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Foundation Watch

A monthly newsletter that examines the grantmaking of private foundations.

The Bauman Family Foundation: Funding community organizers for a progressive paradise

The Bauman Family Foundation:  Funding community organizers for a progressive paradise

By Jonathan M. Hanen, Foundation Watch, December 2014  [PDF here]

Summary:  The Bauman Family Foundation is not well known, but it and its head, Patricia Bauman, are significant leaders of the American Left.  The real estate heiress donates to liberal politicians and holds powerful positions with far-left flagship institutions like the Democracy Alliance, the Brennan Center, and Catalist.  Her foundation supports “social justice” by fighting to redistribute wealth, stop voter ID laws, deny workers the secret ballot in union elections, and otherwise achieve the Left’s goal of fundamentally transforming America’s constitutional order.

Little is known about Lionel R. Bauman, the New York lawyer and real estate investor who founded the progressive philanthropy known as the Bauman Family Foundation (BFF), now headquartered in Washington, D.C. According to the foundation’s website, Bauman was born into a family of immigrants in 1911, grew up during the Great Depression, and earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a law degree from Columbia. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, on Sept. 13, 1963, Bauman was “elected national president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University by the board of directors of the organization.” The BFF website claims Bauman was a “proud New Yorker” and that “throughout his lifetime, he maintained a passionate commitment to social justice and civil rights and liberties, shared with his wife, Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman, who predeceased him in 1975.” He established the foundation “in the early 1980s.”

The foundation’s website states that, “recognizing that his family had earlier been well provided for, Mr. Bauman bequested [sic] his entire Estate to the Foundation upon his death in 1987.” Although the website provides no documents written by Lionel Bauman regarding his donor intent, the foundation appears to be adhering to its late benefactor’s wishes. There is only the testimony of his daughter Patricia Bauman, the foundation’s second president, who says, “He believed in philanthropy not just for services or for bricks and mortar, but also for advocacy for progressive social change.” The website claims “He was deeply engaged in education and in bringing the arts to disadvantaged children, among his other philanthropies” and that “during his lifetime, Lionel Bauman was a generous supporter of education, the arts and progressive social justice.”

“Progressive social change,” “social justice,” and “economic democracy” are vague terms that are rarely defined by commentators on the far left. In practice, when the demand for social justice comes from the leadership of a left-wing nonprofit, it is typically a shibboleth for the attempt to use the power of the regulatory state to supplant the traditional American notion of justice, which aims for the equality of all citizens before the law, with the social democratic ideal of justice which aims for equality of result.

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Steve and Amber Mostyn: Two trial lawyers take from the little guy to give to the Left, deep in the heart of Texas

Steve and Amber Mostyn

Two trial lawyers take from the little guy to give to the Left, deep in the heart of Texas

By Jonathan M. Hanen, Foundation Watch, November 2014 (PDF to come)

Summary: A Texas power couple composed of two trial lawyers is pouring millions into politics to stop tort reform and turn Texas—and the rest of America—blue. The two give far less to their charitable foundation. In their most notorious case, they took almost half of the winnings in a huge lawsuit they filed on behalf of the “little guy.” As the losing insurance company began paying the fat legal fees, little guys all over Texas saw their premiums rise. Charity, in this case, begins and ends at home.

Steve “Hurricane” Mostyn grew up in the East Texas town of Whitehouse, was the first in his family to earn a college degree, and then was graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1996. Mostyn established his eponymously named law firm in 1999 and “found success by representing people who wanted to sue their insurance companies, such as those who had mold or foundation problems in their houses or who were denied coverage by their health carriers,” according to Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman.

Mostyn reportedly met his wife, the former Amber Anderson, while volunteering with her at the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, where he previously served as president.

When Hurricane Rita swept through Texas in 2005, Mostyn and his law firm aggressively snapped up the cases of homeowners who believed their insurance companies had underpaid them for damages. Mostyn quickly became the premier hurricane lawyer in the Lone Star State, filing 1,200 Rita claims. His strategy was to flood the zone, filing such a torrent of cases that insurance companies would be overwhelmed and decide to settle instead of litigate.

