The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation is headed by Diana Davis Spencer, daughter of investment banker Shelby Cullom Davis and author Kathryn Y. Davis and is the successor organization to foundations created by her parents. The foundation’s grantmaking includes grants for medical research, teaching entrepreneurship, and advancing national security.
Diana Davis Spencer
Diana Davis Spencer is the daughter of Shelby Cullom Davis, an investment banker who served as ambassador to Switzerland in the Nixon and Ford administrations and as chairman of the Heritage Foundation board from 1985 through 1992, 1 and Kathryn Wasserman Davis, an author and philanthropist. 2 In 2013, the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation gave $26 million to the Heritage Foundation to support the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at Heritage. 3
Diana Davis Spencer graduated from the Masters School and Wheaton College and is a trustee of both schools. In addition, she is a trustee of the Wilson Center, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and the Federalist Society, and is chairman of the US Advisory Council of the American Swiss Foundation. 4 The Independent Women’s Forum announced that it would honor her with a lifetime achievement award in 2022. 5
In 2019, Diana Davis Spencer announced that her foundation would only give grants to universities that supported free and open debate. “Colleges and universities must allow free speech on campuses and encourage students to inquire and question all sides of an issue,” she said. “Otherwise, democracy is doomed.” 6
Abby Spencer Moffat
Abby Spencer Moffat is the CEO of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation and the daughter of Diana Davis Spencer. She is a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, and the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security. 7
In a 2022 interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable, Abby Spencer Moffat stated that “we bring an entrepreneurial mindset to everything we do…we recognize that entrepreneurship is key to developing the next generation of talent.” She added that “we lock arms with our grantees to help them grow and develop. The resources we provide include human resource support, development, marketing and communications and strategy. In that way we are not just investing in innovative ideas or dynamic leaders, we are serving as full-service consultants incubating successful models.” 8
Two grantees Abby Spencer Moffat said exemplified that entrepreneurship were Code 3, which provides a way for police in low-income communities to help “officers and community members…to know one another not as enemies but as people” and the Mysa School, which “uses technology to customize learning.” 9
Support for Military History
The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation has been a donor to an effort by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission to build a national memorial in Washington, D.C. to commemorate America’s efforts in that war. Other foundations contributing to this effort include the Lilly Endowment; the Starr, Marriott, and Richard Lounsbery Foundations; and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. 10
The foundation also gives grants to National History Day, in which teams of students and teachers from across America travel to the University of Maryland in a national contest to present papers about different aspects of American military history. In 2019, the topic was “Legacies of World War I,” honoring the centennial of the end of that war. 11 In 2020, students went to Hawaii to research the lives of soldiers buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Other donors to National History Day include the Crown Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Southwest Airlines. 12
In 2019 the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation gave six grants of over $1 million to the Daniel Morgan Academy ($5.4 million), the Daniel Morgan School of National Security ($4.6 million), DonorsTrust ($2 million), the Mysa School ($1.4 million), the Center for Education Reform ($1.2 million), and the Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education ($1 million). 13
Richard C. Painter
In 2018, University of Minnesota law school professor Richard C. Painter, who served as an ethics official in the George W. Bush administration, announced he was switching parties and running in the Democratic primary against incumbent U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) as an independent who would caucus with Democrats. 14
Painter had sat on the audit and investment committees of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the state arm of the national Democratic Party, attacked Painter saying that the Diane Davis Spencer Foundation funneled millions of dollars to organizations associated with Charles Koch. Both he and the foundation denied he had anything to do with foundation grantmaking, and Painter told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that a charge that he was connected with Charles Koch was “a lie.” 15 Painter lost the primary to Sen. Smith, getting 13 percent of the vote. 16
- For an obituary, see Wolfgang Saxon, “Shelby C. Davis, Envoy and Philanthropist, 85,” New York Times, June 1, 1994. For an analysis of the controversy over a chair Dais endowed at Trinity College, see Martin Morse Wooster, “An Unusual Victory For Donor Intent At Trinity College,” Martin Center, March 11, 2015, https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2015/03/an-unusual-victory-for-donor-intent-at-trinity-college/ (accessed September 9, 2022)
- For an obituary, see, Daniel E. Slotnik, “Kathryn Davis, 106, Donor; Made the Hudson her Cause,” New York Times, April 27, 2013.
-  “Heritage Foundation Receives Record-Breaking Gift,” press release from the Heritage Foundation, September `12, 2013.
- “Diana Davis Spencer,” https://ddsfoundation.org/diana-davis-spencer/ (accessed September 9, 2022).
- “Independent Women’s Forum Announces Strassel, Spencer As 2022 Annual Awards Gala Honorees Oct. 12,” press release from Independent Women’s Forum, August 11, 2022
- John Alman and Michael Poliakoff, “Force Colleges to Commit To Free Speech,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 21, 2019.
- ”Abby Spencer Moffat,” https://www.heritage.org/staff/abby-spencer-moffat (accessed September 12, 2022).
- Erica Haines, “How This Female Philanthropist Harnesses the Power of Entrepreneurship,” Philanthropy Roundtable, March 31, 2022, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/how-this-female-philanthropist-harnesses-the-power-of-entrepreneurship/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- Erica Haines, “How This Female Philanthropist Harnesses The Power of Entrepreneurship,” Philanthropy Roundtable, March 31, 2022, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/how-this-female-philanthropist-harnesses-the-power-of-entrepreneurship/ (accessed September 12, 2022)
- “New National WWI Memorial Design Continues to Gain Ground,” press release from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, February 15,2018.
-  “RVHS Teacher Selected for WW I Program,” Gallipolis (Ohio) Daily Tribune, September 16, 2019.
- “Minnesota Historical Society: St. Paul Student-teacher Team Chosen to Study World War II in Hawaii,” press release from Minnesota Historical Society, January 15, 2020.
- 2019 Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Form 990.
- Paul Walsh “Former George W. Bush Ethics Lawyer To Run For U.S. Senate as a Democrat,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 29, 2018.
- Judy Keen, “DFL Aims to Discredit Painter,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 1, 2018.
- Matthew Stolle, “Walz, Johnson Advance in Governor’s Race,” Rochester (Minnesota) Post-Bulletin, August 15, 2018.