The first part of this series—“The Landscape of Gun Control Advocacy”—examined nonprofit gun control activist groups in the United States and gave a rough idea of the total financial resources available to them. Revenues were combined and categorized by groups organized as 501(c)(3) charities, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, and 527 political action committees (PACs). Five groups—Everytown, Giffords, Brady, Sandy Hook Promise, and March for Our Lives—accounted for the vast majority of funds raised by American gun control nonprofits. Each of these groups operate both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) arm, and three also have PACs.
Where does this money come from? This question can only be partially answered, which itself highlights some of the realities and limitations of tracking nonprofit money flows. Unlike PACs, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits are required to disclose to whom they give money but not from whom they receive money. There are good reasons for this—the privacy of individual donors being chief among them—but it necessitates piecing together funding information from a variety of other sources into what is still generally an incomplete picture. Another complication is that many foundations and other nonprofit grantmakers operate broad gun violence prevention programs through which they fund gun control policy advocacy alongside rather less controversial (and perhaps more traditionally “charitable”) initiatives such as crisis intervention and conflict mitigation.
All that said, vast sums of dedicated gun control money can nevertheless be tracked with a tolerable degree of specificity. These funds can broadly be broken down into “political” gun control money, which flows to PACs and 501(c)(4) nonprofits, and “charitable” gun control money, which flows to 501(c)(3) nonprofits. This latter funding may be particularly notable to those who are concerned that philanthropy is increasingly blurring the line between charity and politics.
Political Gun Control: PAC and 501(c)(4) Funding
PACs must disclose their donors, which makes identifying their immediate sources of funding relatively straightforward. The specific type of PAC—and what it does—determines how much money each donor may give. Hybrid gun control PACs like the Brady PAC and the Giffords PAC raised almost $16.7 million combined during the 2020 cycle, but no one donor gave more than six figures. By contrast, just three funders gave a combined $24.7 million to the independent expenditure Super PAC Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, representing most of its 2020 cycle revenue. These were the affiliated 501(c)(4) Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Ballmer Group co-founder Connie Ballmer, and Michael Bloomberg.
Indeed, the ultra-wealthy former mayor of New York City and unsuccessful candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is the single most important individual in the world of gun control activism, at least from a financial standpoint. The New York Times reported in 2020 that Bloomberg had contributed upwards of $270 million to the issue since 2007. The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions—a combination research and advocacy institution—is housed at the billionaire’s namesake Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Bloomberg’s biggest organizational legacy in the field, however, is the Everytown family of nonprofits, which are now the most well-funded gun control activist groups in the country by a significant margin. In addition to its PAC and 501(c)(4) arms, Everytown also operates the 501(c)(3) Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Everytown was established in 2014 following the merger of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (itself co-founded by Bloomberg in 2006) and Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense in America. Bloomberg pledged $50 million to the effort at the time, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported as of 2022 that he was still providing as much as a quarter of Everytown’s funding.
The combined 2019–2020 revenues of the 501(c)(4) Everytown Action Fund were over $105 million, which dwarfed other gun control groups organized under that same tax-exempt category. The next largest 501(c)(4) by revenue—Giffords—reported just under $18 million across that two-year period. Bloomberg himself appears to have been the principal source of Everytown’s 501(c)(4) money. The New York Times reported that near the end of 2019 he gave an “extra $35 million” to the Everytown Action Fund, to be used the following year. The Action Fund’s 2019 tax filings disclosed that it received total contributions and grants of $80.7 million, of which over $60.8 million came from a single redacted contributor—presumably Bloomberg.
Major left-of-center 501(c)(4) grantmakers are another source of political gun control funding. The Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $100,000 to the Brady Campaign in 2021 and $120,000 to Giffords in 2020, for example. More interesting, perhaps, are those 501(c)(3) nonprofits that give to affiliated 501(c)(4)s. Such funds are still supposed to be used strictly for charitable purposes, but it underscores just how intertwined the world of nonprofit political-issue activism can be. The 501(c)(3) Everytown Support Fund gave more than $4.4 million total to the 501(c)(4) Everytown Action Fund from 2016 to 2020. The 501(c)(3) March for Our Lives Foundation gave $3.5 million to the affiliated 501(c)(4) March for Our Lives Action Fund in 2019, the year after both groups received their tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Charitable Gun Control: 501(c)(3) Funding
On the 501(c)(3) charitable side of the American gun control movement, donor-advised funds (DAFs) collectively constitute a major identifiable source of organizational funding—though that characterization can be a bit misleading. DAFs are essentially personal charitable accounts opened with DAF providers, which are themselves registered as 501(c)(3) charities. A donor may give money to the DAF provider through his or her account and take a tax deduction immediately. Later, that donor may recommend another 501(c)(3) charity to support, and the DAF provider will generally carry out this recommendation with funds from the donor’s account. The DAF provider is technically the entity making the grant, so it will report having done so on its Form 990 for that year.
