"I have nothing but high regard for them," said Judith Swayne, executive director of the Orange County Community Foundation. Within the California philanthropic community, she said, "they are highly respected. The feeling is that they are a part of their community. They're really hands-on. They are not pomp-and-circumstance kind of people."
On the other hand, said Pablo Eisenberg, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change, "one would like them to give to the arts to support diversity, to community groups, grass-roots and storefront arts to encourage artists--particularly creative artists from disadvantaged populations."
But "the norm is to support the well-known, the established arts groups," said Robert O. Bothwell, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. "Most foundations don't do anything daring or courageous."
Actually, he added, these days, the Steeles' "support for Planned Parenthood would qualify as having a daring streak."
If there is any valid criticism, said Waldemar Nielsen, author of "The Big Foundations" and "The Golden Donors," it is that the foundation is also an "example of the rather general, widespread maldistribution of philanthropic money in the United States.
"Wealthy families tend to live in counties like Orange County. It's a commentary on American life: Them that has, gets."
Steele Spending Gifts over the past decade (1981-1990), totaling $47.7 million.
Higher Education: 37%
The Arts: 28%
Population Planning and Abortion Rights Groups: 18%
Medical and Scientific Research: 6%
Other Causes: 11% Source: Steele Foundation and IRS