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DonorsTrust

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DonorsTrust (DT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit started in 1999 "to ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise."[1] Along with its supporting 509(a)(3) organization Donors Capital Fund (DCF), it is a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a coordinating body for conservative foundations founded by Whitney L. Ball, who passed away in 2015. The current president and CEO of DCF and DT is Lawson R. Bader, former president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Both funding organizations are "donor-advised funds," which means that the fund creates separate accounts for individual donors, and the donors then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. They cloak the identity of the original mystery donors because the funds are then distributed in the name of DT or DCF, contributing another step to what has been called a "murky money maze."[2]

The twin Donors organizations are advertised as a way for very wealthy people and corporations to remain hidden when "funding sensitive or controversial issues," creating a lack of accountability.[3]

According to the late co-founder Whitney Ball, if donors neglect to give DonorsTrust an intent statement, "DonorsTrust is free to distribute the funds as it sees fit."[4]

DonorsTrust is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.[5]

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

DonorsTrust connection to Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker, acting Attorney General under the Trump administration, reportedly earned $1.2 million dollars as the Executive Director of Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. According to a Washington Post investigations of filings, a significant portion of that money came from DonorsTrust, which is described in the article as "a large nonprofit organization that wealthy contributors have used to anonymously give millions to conservative nonprofits."[6]

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients

In June, 2016, DonorsTrust reached $1 billion in contributions to their "donor-advised accounts."[7]

For a complete list of 2010-2014 grant recipients, see the DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients page.

What DonorsTrust Funds, and How Much

Donors Trust Money Trail (Source: Center for Public Integrity
(http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/02/14/12151/following-donors-trust-money-trail))

DT and DCF made grants of over $148 million in 2011 and 2012, and according to a report by DeSmog Blog the two funds granted almost $311 million between 2002 and 2010'.[8] The Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues appear to be cloaking an untold amount of their donations to conservative political outlets through DT and DCF. The obscure Knowledge and Progress Fund, controlled by Charles G. Koch, with Richard Fink as president, has given only to Donors since 2005, according to Mashey.[8][9]

Coincidentally, the related Philanthropy Roundtable chose to honor Charles G. Koch with its 2011 William E. Simon Prize for "Philanthropic Leadership," enabling him to choose a non-profit to receive a $250,000 grant. The Roundtable explained that Koch is at the "forefront of strategic investment in ideas, think tanks, and academic research. . . . Having benefited from the capitalist system, he wants others to prosper in the same way."[10]

Funding Climate Change Denial

According to Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist featured on PBS Frontline in October 2012, "by 2009, about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement [of climate change denial] is from the Donors Trust [and] Donors Capital Fund." He added that "what you see is that as the contribution of Donors [to climate change denial groups] has increased over the 2003-to-2010 timeframe, the contribution of other foundations has declined. Koch went from a high of 9 percent of the funding flow in 2008 to 1 percent in 2010. We do know that the Koch brothers have made significant contributions to Donors Trust through their foundation called the Knowledge and Progress Fund. They gave $1.25 million in 2007, $1.25 million in 2008, and then $2 million in 2010 to Donors. We don’t know where it went after it goes to Donors, because it’s not necessarily a one-for-one giving."[11]

DonorsTrust promises to only funnel money to groups with an extreme anti-environmental bent, so industrial billionaires need not worry about their money winding up at Greenpeace, for example,[9] as DonorsTrust co-founder Whitney Ball explains:

"...if a donor names his child a successor advisor, and she wants to give to Greenpeace, we're not going to be able to do that."[4]

In February 2013, the Guardian reported that nearly US$120 million dollars from "conservative billionaires" were routed through two trusts, DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, who used a "secretive funding route" to channel the funds "to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change." The trusts were "operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC," and the funds "doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising 'wedge issue' for hardcore conservatives."[12]

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) published a chart of the foundations and funds that gave money to DonorsTrust, and the organizations to which Donors Trust distributed the funds. In one example, DonorsTrust was a large supporter of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a think tank with a network of online media outlets in state capitals that covered climate change from a conservative point of view. According to IRS records, 95 percent of Franklin’s revenue in 2011 came from Donors Trust. The funding allowed Franklin to maintain tax-exemption as a “publicly supported” entity.

