In 2009, a network of online media outlets began popping up in state capitals across the nation, each covering the news from a clearly conservative point of view. What wasn’t so clear was how they were funded.
“The source is 100 percent anonymous,” said Michael Moroney, a spokesman for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the think tank that created the outlets.
Conservative foundations and individuals use Donors Trust to pass money to a vast network of think tanks and media outlets that push free-market ideology in the states — $86 million in 2011 alone. The arrangement obscures the identity of the donors wishing to keep their charitable giving private, especially “gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues,” according to the group’s website.
The $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center was the second-largest gift made in 2011 by the group, a tax-exempt “public charity” that takes tax-deductible donations from donors “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” according to its website.
Donors Trust includes 193 contributors, the majority of whom are individuals. “A lot of donors are flying totally under the radar,” says president and CEO Whitney Ball.