Who is Donors Trust?

Donors Trust

Background

Donors Trust is a not-for-profit company that distributes millions of dollars in grants each year to groups, organisations and projects that are “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise”.

Between 2004 and 2013, Donors Trust (DT) distributed some $80 million to conservative causes, many of which deny the science and impacts of human-caused climate change or the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

DT creates accounts known as “donor-advised funds” for conservative philanthropists and groups and then distributes that money to projects that match their ideologies on their behalf.

This arrangement also has the effect of concealing the identity of the original donor.

Funders looking to set up accounts of $1million or more are directed by Donors Trust to its partner organisation, Donors Capital Fund (DCF).

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund share the same address in Alexandria, Virginia, and share a number of directors, including Whitney Ball, the CEO of DT.

A form on the DT website asking readers to start a fund or to donate cash also includes a statement of affirmation that clearly illustrates the ideological drive behind the money. The statement reads:

I agree that it is wrong that the fortunes of successful Americans are being used to fund political and social causes that undermine the free market economy and traditional American ideals. That’s why I want to help you and DonorsTrust build a credible foundation alternative that can fund good conservative and liberty-oriented causes well into the future.

DT says the organisation is “explicitly devoted to supporting organizations that promote liberty” and to “encourage philanthropy and individual giving and responsibility, as opposed to governmental involvement, as an answer to society's needs”.

A 2013 investigation by MotherJones described DT and DCF as the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement in the US.

Documenting the growth of DT and DCF, MotherJones found that in 2002 DT and DCF brought in $1.4 million and gave out $1.2 million.

By 2010, the two funds attracted $44 million in funding and handed out $63 million of grants.

In 2013, according to the latest data available (as of March 2015), DT's tax form shows it brought in $103 million in funds, handed out $38.4 million in grants and held $102 million in assets.

Stance on climate change

As a funding organisation neither Donors Trust, nor its sister funder Donors Capital Fund, take positions on the science of human-caused climate change.

However, the groups and projects given grants from DCF and DT are among the most active in questioning the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change and blocking attempts to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions.

These groups include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, Campaign for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Funding Income

Donors Trust is a vehicle for rich conservative philanthropists and their organisations to distribute money to projects that match their ideology of low government regulation and “free markets”.

In recent years, the amount of money coming in to DT has risen sharply. In 2003, grants to DT totaled just $1.03 million.  Between 2012 and 2013, contributions and grants to DT went up from $45.9 million to $103.4 million.

Some of these monies can be accounted for through the tax declarations of other organisations. The origins of any cash coming from corporations or individuals are not known.

Notable contributors include the Knowledge and Progress Fund (KPF), which has not given cash to any organisation other than DT or DCF since 2005.

DeSmogBlog’s own analysis shows that in the four years of IRS tax returns from 2010 to 2013, the KPF donated $7.65 million to Donors Trust.

The $4.85 million KPF grant to Donors Trust for “general operating support” in 2013 is likely the largest ever single donation to Donors Trust in its history.

Oil billionaire and major Republican benefactor Charles Koch, his wife Liz and son Charles Chase Koch are all KPF directors.

Charles Koch’s long-standing advisor Richard Fink, who also directs other Koch-linked foundations as well as holding board positions on several Koch Industries companies, is also a director at KPFThe Charles G. Koch Foundation is another Koch-industry linked organisation handing cash to DT.

An analysis of tax form data between 2003 to 2013 sourced from Conservative Transparency, of the Bridge Project, shows which foundations have been giving to Donors Trust and how much.

  • DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative - $6,500,000
  • Searle Freedom Trust - $5,911,500
  • Knowledge and Progress Fund - $6,040,000
  • The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation - $2,251,565
  • The Randolph Foundation - $1,337,200
  • Paul E. Singer Foundation - $1,155,605
  • John M. Olin Foundation - $1,081,000
  • William E. Simon Foundation - $895,000
  • William H. Donner Foundation - $869,538
  • Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation - $525,000
  • Earhart Foundation - $525,000
  • The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation - $500,000
  • Jaquelin Hume Foundation - $400,000
  • Castle Rock Foundation - $347,000
  • Barney Family Foundation - $300,000
  • National Christian Foundation - $250,000
  • Philanthropy Roundtable - $250,000
  • Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty - $232,000
  • Marshall Heritage Foundation - $200,000
  • JM Foundation - $145,000
  • Illinois Policy Institute - $125,793
  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation - $125,000
  • Holman Foundation - $120,313
  • John William Pope Foundation - $105,000

Some $12 million was also transferred to DT from DCF between 2003 and 2013.

