Atlantic Philanthropies, primarily based in Bermuda, are a collection of principally overseas private foundations founded by businessman Charles “Chuck” Feeney in 1982. Due to technicalities of American foundation law, since it is organized offshore Atlantic Philanthropies is permitted to fund 501(c)(4) advocacy activities, which American-based foundations cannot.
In the 2016 election, Atlantic Philanthropies provided substantial support to the Civic Participation Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit supporting Democratic Party candidates including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Atlantic Philanthropies has completed its grantmaking and is on track to officially close its doors by 2020.
Chuck Feeney established the Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982. Raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Feeney served as a radio operator in the Air Force and attended Cornell University on the G.I. Bill. In 1960, he and a partner set up Duty Free Shoppers. In 1984, Feeney transferred all of his financial assets, including his 38.75 percent ownership of the duty-free business, to Atlantic Philanthropies.
Controversially, Feeney personally intervened in negotiations to end the conflict between Catholic Irish Republicans and Protestant British Loyalists in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. Feeney personally met with Catholic, left-wing Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams in 1993 and provided financial support to the Friends of Sinn Fein, a group that was aligned with the terrorist Provisional Irish Republican Army. (Reports he had funded the PIRA directly were debunked as false.) John Healy, who headed the Atlantic Philanthropies at the time, was skeptical of these backchannel efforts: He thought that there “were serious implications for the founder of a major philanthropic foundation having dealings with the head of an organization regarded as the mouthpiece of a terrorist group by the U.S., British, and Irish governments.”
The Atlantic Philanthropies is the collective entity that encompasses the Atlantic Foundation, the Atlantic Finance Company Limited, the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, the Atlantic Foundation of New York, the Atlantic Charitable Trust, the Mangrove Foundation, and the Bridge Charitable Trust. The Atlantic Foundation of New York was liquidated at the end of 2015. Together, these organizations share the same charitable objectives and finances.
In addition to these nonprofit organizations, Atlantic is comprised of the corporation General Atlantic Group Limited (GAGL) and its subsidiary, Exeter Associates Limited, both of which are Bermuda-based corporations involved in real estate development.
In 1997, Feeney was forced to reveal his funding for Atlantic. Feeney’s financial support was disclosed in legal documents to sell his interest in the Duty Free Shoppers company. The sale resulted in an influx of $1.6 billion to the foundation’s assets.
In 2002, it was announced that the Atlantic Philanthropies would transition to a limited-life foundation, spending down its complete endowment and closing its doors by 2020. Atlantic completed its last year of grantmaking in 2016 and will no longer award new grants.
At the end of 2015, Atlantic Philanthropies’ net assets totaled $826 million, with $562 million already committed to grantees. Atlantic has awarded over $8 billion in grants over the last 35 years.
Atlantic is a major foundation providing support to international left-wing advocacy organizations. Other philanthropic areas of interest include aging, children and youth, health, human rights and reconciliation, and knowledge, research, and innovation.
Atlantic Philanthropies focuses on a total of eight global regions for its grants, including the United States, Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, and Vietnam.
The Philanthropies are involved in left-of-center politics throughout its areas of operation. In the United States, Atlantic takes advantage of weak restrictions on the funding of 501(c)(4) advocacy groups by offshore foundations, most notably through spending in the 2016 general elections via the Civic Participation Action Fund. Atlantic reportedly provided the group with $50 million in support. The group was also a key funder of Health Care for America Now, a left-wing 501(c)(4) organization that pushed for Obamacare and further government control of American healthcare.
Atlantic Philanthropies has also substantially funded groups supporting increased immigration to the United States and promoting closer relations with Communist-ruled Cuba. Atlantic Philanthropies is involved in advancing the progressive movement abroad: Irish advocates for legal recognition of same-sex unions reportedly received up to $17 million from Atlantic over a ten-year period that culminated in a successful referendum.
Grantees have included the following organizations:
- Global Brain Institute
- Social Change Initiative
- Cornell University
- The London School of Economics and Political Science
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
- Health Equity South Africa
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Civic Participation Action Fund
- Reach Vietnam
- UCSF Foundation
- Trinity Foundation
- The Rhodes Trust
Board and Key Staff
According to Atlantic’s website, Charles Feeney serves as the Founding Chair of the board. Other board members include:
- William W. Hall – is the Chair of Medical Microbiology, School of Medicine and Director of the Centre for Research into Infectious Diseases, at University College Dublin.
- Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot – Serves as Deputy Chair. Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- Thomas N. Mitchell – Serves as Deputy Chair. Former Provost of Trinity College Dublin.
- Peter Smitham – Serves as Chairman. Former partner and chairman of Permira Partners Ltd., a leading global private equity fund manager.
Christopher G. Oechsli – Serves as President and Chief Executive Officer. He has held this role since June 2011. Former associate fellow and project director at the Institute for Policy Studies and served as counsel to former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).