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In 2004, the Americans for Limited Government Foundation, a charitable organization in Illinois that says it “is committed to promoting individual liberty, free markets, and the principles of the U.S. Constitution,” received two donations totaling $650,000.

The donations accounted for more than 96 percent of all contributions to the ALG Foundation that year, according to a federal tax return signed by Howard Rich, one of the organization’s directors. Rich and the foundation’s affiliate, Americans for Limited Government, Inc., have been widely identified as the driving forces behind this year’s eminent-domain and regulatory-takings ballot initiatives in the West.

The two donations to the ALG Foundation, as it turned out, came from a single donor: the LEAD Foundation, a charitable organization in Illinois that says it’s dedicated to “the ultimate purpose of improving the academic performance of schoolchildren.” The $650,000 in donations accounted for more than 92 percent of all grants and other contributions that the LEAD Foundation made in 2004, according to a federal tax return signed by the organization’s chairman — also Howard Rich.

In their federal tax returns for 2004, both foundations listed the same address in Glenview, Illinois. The ALG Foundation has since moved to Chicago; the LEAD Foundation, renamed Parents in Charge Foundation, is now in Madison, Wisconsin.

Neither the ALG Foundation nor the LEAD Foundation has publicly disclosed its donors. The Center for Public Integrity, however, has identified the major individual and institutional donors in 2004 to both tax-exempt organizations.

Records show that the LEAD Foundation received $405,000 in grants or other contributions from five tax-exempt organizations:

  • $125,000 from the Alliance for School Choice, Inc., of Phoenix, for undisclosed purposes. The organization describes itself as “the nation’s vanguard organization for promoting, implementing and enhancing K-12 educational choice.”
  • $100,000 from the Kern Family Foundation, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, for “general support.” The foundation was established by Robert D. Kern, who until recently was the chairman and chief executive officer of Waukesha-based Generac Power Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of generators and small engines. It awards grants for “systemic solutions in education at the K-12 level” and other projects.
  • $80,000 from the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, of Indianapolis, for undisclosed purposes. The Friedman Foundation was established by Milton Friedman, the economist known for his advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism and support of various libertarian policies. The foundation says that it “strives to educate parents, public policy makers, and organizations about the desperate need for a shift of power to the disenfranchised parents of America who have limited choices and voices in the education of their children.” Rich is a long-time member of the foundation’s board of directors.
  • $50,000 from the Doug and Kaisa Levine Family Support Foundation, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, “to support education.” The foundation was established by Douglas Levine, an entrepreneur who sold his chain of Crunch Fitness centers to Bally and now runs an online fitness business.
  • $50,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee, “to support the South Carolina [school] choice project.” The Bradley Foundation says that it supports limited government and is “devoted to strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles, and values that sustain and nurture it.” The Bradley Foundation’s chairman, Thomas L. Rhodes, is a director of Club for Growth State Action, a tax-exempt organization that in 2004 was located at the same Illinois address as the ALG Foundation and the LEAD Foundation. Rich is the president of Club for Growth State Action.
In preparing this story, the Center sought additional information and comment from all five donor organizations for this story, but none responded to the requests.

In other financial records for 2004 reviewed by the Center, the ALG Foundation notes, through its accounting firm, that it “shares common management” with eight other tax-exempt organizations, including Americans for Limited Government, Inc. (its noncharitable tax-exempt counterpart, which Rich chairs), Legislative Education Action Drive (a noncharitable tax-exempt organization that Rich founded in 2000), and the LEAD Foundation. The ALG Foundation, one document says, “is performing management functions for all of the organizations and allocating expenses among the organizations for performing such services.”

As it turned out, the LEAD Foundation’s gifts of $650,000 to the ALG Foundation may have stretched it a bit too thin. On the last day of 2004 it borrowed $59,138 of the money back from the ALG Foundation.

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A journalist since 1978, Jim Morris has won more than 80 awards for his work, including the George Polk...