aspects of the HCAN work were 501(c)(4), there is a lot of 501(c)(3) allowable (and fundable) work that organizations and foundations can engage in, and we’d encourage our colleagues to look to public policy advocacy as a way to make a big impact,” said Williams.