Mostyn followed up on his victories when Hurricane Ike struck Texas on Sept. 13, 2008. At its most powerful, Ike was classified as a Category 4 hurricane while over the ocean. Ike was the costliest hurricane ever to strike Texas. The Insurance Council of Texas reported that “insured losses as a result of the storm totaled $12 billion—$10 billion caused by wind damage and $2 billion caused by flooding.” Ike hit Galveston with 110 mile an hour winds, sending “a 20 foot wall of water over the Bolivar Peninsula and created a rising tide that flooded most of Galveston and many nearby communities along Galveston Bay” (ClaimsJournal.com, Sept. 9, 2013).

Ike gave Mostyn a chance to repeat his shock-and-awe approach to litigation that worked so well with Rita. Mostyn’s law firm proposed a $189 million settlement with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA)—the insurer of last resort in vulnerable coastal areas—in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 2,400 Galveston County homeowners. When the $189 million settlement was accepted, he earned the moniker “Hurricane Mostyn.” His law firm took a rather astounding $86 million in fees for its efforts.

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The “Vast Left-wing Conspiracy”: George Soros’s Democracy Alliance remains a potent force in the 2014 elections

This special issue of Foundation Watch updates our previous profiles of the Democracy Alliance published in December 2006, January 2008, and December 2008.

The “Vast Left-wing Conspiracy”:  George Soros’s Democracy Alliance remains a potent force in the 2014 elections

By Matthew Vadum, Foundation Watch, October 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  The political landscape in America is much different than it was in 2005 when the nine-year-old Democracy Alliance was founded.  The secretive club for radical millionaires and billionaires who want to turn America into Greece was founded soon after John Kerry’s unexpected defeat in the 2004 presidential election.  The outlook for the Left was bleak at that time but no longer.  The Left has regained its footing and is on the march, determined to dismantle the First Amendment and reorder society through Obamacare, a wealth redistribution scheme disguised as health care policy.  The Democracy Alliance, once determined to remain separate from the Democratic Party, is more partisan than it has ever been as its seeks to expand left-wing political infrastructure across the country.

The Democracy Alliance—a secretive, pro-Democratic Party funding powerhouse—is embracing more union bosses as members, amid growing fears in left-wing circles that Republicans are poised to take over the U.S. Senate in the November elections. This trend adds to organized labor’s already considerable clout within this elite fundraising empire, which claims to have funneled more than $500 million into liberal and pro-Democratic organizations. The invitation-only Alliance, co-founded by far-left billionaire philanthropist George Soros, calls itself a “first-of-its-kind partnership of change-makers who are committed to a stronger democracy and a more progressive America.”

It claims to be the “center of gravity” for left-wing funding and, “over the past nine years,” has “aligned leaders in the progressive movement and political infrastructure” in order to secure “victories at the ballot box and in policy fights. “

The Democracy Alliance funds many key institutions on the Left. One of them is Catalist LLC, formerly known as Data Warehouse. This for-profit company was created by Clinton aide Harold Ickes and Democratic operative Laura Quinn to help leftist groups get out the Democratic vote. It describes its mission as providing “progressive organizations with the data and services needed to better identify, understand, and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize.” The chairman of Catalist is Democracy Alliance member Albert J. Dwoskin, a Virginia-based real estate developer. (For a complete profile of Catalist, see Organization Trends, November 2012.)

The Democracy Alliance has also funded staples of the left-wing activist community including People for the American Way, EMILY’s List, ACORN, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Progressive States Network, Center for Community Change, Sierra Club, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund, and the (now defunct) Secretary of State Project, which helped elect left-wing candidates to be the chief electoral official in at least nine states (these little-noticed officials become critical when vote fraud occurs).

