Non-profit

Berger Action Fund (Wyss Action Fund)

Website:

bergeractionfund.org

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

20-8948868

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2018):

Revenue: $226,100,052
Expenses: $58,630,945
Assets: $170,403,572

Formation:

2007 [20]

Type:

Activist Funding Group

Formerly:

Wyss Action Fund (2007-2016)

Associated Donor:

Hansjorg Wyss

Latest Tax Filings:

2019 Form 990 (through March 2019)

2020 Form 990 (covers April 2019 – March 2020) [21]

The Berger Action Fund (formerly Wyss Action Fund) is a left-of-center lobbying nonprofit and the advocacy arm of the Wyss Foundation, the grantmaking foundation funded by Swiss billionaire and liberal mega-donor Hansjorg Wyss. [1] The fund has been criticized by the New York Times for funding the $731 million “dark money” activist network managed by Arabella Advisors, a left-of-center consultancy in Washington, DC. [2]

Background

For more information, see Hansjorg Wyss, Wyss Foundation

The Berger Action Fund was formed in 2007 as a Delaware corporation operating in Washington, DC, as the Wyss Action Fund, named for Hansjorg Wyss (also spelled Hansjoerg), a Swiss billionaire and medical industry entrepreneur who lives in the United States. [3] [4] It was renamed in 2016. [5]

The reason for the name change is unclear, but it appears to have been renamed for Susi Berger (née Susanna Ottilia Franziska Wyss), Hansjorg Wyss‘ sister. Berger (1938-2019) was a notable Swiss graphic artist who, with her husband Ueli (1937-2008), worked in art, interior design, and furniture design in Bern beginning in the 1960s. [6] [7]

Controversies and Criticism

Illegal Election Intervention Complaint (2021)

On May 15, 2021, the right-leaning watchdog Americans for Public Trust (APT) filed a complaint (archived here) with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees political groups’ spending, alleging violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by Hansjorg Wyss, the Wyss Foundation, the Berger Action Fund, the New Venture Fund (in its capacity as the parent of the Hub Project), and Sixteen Thirty Fund. [8] According to APT, “Mr. Wyss indirectly funded federal electoral advocacy through his nonprofit organizations,” failing to set them up as political action committees (PACs), and “the intended recipient of these funds was ultimately a variety of organizations whose primary purpose is to engage in electoral advocacy.”

Organizations which receive contributions in excess of $1,000 or makes contributions in excess of $1,000 in a calendar year is considered a PAC for the major purpose of influencing elections. PACs are subject to strict financial reporting requirements that 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofits are not. [9] The complaint points out that the Wyss Foundation, Berger Action Fund, and New Venture Fund, which are all 501(c) nonprofits, have failed to file a statement of organization with the FEC, despite Wyss contributing at least $56.5 million from the Wyss Foundation to the New Venture Fund and another $135 from the Berger Action Fund to the Sixteen Thirty Fund. The 501(c)(4) Sixteen Thirty Fund spent $30 million influencing the 2018 midterm elections in order to favor Democratic candidates, “thereby triggering classification as a political committee,” according to APT.

U.S. law strictly prohibits foreign nationals from making direct or indirect contributions to political action committees. [10] Wyss, who was born in Switzerland, resides in the U.S. under an “E-2 VISA” (which is intended for foreign investors who live and work in the country) and “is not a permanent resident of the U.S. under a ‘green card,'” according to his attorney. [11] The complaint cites $41,000 in illegal federal campaign contributions Wyss paid between 1998 and 2003, claiming that, “Since that time, [Wyss] has made indirect contributions and expenditures by means of an intricate network of organizations in a scheme to obscure his role as the source of these funds.” [12]

APT alleges that Wyss established the Hub Project, a front for the “dark money” funder New Venture Fund and the recipient of significant funding from the Wyss Foundation, in order “to avoid any connection with the sizeable election activities carried out by the Hub Project and Change Now,” a super PAC associated with the Hub Project. “Operating since 2015
without the requisite FEC filing,” APT writes, “the Hub Project has been immune to any oversight and accountability despite significant spending in federal election.” It adds:

The Hub Project has served as a vehicle for the political spending of Mr. Wyss. This is demonstrated by the fact that Mr. Wyss has not publicly disclosed his role in founding the Hub Project. Neither his influence nor his financial support can be found anywhere on the group’s website. Rather, information regarding his involvement with the Hub Project was the result of “interviews with five people with knowledge of The Hub Project, an internal memo from another liberal group that was obtained by The New York Times.”

