DonorsTrust (DT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit started in 1999 "to ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise." Along with its supporting 509(a)(3) organization Donors Capital Fund (DCF), it is a spin-off of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a coordinating body for conservative foundations founded by Whitney L. Ball, who passed away in 2015. The current president and CEO of DCF and DT is Lawson R. Bader, former president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Both funding organizations are "donor-advised funds," which means that the fund creates separate accounts for individual donors, and the donors then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. They cloak the identity of the original mystery donors because the funds are then distributed in the name of DT or DCF, contributing another step to what has been called a "murky money maze."
The twin Donors organizations are advertised as a way for very wealthy people and corporations to remain hidden when "funding sensitive or controversial issues," creating a lack of accountability.
- 1 DonorsTrust connection to DOJ Official Matthew Whitaker
- 2 DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients
- 3 What DonorsTrust Funds, and How Much
- 3.1 DT Launches "Growth and Resilience Project" in Reaction to COVID-19 Shutdowns
- 3.2 2011-2012 Funding
- 3.3 Funding Climate Change Denial
- 3.4 Funding State Think Tanks' ALEC Membership
- 3.5 Funding Islamophobia in the United States
- 4 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 5 Core Financials
- 6 Personnel
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 Resources and Articles
Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.
DonorsTrust connection to DOJ Official Matthew Whitaker
Matthew Whitaker was named acting Attorney General by President Trump after the November 2018 ousting of Jeff Sessions from that role. Prior to his appointment to the Justice Department top spot, Whitaker earned $1.2 million dollars as the Executive Director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). Whitaker's salary made up "a sizable chunk" of the organization's revenue which was "mainly from" DonorsTrust, according to the Associated Press. As the director of FACT, Whitaker was an outspoken critic of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. Despite advice from ethic's officials to do so, Whitaker did not recuse himself from his oversight power into the investigation.Whitaker rejected advice to recuse from Russia probe Although DonorTrust has been the preferred investment vehicle of the Koch Network of donors, any donor, foreign or domestic, could have bankrolled Whitaker's activities. The public does not know if these secret donors may have caused conflict of interest issues for the Acting Attorney General, who has oversight over the Mueller investigation until a new Attorney General is confirmed.
Many U.S. Senators, former Justice Department officials and others have spoken out on Whitaker's conflicts, known and unknown, including his past involvement with a company the Federal Trade Commission accused of scamming consumers. His elevation to Acting AG was challenged as unconstitutional by numerous watchdog groups and federal officials  and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse demanded answers on Whitaker from DOJ nominee William Barr on January 15, 2019
DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients
In June, 2016, DonorsTrust reached $1 billion in contributions to their "donor-advised accounts."
For a complete list of 2010-2014 grant recipients, see the DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients page.
What DonorsTrust Funds, and How Much
DT Launches "Growth and Resilience Project" in Reaction to COVID-19 Shutdowns
DT describes "Grown and Resilience Project" launched in 2020 as a program "meant to leverage the financial resources of generous donors who understand the value of fighting for free enterprise, government restraint, and the entrepreneurial spirit.
This Fund will serve as a rapid funding catalyst for projects that are focused on the key areas of policy needed to get America back on its feet:
- Employment and job creation
- Economic deregulation
- Reducing barriers to entry, especially in education and health care
- Countering narratives to crisis intervention and government overreach."
Growth and Resilience Project Advisory Committee
- Kim Dennis, Chairman of DonorsTrust, President of the Searle Freedom Trust
- Tracie Sharp, President of the State Policy Network
- Brad Lips, CEO of the Atlas Network
- Adam Meyerson, President of the Philanthropy Roundtable
- Lawson Bader, President and CEO of DonorsTrust
As of February 2021, the Growth and Resilience Project had contributed at least $760,100 to its recipients, broken down as follows:
- American Juris Link: $41,000
- Beacon Center of Tennessee: $50,000
- California Policy Center: $50,000
- Center for Indonesian Policy Studies: $25,000
- Competitive Enterprise Institute: $50,000
- Foundation for Government Accountability: $50,000
- Free the People: $50,000
- Franklin News Foundation: $50,000
- Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad: $25,000
- Georgia Center for Opportunity: $30,000
- Job Creators Network Foundation: $50,000
- Lincoln Network: $30,000
- Lithuanian Free Market Institute: $30,000
- Mercatus Center: $30,000
- National Taxpayers Union Foundation: $30,000
- Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research: $44,100
- Reason Foundation: $50,000
- Tax Foundation: $50,000
- Texas Public Policy Foundation: $50,000
DT and DCF made grants of over $148 million in 2011 and 2012, and according to a report by DeSmog Blog the two funds granted almost $311 million between 2002 and 2010'. The Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues appear to be cloaking an untold amount of their donations to conservative political outlets through DT and DCF. The obscure Knowledge and Progress Fund, controlled by Charles G. Koch, with Richard Fink as president, has given only to Donors since 2005, according to Mashey.
