American Political Foundation

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The American Political Foundation is described by Rightweb as being "a bipartisan commission" that was "established by the State Department that began to address the problem of having U.S.-funded 'soft-side' operations overseas perceived as CIA fronts." [1]


"On Capitol Hill, Congressman Dante Fascell (D, FL) introduced a bill in April, 1967 to create an Institute of International Affairs, an initiative that would authorize overt funding for programs to promote democratic values. Although the bill did not succeed, it helped lead to discussions within the Administration and on Capitol Hill concerning how to develop new approaches to the ideological competition then taking place between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

"Interest in American involvement in the promotion of human rights was intensified during the Administration of President Jimmy Carter, who made it a central component of American foreign policy. In the late 1970's America became committed to the process of monitoring the Helsinki accords, especially that "basket" dealing with human rights. In 1978 Congressmen Fascell and Donald Fraser (D,MN) proposed a "QUANGO" (i.e, quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization) whose mission would be the advancement of human rights. The bill they introduced would have created an Institute for Human Rights and Freedom to furnish technical and financial assistance to nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights abroad.

"By the late 70's, there was an important model for democracy assistance: the German Federal Republic's party foundations, created after World War II to help rebuild Germany's democratic institutions destroyed a generation earlier by the Nazis. These foundations (known as "Stiftungen"), each aligned with one of the four German political parties, received funding from the West German treasury. In the 1960's they began assisting their ideological counterparts abroad, and by the mid-70's were playing an important role in both of the democratic transitions taking place on the Iberian Peninsula.

"Late in 1977, Washington political consultant George Agree, citing the important work being carried out by the Stiftungen, proposed creation of a foundation to promote communication and understanding between the two major U.S. political parties and other parties around the world. Headed by U.S. Trade Representative William Brock, a former Republican National Committee Chairman, and Charles Manatt, then serving as Democratic National Committee Chairman, by 1980 the American Political Foundation had established an office in Washington, D.C. from which it provided briefings, appointments, and other assistance to foreign party, parliamentary, and academic visitors to the U.S.

"Two years later, in one of his major foreign policy addresses, President Reagan proposed an initiative "to foster the infrastructure of democracy--the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities--which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means." He noted that the American Political Foundation would soon begin a study "to determine how the U.S. can best contribute--as a nation--to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force." Delivered to a packed Parliamentary chamber in Britain's Westminster Palace, the Reagan speech would prove to be one of the central contributions to the establishment of a U.S. democracy foundation.

"The American Political Foundation's study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the Agency for International Development (AID) and it became known as "The Democracy Program." Its executive board consisted of a broad cross-section of participants in American politics and foreign policy making. The Democracy Program recommended establishment of a bipartisan, private, non-profit corporation to be known as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)." [2]

"AFL-CIO principals ... helped design the National Endowment for Democracy. Both Lane Kirkland and Eugenia Kemble-then an assistant to Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-worked with the American Political Foundation on the Democracy Program. Funded by the Reagan administration, the Democracy Program recommended establishing NED. It also advocated using the AFL-CIO's nearly defunct Free Trade Union Institute as NED's core grantee for labor grants." [3]

"Thus, in the 1970s, a number of thinkers and activists began considering how the United States might openly assist human-rights activists and democrats living under totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. This "new thinking" about encouraging democracy abroad was, to be sure, done in the context of the Cold War. Beneath it lay a concern that the West was too flaccid in defending its own political values and institutions, and that this weakness was causing the West to lag behind Communism in the global struggle for hearts and minds. But it was also shaped by a concern for peace: since democracy is the world's most successful system of nonviolent conflict resolution, the cause of peaceful international relations would presumably be enhanced by a dramatic increase in the number of genuine democracies in the world.

"William A. Douglas's 1972 book Developing Democracy was a pioneering effort to stimulate this new thinking and to propose ways in which America might aid its democratic compatriots abroad. Douglas drew extensively on the experience of the American labor movement, which had for many years conducted an extensive pro gram of support for free-trade unionists in Latin America and Asia. Similarly, George Agree and the American Political Foundation brought the democracy-building work carried on by West German party foundations to the attention of American lawmakers and strategists." [4]

"Allen Weinstein is a professor of history at Boston University and formerly taught at Smith College and Georgetown University. He was a member of the board of directors of the American Political Foundation which received a $300,000 grant from AID for the project that developed the conceptual design for NED as well as the Center for Democracy. Weinstein enlisted the assistance of the George Weigel, head of the World Without War Council. (19,33) Weinstein's co-directors at the APF included Charles Manatt, William Brock, and Frank Fahrenkopf of the NED board of directors; Lane Kirkland, president of the AFLCIO and on the board of NED; Eugenia Kemble former executive director of the Free Trade Union Institute--a core grantee of NED; and Peter Kelly. (19) Weinstein is a member of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, another quasi-private, governmentfunded organization. (19) He also serves as a dirctor of the Oscar Arias Foundation of North America and is on the board of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM), an anticommunist, Cold War group first formed in the 1950s. (19) Weinstein was a director of the National Strategy Information Center at the time that thegroup was involved in funding contra leader Arturo Cruz. (19) From 1981 to 1983 Weinstein was executive director of the Washington Quarterly, a publication of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a conservative think tank which was at that time connected to Georgetown University. (20,22) From 1983-1984 he served as acting president of the NED. (20,22)" [5]

"In the United States, the CIA had provided funding for similar activities in the past, but that had been outlawed in the mid-1970's. Those operations were suspect, and their very secretiveness made them indefensible. Kahn (Tom Kahn)and Kirkland (Lane Kirkland) believed it was wrong to link democracy-building with spying. So when a former congressional aide, George Agree, introduced them to the idea of an American government-funded foundation that would be devoted to democracy-building and would be transparent and free of Washington bureaucracy, they quickly signed on.

"Agree gathered Democratic and Republican sponsors, including Congressman Dante Fascell (D-Florida), and sold the idea to Ronald Reagan. In a l982 speech before the British Parliament, Reagan called for “a global campaign for democracy.” He subsequently sent legislation to Congress authorizing the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) with four major grantees: the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO. The funds would come from Congress, but the Board of Directors would be independent. Each of these core grantees was mandated to establish an independent arm to accept the funds and conduct its democracy-building programs. Thus, the AFL-CIO created the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) to act on its behalf.

"Kirkland would serve on the first NED board, but it was Kahn who helped to create and set up the structure of FTUI, hired its staff, saw it through its infancy, and brought the AFL-CIO Legislative Department into the unusual position of lobbying on a foreign policy issue when the NED funding was in danger of being cut off." [6]

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  1. National Endowment for Democracy, RightWeb, July 29, 2005.
  2. David Lowe, "Idea to Reality: A Brief History of the National Endowment for Democracy", NED, accessed July 17, 2007.
  3. Beth Sims, "Workers of the World Undermined: American Labor's role in U.S. foreign policy", Third World Traveller, 1992.
  4. George Weigel, "The Freedom Offensive", Ethics and Public Policy Center, October 1, 1993.
  5. Center For Democracy, Right Web Profile (last updated: October 12, 2005), accessed July 17, 2007.
  6. Rachelle Horowitz, "Tom Kahn and the Fight for Democracy: A Political Portrait and Personal Recollection", Social Democrats USA, accessed July 17, 2007.