Funding State Think Tanks' ALEC Membership

In the mid-2000s, SPN began to secure funding for more of its member think tanks to join ALEC in order to help develop model legislation.[13] In 2011, some of this "secured funding" for SPN members' participation in ALEC came from DCF. According to DCF's 2011 IRS disclosure, it funded Michigan's Mackinac Center, North Carolina's John Locke Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Foundation, and six other member think tanks "for participation at American Legislative Exchange Council meeting," providing a total of $200,000 to the groups for that purpose.[14][15]

Funding Islamophobia in the United States

Research from the Center for American Progress (CAP) indicates that DCF has funded various organizations and individuals contributing to an anti-Islamic hysteria in the United States. Between 2007 and 2009 the Donors Capital Fund contributed $21,318,600 to "groups promoting Islamophobia, some of which included the Middle East Forum, Clarion Fund, Investigative Project on Terrorism, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. In 2008, Donors Capital contributions amounted to 96% of Clarion Fund's financial resources, which allowed the organization to distribute a controversial video called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," which attempted to persuade Americans of the supposed Islamist threat during the 2008 election cycle. [16]

Ties to the Bradley Foundation

Through 2016 DonorsTrust received $3,249,292 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.[17]

Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.

2015: $30,000 to support the general operations of Talent Market. Talent Market matches individuals with right wing nonprofits. “Talent Market is a wholly owned entity of DonorsTrust and is funded solely through direct contributions from individuals, organizations, foundations, and corporations…In a space of five years’ time it has provided free market nonprofits with information, personnel, and training expertise at no charge, all in an effort to develop a critical mass of well staffed and well run free market organizations available to engage in the public debate of ideas and formation of public policies that once enacted can sustain and nurture America’s fundamental principles and values.”

2015: $100,000 to support Philanthropy Roundtable’s Independence Project. The Independence Project is a new endeavor of the Philanthropy Roundtable “to challenge the Veterans public bureaucracy by testing new flexible private alternatives.”

2014: $100,000 to support the Project on Fair Representation (PFR), “which requests an unspecified amount to finance at least three class action lawsuits challenging affirmative action policies at highly competitive public and private colleges and universities, perhaps including the University of Wisconsin.” PFR’s predecessor was the Campaign for Color Blind America (CCBA). Bradley supported PFR with a grant of $100,000 in 2012 for Fisher v UT and Shelby County v. Holder. PFR was seeking help from attorneys at DC’s Wiley Rein law firm to identify more opportunities to strike down affirmative action. Bradley noted in 2014 that three likely targets were UW Madison, UNC Chapel Hill and Harvard. PFR noted a desire to file the suits within weeks or day of each other, aiming for the Spring of 2015. PFR has raised $1.5 million from the Searle Freedom Trust.

2013: $20,000 to support a project in Pennsylvania by the Commonwealth Foundation, American Majority and Media Trackers. The three groups worked together to create a permanent Pennsylvania infrastructure that mimics Wisconsin’s, “Bradley already supports both American Majority’s and Media Trackers’ work in Wisconsin. Commonwealth is a member of the Bradley supported Interstate Policy Alliance (IPA) and State Policy Network (SPN).”

Their first collective project was “educating” legislators on the effect of government unions on public policy and economic growth. “The context for this project includes the fact that reforms that might be proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett later this year or early next to alter the way in which government unions in state collect dues and PAC contributions from their members through automatic withholding… To the effort, according to the organizations’ jointly submitted request, Commonwealth brings ‘intellectual ammunition,’ American Majority brings candidate recruitment and training and Media Trackers brings ‘opposition research.’ Other organizations, including some 501(c)(3) groups, are also part of the effort. SPN is offering public relations support for the project as part of its larger campaign to better ‘brand’ freedom.” The overall budget for the larger infrastructure project was $5.3 million, of which $3 million was raised by in state donors. Bradley recommended the $20,000 “to supplement already existing, albeit indirect support of Commonwealth through IPA and SPN… Given Commonwealth’s history, the potential national importance of Pennsylvania as a place for policy to pivot and the groups’ desire to learn from the experience of those who helped further reform in Wisconsin.”