The Alliance and its ultra-wealthy supporters drone on endlessly, wringing their hands about the importance of getting money out of politics as they pump millions of dollars into politics. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig told prospective donors to his Mayday PAC this year that attacking the First Amendment’s corporate political speech protections would be easier if those on the other side were gagged by new laws. “We have no protection for network neutrality because of the enormous influence of cable companies’ money in the political system,” he said. “If NN is your issue, then this is why you should see that politics is your issue too.” Lessig is also an advisor to the Fund for the Republic, a campaign finance reform organization that uses soothing, bipartisan language and reaches out to those on the political Right. The Fund acknowledges receiving financial support from Democracy Alliance members.

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The Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation

The Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation

Pay no attention to the First Family behind the curtain

By Jonathan M. Hanen, Foundation Watch, September 2014 (PDF here)

This special report on the Clinton Foundation supplements our previous report on the philanthropy, published in the February 2008 Foundation Watch.

Summary:  The Clinton Foundation portrays itself as a noble enterprise whose lead actors, a former U.S. president and secretary of state, use their combined political capital and star power to unite philanthropists, CEOs, and governments of afflicted countries to solve the most pressing problems of global economic development, health care, and education.  Yet close inspection of the foundation’s inner workings suggests a pattern of chronic mismanagement and graft that the mainstream media downplays for the benefit of Hillary Clinton’s all-but-announced 2016 presidential campaign.  Worse still, Clinton is using the foundation as a launching pad for her expected White House bid.

The Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is a largely legitimate enterprise, a philanthropic organization that apparently helps people somewhere. But helping humanity has become its secondary objective in recent years. Its charitable purpose has been subordinated to the political ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who now appears to be using the foundation as a de facto campaign organization in a bid to recapture the White House. Mrs. Clinton is arguably the most famous living woman in the world, but she still benefits whenever the foundation that bears her family’s name is in the news. Such publicity reinforces the Clinton “brand,” providing free campaign advertising for Mrs. Clinton in her all-but-announced presidential campaign.

Money has been streaming in to multiple entities in the Clinton camp, as left-wingers begin to show their support for Clinton, despite the waves of laughter that erupted earlier this year when she claimed her family was “dead broke” after leaving the White House in 2001. She compounded the faux pas by talking about how it was a struggle to have to pay mortgages on the various houses—plural—her family owns.

Political action committees known to support Clinton are doing a brisk business while the person who may become the first female president gears up for what amounts to a third Obama term. Large sums some observers suspect are payoffs designed to curry favor with a future president have also been flowing to other Clinton-related entities. For example, Clinton reportedly receives six-figure payments for speeches. She claims she donates payments from universities to the family’s foundation, but has not provided evidence to support that claim. Her ridiculously large book advance—reportedly $14 million—from Simon & Schuster for her memoir, Hard Choices, published in June, resembles an in-kind contribution from the publisher. No one thinks the publisher will earn a profit. Making money off a nonfiction book after such a hefty advance would be a long shot even if the book were a mega-bestseller. She may be high-profile, but she’s still Hillary Clinton, not J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame.

Bill Clinton was worried enough about potential conflicts of interest and legal troubles at the foundation that he ordered an internal review of the organization’s practices. After a fortnight of interviews with Clinton Foundation executives and ex-employees, lawyers arrived at disturbing conclusions. “The review echoed criticism of Mr. Clinton’s early years in the White House: for all its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.” (New York Times, Aug. 13, 2013)

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Tom Steyer, the New Paladin of the Left

Tom Steyer, the New Paladin of the Left
A hedge fund billionaire bets heavily on politics

By Neil Maghami, Foundation Watch, August 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Thomas Steyer’s avowed desire to devote his wealth to philanthropic ends appears, at first blush, commendable. Unfortunately, he has so far dedicated his $1.6 billion fortune to advancing far-left causes through donations to nonprofit groups and politicians, and by coordinating with like-minded donors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This year Steyer plans to pour $100 million or more into political races to push America to the left.