Coincidentally, the related Philanthropy Roundtable chose to honor Charles G. Koch with its 2011 William E. Simon Prize for "Philanthropic Leadership," enabling him to choose a non-profit to receive a $250,000 grant. The Roundtable explained that Koch is at the "forefront of strategic investment in ideas, think tanks, and academic research. . . . Having benefited from the capitalist system, he wants others to prosper in the same way."
Funding Climate Change Denial
According to Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist featured on PBS Frontline in October 2012, "by 2009, about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement [of climate change denial] is from the Donors Trust [and] Donors Capital Fund." He added that "what you see is that as the contribution of Donors [to climate change denial groups] has increased over the 2003-to-2010 timeframe, the contribution of other foundations has declined. Koch went from a high of 9 percent of the funding flow in 2008 to 1 percent in 2010. We do know that the Koch brothers have made significant contributions to Donors Trust through their foundation called the Knowledge and Progress Fund. They gave $1.25 million in 2007, $1.25 million in 2008, and then $2 million in 2010 to Donors. We don’t know where it went after it goes to Donors, because it’s not necessarily a one-for-one giving."
DonorsTrust promises to only funnel money to groups with an extreme anti-environmental bent, so industrial billionaires need not worry about their money winding up at Greenpeace, for example, as DonorsTrust co-founder Whitney Ball explains:
- "...if a donor names his child a successor advisor, and she wants to give to Greenpeace, we're not going to be able to do that."
In February 2013, the Guardian reported that nearly US$120 million dollars from "conservative billionaires" were routed through two trusts, DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, who used a "secretive funding route" to channel the funds "to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change." The trusts were "operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC," and the funds "doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising 'wedge issue' for hardcore conservatives."
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) published a chart of the foundations and funds that gave money to DonorsTrust, and the organizations to which Donors Trust distributed the funds. In one example, DonorsTrust was a large supporter of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a think tank with a network of online media outlets in state capitals that covered climate change from a conservative point of view. According to IRS records, 95 percent of Franklin’s revenue in 2011 came from Donors Trust. The funding allowed Franklin to maintain tax-exemption as a “publicly supported” entity.
Funding State Think Tanks' ALEC Membership
In the mid-2000s, SPN began to secure funding for more of its member think tanks to join ALEC in order to help develop model legislation. In 2011, some of this "secured funding" for SPN members' participation in ALEC came from DCF. According to DCF's 2011 IRS disclosure, it funded Michigan's Mackinac Center, North Carolina's John Locke Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Foundation, and six other member think tanks "for participation at American Legislative Exchange Council meeting," providing a total of $200,000 to the groups for that purpose.
Funding Islamophobia in the United States
Research from the Center for American Progress (CAP) indicates that DCF has funded various organizations and individuals contributing to an anti-Islamic hysteria in the United States. Between 2007 and 2009 the Donors Capital Fund contributed $21,318,600 to "groups promoting Islamophobia, some of which included the Middle East Forum, Clarion Fund, Investigative Project on Terrorism, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. In 2008, Donors Capital contributions amounted to 96% of Clarion Fund's financial resources, which allowed the organization to distribute a controversial video called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," which attempted to persuade Americans of the supposed Islamist threat during the 2008 election cycle. 
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below is a description of the grant prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.
2015: $30,000 to support the general operations of Talent Market. Talent Market matches individuals with right wing nonprofits. “Talent Market is a wholly owned entity of DonorsTrust and is funded solely through direct contributions from individuals, organizations, foundations, and corporations…In a space of five years’ time it has provided free market nonprofits with information, personnel, and training expertise at no charge, all in an effort to develop a critical mass of well staffed and well run free market organizations available to engage in the public debate of ideas and formation of public policies that once enacted can sustain and nurture America’s fundamental principles and values.”
2015: $100,000 to support Philanthropy Roundtable’s Independence Project. The Independence Project is a new endeavor of the Philanthropy Roundtable “to challenge the Veterans public bureaucracy by testing new flexible private alternatives.”
2014: $100,000 to support the Project on Fair Representation (PFR), “which requests an unspecified amount to finance at least three class action lawsuits challenging affirmative action policies at highly competitive public and private colleges and universities, perhaps including the University of Wisconsin.” PFR’s predecessor was the Campaign for Color Blind America (CCBA). Bradley supported PFR with a grant of $100,000 in 2012 for Fisher v UT and Shelby County v. Holder. PFR was seeking help from attorneys at DC’s Wiley Rein law firm to identify more opportunities to strike down affirmative action. Bradley noted in 2014 that three likely targets were UW Madison, UNC Chapel Hill and Harvard. PFR noted a desire to file the suits within weeks or day of each other, aiming for the Spring of 2015. PFR has raised $1.5 million from the Searle Freedom Trust.
