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Revealed: Right-Wing Groups Spent Over $1 Million Bankrolling Fox News Host's Propaganda in Schools

Meet the dark money groups distributing John Stossel materials to American students.

Two foundations that have been described as "the dark money ATM of the right" have spent more than $1 million combined funding a non-profit organization whose primary function is distributing libertarian education materials featuring Fox Business host John Stossel.

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, the affiliated funding groups, were until recently obscure entities. But over the past month a series of reports have detailed how those organizations have paid out more than $400 million to over 1,000 conservative groups since their 1999 founding. Those reports have described how the two organizations have allowed wealthy individuals to discreetly underwrite trending conservative causes like climate change denial.

The groups have also been the primary funders behind an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons branded with John Stossel's mustachioed face. In 2011, Donors Trust gave $540,000 to the Philadelphia-based Center for Independent Thought (CIT), with the funds earmarked for the distribution of "Stossel in the Classroom" teaching materials, according to  IRS filings obtained by Mother Jones

According to CIT's website, its mission is to "bring the ideas of liberty to freedom-loving people around the globe." They do so primarily through the distribution of free "Stossel in the Classroom" videos, DVDs and discussion guides, which the program claims are currently used by more than 150,000 teachers in middle school, high school, and college classrooms around the country. 

The 2011 Donors Trust donation made up more than two-thirds of CIT's $750,581 revenue, according to IRS filings. The Center spent $360,872 on the "Stossel" program that year, making it by far the largest of the three active programs listed on its website.

"Stossel in the Classroom" began in 1999 when Stossel was still with ABC News. It was seeded with financial support from the libertarian Palmer R. Chitester Fund and grew slowly until CIT took over the program in the mid-2000s.

CIT was a natural home for "Stossel in the Classroom." Founded with Koch money as the Libertarian Review Foundation in the 1970s, real estate developer Howard Rich took control of the organization in 1990 and gave it its current name. Rich is part of the libertarian donor elite,  founded Americans for Limited Government, and sits on the board at Cato, the Club for Growth, and the Friedman Center for Educational Choice. (Rich's wife, Andrea, runs CIT, but does not draw a salary.)

At the same time the group took over "Stossel," new right-wing funding began flowing into its coffers. While Donors Trust was its main sponsor in 2011, it has also received money from Donors Capital Fund ($500,000 from 2007 to 2010) and foundations linked to the Koch brothers.

The purpose of groups like Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund is to allow wealthy benefactors to support conservative causes anonymously. The Tides Foundation is a liberal analogue, donating millions of dollars to left-leaning groups (including Media Matters).  According to Mother Jones, whose non-profit arm has also received Tides funding, "Donors Trust's strategic intent is far narrower and more coherent than Tides'. The groups funded by Donors Trust more or less pursue the same agenda--eliminate regulations, kneecap unions, shrink government, and transfer more power to the private sector."

The Center for Public Integrity produced  this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups:


CIT's funders -- whoever they are -- will find nothing in their program's activities to make them question their investment in helping produce the next generation of libertarians.