Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Billionaire Gifts $20 Million to AEI

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is on a roll.  In the span of about a week, it has hosted the Dalai Lama at an event on happiness (here are Think Tank Watch's favorite tweets from that event), announced the establishment of the State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture (thanks to a $3 million gift from State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company) and now, it has received a massive gift from a billionaire: $20 million.

Here is more from The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb, who broke the story:
Daniel A. D'Aniello, the co-founder and chairman of the Washington-basedprivate-equity giant Carlyle Group, is contributing $20 million to the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.
The contribution by D'Aniello — set to be announced Tuesday — marks a new foray into policy advocacy by the top Carlyle executive, who has maintained a much lower profile than co-founder David Rubenstein. It also represents the marriage of one of Washington's business titans to one of its top think tanks.
In a recent interview at Carlyle's offices, D'Aniello said that he decided to make the contribution because AEI's philosophy mirrors his own - a way of thinking nurtured in the 1940s and '50s in the coal-mining town of Butler, Pa.
"It's all about freedom, opportunity and enterprise," D'Aniello, 67, said. "Those are the watch words of AEI, so if I would think about my life, I would think about it in just that way."
"With respect to the philosophical statements of AEI, the most important is driving a full understanding of what earned success is and what it can mean to your own happiness and success," D'Aniello said. "It's very disincentivizing to have others take care of your needs."
The contribution comes after years of discussions between D'Aniello, who is vice chairman of AEI's board, and Arthur Brooks, the organization's president.
The two first met at a board meeting of Syracuse University. D'Aniello attended the school, studying business and transportation logistics, and later served on its board. Brooks was a professor at the university before coming to Washington to lead AEI.
As two conservatives active in an academic institution, "we sniffed each other out after about five minutes," Brooks said.

The article notes that AEI will name its new building after D'Aniello before moving in late 2015.  The article also notes that AEI has expanded from 140 staffers in 2009 to 206 today.

Here is the official announcement from AEI, which says that its new headquarters (currently being re-developed at 1785 Massachusetts Ave., NW) will be named the Daniel A. D'Aniello Building.  It is literally next to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and the Brookings Institution.

AEI says that the gift marks the launch of the think tank's Campaign for Free Enterprise and American Progress.  You can see renderings of AEI's new headquarters at that site.

Most notably, AEI's new headquarters will have a dining room which will "feature a flexible setup that can accommodate 72 people seated at round tables, and up to 132 people for receptions."  There will also be a state-of-the-art prep kitchen and an execution kitchen.

The renovations to the new headquarters reportedly will cost $50 million, so the $20 million gift is a nice start. Will this mean a proliferation of "think tank row" block parties?

Although the $20 million gift is huge for a think tank, it is not a record.  Last year, Heritage Foundation received a $26 million gift, which is thought to be the largest think tank gift ever.

And in general, the largest think tanks gifts are considered small compared to largest gifts that colleges and universities receive.  For example, this month, billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin said that he would donate $150 million to Harvard College, the biggest single gift to the college ever.

Here is what Inside Philanthropy says about AEI's $20 million gift in an article titled "Rich Guy Gives $20 Million to Think Tank Defending Rich Guys."

Another conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, has seen its stock decline in recent months.  Here is more from a recent New York Times article:
Long known as an incubator for policy ideas and the embodiment of the party establishment, it has become more of a political organization feeding off the rising populism of the Tea Party movement.
In recent months, some of the group’s most prominent scholars have left. Research that seemed to undermine Heritage’s political goals has been squelched, former Heritage officials say. And more and more, the work of policy analysts is tailored for social media.
Mr. DeMint, 62, drawing on his experience in advertising and marketing before he entered politics, has bolstered what he calls his “sales force,” young staff members working for the foundation’s political arm, Heritage Action for America, and the foundation’s media and Internet operations. Mr. DeMint’s main focus this year, he said, will be a media tour promoting his new book, “Falling in Love With America Again,” which comes out next month.

AEI was just ranked as the 24th best think tank in the world by the annual University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.  It was also ranked as the 11th best think tank in the US.  By comparison, Heritage was ranked as the 17th best think tank in the world and the 8th best think tank in the US.