He’s telegenic, he’s outspoken, he founded a successful hedge fund, and he dines on organic beef raised on his own ranch, whose amenities include solar-powered electric fences. His name is Thomas Steyer, and if the Left had an award for “Most Promising Billionaire,” Steyer would be a shoo-in. The love is mutual: Steyer is putting up millions of dollars in order to throw his weight around in elections across the country this November, with a number of Republicans in his crosshairs.

Steyer is deadly serious about using his vast wealth to smite his political foes and aid his allies. In February, the New York Times reported that Steyer plans to spend up to $100 million during the 2014 election cycle, which will be funneled through his NextGen PAC to “pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers.” (He will put up $50 million in the hopes of finding $50 million in matching funds from like-minded donors).

In April, Steyer upped the ante when he mused publicly that $100 million “would be very low, honestly,” compared to what he would “be willing to spend, to make this [climate change] what I believe it is, the most important issue in the minds of Americans.” Steyer’s net worth is estimated at $1.6 billion. In May, he shared his target list with the Times: races in Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maine. As we go to press, Politico reports that so far Steyer “appears to be struggling” in his efforts to raise money from other donors, but the $11-plus million of his own money that he’s spent in this year’s electoral cycle “puts him atop the Center for Responsive Politics list of individual contributors to federal candidates, parties, political action committees and other groups that are required to disclose their donors.”

In anticipation of Steyer’s all-out political war against his perceived enemies, this issue of Foundation Watch will survey his activities to date as a donor, both in terms of his personal foundation and his giving to political causes.

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The Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation: California Dreamin’ of Social Democracy

The Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation:  California Dreamin’ of Social Democracy

By Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, July 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Stephen M. Silberstein, a member of George Soros’s far-left Democracy Alliance, sheds light on the extent of Soros’s socialist agenda for America.  Silberstein’s foundation backs a panoply of leftist groups that fight for higher taxes on the rich, wealth redistribution schemes, single-payer socialized medicine, burdensome regulation of energy markets, judicial activism designed to advance a radically egalitarian agenda, and the replacement of the linchpin of federalism, the Electoral College, with a national popular vote.   

George Soros’s secretive donor consortium, the Democracy Alliance, has been making news lately in the wake of a new plan set forth at its four-day conference entitled “A New Progressive Era?” which took place in Chicago at the end of April 2014. According to the Washington Post, “The plan, being crafted in private by a group of about 100 donors that includes billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros and San Francisco venture capitalist Rob McKay, seeks to give Democrats a stronger hand in the redrawing of district lines for state legislatures and the U.S. House.” More specifically, the newspaper reports that “keeping Democratic control of the Senate” was of paramount concern to the donors. “There’s a lot of anxiety about the midterms,” admitted McKay, the outgoing chairman, “who said substantial investment this year will go to local and state minimum-wage campaigns that can help drive turnout for federal races.” The new plan would shift significant resources away from the Alliance’s typical focus on donating to left-wing media outlets and think tanks, such as Media Matters for America and the John Podesta-founded Center for American Progress. Assuming the reported shift occurs, the Alliance will try to engage in ground-level political campaigning by in effect acting as a bundling super PAC—an über super PAC—in order to prevent the expected GOP takeover of the Senate.

Over time it has leaked out that more than 100 billionaires and multi-millionaires belong to this shadowy philanthropic collective that Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential leftist blog Daily Kos, has called “a vast left-wing conspiracy.” Membership in Democracy Alliance comes by invitation only and requires donating a minimum of $200,000 per year to left-wing activist groups and think tanks endorsed by the Alliance. In addition to Soros and McKay, the Washington Post reports that hedge fund manager Tom Steyer of San Francisco (who is most famous in conservative circles for his self-interested opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline) and the trial lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn from Houston are relatively new members (for more on Steyer, see Green Watch, January 2014). Other notable figures from the world of business have recently joined the ranks of this elite group: Adam Abram (insurance and real estate), Rick Segal (financial services), Paul Boskind (mental health services), Amy Goldman (real estate), and Henry van Ameringen (manufacturing). New School Professor Philip Munger, son of Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger, also became a member.

