Blackwater USA founder and West Michigan native Erik Prince funds a variety of rightwing and religious causes according to a review of grants awarded by Prince’s Freiheit Foundation. Prince, who’s Blackwater has drawn considerable attention for its work in Iraq, post-Katrina New Orleans, and Colombia, also has strong ties to the economic and religious right both through the contributions of his Freiheit Foundation as well as his parents, Edgar and Elsa Prince, who are prominent supporters of the religious right both in West Michigan and on the national level. Additionally, Erik Prince’s sister is Betsy DeVos, who married into one of West Michigan’s most well-known rightwing families and has made been a career organizer for rightwing and Republican causes. While several reports on Prince have made some mention of his lineage and his political contributions, there has been no detailed examinations of his “philanthropy.”
From 2000 to 2003, the Freiheit Foundation gave financial support to three organizations that can be described as being a part of the economic right—the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Grand Rapids-based Education Freedom Fund. The two entities with roots in Grand Rapids also are organizations in which Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos has had a leadership role. The Acton Institute—a think-tank blending religion and free-market economics—has received more than $210,000 in funding from the Freiheit Foundation. The Education Freedom Fund, also based in Grand Rapids and directed by Betsy and Dick DeVos, received $30,000 from the Freiheit Foundation in support of the DeVoses ongoing organizing in favor of school vouchers and the privatization of education in the United States. In 2001, Prince’s foundation gave $30,000 to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the more prominent rightwing think-tanks and a strong supporter of both free-market economics as well as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The AEI supports an aggressive imperialist policy and has several members that are part of the same group of neocons involved in the Project for a New American Century that campaigned for the Iraq War.
While Prince’s family has contributed greatly to religious right groups, Prince’s foundation has primarily funded conservative Catholic or evangelical organizations that do not have clear ties to the religious right. A major exception is the Freiheit Foundation’s $500,000 grant to ex-Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, an evangelical ministry operating within the United States’ prison system and receiving financial backing from a variety of religious right funders. The Freiheit Foundation has also funded Christian Freedom International, a group that works to document the persecution of Christians around the world and provides aid in the form of physical assistance and coordinated prayer. The organization is led by former Reagan White House official Jim Jacobson who is a member of the secretive religious right Council for National Policy (Prince’s foundation gave a $450 to the Council for National Policy in 2001). The Freiheit Foundation generously funds a number of other religious organizations, including the Haggai Institute, an organization founded in 1969 to train Asian, African, and Latin American Christian leaders to “train others” and evangelize for the Christian faith, who was given $200,000 in 2001. Crisis Magazine, a self-described “politically conservative” magazine that reports on contemporary culture through a “traditional Catholic” perspective, has received a nominal amount of funding from the Foundation ($3,500). Controversial and anti-gay Senator Rick Santorum is one of the magazine’s regular columnists. Catholic Answers, a group that publishes tracts and other literature to aid Catholics in evangelizing. The group came under some scrutiny in 2004 for a voter guide that it produced outlining five issues that it termed as “non-negotiable” for Catholics—abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and human cloning—and arguing that Catholics should vote for candidates that have the church’s position on these issues (source).
Prince has also supported universities, including Catholic University of America (which maintains a “Marriage Law Project” reporting on efforts to define and preserve marriage as between heterosexual couples only (source) and Christendom College, both of which firmly believe in the importance of religion in everyday life. Prince has also provided $195,000 to the Institute for World Politics, a graduate school in Washington DC offering training in “statecraft” by examining diplomacy, military strategy, the formation of opinion, and other such topics taught by former government officials from the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, and other such agencies as well as private institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute. Like the American Enterprise Institute, the Institute for World Politics promotes a foreign policy in line with that of the Bush administration—a policy that has functioned to help Blackwater earn government contracts and to increase Prince’s own fortune.