Bradley Files

In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.

Find the series here at ExposedbyCMD.org.

Core Financials

2016[18]

  • Total Revenue: $92,583,255
  • Total Expenses: $68,618,357
  • Net Assets: $187,465,225

2015[19]

  • Total Revenue: $85,527,056
  • Total Expenses: $69,779,064
  • Net Assets: $167,817,067

2014[20]

  • Total Revenue: $67,869,616
  • Total Expenses: $58,239,511
  • Net Assets: $140,390,762

2013[21]

  • Total Revenue: $104,533,200
  • Total Expenses: $39,689,582
  • Net Assets: $102,076,607

2012[22]

  • Total Revenue: $47,559,207
  • Total Expenses: $43,106,986
  • Net Assets: $30,614,131

Personnel

As of March 2018:[23]

Staff

  • Lawson R. Bader, President & CEO, Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust
  • Peter A. Lipsett, Director of Growth Strategies
  • Lydia Pitea, Marketing Assistant
  • Rosemary Purple, Grants Administrator
  • Jeffrey A. Sellazzo, Executive Assistant
  • Thomas Wischer, Office Manager & Grants Associate
  • Jeffrey C. Zysik, Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology

Former Staff

  • Whitney L. Ball, Former President & CEO of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund
  • Lauren B. Vander Heyden, Outreach Manager
  • Christopher D. Renner, Grants & Accounting Manager

Board of Directors

Former Directors

Contact Information

DonorsTrust
1800 Diagonal Street, Suite 280
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Phone: (703) 535-3563
Fax: (703) 535-3564
Email: info@donorstrust.org
Web: http://www.donorstrust.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/donorstrust

Resources and Articles

IRS Form 990 Filings

2016

2015

2014

2013

Related Sourcewatch Articles

Related PRWatch Articles

External Resources

References

  1. DonorsTrust, Mission & Principles, organizational website, accessed December 2012.
  2. John Mashey, Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax 2, DeSmog Blog report, updated October 23, 2012, p. 19.
  3. DonorsTrust, FAQ, organizational website, accessed December 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Whitney Ball: The future of donor-advised funds, Philanthropy (a publication of the Philanthropy Roundtable), September/October 2005.
  5. State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2016.
  6. Robert O'Harrow Jr., Shawn Boburg and Aaron C. Davis November Conservative nonprofit with obscure roots and undisclosed funders paid Matthew Whitaker $1.2 million The Washington Post Nov. 20, 2018
  7. Lawson Bader, Remembering Whitney Ball-1 Year Later, DonorsTrust, 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 John Mashey, Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax 2, DeSmog Blog report, updated October 23, 2012, p. 71.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Connor Gibson, Greenpeace, Meet the Network Hiding the Koch Money: "Donors Trust" and "Donors Capital Fund", PRWatch.org, originally published by Greenpeace, October 29, 2012.
  10. Philanthropy Roundtable, Winner of the 2011 William E. Simon Prize, organizational website, accessed December 2012.
  11. Robert Brulle: Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement”, PBS Frontline, October 23, 2012.
  12. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks," The Guardian, February 14, 2013.
  13. State Policy Network, SPN & Alec: A Model Relationship, SPN News, organizational newsletter, July/August 2009, p. 4.
  14. Donors Capital Fund, 2011 IRS Form 990, fund's IRS tax filing, November 14, 2012.
  15. Paul Abowd, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, Center for Public Integrity, February 14, 2013.
  16. Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir, Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, CAB, August 2011. See specially pages 15-17.
  17. Bradley Files, [on file with CMD], Bradley Files, 2017.
  18. DonorsTrust, [paper copy on file at CMD 2016 IRS form 990], organizational tax filing, November 15, 2017.
  19. DonorsTrust, 2015 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 14, 2016.
  20. DonorsTrust, 2014 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 16, 2015.
  21. DonorsTrust, 2013 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 7, 2014.
  22. DonorsTrust, 2012 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, November 14, 2013.
  23. DonorsTrust, Directors & Staff, fund website, accessed March 2018.