Groups funded by Donors Trust

According to IRS tax forms analysed by Greenpeace, Donors Trust has handed out grants worth $80.5 million between 2004 and 2013 (the latest data available as of March 2015).

The 20 largest recipients are listed below.  Other recipients are listed in full at the bottom of this page.

  • Americans for Prosperity Foundation - $15,078,461.00
  • Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) - $7,728,488.35
  • Mercatus Center, GMU - $6,919,400.00
  • Federalist Society - $6,301,000.00
  • Franklin Center - $4,120,720.00
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute - $3,986,350.00
  • Independent Women's Forum - $3,612,604.00
  • NFIB Legal Foundation - $2,955,000.00
  • Judicial Education Project - $1,975,000.00
  • Discovery Institute - $1,924,500.00
  • State Policy Network - $1,336,450.00
  • Reason Foundation - $1,221,800.00
  • FreedomWorks Foundation - $1,157,423.00
  • Sutherland Institute - $1,027,500.00
  • The James Partnership - $1,001,500.00
  • Institute for Humane Studies - $971,900.00
  • Atlas Economic Research Foundation - $811,750.00
  • Institute for Energy Research - $809,000.00
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research - $785,250.00
  • Independence Institute - $774,366.00

Not included in this list are $1.9 million in cash transfers to Donors Capital Fund over the same 10-year period.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation, founded by oil industry billionaire David Koch, is the biggest recipient of DT cash. 

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AfPF) is the 501 (c)(3) charitable organisation linked to Americans for Prosperity, the 501 (c)(4) partner lobbying and advocacy organisation.

The AfPF produces a series of “Need to Know” factsheets on sustainable development, carbon taxes and EPA greenhouse gas regulations for its own “activists, policymakers and others”.

On sustainable development, the AfPF attacks any regulations as being damaging to the economy.  The AfPF claims that carbon taxes are “poisonous” to the economy while attacking renewable forms of energy. On the EPA and greenhouse gas rules, the AfPF tells its scholars these are little more than a “shining example of a hyperactive regulatory agency” and characterises any attempts to regulate fossil fuel emissions as expensive impasses on the American people.

None of the factsheets mention the costs or the impacts of climate change.

In 2008, the AfP started the “No Climate Tax” pledge that eventually saw more than 400 US office holders and politicians singing up to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue”.

AfP president Tim Phillips also fronted the “Hot Air Tour” in 2008 touring centers across the US. Phillips said laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions would deliver “higher taxes, cost jobs and less freedom” in “the name of global warming”.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which has received more than $7 million from DT in recent years, has for many years attacked human-caused climate change science and the renewable energy industry.

CFACT’s head of communications is Marc Morano, who runs the climate science denial website ClimateDepot. Media Matters for America named Morano the “climate misinformer of the year”.

DT has also been a funder of part-time Smithsonian researcher and climate science denier Dr Willie Soon, whose other funding over the last decade has come entirely from the fossil fuel industry.

 Personnel

Directors

  • Whitney L. Ball – DT President and CEO and director of Donors Capital Fund and the State Policy Network.
  • Kimberly O. Dennis - DT Chairman and President & CEO, Searle Freedom Trust
  • James Piereson – DT Vice Chairman and President, William E. Simon Foundation
  • Thomas E. Beach - Founder & Managing Director, Beach Investment Council
  • William J. Hume - Chairman of the Board, Basic American, Inc.
  • Jeffrey C. Zysik, DT Secretary and Treasurer and DT Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology

Staff

  • Whitney L. Ball - President and CEO
  • Jeffrey C. Zysik, Secretary-Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology
  • Peter A. Lipsett - Director of Growth Strategies
  • Christopher D. Renner - Grants & Accounting Manager
  • Lauren V. Skiver - Outreach Manager (Skiver joined DT from the Charles G. Koch Chairtable Foundation)

Other fundees

A list the remaining organisations funded by DT between 2004 and 2013.

