Madoff-invested charities contributed $365k to Media Matters

Vince Coglianese | Editorial Director

Media Matters for America accepted funding from at least three foundations whose money “grew” under the fraudulent stewardship of the now-incarcerated Bernard Madoff. One of those foundations was backed by a man many believe was in cahoots with the legendary financial criminal.

Madoff’s Wall Street empire crumbled in late 2008 after federal authorities were tipped off to his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Among those institutions that saw their fortunes evaporate were foundations that had placed their trust and investments in Madoff’s surreal enterprise. Three of those philanthropies contributed money to Media Matters in 2008, at least one of which may have even been complicit in Madoff’s scheme.

The Picower Foundation, which The New York Times referred to as “one of the nation’s leading philanthropies,” shuttered its $1 billion enterprise after Madoff’s arrest. Barbara Picower, who co-founded the charity with her late husband, investor Jeffry M. Picower, told the Times in December 2008 that Madoff’s “act of fraud has had a devastating impact on tens of thousands of lives as well as numerous philanthropic foundations and nonprofit organizations.”

But Jeffry Picower was one of Madoff’s single largest beneficiaries, and many believe he was hardly an unwitting victim of the Madoff scheme. According to Rick Stone, an attorney representing a purported class of Madoff victims, Picower could even be seen as a more nefarious actor than Madoff.

Picower was “a bigger fraudulent actor than Madoff himself because Madoff — at best estimate — he and his family, took $800 million out of the scheme,” Stone told The Daily Caller. “And we know that Picower took at least $7 billion out of this scheme.”

Stone added that he believes “there was some understanding between the two of them that was based upon Picower’s control of Madoff.”

Madoff’s management of Picower’s investments dated back to the 1970s. According to reports, Picower’s investments ultimately yielded him $7.8 billion from the scam, even though he had put in only $619 million. Jeffry Picower died of a heart attack in late 2009, and Barbara Picower agreed in 2010 to hand over $7.2 billion of her husband’s estate to Madoff’s victims, the largest forfeiture of wealth in U.S. history.

Records show The Picower Foundation gave Media Matters $100,000 in 2008.

Stone said the foundation was “largely funded by illegal proceeds of the Madoff scheme” and that in an “ideal world” Media Matters and other beneficiaries of the foundation would give back the money they received from it. But he admitted the prospects of that are unlikely.

“If I were in their shoes I wouldn’t [give back the money] unless I got sued, ” he explained, “and they won’t get sued.”

“It’s too late in the game for them to get sued. That have certain defenses as a secondary recipient of the money. So I just don’t see it happening.”

The largest donation to Media Matters from the three Madoff-invested foundations was a $250,000 contribution from the Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance (JEHT) Foundation. JEHT was a politically progressive charity with a focus on reforming the U.S. justice system. It was among the foundations that quickly collapsed as their millions vanished following Madoff’s arrest.

Another foundation that provided support to Media Matters while investing in Madoff’s scam was The Enfranchisement Foundation, which provided the left-wing group with a $10,000 contribution in 2008. That particular foundation “focuses on breaking the cycles of poverty and intolerance in the United States as well as on women’s issues.” It endured beyond Madoff’s collapse.

Though it received Madoff-exposed funds, Media Matters hardly went easy on the fraudster after his arrest. At least one Media Matters blogger placed blame for the collapse of the American economy at his feet.

In a March 3, 2009 blog post, Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert rebutted claims by CNBC’s Jim Cramer that Obama’s then-proposed budget would lead to “unprecedented ‘wealth destruction.’”

“Sorry,” Boehlert declared, “but longtime Wall Street heroes like Bernie Madoff, and Street icons AIG and Citicorp, have probably destroyed more wealth in the last four months than any administration will ever be responsible for.”

For its part, Media Matters has never offered any indication of whether it has returned — or would return — the $100,000 it received from The Picower Foundation, which was funded by a man many believe was complicit in the fraud.

Media Matters did not respond to questions regarding this report, and has not responded to numerous requests by TheDC for comment since the beginning of the “Inside Media Matters”  investigative series.

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