Philip M. Stern, philanthropist, author

Published June 3, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

Philip M. Stern, a philanthropist and best-selling author, died Monday (June 1, 1992) at the George Washington University Hospital. He was 66, and he lived in Washington.

He died of a brain tumor, said his son, David.

In his books The Great Treasury Raid (1964), The Rape of the Taxpayer (1973) and The Best Congress Money Could Buy (1988), Mr. Stern examined how wealthy individuals and corporations used political donations to reap tax breaks.

The iconoclastic scion of a wealthy family, he directed millions of dollars from one of his family's charities, the Stern Fund, to groups trying to end poverty and promote social change.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader called Mr. Stern the "most creative, versatile and persistent philanthropist of our generation."

Among the recipients of his foundation grants was Seymour Hersh, who was given money in 1969 to investigate reports of a massacre of South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers at the village of Mylai. Hersh's stories on the massacre shocked the nation and the world.

Other Stern grantees included a group of students at a Washington high school who used the money to organize their own classes in black history in the late 1960s and early 1970s; drug treatment centers; a switchboard for runaways; free medical clinics; and the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

More recent grantees include the Government Accountability Project, which protects whistle-blowers in government and business; Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which campaigned for freedom and openness in the Teamsters Union; the Center for Science in Public Interest, which promoted labeling accuracy in health foods; and the Women's Legal Defense Fund.

Mr. Stern also founded two political organizations in the mid-1980s, Citizens Against PACs and the Campaign Research Center, which were intended to draw attention to the influence of money on politics.

Although he is remembered for his passionate devotion to political change, he also was a playful man who occasionally sported a Lenin button on his lapel to tease friends and critics alike.

In 1988, when he sent every member of the Senate and House a copy of The Best Congress Money Can Buy, he included a $1 bill in each to be used as a bookmark.

Stern's maternal grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, was the financier who built Sears, Roebuck and Co. into one of the nation's largest companies. He was reared in New Orleans, where his parents, through their own philanthropy, especially in aid of the black community in the segregated city, taught him that wealth brought responsibility.