This has the practical effect of turning DAF providers into extremely large grantmakers on paper. The popular DAF provider Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund disclosed $35.2 billion net assets in 2020 while paying out a staggering $7.3 billion in grants—almost $14,000 per minute. Naturally, this includes substantial sums to gun control groups. During the two-year period covering 2019–2020, Fidelity provided a total of $15,778,227 to the 501(c)(3) charitable arms of the country’s five largest gun control advocacy groups. Since 2017, it has given $16,478,003 to the Everytown Support Fund alone.
Other DAF providers are major sources of gun control funding, too. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston granted a total of $10,120,594 via DAFs to the Everytown Support Fund from 2015 to 2020. The Schwab Charitable Fund gave a combined $2,535,301 to the five major gun control groups from 2019 to 2020, after having given $2,499,535 to Everytown alone in 2018. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave $2,027,475 total from 2019 to 2020, while the National Philanthropic Trust provided $1,516,535. From 2020 to 2021, American Online Giving Foundation gave a combined $1,463,874.
Gun control charities also receive significant funding from traditional private foundations and other nonprofit grantmakers. The largest donor collaborative on the issue is the Fund for a Safer Future. Details regarding the group’s financials are scant due to its status as a fiscally sponsored project of the New Venture Fund, but its website claims it has “made more than $20 million in grants to reduce gun violence” since its founding in 2011, while its members have made an additional $134 million in “aligned grants.”
Specific grantees have ranged from schools like Northeastern University to national and state gun control activist groups like the Giffords Law Center and the CT Against Gun Violence Education Fund to general liberal public policy think tanks like the Center for American Progress. While this money goes to fund everything from research to policy advocacy, a grant description from the MacArthur Foundation (which gave $1.05 million to the Fund for a Safer Future from 2011–2016) notably explained that the fund was created in part “to enlarge the base of support for gun policies that prioritize public safety over the individual rights of gun ownership.”
As of 2023 the Fund for a Safer Future has 35 foundation and individual members. One of the most prominent is the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which has given out over $34 million since 2018 under its “Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform” program, the director of which also serves as chair of the Fund for a Safer Future. Only a portion of this money appears to have funded gun control advocacy, but some of those grants were substantial: $1 million to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and $1.025 million to the CeaseFire Pennsylvania Education Fund, for example. And $1.7 million was earmarked for the “gun policy project” at the Center for American Progress, which in turn promotes a variety of gun control laws.
Additional member foundations of the Fund for a Safer Future include the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund, and the Heising-Simons Foundation. The Kendeda Fund has given $250,000 annually to the collaborative in recent years, and the head of Kendeda’s gun violence prevention program serves as the group’s vice chair. Through that program, the Kendeda Fund has also made grants to other pro-gun control nonprofits such as the Giffords Law Center, Guns Down America, and The Trace.
Other foundations and grantmakers that have given significant 501(c)(3) money to at least one of the five major American gun control groups include the Boston-based Aloha Foundation, which granted $6 million total to Everytown from 2016 to 2019, and the Los Angeles-based Morf Foundation, which gave $2.5 million over that same time period. The Fullerton Family Charitable Fund gave a total of $800,000 from 2018 to 2021, while the Ring Foundation has given at least that much since 2017. The Ford Foundation gave $500,000 in 2018. All of this money went to Everytown.
The Sherwood Foundation—the private foundation of Warren Buffett’s daughter Susan—gave $505,120 to Everytown in 2019, the year after giving $1 million to March for Our Lives (apparently via the Everytown Support Fund). The NoVo Foundation—the private foundation of Buffett’s son Peter—gave an additional $500,000 to Everytown in order to support March for Our Lives in 2018. The Lynx Foundation has given the Brady Center $340,000 total since 2018, the same year it also gave the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation $225,000. The Wellspring Philanthropic Fund gave $200,000 to Brady in 2019, while the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation gave $700,000 to Sandy Hook Promise from 2019 to 2020. The Alliance for Youth Organizing gave $400,000 to the March for Our Lives Foundation in 2020.
Gun Control Philanthropy
These grants build upon a theme that arose in the first part of this series: the significance that 501(c)(3) philanthropic support plays in American gun control activism. The Capital Research Center has extensively studied political philanthropy and conducted studies that suggest it is far more extensive on the left than it is on the right. It certainly seems fair to say that gun control is a political issue and that gun control activists fundamentally seek political objectives. The financial support for this activism that flows via philanthropic foundations and other 501(c)(3) grantmakers would appear to represent a clear example of this phenomenon.