There has been a sizeable influx of labor leaders into Democracy Alliance. This may help to explain the group’s strategic shift to make the minimum wage an issue in the 2014 mid-terms. Of course union contracts often have automatic salary increases triggered by increases in the minimum wage. New Alliance members include Noel Beasley, president of Workers United, a textile union affiliated with SEIU (Service Employees International Union), and Keith Mestrich, president of the union-owned Amalgamated Bank. Other new members are Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA); Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; CWA senior director George Kohl; and Michelle Ringuette, Weingarten’s assistant. Other individuals previously reported as members with ties to organized labor include former SEIU executive Anna Burger and National Education Association executive director John C. Stocks. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry is vice chair of the Alliance’s board of directors. SEIU and the AFL-CIO are institutional members of the Alliance. (Around press time, the Alliance’s website was updated to reflect that Stocks of the NEA has been named chairman of the group’s board.)

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The Philanthropy of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay Billionaire

The Philanthropy of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay Billionaire

By Neil Maghami, Foundation Watch, June 2014 (PDF here)

Summary: Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, says he wants to use his billion dollar fortune to do good, both at home in the U.S. and abroad. But in embracing a seemingly ever-widening variety of causes in his philanthropic efforts, has he abandoned the need for a consistent approach to his giving – and sacrificed coherence for trendiness?

You’ve heard versions of this story before. A young man arrives in Silicon Valley, takes a job in the high-tech sector, and begins to experiment on the side with a promising idea for a new venture. Eventually, what starts out as a hobby begins to bring in much more money than his day job, and the young man quits to focus on his new venture full-time. Investors enthusiastically pile in, the new venture goes public—and the young man becomes a billionaire. He next plunges enthusiastically into philanthropy.

While this sounds like it could be any recent high-tech success story, it is in fact a one-paragraph summary of the life of Pierre Omidyar, the founder of the online retailing system eBay, which has nearly 100 million users around the world. Omidyar’s personal wealth is estimated at around $8.5 billion. He has mused in public that he and his wife, Pam, both in their thirties, are looking forward to perhaps 50 years of active philanthropy through the Omidyar Network, their primary philanthropic vehicle.

The Omidyars have jumped with gusto into support for everything from promoting post-partisan politics in the U.S. and property rights in developing countries, to helping American parents select child-friendly entertainment, to influencing U.S. foreign policy—and, in some cases, to coordinating grants with ultra-liberals like George Soros and the shadowy Tides Foundation.

Omidyar’s vision stretches even further. In October 2013, Omidyar announced he would launch First Look Media, an investigative news service. “Our goal is to experiment, innovate and overcome existing obstacles to make it easier for journalists to deliver … transformative stories,” Omidyar said at the time. He had previously said he might invest up to $250 million in the venture, which is being organized as a hybrid: part nonprofit, part for-profit. First Look subsequently hired far-left firebrands Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi as staff.

With a such variety of activities, even Michael Gentilucci, a sympathetic observer of Omidyar’s funding activity, concedes that “from the outside,” Omidyar’s funding announcements to date give the impression of “one of the more scattered philanthropic operations around.”

As proof that there really is a method and a high level of organization to their giving, Gentilucci quotes the Omidyars’ declaration that “[c]omplex problems defy simple solutions. For every issue we focus on, we come to the table with specific goals but without preconceived notions about how to best achieve them. Our approach relies on experimentation, iteration and constant learning.”

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De-Imagining America …because our college campuses aren’t far enough to the left

 

hillary-clinton

De-Imagining America  …because our college campuses aren’t far enough to the left

By Matthew Vadum, Foundation Watch, May 2014 (PDF here)

Summary: Imagining America is a creature of radical foundations and the Clinton administration. Both activist group and grant-maker, the Syracuse University-based organization aspires to spread the ideology of “community organizing” to the nation’s colleges and universities.