Funding

Donors to Berger Action Fund

No donors to Berger Action Fund are known, but between 2017 and 2018 the Wyss Foundation paid $173,012 to the lobbying group as “payment from organization for shared personnel and facilities.” [13]

Financial Overview

Between 2007 and March 2020, the Berger/Wyss Action Fund reported revenues of $279 million, expenditures of $159 million, and grants paid totaling $158 million: [14]

Berger Action Fund: Financial Overview
YearTotal RevenuesTotal ExpendituresGrants PaidNet Assets
2020$2,534,928$57,780,911$57,644,700$64,832,146
2019 $28,036,022 $78,357,669 $78,219,667 $120,078,129
2018 $226,100,052 $58,630,945 $58,548,333 $170,403,572
2017 $13,501,764 $16,677,459 $16,563,000 $2,934,465
2016 $10,000,000 $3,934,105 $3,875,000 $6,110,160
2015 $200,000 $771,345 $730,000 $44,265
2014- $273,822 $235,000 $615,610
2013- $170,254 $120,000 $889,432
2012 $1,100,000 $41,780 - $1,059,686
2011- $23,221 - $1,466
2010- $33,043 $6,500 $24,687
2009- $17,965 - $57,730
2008 $100,000 $24,305 - $75,695
Total:$281,572,766$216,736,824$215,942,200
Note: BAF's calendar year runs from 04/01 to 03/31

Grants from Berger Action Fund

Berger is a top donor to the 501(c)(4) Sixteen Thirty Fund and its 501(c)(3) affiliate, New Venture Fund. Both nonprofits are part of a $731 million “dark money” funding and fiscal sponsorship network managed by Arabella Advisors, a consulting firm in Washington, DC. Between 2010 and 2017, Berger granted $1,291,500 to New Venture Fund. Between 2010 and March 2020 Berger granted at least $91,940,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, almost $35 million of it in 2019-2020 alone; the New York Times has reported that between 2016 and 2020 Berger gave $135 million to Sixteen Thirty Fund. [15] [16] [17]

Between 2018 and 2020, the Berger Action Fund donated $3 million to the National Redistricting Action Fund (NRAF), a left-wing redistricting group founded by former Attorney General Eric Holder. The NRAF’s goal is to redraw congressional maps to benefit the Democratic Party. [18]

The following are known grants from Berger Action Fund: [19]

