This article is Part 3 of an ongoing Sludge series on donor-advised funds. Click here to read the other parts.
The nation’s eighth-largest public charity is pouring tens of millions of dollars each year into a number of mostly anti-LGBT hate groups, a Sludge investigation shows.
According to the three most recent available tax filings—which cover 2015-17—it has donated $56.1 million on behalf of its clients to 23 nonprofits identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.
“I certainly don’t know of any public disclosures of funds to hate groups at levels anywhere near this,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Sludge. “It’s pretty astounding and certainly concerning.”
The far-right evangelical National Christian Foundation (NCF), which offers Christian donors “expert guidance and creative giving solutions,” is the fourth-largest donor-advised fund by 2017 revenue in the U.S., having raised over $1.5 billion that year. Such funds offer individual accounts to their clients, allowing clients to get immediate tax breaks on donations to these accounts and to direct NCF to disperse the money to the nonprofits of their choice, mostly churches and other Christian nonprofits, at their own pace. Clients donate through donor-advised funds anonymously, so even the Internal Revenue Service won’t know their identities.
According to a 2017 Inside Philanthropy article, NCF “is probably the single biggest source of money fueling the pro-life and anti-LGBT movements over the past 15 years.” In 2017, NCF’s donation to anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant hate groups rose to over $19 million.
By far the biggest recipient of NCF donations is Alliance Defending Freedom, a large network of Christian extremist lawyers who have supported criminalizing homosexuality, sterilizing transgender people, and claimed that gay men are pedophiles. The group recently came out against congressional Democrats’ Equality Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.
Alliance Defending Freedom took in $49.2 million from NCF from 2015-17. ADF received $46.3 million in contributions and grants during the 2016 fiscal year (from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016). It got $16.8 million from NCF in the calendar year of 2015, meaning that, if these years were aligned, NCF’s donations would have represented over one-third of ADF’s annual contributions.
“Alliance Defending Freedom is particularly important on the ‘religious freedom’ front,” Chris Stroop, an ex-evangelical Christian and a writer, commentator, and journalist, told Sludge. “As understood by the Christian Right, this means the ‘freedom’ to discriminate and even to impose on the religious freedom of others—for example, clergy whose religious beliefs lead them to want to officiate at same-sex weddings.”
Anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council, which has attempted to tie gay men to pedophilia for many years, accepted over $5.3 million from NCF from 2015-17.
Both organizations “spread vicious propaganda and disinformation, othering and maligning members of the LGBTQ community, which is a key reason they are rightly considered hate groups,” said Stroop.
“In terms of aggressively pushing an anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion, ‘pro-family’ agenda, it makes sense to me that [NCF] would invest heavily in Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council,” Stroop said. “Those outfits are at the very heart of the Christian Right lobby; they’re well connected, well heeled, and effective.”
NCF did not return Sludge’s request for comment.
Other donor-advised funds are also major ADF donors. A previous Sludge investigation found that Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (the largest charity in the U.S.), Schwab Charitable Fund, and Vanguard Charitable Endowment Fund combined to give nearly $2.7 million to the group over the most recent three years on record.
Who Funds NCF?
Most of NCF’s donors are unknown, but some are out in the open. David Green, the billionaire founder of Hobby Lobby, which successfully sued the Obama administration to allow it and another company to refuse to cover birth control costs for their employees under the Affordable Care Act, is a donor. Alliance Defending Freedom covered the costs of the lawyers defending Hobby Lobby, and an ADF lawyer represented the other company in the suit, Conestoga Wood Specialties.
Other major NCF donors include the Maclellan Foundation (which has given over $100 million to NCF, including $4.65 million in 2017), the Bolthouse Foundation ($9.6 million in 2017), and the family foundation of GOP megadonor Foster Friess ($2.5 million, the majority of its charitable donations, in the 2017 fiscal year).