Fifteen years ago the Clinton administration joined with left-wing foundations in an effort to fundamentally transform the way Americans think about their country. Since then, more than 100 institutions of higher learning have signed onto this campaign to rewrite American history and indoctrinate future generations. The goal, in effect, is to turn academics and students into left-wing community organizers.

The group, Imagining America, is headquartered at Syracuse University, a private school in upstate New York that, like most colleges, receives millions of tax dollars a year. Imagining America was virtually unknown until Glenn Beck threw some light on it in a broadcast last fall. Beck described Imagining America and an offshoot group that calls itself “The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture” (USDAC) as an “effort to rewrite our history and catalyze a new culture for America.” This “department” isn’t actually part of the U.S. government but describes itself as “the nation’s newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change.”

USDAC was launched at Imagining America’s conference in Syracuse in October 2013. It appears to be an ad hoc, volunteer-based organization, centered in New York City. It seeks to enlist “Citizen Artists” and “Cultural Agents” to spout Marxist drivel through performance art, similar to what Adbusters magazine does through what it calls its “culture jamming” efforts. This kind of whimsical “protest” seems none too serious, but sometimes it quickly transforms into grimmer fare. Recall that Adbusters was best known for spoofs of corporate advertising—before it sponsored the Wall Street event that spawned the violent Occupy Wall Street movement. (See Foundation Watch, January 2012.)

USDAC “Deputy Secretary” Norman Beckett gave a speech recently in which he rolled out the usual litany of leftist complaints:

“This is an era of broken systems—from healthcare to energy to education to the way our entire economy is structured. We inhabit a planet on the verge. The problems are complex, the solutions uncertain, but there is one truth we can hold onto: if we are going to keep our society and planet healthy, all people must be empowered to imagine and enact alternatives for a better world. In order to do this, to cultivate effective co-creators of new systems better aligned with equity and sustainability – we must deepen our investment in the tools and tactics that grow empathy, imagination, and the capacity to collaborate. We must encourage creative risks. We must nourish the artist in us all.”

It is unclear how serious an effort USDAC actually may be. Beckett concluded his remarks by urging supporters to “play.”

“Friends, we have a ways to go to get there. But what we imagine together we can create together. Of the world’s many crises, a creativity crisis is not among them. Indeed, creativity is one of the world’s greatest renewable resources. We have it in abundant supply. As Citizen Artists with the USDAC I invite you to harness that creativity in all of your changemaking work. In tackling the world’s most dire problems we need seriousness of intent, of course, but we also need serious play.”

Beck was not impressed by Imagining America and USDAC. He warned that the people who are active in both groups “will be teaching and influencing your children” through “art and music and film and history books.”

America’s neo-Marxist radicals figured out a long time ago how to have their cake and eat it, too. U.S. taxpayers have been funding subversive left-wing groups like the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation since the LBJ administration. They advance their objectives, erode civil society, and send you the bill.

The Left already dominates the main organs of culture and knowledge-creation in American society—the media, the arts community including Hollywood, and academia—and now it seeks to further diminish whatever remains of civil society, rewriting U.S. history along the lines of Communist Party USA member Howard Zinn’s bestselling book-length fable, A People’s History of the United States.

Creation Story
Imagining America grew out of executive action.

President Bill Clinton created the White House Millennium Council by Executive Order 13072 on Feb. 2, 1998. One of the council’s tasks was to “produce informational and resource materials to educate the American people concerning our Nation’s past and to inspire thought concerning the future.” This taxpayer-supported, culture war-waging council was headed by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Imagining America was founded at a 1999 White House Conference initiated by the White House Millennium Council, the University of Michigan, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Conference participants became the basis for what was to become the group’s “consortium” of 100-plus colleges and universities.