2013: $20,000 to support a project in Pennsylvania by the Commonwealth Foundation, American Majority and Media Trackers. The three groups worked together to create a permanent Pennsylvania infrastructure that mimics Wisconsin’s, “Bradley already supports both American Majority’s and Media Trackers’ work in Wisconsin. Commonwealth is a member of the Bradley supported Interstate Policy Alliance (IPA) and State Policy Network (SPN).”
Their first collective project was “educating” legislators on the effect of government unions on public policy and economic growth. “The context for this project includes the fact that reforms that might be proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett later this year or early next to alter the way in which government unions in state collect dues and PAC contributions from their members through automatic withholding… To the effort, according to the organizations’ jointly submitted request, Commonwealth brings ‘intellectual ammunition,’ American Majority brings candidate recruitment and training and Media Trackers brings ‘opposition research.’ Other organizations, including some 501(c)(3) groups, are also part of the effort. SPN is offering public relations support for the project as part of its larger campaign to better ‘brand’ freedom.” The overall budget for the larger infrastructure project was $5.3 million, of which $3 million was raised by in state donors. Bradley recommended the $20,000 “to supplement already existing, albeit indirect support of Commonwealth through IPA and SPN… Given Commonwealth’s history, the potential national importance of Pennsylvania as a place for policy to pivot and the groups’ desire to learn from the experience of those who helped further reform in Wisconsin.”
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
- Total Revenue: $323,193,718
- Total Expenses: $166,210,533
- Net Assets: $422,291,633
- Total Revenue: $202,776,626
- Total Expenses: $144,780,322
- Net Assets: $244,712,498
- Total Revenue: $112,961,835
- Total Expenses: $112,781,795
- Net Assets: $210,429,295
- Total Revenue: $92,583,255
- Total Expenses: $68,618,357
- Net Assets: $187,465,225
- Total Revenue: $85,527,056
- Total Expenses: $69,779,064
- Net Assets: $167,817,067
- Total Revenue: $67,869,616
- Total Expenses: $58,239,511
- Net Assets: $140,390,762
- Total Revenue: $104,533,200
- Total Expenses: $39,689,582
- Net Assets: $102,076,607
- Total Revenue: $47,559,207
- Total Expenses: $43,106,986
- Net Assets: $30,614,131
As of December 2020:
- Lawson R. Bader, President & CEO, Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust
- Gordon Cummings, Philanthropic Advisor
- Patrick Gallivan, Senior Accountant
- Stephanie Giovanetti Lips, Philanthropic Advisor
- Peter A. Lipsett, Director of Growth Strategies
- Lydia Pitea, Marketing and Events Manager
- Rosemary Purple, Grants Administrator
- Chris Renner, Controller
- Jeffrey A. Sellazzo, Executive Assistant
- Jeffrey C. Zysik, Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology
- Whitney L. Ball, Former President & CEO of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund
- Lauren B. Vander Heyden, Outreach Manager
- Christopher D. Renner, Grants & Accounting Manager
- Thomas Wischer, Office Manager & Grants Associate
Board of Directors
- Kimberly O. Dennis, Chairman of the Board; President and CEO, Searle Freedom Trust
- James Piereson, Vice Chairman of the Board; President, William E. Simon Foundation
- Lawson R. Bader, President & CEO, Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust
- Thomas E. Beach, Director; Founder and Managing Director, Beach Investment Counsel
- George G. H. Coates, Jr., Director; Chairman of the Board, The Commonwealth Foundation
- Whitney L. Ball, Former President & CEO of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund
- William J. Hume, Director, Chairman of the Board, Basic American, Inc.
- Jeffrey C. Zysik, Secretary-Treasurer; Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology, DonorsTrust
1800 Diagonal Street, Suite 280
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Phone: (703) 535-3563
Fax: (703) 535-3564
Resources and Articles
IRS Form 990 Filings
Related Sourcewatch Articles
- Koch Brothers
- Koch Family Foundations
- Americans for Prosperity
- Freedom Partners
- Cato Institute
- Heritage Foundation
- Koch Universities
- Koch Network
- Knowledge and Progress Fund
- American Encore
- Donors Capital
- 60 Plus
- Generation Opportunity
- State Policy Network:
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Koch Industries
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- Heritage Foundation
- Think tanks
- Whitney Ball
- Adam Meyerson
- Bridgett Wagner
- Philanthropy Roundtable
- William E. Simon Foundation
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