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News outlets unearth more Donors Trust recipients

Series of recent reports aim to reveal beneficiaries of conservative charity's dollars

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Virginia-based charity Donors Trust has promised anonymity to donors who seek to fund “sensitive or controversial” issues.

A Center for Public Integrity report last week lifted that veil — at least partially — revealing dozens of conservative foundations that together in recent years have given tens of millions of dollars to Donors Trust .

Donors Trust, in turn, has funded a nationwide network of free-market think tanks, media outlets and university programs to the tune of nearly $400 million since 2002.

Recently, much of that funding has gone toward state-based policy efforts. For example, Donors Trust provided 95 percent of the funding for a conservative media clearinghouse called the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which runs a network of state-based blogs.

While many of the charity’s 193 donors remain anonymous, a variety of media reports have shown where Donors Trust money ends up:

Climate change-denial

In late February, The Guardian reported that 46 percent of Donors Trust grants in 2010 went to groups opposing climate science. Between 2002 and 2010, the group gave $118 million to about 100 such groups.

A detailed 2012 report published on DeSmog Blog ties Donors Trust to a vast climate science denial machine through its generous support for the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank that mobilized support for the tobacco industry before shifting its focus to climate change.

An October episode of PBS Frontline said Donors Trust has become “the number one supporter” of climate denial groups like Heartland and the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity after industry giants such as ExxonMobil curtailed funding to Heartland following public protest.

Islamic radicalism 

Donors Trust made its largest grant in 2007 to a New York-based group called Clarion Fund. The $17 million donation went toward the production of a documentary called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”

Seven weeks before the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Clarion distributed millions of copies of the movie, which stirred fear about Islamic radicalism, by inserting DVDs as ads in daily newspapers nationwide.

Reports later suggested that Chicago businessman Barry Seid may have passed the $17 million through Donors Trust to Clarion. Seid and Donors Trust director Whitney Ball co-chair another foundation called Chicago Freedom Trust.

Academic coups?

In 2010, a free-market professor of economics whose research is funded through Donors Trust laid out his “Free State” plan for libertarians to migrate to and take over the state of New Hampshire.

In 2009, Donors Trust passed about $600,000 in donations to Shimer College while conservative Chicago businessmen, including Seid, attempted unsuccessfully to take control of the small liberal arts school.

'Fair representation'

A Donors Trust subsidiary called the Project for Fair Representation has led legal challenges to affirmative action programs and, more recently, to the Voting Rights Act, according to reports by Reuters and The New York Times.

The project sought out and tapped the majority-white Shelby County, Ala., as plaintiffs in a challenge to Section 5 of the Act, which gives the U.S. Department of Justice power to approve or reject changes to electoral laws in 16 states, mostly in the south. The case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.