The Public Interest

Why “defunding the Left” failed

Michael S. Greve

Fall 1987

WHEN THE Reagan Administration took office in 1981, one of the priorities urged upon it was to cut federal funding for liberal and leftist advocacy groups. Well known conservative activists openly advocated a strategy of “defunding the Left.” This was necessary, they argued, for the success of the conservative social and deregulatory agenda. The incoming administration shared this assessment. President Reagan himself made no bones about his hostility to public interest litigators, to whom he once referred as “a bunch of ideological ambulance chasers doing their own thing at the expense of the poor who actually need help”; he also sensed that the liberal public interest movement was a primary obstacle to his campaign promises of “regulatory relief” and of advancing a conservative social agenda.

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