Left-wing foundations lavish millions on Media Matters

David Martosko Executive Editor
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Relying on tax returns and websites of wealthy U.S. foundations, a Daily Caller investigation has revealed the sources of more than $28.8 million in funding collected by the liberal Media Matters for America since 2003, the year before its formal incorporation. That sum represents 54 percent of every dollar the organization has raised in its history, making Media Matters a principally foundation-driven — not citizen-supported — activist group.

The list of Media Matters’ foundation funders, 120 in all, reads like a Who’s Who of the American progressive movement, including the far-left Tides Foundation ($4,384,702), George Soros’ Open Society Institutes ($1,075,000), the Ford Foundation ($966,466), the Sandler Foundation ($400,000) — endowed by subprime mortgage lenders Herb and Marion Sandler, who once bankrolled the embattled ACORN organization — and the Schumann Fund for Media and Democracy ($600,000), managed by longtime PBS host Bill Moyers and his son.

They also include the anti-George W. Bush organization MoveOn.org ($50,000), the Barbra Streisand Foundation ($85,000), the kids’ shoes-powered Stride Rite Charitable Foundation ($25,000), the Lear Family Foundation ($55,000) — endowed by the TV producer and People for the American Way founder Norman Lear — and the Joyce Foundation ($400,000), whose board of directors included Barack Obama from 1994 to 2002.

(RELATED: See the list of Media Matters’ foundation donors)

The Joyce Foundation grant, made in 2010, was earmarked for “a gun and public safety issue initiative.” That program, judging from the ensuing Media Matters coverage, included scathing reports on the shooting-sports lobby and on the firearms industry’s annual convention. “To lure repeat buyers,” that story warned, “increased lethality has become the nicotine of the firearms industry.”

2010 was also, TheDC reported Monday, the year when Media Matters founder David Brock’s personal assistant was carrying a holstered and concealed Glock handgun when he accompanied Brock to events.

The Daily Caller is publishing spreadsheets describing all the grants to Media Matters it has identified, how much each donor contributed overall, and for what purpose, if any, their donations were earmarked. Most grants were described in foundations’ tax returns as “general support” contributions.

TheDC reported Thursday that the ARCA Foundation, a Democratic-aligned philanthropy, made a $50,000 grant to Media Matters in 2006 for the specific purpose of “fact checking” religious broadcasters. ARCA also gave Media Matters $100,000 in startup funding two years earlier. But in the larger context of the $53.4 million the organization has raised since 2003, $150,000 is a drop in the proverbial bucket.

(RELATED: See the spreadsheet of foundation grants to Media Matters)

Non-profit organizations like Media Matters are permitted to keep their sources of support secret, but grantmaking foundations are required to disclose how much they give away each year, and to whom. According to the Foundation Center, U.S. foundations distributed more than $45.7 billion in 2009. Their publicly available tax returns make it possible to reconstruct non-profit grant recipients’ once-secret incomes to a great degree.

The identities of individual donors to Media Matters, however, are likely to remain secret. In a 2007 story for National Review, Byron York named several left-wing luminaries who personally supported the organization during its earliest days. They included Esprit clothing founder Susie Tomkins Buell, telecommunications executive Leo Hindery Jr., New York psychologist Gail Furman, Progressive Insurance tycoon Peter Lewis, SPAM scion James Hormel and Bren Simon, whose husband’s name is synonymous with shopping mall real estate.

Furman ($125,000) and Buell ($300,000), at least, donated through their personal foundations. Levels of support from the others remain beyond the reach of the public and the media.

(RELATED: Follow the investigative ‘Inside Media Matters’ series here)

Media Matters’ largest donor by far is the Tides Foundation, a non-profit that operates as a clearinghouse for Democratic-aligned causes. Other grantmakers make sizable gifts to Tides with specific instructions to pass the money on to social activist organizations; Tides keeps a management fee. The result is a murky money trail that often obscures the source of enormous levels of funding.

