John Von Kannon, who spent more than 30 years as a vice president and top fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation, helping expand the conservative think tank’s membership and influence, died Sept. 5 at his home in Washington. He was 66.
The cause was cancer, said Edwin Feulner, a founder and past president of the Heritage Foundation.
Mr. Von Kannon was credited with raising more than $1 billion for the Heritage Foundation and other conservative causes. He was previously the publisher of the American Spectator magazine, a leading conservative journal of opinion.
When Feulner hired Mr. Von Kannon in 1980, the Heritage Foundation had an annual budget of less than $4 million and about 100,000 regular contributors. Through direct-mail appeals and a warm personal touch, Mr. Von Kannon increased the foundation’s list of donors to more than 500,000 people. According to the foundation’s Web site, its current annual budget is $82 million.
Mr. Von Kannon was “a natural fundraiser,” Feulner said in an interview. “He didn’t view donors as a checkbook but as partners in how you dealt with policy areas.”
In recent decades, the foundation has had a strong influence on Republican lawmakers and in Republican presidential administrations.
“People give because they believe in the cause,” Mr. Von Kannon told United Press International in 2002. “Heritage can make a very effective case with George W. Bush as president and the political makeup of the House and Senate that we can make a difference in Washington for conservatives.”
John Arthur Von Kannon was born March 9, 1949, in Terre Haute, Ind., and completed high school in Lafayette, Ind. His father was a middle school principal.
When still in his teens, Mr. Von Kannon volunteered for the 1964 presidential campaign of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who was considered a formative figure in the conservative movement despite losing the presidency in a landslide to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
At Indiana University, from which he graduated in 1970, Mr. Von Kannon became a leader in the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom.
He and a fellow Indiana student, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., helped launch what eventually became the American Spectator magazine. Tyrrell’s sharp-edged opinion columns helped bring the journal a devoted following in the 1970s, while Mr. Von Kannon served as publisher. He proved adept at soliciting financial support and quickly became known in conservative circles — often by his nickname, “the Baron.”
Although he left American Spectator in 1980, Mr. Von Kannon is still listed on its masthead under the title of “Kapellmeister.”
In 1988, Mr. Von Kannon briefly served as a vice president for the Pacific Legal Foundation in California and then ran a consulting firm outside Chicago before returning to the Heritage Foundation in 1991.
He was a member of the Philadelphia Society, a leading group of conservative thinkers, and served on the boards of other organizations, including the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, a group favoring free-market solutions to environmental problems.
This year, Mr. Von Kannon became the first staff member of the Heritage Foundation to receive its highest honor, the Clare Boothe Luce Award.
Survivors include his wife of 26 years, Cindy Gambrin Von Kannon, and their two children, Rachel Von Kannon and Jack Von Kannon, all of Washington; his mother, Helen Von Kannon of Lafayette, Ind.; and two sisters.