Grant RecipientAmountYear
American Progress Action Fund$1,345,0002020
Americans for Financial Reform$100,0002020
Community Catalyst Action Fund$417,7002020
Fund for a Better Future$14,700,0002020
Indivisible Project$2,500,0002020
League of Conservation Voters$1,000,0002020
Moms Rising Together$250,0002020
National Redistricting Action Fund$1,000,0002020
Sixteen Thirty Fund$34,907,0002020
The Nature Conservancy$100,0002020
Western Conservation Action$1,325,0002020
American Progress Action Fund$640,0002019
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund$2,100,0002019
Committee for a Fair Judiciary$90,0002019
Community Catalyst Action Fund$300,0002019
Fund for a Better Future$25,768,0002019
Indivisible Project$1,500,0002019
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights$150,0002019
League of Conservation Voters$3,600,0002019
Moms Rising Together$250,0002019
National Redistricting Action Fund$1,000,0002019
Sixteen Thirty Fund$41,071,6672019
Western Conservation Action$1,750,0002019
ACRONYM$250,0002018
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund$1,000,0002018
Citizens for Tax Justice$150,0002018
Committee for a Fair Judiciary$250,0002018
Community Catalyst Action Fund$250,0002018
Fund for a Better Future$4,000,0002018
Indivisible Project$40,0002018
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights$600,0002018
League of Conservation Voters$300,0002018
National Council of La Raza Action Fund (UnidosUS)$500,0002018
National Redistricting Action Fund$1,000,0002018
Planned Parenthood Action Fund$450,0002018
Priorities USA$500,0002018
Sixteen Thirty Fund$48,483,3332018
Partnership Project Action Fund$250,0002018
Wilderness Society$25,0002018
Western Conservation Action$500,0002018
Planned Parenthood Action Fund$1,000,000 2017
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund$1,350,000 2017
League of Conservation Voters$2,240,000 2017
Sixteen Thirty Fund$10,813,000 2017
Center for American Progress Action Fund$210,000 2017
Western Conservation Action$250,000 2017
Fund for a Better Future$700,000 2017
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund$1,875,000 2016
Community Catalyst Action Fund$250,000 2016
National Council of La Raza Action Fund (UnidosUs)$250,000 2016
Western Conservation Action$250,000 2016
Planned Parenthood Action Fund$500,000 2016
New Venture Fund$750,000 2016
The Conservation Fund$30,000 2015
Sierra Club$50,000 2015
Sixteen Thirty Fund$300,000 2015
New Venture Fund$350,000 2015
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers$50,000 2014
New Venture Fund$185,000 2014
Trout Unlimited$20,000 2013
The Conservation Campaign$100,000 2013
New Venture Fund (Arabella Legacy Fund)$6,500 2010
Total:$215,942,200

Form 990 Filings with Grant Lists

Berger Action Fund’s publicly filed Form 990 filings for 2017, 2018, and 2019 are missing Schedule I grant lists. The following Form 990s were provided by Kenneth P. Vogel of the New York Times, and include grant lists:

References

  1. Return of Foundation Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990-PF). Wyss Foundation. 2018. Part XVII (Transfers to Related Organizations). ^
  2. Kenneth P. Vogel, Katie Robertson. “Top Bidder for Tribune Newspapers Is an Influential Liberal Donor.” New York Times. April 13, 2021. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/business/media/wyss-tribune-company-buyer.html ^
  3. Berger Action Fund: DCRA Report. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://corponline.dcra.dc.gov/BizEntity.aspx/ViewEntityData?entityId=2692476

    Note: Official formation date was 12/10/2007. ^

  4. Delaware Secretary of State: Berger Action Fund. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2021/04/berger-action-fund-delaware-report.pdf ^
  5. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Berger Action Fund/Wyss Action Fund. See 2015/2016. ^
  6. Hedwig “Hedi” Wyss. Munzinger. Original URL: https://www.munzinger.de/search/portrait/Hedi+Wyss/0/16844.html. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2021/04/hedwig-wyss-profile-on-munzinger.pdf. ^
  7. Mirjam Fischer, Anna Niederhäuser: Biographies Susi + Ueli Berger . In: Mirjam Fischer, Anna Niederhäuser (eds.): Susi + Ueli Berger. Furniture in dialogue . Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2018, ISBN 978-3-85881-615-3 , p. 318-323

    Note: see Wikipedia German profile of Ueli and Susi Berger for more information: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susi_und_Ueli_Berger ^