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The Bezos Family Foundation: Mr. Bezos goes to Washington

The Bezos Family Foundation:  Mr. Bezos goes to Washington

By Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, April 2014 (PDF here)

Summary: The foundation that bears the name of Jeff Bezos, founder of online retailing giant Amazon, provides insight into the political vision he will bring to Washington. The Bezos Family Foundation does advocate for some smart opportunity education policies, such as charter schools and testing, and Bezos has managed thus far to combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism. But the far Left’s hope that Bezos will be a transformational post-partisan figure, as well as the center-right’s hope for a progressive reformer are overblown. The self-interested lobbying activities of Bezos’s PAC, as regards the Marketplace Fairness Act, reveal a pattern of Beltway politics as usual.

Jeff Bezos, 50, is best known as one of America’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of the Internet age. He is the face of the dotcom 1990s who founded Amazon, the online retail sales giant that raked in $27.2 billion in revenue for 2013. Forbes currently lists Bezos as 15th on its list of most powerful people, 12th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, and 19th on the same magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He showed an early interest in electronics, according to Biography.com. In his teenage years, after his family moved to Miami, he developed a love for computers. He excelled in school, became the valedictorian, and started his first business, “the Dream Institute, an educational summer camp for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.”

Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. “After graduation, he found work at several firms on Wall Street including Fitel, Bankers Trust, and the investment firm D.E. Shaw where he met his wife Mackenzie and was named the youngest vice president in 1990.” Bezos was well-compensated on Wall Street, but in 1994 he took what was then a great risk by going into the brave new world of electronic commerce. He quit Wall Street and moved to Seattle to open an online bookstore.

Amazon opened for business on July 16, 1995, and took off like a rocket. Within two months, Amazon was selling books in the U.S. and 45 other countries at a clip of $20,000 weekly. Amazon had its initial public offering in 1997 and became a top e-commerce company in only two years. Amazon diversified its business in 1998 by adding compact discs and videos to its online offerings. The company subsequently partnered with other retailers to offer clothes, electronics, toys, and a cornucopia of other products.

Many profitable “dotcoms” of the early to mid-1990s have long since vanished, but Amazon has prospered and survived to become one of the greatest successes, with sales expanding from $510,000 in 1995 to over $17 billion in 2011.

Bezos is not merely a CEO with a gift for supply chain management; he is also an inventor who likes to take risks in order to innovate and evolve. In 2007, Amazon released the Kindle, the revolutionary digital book reader that allows users to download books with the touch of a button. Bezos entered the tablet computer marketplace with the Kindle Fire in 2011, and in September 2012, he announced the new Kindle Fire HD, the company’s next iteration of the tablet designed to compete against Apple’s iPad.

All of this commercial success would be enough to ensure Bezos a place among America’s greatest businessmen since the industrial age. Bezos, like his industrialist forbears, has now moved into the arena of political action. His own political views are the subject of intense speculation. The consensus amongst the commentariat is that he is some sort of left-leaning libertarian, or perhaps a social liberal and fiscal conservative.
Bezos donated an undisclosed sum to Reason Foundation, the publisher of the libertarian Reason magazine, and in 2010 he donated $100,000 to a successful campaign to stop a proposed tax hike on individuals earning over $200,000 per year in Washington State. In 2012, he and his wife donated $2.5 million to support a successful ballot initiative for same-sex marriage in Washington State. This donation far surpasses that of Bill Gates, one of Bezos’s peers in the pantheon of computer age entrepreneurs. The New York Times reports, “Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft each gave $100,000 to the referendum campaign, according to its officials.”

Apart from fighting an income tax hike, donating to Reason Foundation, and supporting same-sex marriage, Bezos has kept his political cards close to his chest in his public speeches and interviews. He hasn’t given much to political campaigns. He has donated just $15,000, and it was about equally split between Democratic and Republican candidates, according to Slate’s Dave Weigel, who wrote an article headlined, «Jeff Bezos, Inscrutable Libertarian Democrat.”