The Florida-based Free Family Foundation, which says it believes in “working together to share the love of Christ,” has given millions to NCF in recent years, including all of its nearly $1.5 million in charitable contributions in 2017. The JSC Foundation, which is run by heirs of the Coors beer fortune, took in $1.5 million in total revenue in 2015 but gave a larger amount, $2 million, to NCF. The APF Foundation, which is led by NCF-Tampa Bay board member Chris Peifer, is another NCF donor, having given most of its donations to NCF in the 2017 fiscal year ($145,000).
Fueling Anti-Muslim Terror
The majority of NCF-funded hate groups are anti-LGBT, but four are anti-Muslim and two are anti-immigrant. Anti-Muslim groups ACT for America ($98,000), American Freedom Law Center ($40,000), David Horowitz Freedom Center ($40,000), and Virginia Christian Alliance ($3,600) have received thousands from NCF since mid-2014, and anti-immigrant nonprofits American Border Patrol ($100) and The Remembrance Project ($2,500) also got NCF funding.
Horowitz has claimed “the whole Muslim world” accepts a Nazi-like “Final Solution” to Jews, and that the “real neo-Nazi movement in America” is comprised of “neo-Nazi Muslims and leftists” who support human rights for Palestinians.
The Freedom Center sponsors Jihad Watch, a blog run by Robert Spencer, “one of America’s most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spencer’s work was cited 64 times in the manifesto of the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in 2011, which advocated for the deportation of all Muslims from Europe.
Murders by right-wing, often white nationalist, extremists are on the rise in the U.S., Europe, and most recently, in New Zealand. The number of American white nationalist hate groups increased significantly from 2017 to 2018. But NCF and other large donor-advised funds are devoid of any policies around hate group donations. These giant funds absolve themselves of any responsibility, saying that as long as the Internal Revenue Service has granted 501(c)(3) status to an organization, it’s fair game.
But Aaron Dorfman, President and CEO of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, tells Sludge that these funds, which are often connected to banks and investment firms that profit from the donor-advised funds’ clients, are making a conscious choice to fund hate groups.
“With the dramatic escalation of violence and intimidation by white nationalists and right-wing extremists, it’s way past due for sponsors of donor-advised funds to cut off any dollars flowing to hate groups,” said Dorfman. “They have every right to exercise discretion by refusing a donor’s request to fund a hate group. Just as companies have come under pressure to deny those groups financial and technology platforms following Charlottesville, the Tree of Life massacre, and now New Zealand, foundations should similarly deny them philanthropic services. It’s more than just a best practice, it’s common decency.”
$70 Million in Three Years
Sludge has now analyzed the giving patterns of the six largest donor-advised funds in the country. The Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund, the third-largest charity in the U.S. and the second-largest donor-advised fund by 2017 revenue, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the ninth-largest charity and fifth-biggest donor-advised fund, each gave to just one SPLC-designated hate group in recent years.
But the other four—Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund ($8.1 million), National Christian Foundation ($56.1 million), Schwab Charitable Fund ($2.7 million), and Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program ($3.4 million)—gave a total of $70.3 million to over 40 hate groups from mid-2014 through 2017.
These six funds do not appear to have any policies regarding donations to hate groups. All give money to any federally recognized 501(c)(3) public charity.
But this is a choice, and not all charity programs look the other way when their clients want to donate to Islamophobic, anti-LGBT, or white nationalist groups. The Amalgamated Foundation, a donor-advised fund provider linked to Amalgamated Bank that was publicly launched in 2018, prohibits money coming from or going to promoters of hate:
“Specifically, the Foundation prohibits any support of organizations engaged in ‘hateful activities’ defined to mean activities that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
Prompted by Sludge’s reporting on donor-advised funds’ hate group contributions, the Amalgamated Foundation launched a “Hate Is Not Charitable” campaign on Tuesday with a coalition of more than 20 donor networks, foundations, and donor-advised funds to urge DAF providers to adopt pro-active policies to ensure that funds do not flow to organizations that promote hatred.