The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing think tank that claims to be “the most influential conservative group in America.” Its mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” The policies promoted by the Heritage Foundation pose threats to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, economic justice, and religious pluralism.
The Washington D.C.-based think tank was founded in 1973 by three Christian conservative men: Edwin Feulner, Paul Weyrich, and Joseph Coors (of Coors Brewing Company). Paul Weyrich was one of the architects of the Moral Majority movement writing in the mid-1970s, “The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition… When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.”
While Heritage started as a small research organization of only nine employees, the organization grew significantly while Feulner was Heritage president from 1977-2013. The organization’s first widely-known piece of policy research was a hefty publication, “Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration,” published in 1981 and used by the Reagan administration. The foundation has proven to be far more committed to pushing conservative policy than to any specific presidential administration. For example, while Heritage supported the administration of George H. W. Bush, they also spoke out against him when he began increasing areas of government regulation. The Heritage Foundation has also supported oppressive regimes abroad. In the 80s, they spoke out against putting sanctions on apartheid South Africa, and defended RENAMO, a rebel force committing mass civilian murder in Mozambique.
Heritage now employs approximately 200 people and claims to have 500,000 members. The organization also boasts a robust internship program, and has a large board of trustees, including Steven Forbes, founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine. The Heritage Foundation and its lobbying arm Heritage Action, currently works with a combined revenue from contributions and grants of nearly $100,000,000.
In December 2017, Heritage Foundation named a new president, Kay Coles James, after former-Heritage president Jim DeMint was removed in 2016 due to discontent among members. James is a former vice president of Family Research Council, one of the most prominent and powerful groups threatening LGBTQ and women’s rights. She also served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administration and more recently was part of Trump’s Agency Action Team to advise choices for staff and cabinet members.
The influence of the Heritage Foundation continues to grow under the Trump administration. Heritage founder and former president Ed Feulner served on Trump’s transition team, and the CEO of Heritage Action has remarked he is pleased with the access they’ve had to Trump and with the administration’s appointments. In January 2018, Heritage released a statement claiming that President Trump had adopted nearly two-thirds of the policies recommended by the Heritage Foundation, including leaving the Paris Climate Accord and repealing Net Neutrality.
The Heritage Foundation continues to work against economic, reproductive, and LGBTQ justice through influencing federal policy and publishing misleading research. It also seeks to sway public opinion through their news outlets, the Daily Signal and the Morning Bell. They have targeted LGBTQ rights (especially the rights of transgender people), Planned Parenthood, the Violence Against Women Act, climate change mitigation and environmental education, access to welfare benefits, and community development grants.