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Chuck Brunie: An Investor Exemplar

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
What are more important to the health of an intellectual movement: writers and academics, or investors and philanthropists? That thought occurred to me when I was informed of the death of Chuck Brunie, the former longtime chairman of the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and chairman emeritus of The American Spectator. Of course, an intellectual movement needs brains, but it also needs money -- prudently spent money.

A writer or an academic can while away the days developing ideas, but without investors or philanthropists, those ideas will not get to the public. Frankly, I would say, investors or philanthropists are more important than the idea people in the long run. Take the field of economics. We have had a few giants, most recently Milton Friedman. We have had some very bright economic minds since Friedman. But for my money, he was the last giant, and without people to fund his thought and the thoughts of his disciples, those thoughts would quite possibly die or be set back for years. How often does the left-wing media, for instance, mention Milton Friedman? Those who fund the think tanks and magazines of the right keep his ideas alive.

One of the investors who kept investing in Friedman's free market ideas was Chuck Brunie. He began by heading the research department at Oppenheimer & Co. in the 1960s, which he made No. 1 in its league. After four years there, he established Oppenheimer Capital, which he headed as chairman for more than a quarter century. He made many investors rich, among them Friedman. He became Friedman's personal investor and prize student. In an inspired obituary for the City Journal, Myron Magnet tells the story about Chuck arriving at the Friedmans' elegant apartment overlooking San Francisco. As he entered the room, the great economist sang "Welcome to the House that Chuck Built."

One of the myths of modern-day politics is that the conservative movement vastly outspends the left. It is a comforting legend to the left, as its stalwarts lick their wounds from a string of defeats ending in the presidency of Donald Trump. As a matter of fact, Jim Piereson has led the way in pointing out that the left outspends the right by an enormous amount. In what he calls the second phase of the conservative movement -- beginning in the mid-1970s and ending in 2003 -- the top conservative foundations spent roughly $100 million annually out of a combined worth of about $1.5 billion. The top five left-wing foundations spent a staggering $1.2 billion annually from a capital pool of approximately $24 billion. In an update from the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock this week, the figures have grown to overall assets of $38.38 billion for the left and overall assets of $7.41 billion on the right.

The right has spent less money, but it spends it more wisely. One of the reasons there is so much acrimony in our politics today is that the old order is passing and it is in a fury about its demise.

Chuck recognized the left's demise. He was one of the investors who hastened its collapse. He was the exceptional donor who was both a financial wizard and an intellectual in his own right. He was widely read in economics, history, the social sciences and politics. When he donated his money or his ideas to an organization, he knew he was expanding freedom. He did not shy away from controversy. As Magnet says, he was an intellectual investor. He always had a reason for what he did.

In the aftermath of the the Clintons' assault on The American Spectator, when the grand jury had been disbanded and the FBI had moved on, I can tell you that my telephone rarely rang. Seth Lipsky did call one day and invite me to his editorial office at The New York Sun. Seth has always had an eclectic group of friends. As the conversation bubbled on and he poured a round of drinks, he turned to Chuck, saying: "Bob's had a tough time at the hands of the government. You ought to get on his board." Without a hint of hesitation, he agreed. I have never had another board member more generous or more helpful.

Chuck knew politics, finance and journalism, and he knew how to laugh. He is irreplaceable.

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