  • National Taxpayers Union Foundation - $697,350
  • Illinois Policy Institute - $662,707
  • Heartland Institute - $632,000
  • Institute for Justice - $607,350
  • Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives - $606,500
  • GMU Foundation (Law & Econ Center) - $591,500
  • Cato Institute - $575,456
  • Free to Choose Network, Inc - $508,500
  • Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation - $500,000
  • Institute of World Politics - $471,000
  • Acton Institute - $465,550
  • Media Research Center - $440,250
  • National Center for Policy Analysis $418,150
  • Heritage Foundation $407,965
  • Energy and Environment Legal Institute - $395,000
  • National Right to Work Foundation            - $384,350
  • Empower Texans Foundation - $370,000
  • Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy - $341,000
  • American Enterprise Institute - $309,850
  • America's Majority Foundation - $308,850
  • Wyoming Liberty Group - $301,000
  • National Center for Public Policy Research, Inc - $291,750
  • Student for Liberty - $269,500
  • Grassroots Institute of Hawaii - $268,475
  • Americans for Tax Reform Foundation - $262,100
  • Hudson Institute - $242,000
  • International Policy Network US, inc - $236,420
  • Texas Public Policy Foundation - $234,750
  • American friends of IEA - $224,650
  • Landmark Legal Foundation - $193,100
  • Harvard-Smithsonian Center or Astrophysics - $169,864
  • National Review Institute - $166,500
  • Leadership Institute - $141,100
  • Philanthropy Roundtable - $118,100
  • Goldwater Institute - $110,050
  • E Pluribus Unum Films - $107,000
  • American Council on Science & Health - $99,007
  • National Legal & Policy Center - $97,600
  • Claremont Institute - $96,250
  • Judicial Watch - $83,500
  • Young America's Foundation - $66,500
  • Freedom Foundation (Evergreen Freedom fdn) - $58,325
  • Center for Independent Thought - $57,500
  • Frontiers of Freedom Institute - $57,500
  • Property and Environment Research Center  - $56,000
  • Capital Research Center - $50,500
  • Montana Policy Institute - $50,000
  • Washington Policy Center - $39,000
  • Mountain States Legal Foundation - $36,050
  • Beacon Center of Tennessee - $32,750
  • Ludwig Von Mises Institute - $31,100
  • Foundation for Research on Econ & Environment (FREE) - $29,000
  • American Legislative Exchange Council - $25,000
  • Independent Institute - $20,000
  • Virginia Institute for Public Policy - $14,000
  • Ashbrook (John M) Center for Public Affairs, Ashland University - $10,000
  • Mackinac Center for Public Policy - $7,600
  • Public Interest Institute - $7,500
  • Rio Grande Foundation - $7,500
  • Washington Legal Foundation - $7,500
  • Pacific Legal Foundation - $6,600
  • Citizens Economic Research Foundation - $6,000
  • Foundation for Rational Economics &Education - $5,650
  • Thomas Jefferson Institute - $5,000
  • Freedom Alliance - $1,000
  • GMU Foundation (Econ) - $1,000
  • John Locke Foundation - $150

Articles About Donors Trust

Exclusive: Billionaires secretly fund attacks on climate science

A secretive funding organization in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt.

Charities Funnel Millions to Climate Change Denial

A British newspaper claims to have discovered the convoluted way oil billionaires in the United States can funnel huge amounts of cash toward climate change-denial campaigns, while reaping tremendous tax advantages in the process.

Koch Family Uses Fund To Channel Millions To Anti-Climate Science Groups: Report

Millions of dollars are being secretly funneled to the climate change “counter movement” by groups connected to the Koch family, UK newspaper the Independent reported on Friday.

Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement

You haven't heard of Donors Trust, but it's bankrolled the right's fights against unions, public schools, climate scientists, and more.