Tides has contributed over $4.3 million to Media Matters, more than half of which had reached its target by the time the organization announced its launch in 2004. Tides is not required to disclose to anyone, including the Internal Revenue Service, which of its hundreds of institutional donors provided the money it passed on to Media Matters.

This lack of transparency has, at least in Media Matters’ case, prompted conspiracy theories among conservatives who see money laundering where liberal philanthropists see what foundation wonks call “donor-advised giving.” For instance, in April 2007 Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly accused liberal financier George Soros of hiding his support for Media Matters by passing the money through Tides.

“The smear website [Media Matters] received more than a million dollars from the Tides Foundation alone in 2005,” O’Reilly said, “and just by coincidence, Soros’ Open Society Institute donated more than a million dollars to Tides in 2005. Figure it out.”

But although tax records of various Soros-related foundations show at least $28 million in grants to the Tides Foundation and its affiliated Tides Center, most of those donations — including all but one small gift in 2005 — were earmarked for purposes unrelated to Media Matters. Specific earmarks that year, for instance, attached Soros funding to initiatives aiming to restore voting rights to felons, reform U.S. drug policy and outlaw the death penalty.

Soros announced in October 2010 that he would finally make a sizable donation to Media Matters. Open Society Foundations communications director Laura Silber told The Daily Caller on Thursday that “it was a three-year grant, for a total of $1 million. I think the final payment was in 2011.”

Silber also said an additional grant of $75,000 was approved in 2010. She would not, however, say for what purpose either grant was made, offering only “general operating expenses” as an explanation. Tax records show that both grants were paid by the Foundation to Promote Open Society, one of the charities under Soros’ “Open Society Foundations” umbrella.

Other Media Matters donors responsible for more than $1 million in funding include the Fort Collins, Colo.-based Bohemian Foundation ($2,325,000), funded by medical-equipment heiress Pat Stryker; the Belvedere, Calif., Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation ($2,225,000), whose millions came from a library card-catalog software business; the Millbrook, N.Y.-based Dyson Foundation ($2,150,000) — no relation to the vacuum cleaner company; and the Gill Foundation ($1,160,000) in Denver, whose founder Tim Gill started the Quark desktop publishing company and now donates much of his fortune to gay-rights causes.

The Gill and Bohemian foundations combined for $1.15 million in grants specifically to support Media Matters Colorado, an affiliate that launched in July 2006 in the critical election swing state. The branch office folded in March 2009, along with at least one other progressive media satellite, after President Obama’s inauguration.

Media Matters has collected nearly $1 million, all of it since 2010, from the Ford Foundation, which Edsel Ford set up in the late 1930s to funnel Ford Motor Company profits to charitable causes.

Ironically, The Daily Caller reported Monday that a confidential Media Matters fundraising memo described ads funded by the group specifically to attack the Detroit automaker because it was advertising on Lou Dobbs’ CNN show.

“As part of the Drop Dobbs campaign,” the memo read in part, “Media Matters produced and was prepared to run an advertisement against Ford Motor Company on Spanish Language stations in Houston, San Antonio, and other cities targeting its top selling product, pick-up trucks, in its top truck buying markets.”

Among the other ironies in Media Matters’ funding portfolio is donations from the Dyson Foundation. That philanthropy’s founder, Charles H. Dyson, created The Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation, a leveraged buyout pioneer whose corporate takeover techniques would later make Mitt Romney a multimillionaire at Bain Capital.

TheDC left repeated messages seeking comment from several of Media Matters’ biggest foundation donors about what made the organization deserving of the millions it collects from the foundation sector every year.

The Dyson Foundation replied only that its grantees “are a matter of public record.”

Spokespersons for other Media Matters donors, however, did not respond at all, including the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Bohemian Foundation, the Sandler Foundation, the Silberstein Foundation, the Tides Foundation, MoveOn.org Civic Action and the Ford Foundation.

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