Organization Trends

“Zuck Bucks” for Soft-on-Crime Prosecution

Mark Zuckerberg is no stranger to writing big checks for politically charged philanthropy. The $400 million Zuckerberg distributed to local election offices through the Center for Tech and Civic Life (and the Center for Election Innovation and Research) during the 2020 election is his most famous, perhaps even the most infamous charitable contribution ever.

But it’s not the only nine-figure contribution Zuckerberg has made. Mark Zuckerberg made another politically charged philanthropic contribution of $350 million after the 2020 election, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard about it.

The Just Trust Begins

In January 2021, before the full scope of the original “Zuck bucks” was known, Zuckerberg announced the creation of the Just Trust, a five-year $350 million initiative to “reform” the U.S. criminal justice system. This second wave of Zuck bucks benefiting the common criminal instead of the county election clerk went relatively unnoticed.

It was not Zuckerberg’s first foray into criminal justice policy, but it is the largest to date. As CRC’s research uncovered, Zuckerberg used “dark money” groups as early as 2018 to secretly deliver funds to far-left district attorney candidates in Oregon and Nevada. In all, Zuckerberg’s philanthropic network had already given “164 million in funding to [criminal justice policy organizations] to date” at the time the grant to the Just Trust was announced, but the Just Trust was intended to be a new and improved initiative for all-things criminal justice “reform” in the Zuckerberg-Chan empire.

To lead the organization, Zuckerberg selected his personal criminal justice guru, Ana Zamora, a veteran ACLU employee. She had been recruited to head the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s (CZI) criminal justice reform programs after years of criminal justice policy advocacy in California, where voters are now notably fed-up with“reform.” Zamora also boasts in her bio that her team at CZI “backed key wins like Measure 110 in Oregon to decriminalize all drug possession,” hardly the moderate common-sense position that the Just Trust claims to promote. Since Measure 110 was passed, opioid overdose deaths have increased by 241 percent statewide and just this past week a bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers passed legislation to recriminalize drug possession.

Common Ground or Classic Misdirection?

Zamora’s and CZI’s records as commonsense nonpartisan actors are not exactly stellar. Yet the Just Trust insists on its website that the group “collaborates across political spectrums” to get things done. This assertion is at odds with CZI’s choice of Arabella Advisors to initially house the Just Trust as a fiscal sponsor during its beginning phases.

The Arabella Advisors fiscal sponsorship network (first discovered by researchers here at the Capital Research Center) is the undisputed heavyweight champion of Democrat-aligned “dark money” operations. Arabella recently landed in a heap of legal trouble for a different fiscally sponsored project that professed to operate across political lines but was ultimately shown by leaked documents and lawsuits to be a scandalous trojan horse for left-wing policy advocacy. Even though the Just Trust quickly spun-out from the Arabella nursery and became its own organization, the Just Trust for Action (JTFA) reported paying Arabella Advisors $350,000 in consulting fees during 2022, making it the group’s highest paid independent contractor.

The Just Trust does at least make an effort to appear bipartisan.

Representing the libertarians on JTFA’s board members is Jenny Kim, former senior vice-president for policy in the libertarian-leaning Koch network and current employee of the Gober Group. Kim’s last appearance in the news was as the incorporator of a “dark money” group in Iowa that sent out “dirty trick” mailers before the 2023 Iowa caucus that seemed designed to provoke infighting among Republican candidates. Supposedly representing conservatives on JTFA’s board is Kevin Madden, who once worked for Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders. Madden more recently spent years in employ of Arnold Ventures, the left-leaning philanthropic empire of John Arnold. Arnold is notorious for using less-than-transparent funding arrangements to pay nominally conservative organizations and pundits to support left-wing policy changes on a seemingly for-hire basis. Then, right next to Madden on the JTFA board is David Plouffe, director of both of Barrack Obama’s presidential campaigns and author of the highly nonpartisan classics A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump and How the Democrats Can Win by Leading America to a Better Future in 2010 and Beyond.

Just “Dark Money”

In 2022, the Just Trust for Action, the 501(c)(4) “dark money” wing of the Just Trust spent just over $21 million—most of it in the form of grants to other “dark money” organizations. The overwhelming majority of them were left-leaning, though a few conservative and libertarian groups appear on the list.

In 2022, the Just Trust for Action (JTFA) granted$3.5 million to Action for Safety and Justice, the 501(c)(4) wing of the Alliance for Safety and Justice. Action for Safety and Justice reported just $5 million in revenue during 2022, meaning 70 percent of its revenue came from JTFA.  Action for Safety and Justice stashed away most of the funding for the future but spent $412,740 on lobbying during the year in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Another “dark money” group, Reform Action Fund, received $2.6 million from JTFA. Reform Action Fund is the lobbying arm of the Criminal Justice Reform Foundation and its board members include rapper Meek Mill, artists Jay-Z, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The $2.6 million grant accounted for half of the Reform Action Fund’s revenue for the year. The organization reported spending $1.4 million on lobbying in 2022 but provided no explanation on where or which specific legislation.