  8. Americans for Public Trust: Complaint to Federal Elections Commission regarding Wyss Foundation. Filed May 15, 2021. Original URL: https://americansforpublictrust.org/document/wyss-complaint/. Archived URL: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2021/05/Wyss-Foundation-FEC-Complaint-Americans-for-Public-Trust.-05.15.21.pdf ^
  9. 52 USC 30101: Definitions. From Title 52-VOTING AND ELECTIONS. U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title52-section30101&num=0&edition=prelim ^
  10. “Foreign nationals.” Federal Election Commission. June 23, 2017. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/updates/foreign-nationals/ ^
  11. “E-2 Treaty Investors.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/temporary-workers/e-2-treaty-investors ^
  12. Richard Pollock. “EXCLUSIVE: Foreign Clinton Donor Made Donations To US Campaigns.” The Daily Caller. Feb. 28, 2016. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://dailycaller.com/2016/02/28/exclusive-clintons-swiss-ally-gave-big-bucks-to-u-s-campaigns/ ^
  13. Return of Foundation Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990-PF). Wyss Foundation. 2018. Part XVII (Transfers to Related Organizations). ^
  14. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Berger Action Fund/Wyss Action Fund (before 2016). 2007-2020. Part I: Lines 8, 12, 13, 22. ^
  15. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Berger/Wyss Action Fund. 2010-2020. Schedule I. ^
  16. Kenneth P. Vogel, Katie Robertson. “Top Bidder for Tribune Newspapers Is an Influential Liberal Donor.” New York Times. April 13, 2021. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/business/media/wyss-tribune-company-buyer.html ^
  17. Kenneth P. Vogel. “Swiss Billionaire Quietly Becomes Influential Force Among Democrats.” New York Times. May 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/us/politics/hansjorg-wyss-money-democrats.html ^
  18. Ludwig, Hayden. “Swiss Billionaire Gave Millions to Eric Holder’s Partisan Gerrymandering Group.” Washington Free Beacon, May 5, 2021. https://freebeacon.com/democrats/swiss-billionaire-gave-millions-to-eric-holders-partisan-gerrymandering-group/?utm_source=actengage&utm_campaign=FreedomMail&utm_medium=email. ^
  19. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Berger/Wyss Action Fund. 2010-2020. Schedule I.

    Note: The following Form 990 filings for 2017, 2018, and 2019 were provided by Kenneth P. Vogel of the New York Times, and include Schedule I grant lists:

    2017 Form 990 (covers 4/1/17–3/31/18; Schedule I on page 23: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20695507-the-berger-action-funds-2017-tax-filing-shows-48m-donated-to-the-sixteen-thirty-fund

    2018 Form 990 (covers 4/1/18–3/31/19; Schedule I on page 21: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20695506-the-berger-action-funds-2018-tax-filing-shows-41m-donated-to-the-sixteen-thirty-fund

    2019 Form 990 (covers 4/1/19–3/31/20; Schedule I on page 15: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20695495-the-berger-action-funds-2019-tax-filing-shows-35m-donated-to-the-sixteen-thirty-fund ^

  20. Berger Action Fund: DCRA Report. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://corponline.dcra.dc.gov/BizEntity.aspx/ViewEntityData?entityId=2692476

    Note: Official formation date was 12/10/2007. ^

  21. Note: also see the following Form 990 filings, which include missing Schedule I grant lists, provided by Kenneth P. Vogel of the New York Times:

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Molly McUsic
    President, Board Member
  2. Hansjorg Wyss
    Primary Funder

Associated Organizations

  1. Wyss Foundation (Non-profit)

Donor Organizations

  1. Wyss Foundation (Non-profit)
  See an error? Let us know!

Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: March - February
  • Tax Exemption Received: October 1, 2007

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2018 Mar Form 990 $226,100,052 $58,630,945 $170,403,572 $0 N $225,494,000 $0 $606,052 $9,974 PDF
    2017 Mar Form 990 $13,501,764 $16,677,459 $2,934,465 $0 N $13,500,000 $0 $1,764 $10,095 PDF
    2016 Mar Form 990 $10,000,000 $3,934,105 $6,110,160 $0 N $10,000,000 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2015 Mar Form 990 $200,000 $771,345 $44,265 $0 N $200,000 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2014 Mar Form 990 $0 $273,822 $615,610 $0 N $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2013 Mar Form 990 $0 $170,254 $889,432 $0 N $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2012 Mar Form 990 $1,100,000 $41,780 $1,059,686 $0 N $1,100,000 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Berger Action Fund (Wyss Action Fund)

    PO BOX 53241
    WASHINGTON, DC 20009-9241