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The Coming of Age for the Reason Foundation : Libertarian Think Tank Is Relocating Here in Bid for a Higher Profile and Greater Clout

June 25, 1986|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

Reason is coming to Los Angeles.

Next week.

But before you say, "And about time, too," perhaps you should know more.

In this case, Reason is a magazine and part of the Reason Foundation, a think tank that seeks ways to turn the federal government into an anorexic shadow of its current self, among other things.

And in what some might consider an act of insanity, the Reason staff is abandoning the quiet, clear-aired charms of Santa Barbara for the Southern California megalopolis.

Yet there is method in this madness.

Seeking Visibility

When the foundation opens its new offices in Santa Monica next Monday, president Robert W. Poole Jr., 41, hopes his eight-year-old brainchild will have found the climate in which to prosper.

What the Reason Foundation wants, he explained, is greater visibility, access and clout among the business, intellectual and media communities of California and the nation.

"There is not a critical mass of any of those communities in Santa Barbara," Poole said the other day, noting that most comparable organizations are headquartered in big cities. "We realize we're paying a price in lower profile, lower visibility, by being in Santa Barbara. Moving to Los Angeles is a very big and important step for us."

Checks with Reason's peers around the country seemed to highlight the low visibility of the foundation and its magazine.

Nation editor Victor Navasky in New York, New Republic editor Michael Kinsley in Washington and Donald McDonald, acting director of the well-known Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions of Santa Barbara, said they were not particularly familiar with the foundation or the magazine, although their offices receive copies of Reason.

However, Kinsley, whose magazine has lately confounded some of its liberal readers, said the libertarian movement to which Reason belongs is "a very creative force in American politics. . . . In some ways, they're more left than right."

At the influential, conservative Washington-based Heritage Foundation, the Reason Foundation proved to be much more visible, though.

Robert Huberty, who coordinates Heritage's work with outside groups and individuals, said his organization has worked closely with Reason staffers in briefing Reagan Administration figures on privatization, the selling off or contracting out of government services.

Acknowledging that "there is a kind of tension between mainstream conservatives and libertarians," Huberty said, "Generally speaking, we've found them (Reason) to be more compatible than other libertarian organizations."

Within certain political circles, Reason is well-known, Huberty added. "Conservative movement types who are in the know are familiar with Reason," he said.

Despite the Heritage endorsement, Poole is clearly wary of being tagged with traditional political labels.

The Reason Foundation, which has 13 full-time and two part-time staff members, frequently has been falsely tabbed conservative or right-wing in the media, Poole said, adding that such labels convey an inaccurate picture of the organization.

Baby Boomers' Concerns

"A lot of our emphasis, especially with Reason magazine, is the concerns of the baby boomers who are economically conservative and socially tolerant," he said. "That's very crude but it's kind of a working-level definition of what we are." Other words Poole used to describe Reason included "open," "optimistic" and "pro-technology."

A glance through the magazine and other foundation materials seems to support Poole's contention. Alongside fairly predictable calls for a balanced federal budget and other fiscal restraint, Reason advocates pulling all U.S. armed forces out of Europe and an end to all forms of censorship.

Poole also says he has briefed Democrats as well as Republicans, including having input to a potential 1988 presidential candidate.

Declining to name names, Poole said, "I can say that somebody who's very close to one of those 'new ideas' Democrats has gotten memos from me and I sat down and briefed some Southern California free-enterprise Democrats on a couple of occasions."

Demonstrating his practical side, Poole added, "We don't have any particular reason to feed ideas only to Republicans. I'm very happy to try to feed good ideas to people who might be in power in the next 20 years. I'm not sure they all know who we are and I'm not sure if they really care. We like to think of ourselves as idea brokers."

Whatever its political stripes, Reason's move will add Los Angeles to the list of major cities--including New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and Washington--that have libertarian-style or "free market" think tanks devoted in large part to pushing deregulation of business and privatization of government functions at all levels.

Not unexpectedly, the primary target of the Reason foundations reports, books and magazine articles is the federal government.

In the best of all possible worlds, Poole said, the central government would practically wither away.

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