Nonprofits in the Biden Administration: Arabella Advisors and Democracy Alliance
The Capital Research Center maintains a detailed InfluenceWatch profile on the Biden Administration, noting especially the professional backgrounds and affiliations of the president’s nominees and appointees. This post is the third in an occasional series on those associations.
The Capital Research Center (CRC) has long tracked the influence of two of the most important funding networks on the Left: the four nonprofits managed by the philanthropic consulting firm Arabella Advisors and the wealthy donor collective Democracy Alliance. The extent of their influence on left-leaning politics is well illustrated by the number of individuals connected to these two networks who have been tapped for positions in the Biden administration.
The Arabella Advisors Network
As CRC has extensively documented, Arabella Advisors is a for-profit consultancy that manages four nonprofits: the New Venture Fund, the Hopewell Fund, the Windward Fund, and the Sixteen Thirty Fund. Together, these four nonprofits boasted combined 2019 revenues in excess of $730 million, and they have collectively brought in over $3 billion since 2006.
In addition to channeling hundreds of millions of dollars to other groups, the four Arabella nonprofits offer fiscal sponsorship services to scores of “projects.” Although on the surface these projects can appear to be independent grassroots organizations, they are in fact administered by the sponsoring nonprofit. All grants or donations must first be routed through the sponsor on their way to the project. Some projects ultimately spin off into independent tax-exempt entities.
One former New Venture Fund project that recently provoked controversy is Accountable.US, which co-authored “An Open Letter to America’s CEOs” calling for American business leaders to blacklist “any senior-level official from the Trump administration that has participated in undermining our democracy, endorsing violent extremism, or tearing families apart.” Observers pointed to the letter after Caroline Ciccone, the former executive director of Accountable.US, was appointed as communications director in the Office of Personnel Management. Ciccone was also the former executive director of Restore Public Trust, another former New Venture Fund project that was ultimately absorbed into Accountable.US.
Many projects, though, remain just that. Additional Biden administration officials affiliated with New Venture Fund projects include:
- Janelle Jones, the Labor Department’s chief economist, who was the former managing director for policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative.
- Sabeel Rahman, senior counselor at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, who was on the advisory board of the Narrative Initiative—a left-progressive messaging project funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation.
- Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, who was most recently a project director at the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund and Demand Justice
Three of the Arabella nonprofits are 501(c)(3)s, but the fourth—the Sixteen Thirty Fund—operates as a 501(c)(4), and the Biden administration has hired considerably from its orbit. White House Deputy Cabinet Secretary Cristobal J. Alex formerly served on its board of directors. Maggie Thomas, who was political director at a Sixteen Thirty Fund project called Evergreen Action, is now chief of staff in the White House’s new Office of Domestic Climate Policy. At least three of the eight advisory board members of Protect the Investigation—Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense Bishop Garrison, and State Department Spokesperson Ned Price—currently serve in the administration.
Perhaps no Sixteen Thirty Fund project has attracted more attention than Demand Justice. First surfacing in 2018 as a major opponent of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it now brazenly bemoans that “Supreme Court confirmations have gotten too political.” Perplexingly couched as a means to “restore balance” to the Court, Demand Justice advocates for “structural court reform” that would include (most notably) adding four new justices in order to “undo the damage Republicans did by stealing multiple Supreme Court seats.”
Although polling repeatedly indicates that Americans broadly oppose such openly partisan court-packing—and President Joe Biden has thus far merely backed the creation of an exploratory commission—Demand Justice has nevertheless made its mark on the administration. White House Senior Counsel Paige Herwig, whose work includes overseeing the president’s judicial nominees, was Demand Justice’s former deputy chief counsel. Press Secretary Jen Psaki previously served as a “communications consultant” for the group and was on the advisory board of its Supreme Court Voter project.
Demand Justice also maintains a “Supreme Court Shortlist” of more than 40 individuals of “progressive talent” who it considers exemplars of its preferred judicial ideology. Its standards appear to overlap with those of the Biden administration, which has appointed a number on the list to important posts. These include:
- Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra,
- Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta,
- Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke,
- Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan,
- Special Assistant to the President Timothy Wu,
- Acting Administrator of the Office of information and Regulatory Affairs Sharon Block,
- Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity Catherine Lhamon, and
- Director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Jenny Yang.
The Democracy Alliance
A second major left-of-center network with connections to Arabella Advisors is the Democracy Alliance. Founded in 2005, the Democracy Alliance is structured as a taxable nonprofit. It operates as a donor collective that steers contributions from its members (also known as partners) to organizations that it has vetted and recommended. According to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon in 2019, Democracy Alliance partners have moved as much as $1.83 billion toward “progressive infrastructure” since 2005.
The Democracy Alliance also hosts semi-annual conferences that connect partners with representatives of these organizations, as well as provide a forum for speakers and panelists to discuss liberal policy priorities, strategy, and other topics. These conferences have been described as a “major gathering of the institutional left.”
Of those Biden administration officials who have participated in Democracy Alliance conferences over the years, the most notable is Vice President Kamala Harris, who was twice featured as a speaker. Senior Advisor to the President Neera Tanden has participated in at least six conferences, and Vanita Gupta in at least three. Two members of the Council of Economic Advisers—Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein—have attended at least one conference, as have Pamela Karlan, K. Sabeel Rahman, Deputy Undersecretary for International Labor Affairs Thea M. Lee, and U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Member Amber McReynolds.
Two Influential Networks
The Arabella Advisors and Democracy Alliance networks are two of the country’s most influential left-of-center nonprofit funding operations. While that influence has traditionally been quantified in vast sums of money, it evidentially can also be measured by their connections to high-level officials in the executive branch.