Amazon, for its part, has been aggressively lobbying Congress since 2011 on issues regarding telecommunications, copyright law, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and most controversially, the Internet sales tax (the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013) and individual state Internet taxes. In 2003 the Bezos Family Foundation, based in Mercer Island, Washington, was launched to promote excellence in education and leadership training for the young. In August 2013, Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. This report aims to determine Bezos’s comprehensive political intention as it comes into focus by examining the projects and funding decisions of the Bezos Family Foundation (BFF) and in Amazon’s political action committee and lobbying efforts.

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Building a Radical Foundation: The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

Building a Radical Foundation:  The Glaser Progress Foundation makes no bones about its focus on far-left activism

By Matthew Vadum, Foundation Watch, March 2014 (PDF here)

Summary:  Although the Glaser Progress Foundation was made possible by the great wealth its benefactor garnered from a mere decade’s work at Microsoft, it aims to change the country radically.  To that end, it works with left-wing agitators at such groups as the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters for America, and Demos.

Often when wealthy left-wingers endow an eponymous foundation, they fade into the woodwork, preferring to let their money do the talking. Not so with software magnate Rob Glaser, a well-connected high-dollar Democratic donor best known for founding RealNetworks, a prominent Internet company. Glaser has been a supporter of Barack Obama since Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate run, according to DiscoverTheNetworks. In 2010, Glaser and his wife hosted a $10,000-a-plate lunch event with President Obama at their Seattle home, the same year Glaser attended a White House forum on technology and government.

Glaser had previously donated $50,000 to Obama’s 2009 inauguration fund. But Glaser did still more in the 2008 electoral cycle; he also helped Al Franken (D) procure his Minnesota U.S. Senate seat by first “maxing out” to the candidate with $4,600 for his regular campaign, and then contributing $12,300 after the election to the Franken Recount Fund. During the bitter recount battle for this Senate seat, Franken’s team used means so outrageous that the Wall Street Journal declared that Franken’s opponent, Norm Coleman “didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.”

In the 2004 electoral cycle, Glaser reportedly gave more than $1 million to defeat George W. Bush. So it’s no surprise that Glaser is an ally of George Soros, who poured tens of millions of dollars into the fight against Bush in 2004. Nor is it surprising that Glaser is also a leading member of Soros’s Democracy Alliance, an invitation-only donors’ collaborative for rich left-wingers. Created in the aftermath of the 2004 elections, which brought stinging defeats to the Left in battles for the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the Alliance is a financial clearinghouse for those who want to move America farther to the left.

Clinton administration official Rob Stein founded the Democracy Alliance with the aim of creating a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups—a kind of “vast left-wing conspiracy” to battle the conservative movement. The donors group has channeled its members’ funds to fairly well-established pressure groups, watchdogs and think tanks, get-out-the-vote operations, and political action committees (PACs). It is intensely secretive. Members of the group meet twice a year to decide which causes to support with their checkbooks. (For more on the Alliance, see Foundation Watch, December 2008.)

Other ways that Glaser battled for the Left in the 2004 electoral cycle include his early support of America Coming Together (ACT), a large, ambitious Democratic get-out-the-vote operation created to affect the 2004 elections. Glaser donated $750,000 to ACT and talked his friends into donating as well. ACT folded in 2005 with little to show for the millions of dollars it raised and spent—with the exception of a $775,000 fine from the Federal Election Commission for illegally using unregulated “soft money” to support John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In the previous presidential election of 2000, Glaser donated both to Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign and also, less generously, to Al Gore’s campaign on the Democratic ticket.

Early Years
When Glaser studied at Yale, graduating in 1983, his politics were “slightly to the left of Che Guevara,” according to Bruce Jacobsen, a former RealNetworks executive who knew Glaser at the Ivy League school. Glaser once considered becoming a labor organizer, but instead he became a multi-millionaire thanks to his decade at Microsoft, where he worked on the Windows operating system and the word-processing program MS Word.

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