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The FAIR Files: Working With the Pioneer Fund

During the heated debate leading up to the 1994 vote on California’s Proposition 187, a punishing anti-immigrant ordinance that would have denied social services to undocumented immigrants had it not been rejected by the courts, an embarrassing truth about the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) was revealed. 

Press reports disclosed that FAIR, a major backer of Prop 187, was also a major grant recipient of the Pioneer Fund, a racist organization established by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s to pursue “race betterment.”

As of that year, FAIR had received a total about $1.2 million from Pioneer, which primarily funds race and IQ studies intended to reveal the inferiority of minorities and to this day describes its grant recipients, generally, as “race realists.” Perhaps the press furor would have died down if FAIR had decided to sever its relationship with Pioneer after the fund’s nature was exposed. But it chose not to.

Instead, FAIR, working hand in glove with Pioneer officials, moved rapidly to try to tamp down the criticism and protect its lucrative relationship with the foundation. This is revealed in previously unexplored archival files that FAIR has lodged in George Washington University’s Gelman Library Special Collections.

Writing on FAIR letterhead, Dan Stein — then the organization’s executive director, and today its president — drafted a chummy March 16, 1994, note addressed to “Harry,” meaning Harry Weyher, who was Pioneer’s president at the time, suggesting a course of action. (Weyher also was a well-known academic racist who had publicly opposed desegregation.) “Enclosed is a proposed piece for your consideration,” the note read. “I hope it lays out the case satisfactorily. If not, let me know and we’ll beef it up to your satisfaction. Thanks for this opportunity. Best Regards, Dan.”

Attached to the note for Weyher’s consideration was a two-page proposed statement entitled “Why the Pioneer Fund Supports the Immigration Reform Movement” that was written as if in the first person by Weyher. It said that Weyher’s interest in FAIR came from reading two books. The first was by John Tanton, the original founder of FAIR and much of the modern nativist movement, Rethinking Immigration Policy. The second was Illegal Immigration and the New Reform Movement, by Otis Graham, a close colleague of Tanton’s who was board chairman of FAIR in the early 1980s before Tanton installed him as head of the related Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in the mid-1980s. (Graham is still on CIS’s board.) The draft statement argued that “the two monographs got us thinking about the public policy implications of [immigration] … and ultimately, the [Pioneer] Trustees made the decision that research and education on immigration would be a beneficial and worthwhile application for a Pioneer Fund grant.” It added that FAIR went about its work “responsibly, ethically, and intelligently” and applauded the “excellence” of FAIR’s staff. “We are pleased and proud that through financial support, we’ve made FAIR’s important work possible,” the statement concluded.

For some months after the Pioneer story broke, FAIR remained an aggressive defender of Pioneer. The Gelman documents include a Sept. 9, 1994, letter to Richard Woodward and his pro-immigrant organization “Taxpayers Against 187” claiming that the group was defaming the Pioneer Fund as it distributed information about Pioneer’s grants to FAIR. Written by attorney William W. Chip, who today serves on FAIR’s board of advisors, the letter warns: “Your portrayal of the Pioneer Fund as a ‘white supremacist’ organization is also based on fabrications.” In fact, part of the original 1937 mandate of the Pioneer Fund was to promote the genetic stock of those “deemed to be descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution.” Much more recently, Pioneer has funded racist publications like American Renaissance, whose editor wrote in 2005 that “when blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.”

But the Chip letter does show some reticence about being too closely linked to Pioneer, at least in public. Chip also warns Taxpayers Against 187 that it is defaming FAIR by suggesting that “FAIR has a ‘fundamental relationship’ with the Pioneer Fund and is ‘bankrolled’ by the Pioneer Fund.”

FAIR ended its financial relationship with Pioneer, which as a foundation must publicly disclose recipients of its grants, in 1994. But it did not end the private relationship of top FAIR officials with leaders of the fund. An SPLC review of John Tanton’s private papers, which are stored at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, shows how close the relationship between the leaders of Pioneer and FAIR principals has been for three decades, even in the wake of the 1994 scandal. Not only did Tanton carry on a close correspondence with Weyher and his partner at Pioneer, John Trevor Jr., he also visited both at their homes. (In one instance, he took his staffer Roy Beck, who now runs NumbersUSA, to visit Trevor in Florida.) And at a 1997 gathering organized by Tanton at the New York Racquet & Tennis Club — three years after FAIR had stopped taking Pioneer Fund money — Tanton brought FAIR board members Henry Buhl, Sharon Barnes and Alan Weeden to a meeting with Weyher. Held expressly to discuss fundraising efforts to benefit FAIR, the meeting was memorialized in a Feb. 17, 1997, memo that Tanton wrote for his “FAIR Fund-Raising File.” A year later, on Jan. 5, 1998, Tanton wrote to Trevor to thank him for his personal “handsome contribution” to FAIR.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists FAIR as a hate group for reasons including its accepting of funds from the racist Pioneer Fund. Other reasons include Stein’s bigoted views, the participation of some of its officials in white supremacist groups, bigots on the board, and some of its television programming. For a brief summation of this reasoning, please go here.

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