Meet Donors Trust: The Little-Known Group That Lets the Wealthy Secretively Fund Right-Wing Causes
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AMY GOODMAN: John Dunbar, in your report, you speak with the Donors Trust president and CEO, Whitney Ball. She says much of the group’s focus is on the state level because of, quote, "gridlock" at the federal level of government means donors see, quote, "a better opportunity to make a difference in the states." Ball also sits on the board of the State Policy Network. Can you talk about this focus on activity at the state level?
JOHN DUNBAR: Yeah, I think that—I don’t think anybody would argue with her point that it’s hard to get anything done in Washington these days. They have been a lot more successful at the state level. And I think that in Washington we have a tendency to sort of get tunnel vision: We don’t think that anything that happens outside of Washington really matters, when in fact the laws that are passed in the states are extremely important. Some of the focus of the Donors Trust recipients have been on specific state issues that, you know, affect all of us. You know, some of their favorite issues are right-to-work laws in the states; climate issues; renewable energy, as you’ll hear from Suzanne and The Guardian, which has done such great work on that; and as well as, you know, tax issues, etc. People tend to look at states and what’s happening in a particular state in isolation; they don’t look around and see that the same thing seems to be happening in other states. And it’s—this is clearly a coordinated effort to create state-based think tanks. There’s 51 of them that they’ve funded all across the country to push legislative issues. And then they created their own media empire to support—they even support the ideas behind those issues.
AARON MATÉ: Well, John Dunbar, if you could follow up on that, this media group, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. They receive 95 percent of their funding from the Donors Trust?
JOHN DUNBAR: Right, and that was kind of shocking, actually. You know, we—that is a foundation-financed reporting organization. I have to say that the Center for Public Integrity is also a foundation-financed reporting organization, so—however, we do not get 95 percent of our funding from any individual donor. Franklin does. The difficulty with that is that, first of all, you have to wonder what—whether the reporting is going to be influenced by that single donor. Secondly, they are a (c)3, which is—which means donations to them are tax deductible, and they don’t pay taxes themselves. That’s a public trust, by the way. That’s—the Donors Trust is in the same position. If they were not a publicly financed nonprofit, they would lose their nonprofit status. By getting all of their money or most of their money through Donors Trust, they’re able to maintain their (c)3 status as a, quote, you know, "publicly financed charity," unquote. And if all that money came from one person, for example, they would lose that exemption, or they would be part of—they would have to be absorbed by whatever foundation it was that was funding them.
AMY GOODMAN: John, in 2009, Republicans, bloggers, conservative think tanks began to cite a report that the Obama administration had pumped billions of stimulus funds into phantom congressional districts, suggesting money intended to create jobs and shore up the economy had been misused or lost. One of the key websites to report this was newmexicowatchdog.org, which is almost entirely funded by Donors Trust. The story was picked up by Fox News, like in this report from Stuart Varney.
STUART VARNEY: Take a look at this map, please. The government is claiming jobs created in nine Oklahoma congressional districts; problem: There’s only five. Jobs in eight districts of Iowa; big problem: There’s only five. Jobs in eight districts in Connecticut; again, there’s only five. Jobs in three congressional districts in the Virgin Islands; there is only one. And as you point out, Bill, Puerto Rico, the government claims 17,544 jobs created or saved in six congressional districts; there is only one congressional district in Puerto Rico.