Mercer Family Foundation

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The Mercer Family Foundation is the vehicle for right-wing hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer to influence politics through contributions to like-minded advocacy groups. Robert Mercer and his foundation rose to prominence as a political kingmaker in the 2016 election due to his early support of Donald Trump's candidacy for president. In total it is estimated that Robert Mercer has contributed $100 million to right-wing groups, most of it going through the Mercer Family Foundation, which is directed by his daughter Rebekah Mercer.[1] Some of the right-wing groups backed by the Mercer Family Foundation include the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. The foundation was established in 2004.[2]

The Mercer Family has close ties to current and former Trump administration advisors, such as Stephen Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway, and the Foundation has donated to causes and candidates tied to these advisors.[3]

News and Controversies

Paradise Papers Leaks

In November 2017, the Paradise Papers data leak disclosed information about the hidden wealth of some of the richest and most famous individuals across the world, including Robert Mercer. The Paradise Papers demonstrated that much of the assets held under the Mercer Family Foundation are kept in offshore accounts and shell corporations. The foundation used what was termed “feeder funds”— or offshoots of the main hedge fund owned by Mercer: Renaissance Technologies. These feeder funds are registered to Bermuda law firm Appleby, one of the main sources of the Paradise Papers. The Mercers then sold off their Bermuda investments in the feeder funds and put the proceeds in the Mercer Family Foundation. This avoided up to 39% in U.S. taxes that is normally levied on nonprofits funded by investments financed through debt. According to a financial advisor speaking to the Guardian “this is simple, but ingenious. You take retirement plans or foundations, you invest them in a hedge fund, and even if the value rises 100 percent, you can sell off the investments with no tax consequences.”[4]

Connections to Stephen Bannon

Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah have used the Mercer Family Foundation to funnel money to their ally Stephen Bannon, former Editor of Breitbart News Network and Chief Strategist for President Trump. In the early years of Bannon's leadership at Breitbart, the Mercer Family invested heavily in the struggling news outlet. It is reported they injected over $10 million in the company, which allowed Bannon to build it into one of the most recognizable right-wing media outlets in the country.[1] The Mercer Family Foundation also bankrolled Bannon's behind the scenes effort to produce the book "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich." The book was authored by Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute and a former William J. Casey Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The book included many dubious claims about the Clintons, including the charge that mining executives contributed to the Clinton Foundation to assist their lucrative sale of a uranium company to a Russian state energy agency.[5]

Funding Climate Science Denial

The Mercer Family Foundation is one of America's major sources of dark money pushing denial of climate science. Between 2003 and 2010, the foundation spent at least $3.824 million funding groups with a primary objective of sowing doubt about climate change. These groups include:

In a 2016 tax filing document obtained by BuzzFeed News, additional large donations to climate denier groups were detailed. In 2016 alone, the Mercer Family Foundation contributed nearly $4 million to groups fighting climate science. Groups which have a near-exclusive focus on this issue included the CO2 Coalition, which received $150,000, and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which received $125,000. The rest of the funding was given to groups that address other issues, such as the Media Research Center ($2 million), the Heartland Institute ($800,000), the Heritage Foundation ($500,000), the Cato Institute ($300,000), the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($200,000), and the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine ($200,000).[7]

Citizens United

The political 501(c)(4) group Citizens United has received millions of dollars from the Mercer Family Foundation. The group is known for its role in the landmark Supreme Court case ''Citizens United v. FEC''. Citizens United has used much of the funding from the Mercer Family Foundation and other sources to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One such attack, Hillary: The Movie was the subject of that case. In 2012, the Mercer Family Foundation contributed $2 million to Citizens United, largely to continue attacks against Clinton.[8] Hillary Clinton has long been an enemy of the Mercers. During the 2016 campaign season, the Mercers claimed that Hillary Clinton "would repeal both the First and Second Amendments" if elected president.[1]

American Museum of Natural History Controversy

The Mercer Family Foundation has been a supported of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, contributing $575,000 in 2015.[3] Rebekah Mercer also serves on the board of the museum. In January 2018, protests against the Mercer family's involvement in the museum erupted, calling for Rebekah Mercer's removal from the board. The protests were motivated primarily by Mercer's funding of anti-science and climate change denial advocacy groups. A letter signed by 200 scientists and academics who had advocated for action to stop climate change called on the museum to “end ties to anti-science propagandists and funders of climate science misinformation.”[9] Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist and one of the letter’s signatories said "Rebekah Mercer is one of the greatest funders of the bad faith attacks on climate science and climate scientists."[10] As of October 24, 2018, Rebekah Mercer continues to sit on the board.[11]

Grants

2017 Contributions

2016 Contributions

2015 Contributions

Core Financials

2017[12]

  • Total Revenue: $9,359,788
  • Total Expenses: $15,226,088
  • Total Assets: $30,151,485

2016[15]

  • Total Revenue: $32,315,575
  • Total Expenses: $19,026,871
  • Total Assets: $36,017,785

2015[16]

  • Total Revenue: $13,553,806
  • Total Expenses: $24,558,570
  • Total Assets: $33,733,845

Personnel

As of December 2017 only one employee or director is listed:[12]

Resources

IRS Form 990 Filings

2017

2016

2015

2014

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Darko Janjevic, Who are the Mercers, the wealthy backers of Breitbart?, Deutsche Welle, October 1, 2018.
  2. The Heritage Foundation, Rebekah A. Mercer, accessed October 27, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Carrie Levine, Mercer family’s charitable giving skyrocketed in 2015, new filing shows, Center for Public Integrity, April 28, 2017.
  4. Tina Nguyen, Steve Bannon's Populist Media Empire is Funded with Offshore Cash, Vanity Fair, November 7, 2017.
  5. Jon Swaine, Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary Clinton, The Guardian, November 7, 2017.
  6. Mat Hope, How Cambridge Analytica ties together Brexit, Trump, and climate science denial, The Ecologist, March 21, 2018.
  7. Zahra Hirji, Here’s How Much Money The Mercer Family Donated To Climate Misinformation Groups In 2016, BuzzFeed News, January 25, 2018.
  8. Jane Mayer, The Reclusive Hedge Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency, New Yorker, March 27, 2017.
  9. Robin Pogrebin and Somini Sengupta, A Science Denier at the Natural History Museum? Scientists Rebel, New York Times, January 25, 2018.
  10. Oliver Milman, Museum of Natural History urged to cut ties with 'anti-science propagandist' Rebekah Mercer, The Guardian, January 26, 2018.
  11. American Museum of Natural History, Board of Trustees, accessed October 24, 2018.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Mercer Family Foundation, 2017 IRS Form 990-PF, Internal Revenue Service, November 14, 2018.
  13. Mercer Family Foundation, 2016 990 Form, accessed October 27, 2018.
  14. Mercer Family Foundation, 2015 990 Form], accessed October 27, 2018.
  15. Mercer Family Foundation, 2016 IRS Form 990-PF, Internal Revenue Service, November 15, 2017.
  16. Mercer Family Foundation, 2015 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, May 13, 2016.