Daniel C. Searle, R.I.P.
A great conservative philanthropist dies.

Searle clipped newspaper articles constantly, organizing them by topic. His main sources were the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Palm Beach Post, and New York Times. “Whenever I read something that outraged me, I would clip it and file it,” he said. “After a while, my file got to be pretty voluminous.”

When it came time to write a mission statement for Searle Freedom Trust, Searle knew he wanted to avoid the problems that beset the Ford Foundation and other philanthropies that veered to the left after their donors had died. He studied how other foundations had avoided this problem and hired Kim Dennis to help him craft a mission statement that grew out of the principles that guided his newspaper clippings. (Dennis still serves as president of Searle Freedom Trust.)

The mission statement is six pages long, but its first three sentences provide a clear sense of purpose:

“I have established the Foundation because I am concerned about certain social, political, and economic trends that I see in our society. I believe that if these trends continue unabated, future generations will end up living in a world dominated by big government, devoid of ethical values, and lacking in individual initiative and responsibility. With the resources I am committing to the Foundation, I want to encourage the restoration of personal responsibility to its central place in American life and to limit government’s responsibilities to those areas the Founding Fathers intended.”

Searle Freedom Trust is required to deplete its funds by 2025, following the model of the John M. Olin Foundation, which formally closed its doors two years ago. “By requiring the Foundation to spend itself out of existence, I seek to ensure that the Foundation will always remain in the hands of people who understand my intentions and are committed to carrying out the Foundation’s mission,” wrote Searle.

At first, Searle Freedom Trust made only a handful of grants each year. In 2006, however, it gave away more than $5 million and it will increase this figure substantially this year. In order to spend its whole endowment by 2025, it will have to begin giving away upwards of $10 or $15 million per year. (The precise figures will hinge on investment returns and contributions yet to be received.)

Recipients of the foundation’s support read like a long roster of conservative and libertarian organizations. They have included not only AEI, but also the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, Pacific Research Foundation, Reason Foundation, State Policy Network, Federalist Society, Donors Trust, Philanthropy Roundtable, and many others. Searle had a special interest in developing the talents of young people, giving to the Institute for Humane Studies, Collegiate Network, and other programs focused on colleges and universities. Last summer, the foundation solicited proposals for new-media projects and received more than 60 responses. It will consider these at its next board meeting, scheduled for next month.

“If public-policy research helps people understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then we’ll have made great strides,” said Searle.

A memorial service for Searle will be held in Florida today. At his request, the family has asked that nobody send flowers. Instead, they should send donations to either Searle Freedom Trust or AEI. There’s still a lot of policy research to do.

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Full disclosure: Last year, I met Dan Searle to interview him for an article on public policy in Philanthropy magazine. I didn’t use any of the material from our conversation, however, because within a few weeks I had agreed to become a part-time consultant to Searle Freedom Trust, starting in January 2007. I remain one today. All of the above quotes from Searle are taken from the foundation’s mission statement or our interview.