Among a small host of right wing organizations incubated in Fairfax County (see Fairfax County: Conservative Greenhouse, April 14, 2019), Young America’s Foundation in Reston was founded in 1960 by William F. Buckley as Young Americans for Freedom. In 1962, Ronald Reagan became associated with YAF and in 1998 the organization acquired the Reagan ranch in California, where it now hosts annual conferences. Reagan’s association with YAF has substantially amplified its place in the red state constellation of NGOs.
While YAF proudly proclaims it relies on no government support, it is, in fact, registered as a 501(c)(3) company exempt from income and property taxes under the IRS code. It is a money machine generating just under $25 million per year in income, and boasting almost $27 million in hard assets (land, buildings, etc.). It also manages a $20.5 million endowment fund contributing investment income, which totals almost $3 million per year, also not taxed. The endowment fund was initiated with a $10 million gift from Richard and Helen DeVos of Amway fortune. Overall, YAF has a valuation of over $69 million and publishes financial and other information on its web site.
Leading this behemoth is Ron Robinson, an attorney, who has served 4+ decades at the helm, suggesting he is age 60+, hardly a young American. His compensation package is over $1.1 million annually and is between 3 and 8 times that of any of the senior staff he supervises.
Chartered as an educational not-for-profit organization, YAF’s mission statement offers insight into the gravamen of its educational purposes. First, YAF states it is
committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the idea of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.
A second major purpose is that it is committed to
passing on the President’s [Reagan’s] lasting accomplishment [as] Young America’s Foundation’s way of thanking Ronald Reagan for all he has done for this country and the world.
To carry out these goals, YAF sponsors the National Journalism Center, dedicated to training youth and equipping them
with the tools to become a leader [sic] in combatting bias in the mainstream media.
Although only a microscopic amount, the absence of YAF’s tax contributions to the national common weal detracts from its mission to advance a “strong national defense.” On a state and local level, its tax-free status, primarily from property taxes, is more significant as the county provides street lighting, road maintenance, police, fire, and other services. The burden for these shift to other property owners in the community. In short, while YAF boasts about its non-acceptance of government support, at the same time it enjoys the “free market” of its tax exemptions and the “traditional value” of the society that underwrites the public policy sustaining not- for-profits. A voluntary contribution by YAF to the county would strongly demonstrate commitment to traditional values.
In the classic sense of the term, education is most often appreciated as the process wherein and whereby independent thought is encouraged or developed by drawing out (the Latin term educere) from students. The several mission goals of YAF seem more like proselytizing its participants in a set of beliefs rather than promoting independent thought within a “free market” and “traditional values” paradigm. How is this accomplished in “passing on the accomplishments” of Ronald Reagan and “combatting bias in the mainstream media”? What accomplishments of Ronald Reagan are educational? “Bias” toward what, in which media?
Accepting YAF as an educational institution might be defensible were its mission objectives less specific than transmitting to subsequent generations the accomplishments of an American president. In its mission statement, the functional goal stated belies the educational characterization with these words defining its aims: principal outreach of the Conservative Movement. The capitalization is that of YAF’s denoting more ideology than independent thought. Its choice of language, such as “committed to ensuring,” also speaks to proselytizing rather than an educational process. The phrase “combatting bias in the mainstream media” likewise appears to relate to a militancy on behalf of its outreach in “ensuring” the views of young Americans are correctly positioned. By definition, any educational process or program that seeks to inculcate ideology in its participants defeats the concept of education.
Except for its longevity, resource wealth, and prominence, YAF is nothing more than another right wing nongovernmental organization taking advantage of the nation’s tax laws and promoting an ideology as political cult and culture. It is to be hoped that its target audience—young Americans—is less susceptible to such determinative messaging in the age of the Internet.