The American Conservative Union (ACU), the organization that famously hosts yearly CPAC convenings in DC, also received $1 million from JTFA. Every year the ACU hosts panels and speakers professing to make the conservative case for criminal justice reform that have mystified attendees. Even openly far-left speakers like Van Jones have been given a platform on the main stage. This is largely, some popular commentators have speculated, a result of the millions that the ACU has received from left-leaning funders interested in pushing criminal justice reforms. Both the Arabella network and the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative have given large grants to the ACU in the past.

JTFA also contributed over $1 million to the Yes on 820 campaign of Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, an Oklahoma political action committee (PAC). The campaign advocated for a marijuana legalization ballot measure that voters ultimately rejected in 2022. Oklahoma campaign finance records show that JTFA sent Yes on 820 another $1 million in the first quarter of 2023, just before the ballot measure went to a vote. Oklahoma campaign finance records show that Yes 0n 820 raised just over $4.8 million total, meaning that JTFA, and by extension Mark Zuckerberg, provided nearly half of all the funding for the ballot measure.

Drug Policy Action, a long-time favorite of George Soros, received $1.5 million from JTFA and was also a leading funder of Yes on 820, giving the PAC nearly $300,000 between 2022 and 2023. JTFA also made a $3 million grant to the ACLU, which in-turn gave roughly $540,000 to Yes on 820. Coincidentally, JTFA distributed exactly $540,000 worth of grants to the Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia chapters of the ACLU during 2022. That’s nearly $3 million worth of funding for Yes on 820 that can plausibly be traced back to Zuckerberg’s JTFA. It’s also about $3 million gone up in smoke (pun intended).

The Trophy Case

Although the ballot measure to legalize weed in Oklahoma failed, JTFA has plenty of notches in its belt. In fact, the organization keeps a meticulous public list of all its policy wins (though it doesn’t mention the losses). In its 2023–23 annual report database the Just Trust provided a list of wins broken up into four categories: affirmative wins, or the passage of new policy; defensive wins, or stopping left-wing policies from being overturned; implementation wins, or helping advise or manage the actual implementation of affirmative policy wins; and narrative wins, or successfully changing the narratives around left-wing criminal justice reform.

Marijuana isn’t the only drug the Just Trust was working on. Over 109,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2022, and 70 percent of those overdoses were the result of fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. The worst state for fentanyl overdose deaths per capita was West Virginia, where the Just Trust was doing everything it could to fight legislation intended to increase the penalties for fentanyl dealers. JTFA boasts that its grantees were able to defeat House Bill 2847, which would have imposed a life sentence on those convicted of selling fentanyl.  Meanwhile in Kentucky, the fourth worst state for fentanyl overdoses, JTFA partners “successfully weakened a bill that increased criminal penalties for fentanyl” by providing “testimony, policy analysis and public education, direct lobbying of legislators and talking points.” In Arizona JTFA claims that an unlikely duo of the ACLU and American Conservative Union (ACU) teamed up to defeat House Bill 2167, which would have applied the felony murder rule to deaths resulting from the sale of fentanyl or fentanyl laced drugs. It wasn’t the only time JTFA claimed the ACU helped it secure a win.

JTFA’s database claims that the ACU helped them get certain provisions of Georgia Senate Bill 92 removed that would have made it easier to recall district attorneys and would have limited their ability to use prosecutorial discretion to decide which laws to enforce and (more importantly) not enforce. The Just Trust database also notes that this bill would have “[jeopardized] the independence of investigations” no doubt in reference to a certain high-profile case brought by a left-leaning district attorney in Georgia. In Idaho the ACU was again enlisted by JTFA, credited for working with Right on Crime, a campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, to block House Bill 149, which would have created a mandatory minimum sentence for fentanyl possession and made it a felony.

Soros’ Apprentice

The largest estimates suggest that Soros has spent over $50 million supporting the campaigns of far-left district attorney candidates. He has been so successful with this political arbitrage tactic that the term “Soros DA” has gained a life of its own, now referring less to the man than to the movement he created, but recently Zuckerberg has actually spent much more than Soros on nonprofit policy advocacy.

With the Just Trust commitments and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s prior spending, Zuckerberg has spent north of $500 million advancing the Soros brand of justice. Making matters worse, Zuckerberg has been joined by his Facebook co-founder, Dustin Moskovitz, who has created a similarly named organizing hub called Just Impact and has spent at least $200 million on left-wing “reform” advocacy. Zuckerberg and Moskovitz, true to their pasts, are trying to create a justice system that looks a lot like Facebook’s content moderation policies; extremely lax, wildly unpopular, and openly biased against conservatives.

Parker Thayer

Parker Thayer is a Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. A native of Michigan, he recently graduated from Hillsdale College.
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