DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Pumped at Least $90 Million into Right-Wing Causes in 2019

DonorsTrust, the preferred funding conduit of the Koch political donor network, and its sister organization, Donors Capital Fund, distributed $165 million in grants in 2019, $90 million of which went to support right-wing think tanks, advocacy groups, litigation centers, media outlets, extremists, and climate deniers, IRS filings obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) show.

DonorsTrust's tax return reveals that more than 68 percent of its $324 million in revenues for 2019 came from just two individuals, one of whom gave $150 million and another who gave $69 million. However, DonorsTrust redacted their names because nonprofits are not required to disclose donors to the public under IRS rules.

Thanks to its two secret megadonors, DonorsTrust's overall income rose 60 percent in 2019. Donors Capital Fund, on the other hand, reported no income for the year.

A 2019 DonorsTrust "Progress Report" obtained by CMD states that the funding vehicle is bringing in new accounts at a 16 percent rate of increase and that the average account size is $446,440. 

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund now have combined assets of $441 million.

Over $42 Million in Right-Wing Infrastructure Funding

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund gave a combined total of $42.6 million in 2019 to national and state-based policy and advocacy nonprofits that compose the right-wing infrastructure envisioned by the Kochs, CMD has found through a careful analysis of their filings.

DonorsTrust gave $18.6 million of the $42.3 million in 2019 grants to support the activities of the State Policy Network (SPN) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the states.

SPN, a national organization leading a web of right-wing "think tanks" and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom, received $7.3 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Of SPN's 64 "affiliate" or main members, 49 received a total of $10.7 million from DonorsTrust.

CMD reported in 2019 that the combined revenue for SPN and its affiliates now tops $120 million.

SPN groups play an integral role in getting legislation passed in state legislatures by providing academic legitimacy when called upon to testify at hearings, through the production of "studies" or model legislation, and in the media. That legislation may be drafted as model bills by corporate lobbyists and lawmakers at SPN's sister organization: ALEC.

DonorsTrust gave ALEC $593,021 in 2019.

Michigan's right-wing pressure group the Mackinac Center received the largest amount of DonorsTrust cash to SPN members in 2019, bringing in a total of $2.3 million, followed closely by Florida's Foundation for Government Accountability, which received $2.1 million to fund its studies and policy proposals aimed at making it more difficult for the needy to get government assistance.

SPN's work in 2019 built on what have been its main objectives over the years including to "defund and defang" unions, promote fossil fuels, privatize education, and hide the identities of political donors to nonprofits.


DonorsTrust also gave $250,000 in 2019 to Fair Lines America Foundation, the sister organization of Fair Lines America (FLA). FLA conducts redistricting trainings with state lawmakers, such as the "Mapping America" series it did for ALEC legislators earlier this year, and works to oppose the creation of independent redistricting commissions.

FLA's executive director is Adam Kincaid, the Republican gerrymandering guru who also serves in the same capacity for the National Republican Redistricting Trust. Following the conclusion of the 2020 U.S. Census, states will begin the arduous process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts next year.

Outside of SPN, the largest DonorsTrust infrastructure grant of $2.4 million went to Certell, Inc., an Indiana-based nonprofit that creates and distributes online courses and materials on history and economics from a libertarian and American exceptionalism perspective.

The Mercer family front group, Reclaim New York, a nonprofit run by the GOP megadonor Rebekah Mercer, received the next largest grant at $1.5 million. The Mercer Family Foundation regularly gave to Reclaim New York until 2019, when it stopped and instead gave $1.4 million to DonorsTrust.


Funding of Right-Wing Legal Advocacy Tops $20 Million

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund gave $20.4 million to legal advocacy groups promoting right-wing judges and engaging in litigation, CMD calculated.

Over half, or $10.5 million, went to The 85 Fund (formerly known as the Judicial Education Project), which is more than the entire $7.8 million the group raised in 2018. (CMD has not received its 2019 IRS filing as of publishing.) 

Leonard Leo, the Right's go-to person for placing right-wing judges on our nation's courts, rebranded the Judicial Education Project as The 85 Fund, while also registering the voter suppression group Honest Elections Project (HEP) as a legal alias. HEP spread misinformation around voter fraud and mail-in balloting this year as it became clear that more citizens would vote by mail, rather than in person, amidst the pandemic.

