Philanthropically Speaking, Who are the Donors to Organizing for Action?

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Open Secrets

June 17, 2014; Open Secrets (Center for Responsive Politics)

Initially, Organizing for Action wasn’t totally on board with the concept of revealing the names and amounts of the major donors to this Obama-linked political nonprofit, but it is doing so—at least by releasing donors’ names and hometowns. Through its “Open Secrets” reporting on money in politics, the Center for Responsive Politics has done the digging to figure out who these big donors actually are. Fourteen donors have given $100,000 or more to Organizing for Action in the 2014 campaign cycle to date. They are well known donors to Democratic Party campaigns, so OFA has announced a “fundraising timeout” to start in two weeks so that these donors can shift their attention from the OFA, which is not legally permitted to coordinate its activity with political campaigns, to specific campaign-oriented funds tied to the 2014 midterm elections.

OFA’s voluntary disclosures reveal donors from hedge funds, real estate, and philanthropy, though that shouldn’t be surprising: Big donors are people with big money. Among the more notable OFA donors with philanthropic interests are these:

  • The largest of the 2014-cycle donors to OFA at $1 million, David E. Shaw founded an investment firm that manages $32 billion in investments and according to Forbes is worth some $4 billion himself. For nonprofits, it is important to note that Shaw and his wife, personal finance writer Beth Kobliner, have their own family foundation, the Shaw Family Endowment Fund, with grantmaking between 2009 and 2011 of nearly $400,000 to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a similar amount to Memorial Sloan Kettering Center Center, $1 million to Yale, more than $800,000 to the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York (where tuition for pupils from pre-K to 12th grade is $41,150 a year), $1 million to Stanford, and more than $1 million to Harvard University. Shaw is also on the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is one of the recipients of grants from his family foundation. Although Shaw isn’t currently involved, four senior people from the D.E. Shaw Group or D.E. Shaw and Company are on the board of directors or other advisory committees of the Robin Hood Foundation.
  • Donor Amy Goldman Fowler, described as a “real estate heiress and philanthropist,” is listed as having donated $750,000. She is a trustee of the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust ($10 million to the United Way in New York City in 2008, strong support for Planned Parenthood in 2005 and 2008, the Seed Savers Exchange, where she was a board member until 2012 and functions as a special advisor to the board, and the Global Justice Center), the Amy P. Goldman Foundation (whose largest grant in 2012 was $416,000 to the New York Botanical Garden, where she is a board member), and the Center for Jewish History.
  • John D. and Marcia Goldman are listed at $325,000, known as major philanthropists for work with the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation, which assumed the assets of the foundation of Goldman’s father, the Richard and Rhonda Goldman Foundation. The Goldmans’ three seven-figure grants from the foundation in 2011 went to the San Francisco Symphony, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, and Stanford University.
  • With an OFA donation of $200,000, billionaire Jon Stryker, an heir to his grandfather’s medical device firm (Homer Stryker invented the mobile hospital bed) is known to nonprofits as the founder of the Kalamazoo-based Arcus Foundation, which is well known as a major philanthropic supporter of LGBT causes as well as efforts to protect great apes. According to the Center, citing the Washington Blade, Arcus is the largest funder of LGBT causes in the world. However, the Center suggests that Stryker’s interests haven’t always lined up on the Obama side of the political equation. His family firm, the Stryker Corporation, lobbied against the excise tax on medical devices that was part of the Affordable Care Act financing. Last year, Stryker paid $13.2 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that it had bribed foreign officials and clients through overseas subsidiaries.
  • Donating $190,550, Laure Woods Kastanis is a well-known Bay Area philanthropist. Her husband, David Kastanis, is on the board of the Laurel Foundation, and she is on the board of the Whittier Foundation (in 2011 and 2012, seven-figure grants to the University of Southern California and Bennington College plus $2 million to ICEF Public Schools, a nonprofit that runs programs in charter schools, chaired by former Republican Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan).
  • Wayne Jordan and Mary Quinn Delaney, listed as donors of $150,000 to OFA, are known to nonprofits for the Akonadi Foundation, which is described on its website as “working to support and nurture a racial justice movement that can finally put an end to the structural racism that lies at the heart of social inequity in the United States.” A laudatory case study of Akonadi was recently published by the Philanthropic Initiative on Racial Equity, highlighting Akonadi’s Arc Toward Justice Fund focused on grants for youth and its Beloved Community Fund to reclaim public spaces, both in Oakland, California.

Don’t take this as an “outing” of liberal donors. Just as we often talk about the philanthropic identity of conservative political donors, this list simply demonstrates that moneyed people in the political arena frequently have charitable and philanthropic identities. In some instances, the type of philanthropic grantmaking priorities these people emphasize provide some extra detail to their political thinking.—Rick Cohen