Report: Right-Wing Dark Money Group Provides 80 Percent Of Franklin Center Funds

Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

New tax filings acquired by Mother Jones reveal that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity received 80 percent of its grant money from the Donors Trust, dubbed the "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."

As Media Matters has previously documented, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, provide individuals and organizations a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning causes and media outlets. They are the primary financial backer for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which, according to the tax documents obtained by Mother Jones, received $9.2 million from the fund, accounting for "nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012."

The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide "10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide." Nearly all of their 2011 funding also came from Donors Trust, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Steven Greenhut, formerly the vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center, previously criticized Media Matters for reporting on the group's deep right-wing ties and funding.

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have raised more than $500 million since their creation in 1999 and poured the money into various conservative groups and causes -- including bankrolling a campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change; funding an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons featuring Fox News' John Stossel; and fully-funding the Project on Fair Representation, which successfully challenged portions of the Voting Rights Act. Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.

2012 was a record-breaking year for Donors Trust, with $96 million funneled to right-wing groups. From Mother Jones:

Last year, DonorsTrust (and its sister group, Donors Capital Fund) doled out a record $96 million, making it one of the largest honeypots for right-leaning groups. That's an increase from $85 million in 2011 and $78 million in 2010. DonorsTrust CEO Whitney Ball, who cofounded the group in 1999 and sometimes appears at the Koch brothers' donor summits, says the increased giving stems from her organization's growing profile and also conservative donors' anger at the Obama administration. And despite worries about donor burnout within the conservative ranks, Ball says DonorsTrust is on track for another great year in 2013.

One of the biggest winners to emerge from the hundreds of pages of DonorsTrust tax documents is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a Virginia-based nonprofit that trains conservative and libertarian think tanks to do investigative journalism, funds right-leaning news outlets, and hires reporters for those outlets. The Franklin Center received $9.2 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which accounted for nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012.

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Other major recipients of DonorsTrust money include the Mercatus Center ($3.9 million), a libertarian think tank housed at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Mercatus has long-standing ties to the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who sits on the group's board; Koch's top political adviser, Richard Fink, founded Mercatus and is also a member of the think tank's board. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a leading denier of man-made climate change that publishes the skeptic site ClimateDepot.com, pocketed more than $3.34 million. And the Hudson Institute, a 52-year-old Washington-based think tank, nabbed a $4 million donation from DonorsTrust. Other big-name recipients of DonorsTrust money include the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative "bill mill"; the State Policy Network, which oversees state-level conservative think tanks in all 50 states; and the charitable arm of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group. DonorsTrust does not fund so-called 501(c)(4) groups, the kind of politically active nonprofits that played an outsize role in the 2012 elections.

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