The Omidyar Nexus
The Pierre M. Omidyar Family Foundation was born in 1998 in Redwood City, California, using funds generated from the eBay IPO. While little is known about the now-defunct foundation, it was at led by Iqbal Paroo, a health care executive, from 2002 to 2007. Filings from this period also list chief financial officer Ellyn Peabody, now a senior officer for ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Schmidt Family Foundation, a noted funder of environmental and climate causes.
For whatever reason (the details are unclear), the Omidyar Family Foundation proved insufficient and was replaced in 2004 by the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, and Omidyar Network Fund, a foundation. These were the first two members of what would become the Omidyar Nexus, our term for the collection of nonprofits and for-profit companies directing his wealth to liberal political causes. And Omidyar added two more nonprofits to the nexus in 2014: Democracy Fund, another foundation, and the 501(c)(4) Democracy Fund Voice.
Why the plethora of groups? The answer probably has to do with their various tax structures. With some exceptions, both 501(c)(3) private foundations and 501(c)(4) groups are exempt from income taxes, but only donations to (c)(3) groups are tax-deductible for donors. However, 501(c)(4)s may use their funds for significantly more lobbying and advocacy than their (c)(3) counterparts, which are also barred from engaging in electioneering.
Similarly, foundations must publicly disclose their donors on all IRS Form 990 reports; (c)(4) groups don’t. Nor do private companies like Omidyar Network, which are not required to publicly disclose any financial information and are allowed to spend as much money on politicking as they want. Channeling political funds via a private company is steadily becoming more common among Bay Area donors, with hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg both using LLCs alongside nonprofits to direct their wealth to political ends.
Broadly speaking, the Omidyar Network and Omidyar Network Fund bankroll less politically charged causes than do Democracy Fund and Democracy Fund Voice. Yet even their grants have an anti-capitalist bent, such as the $100 million fund Omidyar allocated for microloans to encourage entrepreneurialism in developing countries, since rolled into the groups’ larger project of “reimagining capitalism” and “rebalancing structural power” between workers and the owners of capital.
The Omidyar Network’s “Call to Reimagine Capitalism” calls for building an “explicitly anti-racist and inclusive economy,” introducing more regulations to prohibit corporate consolidation, strengthening labor unions, and to enhance the power of governments to regulate markets since “markets do not self-regulate” and “we cannot leave markets to do government’s work.” Naturally, it also supports implementing broad diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) schemes in order to embed “anti-racist” measures in companies across America.
Mike Kubazansky, who leads Omidyar Network, explained the project to one Silicon Valley outlet:
We would argue that neoliberalism is a version of capitalism, it is not capitalism itself, and that we can get to a better version of capitalism if we change some of these underlying beliefs and mindsets about the economy.
News and “Transparency”
Omidyar himself has also directed hundreds of millions of dollars to creating new media outlets, with mixed results. In 2013, Omidyar and famed activist-journalist Glenn Greenwald established First Look Media, a nonprofit umbrella organization for a number of left-leaning news and media websites.
First Look launched The Intercept in 2014, a left-leaning investigative journalism site that quickly published material leaked by former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden. While much of the group’s reporting tilts leftward, it historically criticized both the professional Left and the Democratic Party—until 2020, that is, when Greenwald himself resigned from First Look after The Intercept refused to publish an article critical of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. Greenwald later wrote that Biden was “the candidate vehemently supported by all New York–based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression,” while the “current iteration of The Intercept is completely unrecognizable when compared to [his] original vision.” It’s unclear whether Omidyar was involved in the decision to scrub the article.
The Omidyar Network has also directed millions of dollars to groups ostensible pushing for “transparency” in politics. But as with its Reimagining Capitalism project, the reality is quite different from the pitch.
The Poynter Institute, which has reaped $1.4 from the Omidyar Network Fund since 2013, runs PolitiFact, the fact-checking website whose “facts” invariably seem to favor Democrats. A 2013 analysis by George Mason University concluded that PolitiFact was three times as likely to rank statements by Republicans as “Pants on Fire”—in other words, an outright lie—as Democrats, who were twice as likely to have their statements ranked as “Entirely True.” Multiple six-figure grants from Omidyar Network Fund indicate they bankrolled Poynter’s “fact-checking project.”
Then there’s the Sunlight Foundation, which pulled in over $19 million from Omidyar Network Fund between 2007 and 2014 (it appears to have stopped funding the group after that). Sunlight coined the term “dark money” in 2010 to attack anonymous funding of conservative political groups active in the midterm elections. It’s also partnered with the far-left Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publisher of the anti-conservative attack website SourceWatch, which ought to cost the group any credibility as an “accountability” and “transparency” advocate.
In the next installment, the Funders Committee guides funding on the left.