Is the Arabella Network Telling the Truth About Itself? Part 1
Secret emails reveal the multibillion-dollar network is not what it claims to be.
Is the Arabella Network Telling the Truth About Itself? (full series)
The Emails | The Memo
Surprise, surprise—the most powerful partisan lobbying force in Washington, DC, isn’t as apolitical as it pretends to be.
Item one: A collection of private emails from 2017 obtained via public record request by Government Accountability and Oversight from Washington State. The secret emails reveal correspondence between Arabella Advisors, its related nonprofit New Venture Fund, and the top climate staffer for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) that pitched the Arabella network’s premier advocacy services for one of the Left’s “green” projects, the U.S. Climate Alliance. The alliance aims to enforce the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, among other environmental policies.
Arabella Advisors is one of the Left’s top consultancies to foundations and mega-donors who want to make grants to “mission-driven” nonprofits (read: ideological activists). Its killer app is the Arabella network: a set of five in-house nonprofits responsible for “laundering” foundation money into the political bloodstream by passing their grants through to activist groups involved in everything from lobbying for DC statehood to blocking Alaska’s proposed state constitutional convention.
Between 2006 and 2020 the network’s nonprofits brought in a stunning $4.9 billion—over $1.7 billion in 2020 alone—largely from foundations and left-wing donors, and over the same period they paid $2.2 billion in grants to other liberal nonprofits. In exchange, Arabella’s nonprofits paid the company close to $185 million over that period for consulting and “management” services—providing staffing, office space, and administrative services for groups whose boards have included some of Arabella’s senior officials, including network founder Eric Kessler.
That includes New Venture Fund president Lee Bodner, a former Arabella managing director and the man at the center of the trove of secret Inslee emails (more on that later).
Arabella Advisors publicly maintains that its in-house nonprofits are separate legal entities whose independent boards hired the company to perform paid consulting work, a practice engaged in by some other DC nonprofits. In 2021, then-Arabella CEO Sampriti Ganguli tried to convince The Atlantic that her firm is “a relatively small business-services organization that does HR, legal compliance, accounting, etc., for clients such as the Sixteen Thirty Fund,” the network’s biggest 501(c)(4) lobbying shop.
Even the liberal Atlantic wouldn’t swallow those claims. While Arabella Advisors LLC and its nonprofit network are distinct entities from the IRS’s perspective, they effectively operate as one unit committed to a single, “progressive” agenda. How many companies, after all, create their own “clients”?
But woe to the critic who contradicts Arabella’s claims—as the center-right group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) discovered earlier this year. In January, JCN launched an attack ad claiming that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats’ 2020 victory was “bankrolled by Arabella Advisors” so that “they’ll put up an Arabella judge” to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
JCN, in other words, treated Arabella Advisors LLC as inseparable from its nonprofit network, which is indeed responsible for moving vast quantities of “dark money” from mega-donors to activists fighting for Democratic victories. Arabella’s lawyers at Marc Elias’s Elias Law Group—a Perkins Coie spin-off—were swift to allege defamation because “there is no question that JCN is referring to Arabella Advisors, rather than a shorthand to its clients.”
JCN disagreed but altered the ad to ascribe pro-Biden “dark money” to the “Arabella Advisors network.”
The Elias Law Group’s letter threatening TV stations that run JCN ads claimed that Arabella Advisors merely provides “administrative and operational support services” to nonprofits and “neither controls nor directs” spending by its nonprofit “clients.”
Yet the 2017 Inslee emails show that, when approaching potential clients, Arabella Advisors and its nonprofit network make little to no distinction between themselves. In fact, when selling their services, they’re eager to present a united front—one that puts the company squarely in the political space.
In the emails, New Venture Fund (NVF) president Lee Bodner pitches Chris Davis, Inslee’s then-senior climate advisor, on hosting the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 24 governors (only three of whom are Republicans) who’ve pledged to enact the Paris Climate Accords’ greenhouse gas reduction policies in their respective states. (It apparently didn’t work; the alliance is today fiscally sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, a private nonprofit formed with a $1 billion pledge from media mogul Ted Turner in 1997 to implement the UN’s agenda in America.)
In hawking the network’s fiscal sponsorship services, Bodner appears to speak for both New Venture Fund and Arabella Advisors (emphasis added):
I’m attaching a memo which outlines ways that the New Venture Fund and Arabella Advisors might support you and the other governors’ offices with the US Climate Alliance, and some background on our work. I’m also copying my colleagues Bruce Boyd [Arabella senior managing director and a NVF advisor] and Ryan Strode [then-Arabella senior director, now a climate activist for Climate Equity] from Arabella. They lead our collective work on climate policy and advocacy.
In a follow-up email, Bodner offers fundraising assistance from both Arabella and New Venture Fund and boasts of their advocacy connections (emphasis added):
As the memo indicates, we have a number of donors (on the NVF side) and clients (on the Arabella side) who we expect to be interested in your work. We would certainly facilitate introductions to these funders as you needed.
We also have relationships with fundraising consultants who have deep experience on international climate work. We can help you source these consultants as necessary.
“In these ways, we could make sure that you are connected both within and beyond our network to help marshal the resources you need to make this successful,” he concludes.
Arabella’s “Green” Advocacy
In selling New Venture Fund’s services, Bodner also fires off impressive statistics that reveal the group’s political work. “We’re a $350 million/year 501c3 that serves as a platform to 200+ projects. About 30% of our work is on the environment.”
We help donors, individuals, and governments quickly mobilize resources to get projects up and running quickly (we can hire staff, and have deep advocacy expertise, for example) and we facilitate multi-stakeholder coalitions.
“On climate, along with our partners at Arabella Advisors,” he adds:
We manage the philanthropy for a Midwest funder that supported efforts to ensure vulnerable populations had strong representation in both country-level planning and the negotiations in Paris. Since then, we’ve supported implementation of the Paris targets by funding work to develop 100 percent clean energy plans in nearly 50 countries most vulnerable to climate change.
We have been the lead consultant on the divest-invest campaign, a global effort to encourage individuals and foundations to divest from fossil fuel stocks and invest in clean energy alternatives.
Bodner later suggests that the unidentified “Midwest funder” is the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, a Missouri-based Roman Catholic congregation whose “$3 million per year grant-making portfolio” New Venture Fund manages with the goal of “empowering the voices of grassroots and marginalized populations to demand a clean energy future for their communities.”
Again, no distinction is made between the ostensibly apolitical consultants at Arabella Advisors—little more than the folks who handle payroll, according to company leadership—and the hardened activists at New Venture Fund.
Neither “divest-invest” nor global Paris Accord lobbying campaigns feature among the sample projects on New Venture Fund’s website. Instead, the group merely mentions its role in “ocean and river conservation, alternative energy sources and reduction of fossil fuels, protection of ocean life, wildlands conservation, ecological agriculture, and habitat restoration.”
In part 2, an internal memo reveals the true nature of Arabella Advisors and its nonprofits.