Summary: The election of President Donald Trump triggered the creation of numerous new activist groups on the Left. But while virtually every one of them claims to be “grassroots,” many aren’t real organizations at all. Meet the professional Left’s “pop-up” protesters—websites designed to look like spontaneously generated citizen activism against the policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party. Quietly pulling the strings behind these fake groups is the New Venture Fund, a mega-funder created and managed by a for-profit philanthropy consulting company, Arabella Advisors, led by a wealthy and influential ex-Clinton administration staffer, Eric Kessler.
Some of New Venture Fund’s projects are even hierarchies within hierarchies, like the Civic Engagement Fund. The Fund is a “nonprofit civic incubator” housed within an incubator. In reality, it’s no such thing—whatever projects the Fund “sponsors” are as much projects of the New Venture Fund as the Civic Engagement Fund is itself—but it stands as an example of the layers Arabella Advisors has built in order to distance itself from many of its creations.
All Above All is a New Venture Fund project which advocates for Congress to overturn the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision passed in 1976 that forbids the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in extreme circumstances. In 2017, the group and its Sixteen Thirty Fund-sponsored lobbying arm backed the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (“EACH Woman”) bill, which would have “ensur[ed] abortion coverage and care through the federal government” in Medicaid and Medicare while simultaneously barring state legislatures from restricting abortion coverage in private health plans.
The New Venture Fund also sponsors the Women’s Equality Center, which forms strategic messaging for abortion campaigns. The Center, in turn, nominally manages Keep Birth Control Copay Free (both part of the New Venture Fund), which lobbies the government to force private health insurers to provide copay-free birth control coverage.
Hope and Heal Fund is an New Venture-sponsored gun control group based in California. It’s led by Brian Malte, a longtime senior national policy director for the gun-grabbing Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Like other New Venture projects, Hope and Heal Fund’s actual funders are hard to identify. According to the left-leaning website Inside Philanthropy, though, it was launched in October 2017 with $2 million from eight liberal foundations, including the Akonadi Foundation, the California Endowment, Blue Shield of California Foundation, and California Wellness Foundation. The group’s steering committee is made up of representatives from these foundations.
One of the New Venture Fund’s more shadowy projects is the Media Democracy Fund, a group created in conjunction with the Media Democracy Action Fund, its Sixteen Thirty Fund-sponsored lobbying arm. The Media Democracy Fund was initially developed by the Proteus Fund, a pass-through funder, a fact detailed by Arabella in a 2015 piece (left unmentioned was the Action Fund’s ties to the Sixteen Thirty Fund). MDF was instrumental in the technocratic Left’s 2015 push to enact net neutrality regulations in the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Net neutrality went a long way towards handing control of the internet over to the federal government, the dream of net neutrality advocate Robert McChesney, a radical and former editor of the socialist magazine Monthly Review. McChesney believes that the American media is too “profit-driven . . . any serious effort to reform the media system,” he wrote in 2008, “would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist political economy.” And McChesney was well-placed to drive that far-left message home with his George Soros-funded advocacy group, Free Press. The Obama administration cited it a whopping 46 times in its arguments for adopting net neutrality.
President Trump undid net neutrality rules in 2017, but groups aligned with Free Press continue to push for its re-adoption. One of them, Demand Progress, has received at least $90,000 from Media Democracy Fund through its “Open Internet Defense Fund.” And is it any coincidence that MDF’s founders include a former Free Press outreach director and Proteus Fund officer?
Yet another New Venture Fund project is the Science Philanthropy Alliance (SPA), a coalition of funders pushing grants for “basic science” in response to federal budget cuts in research and development. And while there’s nothing necessarily suspicious about that goal, the same can’t be said for the Alliance itself.
If SPA was created to direct philanthropy toward scientific research, why is it housed at the New Venture Fund—a group whose “philanthropy” looks a lot more like George Soros’s than it does, say, the Wounded Warrior Project? (SPA’s status as a project of the New Venture Fund isn’t prominently displayed on its website—it’s only quietly mentioned at the bottom of a job listing.)
A glance at the New Venture Fund’s 2016 IRS filing (Form 990), might reveal why. According to that document, New Venture’s highest-paid employee was SPA president Marc Kasten, a former physics and chemistry professor who earned a massive $531,250 in salary; its third-highest was SPA executive director Valerie Conn ($296,179). The Left’s CEO pay concerns aside, consider SPA’s membership: among other wealthy funders, it lists left-wing heavyweights like the Rockefeller, Moore, and Packard Foundations as well as the Open Philanthropy Project (hosted by the sex scandal-ridden Silicon Valley Community Foundation) and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropy-minded limited liability company created in 2015 by Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan (both major donors to leftist causes).
Whatever SPA’s philanthropic intentions, the group is run through the same channels and funded by the same players as numerous activist groups, which should immediately bring it under suspicion.
Campaign for Accountability
Perhaps one of the most hypocritical groups incubated by New Venture Fund is the Campaign for Accountability. Campaign for Accountability was created in 2015 as a project of New Venture; in 2016, it was transferred to the Hopewell Fund, and later became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Campaign for Accountability’s noble mission is “expos[ing] misconduct and malfeasance in public life,” and one of the group’s broadest initiatives targeted tech giant Google for its entanglements with Washington, D.C., politicians. The Campaign’s so-called Google Transparency Project might be lauded for pulling back the curtains on a company which—aside from its influence over Big Government and ability to powerfully manipulate Internet search results—has viciously targeted employees who don’t conform to the radical ideological “echo chamber” the company has created.
But dig a little deeper and the Campaign for Accountability appears less and less accountable. For one thing, the group has historically targeted Republican Party politicians for supposed ethics violations, and it’s been represented in lawsuits by none other than American Oversight—the anti-Trump “watchdog” whose board of directors includes a New Venture Fund board member, Kyle Herrig. Campaign for Accountability co-founder and former executive director Anne Weismann was chief counsel for a decade for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the David Brock-affiliated Democratic agitation group. And current executive director Dan Stevens is an alumnus of the leftist think tank New America Foundation, whose board of directors includes George Soros’s son, Jonathan.
But most disturbing is the revelation that the tech firm Oracle financed Campaign for Accountability’s Transparency Project while the company is locked in a $9 billion intellectual property lawsuit with Google (the amount donated to the Campaign is unknown). As Oracle vice president Ken Glueck put it in 2016, “Oracle is absolutely a contributor (one of many) to the [Google] Transparency Project. This is important information for the public to know.”
It wouldn’t be fair to lay Campaign for Accountability’s transparency hypocrisy at New Venture’s foot, of course, since the group is independent of the Fund. It’s one of the few New Venture Fund projects to come into its own as a fully-fledged nonprofit. But this kind of mercenary behavior is part and parcel with many of the New Venture Fund’s projects, and perhaps it should be expected: the fund itself exists to foster such campaigns for clients, after all.
The New Venture Fund’s high-level connections aren’t surprising given its enormous value to the professional Left. After all, between the pop-up groups created by the New Venture and Sixteen Thirty Funds, the Left’s political infrastructure is expanded dramatically, lending the appearance of ubiquity to what are narrowly conceived and closely managed issue campaigns.
Directing this huge effort is Arabella Advisors itself, the “philanthropic” string-puller the Left doesn’t want you to see. Arabella is a master puppeteer, busily manipulating the image cast by its tentacle-like projects in order to advance a political agenda it couldn’t otherwise sell, like the mysterious—and ultimately phony—Wizard of Oz.