Labor Watch

Trade Union Bank Gets Into the “Dark Money” Game


There’s a new player in philanthropy, and it’s run by Big Labor’s bank of choice.

Amalgamated Charitable Foundation is a new 501(c)(3) public charity that quietly opened its doors in April 2018, but it’s already providing a steady stream of funding to left-wing groups opposed to immigration reform.

Amalgamated Charitable is a donor-advised fund (DAF) provider—a kind of charitable savings account for givers—created by the labor union-owned Amalgamated Bank to support left-wing causes. It’s run by Anna Fink, who is listed as executive director by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Fink is also first vice president of philanthropy at Amalgamated Bank, and before that she served as a senior philanthropy advisor for the AFL-CIO and an officer in charge of the Women’s Equality Program at the Wyss Foundation, the personal foundation of environmental activist and billionaire Hansjorg Wyss.

Administering and washing charitable funding may seem like an odd pursuit for a financial institution with left-wing allegiances, but Amalgamated is not a conventional bank. With over $4 billion in assets and almost $40 billion under management, largely from union members’ pension funds, Amalgamated is the largest labor union-owned bank in America, controlled by Workers United, a division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—which holds nearly $147 million in Amalgamated Bank, according to the union’s latest LM-2 filings.

This close connection with Big Labor makes Amalgamated the de facto—and preferred—bank of the Democratic Party, including the Democratic National Committee. (Ready for Hillary, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign super PAC, was another of its key clients.)

But the rapid growth in donor-advised funds in recent years—18.8 percent between 2012 to 2015 to a record high of $15.75 billion, according to a 2017 report by the National Philanthropic Trust—means Amalgamated Bank can’t afford to miss the DAF bandwagon.

Donor-advised funds are a vehicle for givers of modest means to support philanthropic causes by investing their money into an administered account. Donors receive an up-front tax deduction for their gift, and that money can be invested by the DAF provider to grow over time, until the accountholder specifies an organization to which he wishes to donate. They also provide a means for major donors to add a layer of anonymity to their contributions to controversial or highly politicized organizations.

A phone call to Amalgamated Charitable Foundation’s offices in Washington, D.C., (shared with its counting house cousin) revealed the minimum donation donors must give $5,000 in order to open a DAF account with Amalgamated, and little else. Anna Fink has said that the group fills a “real need for a values-aligned donor-advised fund that has the backing and financial acumen of a financial institution,” citing fellow left-wing DAF providers Proteus Fund and Tides Foundation as models.

Unlike those more traditional pass-through organizations, Amalgamated Charitable has an existing pool of potential donors in Amalgamated Bank. The group has also adopted an aggressive spending strategy. Donors to the charitable arm are asked to distribute 10 percent of their DAF donations each year to nonprofits, rather than letting the money grow in their Amalgamated Charitable account. They are also offered the chance to redirect 1 percent of their accounts towards a “Community Impact Fund,” which is administered by Amalgamated Charitable.

On June 21, Amalgamated Charitable announced it would seed $10,000 into a “Families Together Rapid Response Fund”—presumably funded by donations to its Community Impact Fund. This rapid response fund urges donors to “urgently channel resources directly to where they are needed most: helping to reunite families, providing them with social services and bolstering grassroots actions and advocacy efforts to counter these harmful immigration policies,” referring to the Trump administration’s aggressive policies to counter illegal immigration. The fund pledges support for a number of left-wing labor and immigration groups, like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, United We Dream, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Arizona-based Florence Project.

The charity is vague about the causes its main DAF, the Advance Change Fund, supports. But Amalgamated Charitable’s website hints at its funding priorities with standard liberal paeans to “[b]uilding on a commitment to social justice,” supporting “disaster relief,” and providing “fossil fuel free standard investment options.” Amalgamated Charitable Foundation also appears as a member of the Funders Committee for Civic Participation, a donors’ affinity group for get-out-the-vote and immigration advocacy, and as a sponsor of Jobs With Justice, a union coalition involved in the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign.

It’s too early to say just how big a wave Amalgamated Charitable’s grantmaking will make. But if it’s anything like its fellow left-wing DAF providers, expect a flood of cash into social change philanthropy from the bank of Big Labor.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is a Research Analyst at Capital Research Center. He is a native of Orange County, California, and a graduate of Sonoma State University.
+ More by Hayden Ludwig