The Roe Foundation is a private grantmaking foundation created by Thomas A. Roe, chairman of the board of Builder Marts of America. Roe was a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and his grants created the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Roe also founded the State Policy Network, and much of the Roe Foundation grantmaking supports center-right state-based public policy organizations.
Thomas A. Roe
Thomas A. Roe was chairman of the board of Builder Marts of America. 1 He was active in the South Carolina Republican Party from the mid 1950s onwards, at a time when Human Events noted, “it must have been a hopeless dream” for Republicans to win offices “in solidly Democratic South Carolina.” 2
Support for Center-Right State-based think tanks
According to National Review’s John J. Miller, in 1986, Roe told then-President Ronald Reagan that “bureaucrats in Albany, Austin, and Sacramento weren’t necessarily better than those in Washington.” President Reagan told Roe, “Do something about it.” 3
Roe created the South Carolina Education Council Foundation, the first state-based center-right think tank, in 1985. In 1986, he started an organization which became the State Policy Network in 1992. By the time of Roe’s death in 2000, 42 state based think tanks had been established. “That is amazing for any man to have that kind of vision to make that come to fruition in just 10 years,” said South Carolina Educational Policy Council chairman Ed McMullen Jr. in 2000. 4
In 2004, the New York Times identified Roe, who had died in 2000, 5 as “a key supporter” of state-based center-right think tanks. 6
The State Policy Network gives an honor named for Roe, the Thomas A. Roe Award, for “leadership, innovation, and accomplishment in public policy.” Winners of the Thomas A. Roe Award include John Kramer of the Institute for Justice in 2018, Kim Dennis of Searle Freedom Trust in 2019, and Justin Owen of the Beacon Center of Tennessee in 2021. 7
In a 2007 article for the Capital Research Center, John J. Miller reported that Roe wanted his foundation to be perpetual and was concerned about donor intent. Ed McMullen told Miller that Roe was particularly concerned with the case of the Buck Trust, a charity through which Beryl Buck left money to aid the needy in Marin County, California. The courts mandated that Buck’s money be used to create several national organizations, including one studying alcoholism and one dealing with the health problems of the elderly, even though there was no evidence Buck wanted these groups to be created. The Buck Trust case “really disturbed [Roe],” McMullen recalled. 8
The Roe Foundation deed of trust has a lengthy section describing Roe’s intentions, including assisting “non-profit educational institutions whose primary mission is to promote a better understanding of the value of human and economic freedom function within a social framework.” Roe gave the Philadelphia Society and the Mont Pelerin Society standing to sue if they felt the Roe Foundation was making grants contrary to his intentions. 9 These provisions are still in force as of December 2021. 10
In 2020, the Roe Foundation’s largest grant was $150,000 to the State Policy Network, followed by grants to the Heritage Foundation ($125,000), the James Madison Institute ($50,000), and America’s Future Foundation ($35,000). It made further $30,000 grants to the Buckeye Institute, Foundation for Government Accountability, Goldwater Institute, Washington Policy Center, and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. 11
- Builder Marts of America was acquired by Guardian Industries, a company bought by Koch Industries in 2017. “Koch Industries Completes the Acquisition of Guardian Industries Corp.”, https://www.guardian.com/en/About%20Us/a.html (accessed August 12, 2022).
- John Gizzi, “Politics ’00,” Human Events, March 10, 2000.
- John J. Miller, “Fifty Flowers Bloom,” National Review, November 19, 20007.
-  Andy paras, “Thomas Roe, Adviser to World Leaders, Was 72,” Greenville (South Carolina) News, January 10, 2000.
- Andy paras, “Thomas Roe, Adviser to World Leaders, Was 72,” Greenville (South Carolina) News, January 10, 2000.
- Jason DeParle, “Right-Of-Center Guru Goes Wide with The Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, November 17, 2000.
- “Thomas A. Roe Award,” State Policy Network, https://spn.org/roe-award/ (accessed August 12, 2022)
- John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, May 2007.
- John J. Miller, “Safeguarding A Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, May 2007.
- “Three External Safeguards To Protect Your Donor Intent,” Philanthropy Roundtable, https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/resource/three-external-safeguards-to-protect-your-donor-intent/ accessed August 12 2022)
- 2020 Roe Foundation Form 990.