The next largest DonorsTrust grant of $7 million went to The Federalist Society, 30 percent of the group's revenue disclosed on its last IRS filing, which covers part of 2019. The Federalist Society, whose board is co-chaired by Leo, has taken tens of millions in dark money in recent years, while playing a leading role in managing President Trump judicial selection process responsible for installing more than 200 federal judges, including three to the U.S. Supreme Court.


$15 Million to Media Groups

DonorsTrust contributed $15 million in 2019 to media groups, many of which support Trump and continue to do so as he promotes voter fraud conspiracy theories.

James O'Keefe's discredited Project Veritas led the media pack with a $4.1 million grant from DonorsTrust. The group's "Diamond Dog" operation, which used undercover stings in order to undermine absentee and mail-in voting in the lead-up to the 2020 election, began in 2019 and attracted millions in new funding to the group, according to a report in the The New Republic.

The second largest media donation of $2.8 million went to the Lucy Burns Institute, publisher of Ballotpedia. Ballotpedia claims to be "firmly committed to neutrality," but regularly works with right-wing groups. For example, Scott Rasmussen, editor-at-large of Ballotpedia, presented his polling to ALEC state legislative leaders earlier this year stressing the message that, "We need to talk about reopening society and not the economy." Rasmussen was also given a platform at the Christian Right Council for National Policy's November meeting after the election to discuss "What Happened, Why & What now?"


$5 Million to Hate Groups and Extremists

DonorsTrust continued to fund hate and extremism to the tune $5.1 million in 2019. The anti-Muslim Middle East Forum received the largest grant in this category at $2.1 million. Between 2014 and 2018, the group received nearly $9.5 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, CMD reported

Middle East Forum portrays "Islam as an inherently violent ideology and 'imperialist faith,'" according to Islamophobia.

The VDARE Foundation brought in $1.5 million from DonorsTrust in 2019, making it the only other extremist group to receive over a million dollars. VDARE runs an anti-immigrant website that publishes the writings of white nationalists, anti-Semites, and race "scientists." CMD noted in a report this year that Stripe, an online payment processor, facilitates donations to VDARE despite stating that it will not work with "any business or organization that … engages in, encourages, promotes or celebrates unlawful violence toward any group based on race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other immutable characteristic."


$5 Million to Groups Engaging in Climate Misinformation

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund have been major sources of funding for groups promoting climate misinformation and a pro-fossil fuel agenda for many years, and 2019 was no different. Eight nonprofits received a total of $4.5 million from DonorsTrust in 2019, with the Heartland Institute's leading all grantees at $2.1 million. Heartland, in partnership with CO2 Science and the Science and Environmental Policy Project, maintains the site "Climate Change Reconsidered." Heartland also hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change" annually, which serves as an echo chamber for climate misinformation and denialism.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) received close to $900,000 from DonorsTrust in 2019. CEI continues to maintain the "Cooler Heads Coalition," formed in 1997, making it one of the longest running coalitions of climate change deniers. Myron Ebell, who leads CEI's Center for Energy and the Environment, was also a senior advisor to Trump's EPA transition team. The Financial Times called Ebell "one of American's most prominent climate-change skeptics."


Over $3 Million to Expand Right-Wing Influence Among Youth and Women

The right-wing continues to focus on building its support among women, and the youth and DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund are providing millions for the effort.

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund gave $2.3 million in grants to eight grantees focused on youth training and activism in 2019. The top grantee, Turning Point USA (TPUSA) received just over $900,000 from DonorsTrust. TPUSA and its leader Charles Kirk are some of Trump's biggest supporters and are currently involved in the astroturf effort to upend the November 2020 election results.

Five nonprofits focused on bringing more women into right-wing circles received $1.3 million in 2019 from DonorsTrust, with the so-called Independent Women's Forum (IWF) receiving close to $1 million of it. IWF seeks to appear "independent," "nonpartisan," and "neutral" to sway women to support its policies and to elect Republicans.


The full 2019 IRS filings for DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund are embedded below.


David Armiak

David Armiak is research director with the Center for Media and Democracy. David joined CMD in 2015, has conducted extensive investigations on dark money, corporate corruption, and right-wing networks, and is responsible for filing and analyzing hundreds of public records requests every year. David has a strong research interest in social movements and political power, and has delivered many talks on the subject.