Donors Trust: An Anonymous Tax-Deductible Policy Slush Fund

If you're wealthy and a Republican and you like your donations to be tax-deductible whenever possible, then Donors Trust, Inc. is your kind of "charity". AlterNet touched on the edges of what they do back in October, when they focused on a

If you're wealthy and a Republican and you like your donations to be tax-deductible whenever possible, then Donors Trust, Inc. is your kind of "charity". AlterNet touched on the edges of what they do back in October, when they focused on a large donation which funded a weird effort to distribute a DVD entitled "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West", but they primarily focus on the donor¹ and projects around the DVD with Koch Industries as the primary player.

Koch Industries is one player, but they're by no means the only player, nor are they even the only primary player.

What is Donors Trust?

Donors Trust is a tax-deductible slush fund. If a donor or foundation wants to put money toward a project and doesn't want it to be a direct gift reportable to the IRS, all they do is give it to Donors Trust.

Donors Trust has three related project entities, according to their 2009 disclosures:

  • Donors Trust, LLC - Created to receive a gift of real property and liquidate it
  • Talent Market, LLC - Provides administrative support services
  • Center for College Affordability & Productivity, LLC - Research, writing, educational services

There is also Donors Capital Fund, Inc., which is the grantmaking arm and which also receives contributions as a private foundation.

2009 Donors Trust Direct-Funded and Controlled Projects

  • The Project on Fair Representation (PFR)

    This would be the union-busting, voter ID, minimum wage, public school attacking project, as described in their required disclosures:

    The project on fair representation works to effect change in law and public policy through a combination of research, litiigation, and public education in the four areas where racial discrimination is the most entrenched: voting, education, public contracting and employment

  • The Supply Side Project (SSP)

    This would be the "break the entitlements" project, as they describe this way:

    The Supply Side Project develops and advances fundamental market-based reform proposals for Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Welfare and Health Care.

  • Center for Class Action Fairness (CCAF)

    The tort reform project:

    Through pro bono representation of consumers, CCAF seeks to increase net awards to members of class action lawsuits through objections to settlements producing excessive attorney fees. An additional goal is a reduction in meritless class action suits as trial attorneys' awareness of CCAF's watchdog role increases.

    Don't be fooled by that claim about increasing net awards to members of class action suits. The real motive is the "additional goal."

  • Student Free Press Association (SFPA)

    This could also be called the "Fox News Incubator Project".

    The Student Free Press Association is an organization run by veteran journalists for the benefit of beginning journalists. It identifies and supports college students seeking to improve campus journalism, explore media careers, and commit themselves to the principles of a free society.

  • Talent Market™

    The placement service for those whose politics align.

    A free talent recruitment program available to charities whose mission aligns with Donors Trust's charitable mission

  • The Hollywood Project

    Terminated in 2009, this was one of the moving parts referenced in Alternet's piece on the Islamic-hysteria video piece timed to push McCain ahead of Obama in 2008. Alternate title: The Propanganda Project.

    The project aimed to advance liberty and virtue in America and globally by touching creative professionals at the fulcrum of world visual media: Hollywood.

Some of Donors' Trust's Non-Profit Donors

Since non-profits are not required to disclose individual or corporate donors, there isn't a lot of information available on them. However, foundations are required to disclose grants to other non-profit entities, and with enough time and patience, some facts emerge. Here's what I've found so far, taken from public filings of these foundations with the Internal Revenue Service. I'm certain the list isn't exhaustive, since finding these is a somewhat intuitive process, but it will give you an idea, at least.

  • Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation: 2009 - $1,000,000
  • Searle Freedom Trust: 2009 - $50,000 earmarked for startup

    Note: If you're not familiar with them, Searle Freedom Trust funded "Stossel in the Classroom", gave $1.5 million to AEI in 2009, $96,000 to Americans for Prosperity, and $100,000 to the Heartland Institute, among others. Donors Trust's co-founder and President is Kimberly O. Dennis, who also serves as President of the Searle Freedom Trust.

  • Jaquelin Hume Foundation: 2009 - $400,000
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: 2009: - $500,000 (Health Freedom Fund); $25,000 Tocqueville Program

    Note: The Bradley Foundation also funds the MacIver Institute in Wisconsin, primary mover and shaker behind the current union-busting initiatives there.

  • Vanguard Endowment Trust - 2009: $250,000, earmarked for a special project

I'm certain there are more, but you get the general idea from these names. Big Republican establishment players, along with the more libertarian types aligned with the Koch brothers. Where it gets more interesting is on the outgoing side.

Who Donors Trust Donates To

Remember my questions about American Majority? In 2009, Donors Trust gave them $66,050. 2010 was their banner year, though, and we won't know what they received from Donors Trust until around November, the deadline for filing 2010 disclosures. Other recipients:

  • Americans for Prosperity Foundation received $544,000 earmarked for their Patients United project, $82,000 for the "Right OnLine" Project, and $800,000 for general operations support. Smaller grants were made to AFP for the card check project and Washington State Startup, as well as $7500 for AFPF Kansas.
  • Energy "advocate" Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow received $278,250 for their Environmental Education Fund, $398,000 for general operations, and $198,000 to hire additional staff.
  • E Pluribus Unum Films received $8,000 for EconomicThinking.org.
  • The John K MacIver Institute in Wisconsin received $14,500 to "experiment with achieving growth." Also in Wisconsin, the Lucy Burns Institute received $14,350 also to experiment with achieving growth, along with about $47,000 in general operations support and $3,000 in grant administration funds. The Lucy Burns Institute's primary purpose is to help people learn about and use state sunshine laws and open records requests.
  • Brent Bozell's Media Research Center received $305,000 for general operations along with $1,000 earmarked for the "Rush Limbaugh Project (PDF)".
  • Mercatus Center received $403,000, of which $100,000 was earmarked for a "state outreach program".
  • The Pioneer Institute received $100,000 for "achieving greater reach by drawing attention to your work through online..."
  • The Sam Adams Alliance, whose funding went from $60,000 to about $5 million in 2009 received $250,000 for general operations and $5,000 for content/portal expenses.
  • Shimer College, a small liberal arts college, was nearly taken over by ultra-conservative authoritarian interests in 2010. They forced out their rogue president after realizing what was happening. In 2009, Donors Trust sent $585,000.00 in grants for general operations. There are 110 students at this college, so figure out what level of funding that was for such a small school.

On and on it goes. There are many more organizations who received substantial gifts, including FreedomWorks, State Policy Network, Leadership Institute, Young America's Foundation and more.

At the very least, now you get a sense of who the donors are, and the circular nature of non-profit funding. They recycle the money through organizations like this -- it's almost a laundering operation, at least to the extent that it puts one degree of separation between the donor and the recipient for disclosure purposes. The next time some new policy think tank pops up out of nowhere to start touting libertarian/conservative/authoritarian think-tanky kind of ideas, bet on at least part of its funding coming through Donors Trust. It's a slush fund and an incubator for the inundation of public policy with conservative ideas on a state-by-state basis.

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¹ In a strange twist, the 17 million dollar donor to Donors Trust via Clarion Fund was Illinois hard-right winger Barre Seid, who also spearheaded the attempted takeover and gutting of Shimer College.

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