The Center for Public Integrity is a left-of-center investigative journalism group headquartered in Washington, D.C. While the organization is ostensibly nonpartisan for tax purposes, a majority of its investigations center around sensationalizing activity of Republicans and conservatives both inside and outside of government.
The group publishes news articles and has published dozens of books since its founding in 1989 by journalist Charles Lewis. Current investigations led by the Center for Public Integrity center around money in politics, sensationalizing the policy work of libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch. It has been highly critical of the Trump administration and has asked supporters to “Scour our searchable, sortable and public database of Trump administration financial disclosures to probe the mysterious companies contained within.”1 The Center also states that it has “comprehensive opposition research files” on members of the Trump administration.2
The Center for Public Integrity has received contributions from a number of left-leaning foundation funders including the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network Fund, Foundation to Promote Open Society, Knight Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation.3 The foundation has stated that it no longer accepts corporate gifts, but it takes money from the private foundations of many of the richest Americans including actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Center for Public Integrity was founded by Charles Lewis, a former news producer, in 1989. Lewis led the organization from its founding until 2005. During the years Lewis ran the group it authored 14 books and 250 investigative reports.
The Center has had 6 different CEOs since founder Charles Lewis left the organization. In the aftermath of his departure, two succeeding CEOs, Bill Buzenberg and Roberta Baskin, publicly quibbled about the cause of poor fundraising efforts by the center in the time since Lewis left the organization.4
The left-leaning Huffington Post‘s Huffington Post Investigative Fund merged with the Center for Public Integrity in 2010, causing several Huffington Post staffers to join the Center’s staff.5
While predominately left left-leaning, Center for Public Integrity has produced stories critical of Democratic politicians, with a notable example being a 1996 story titled “Fat Cat Hotel: How Democratic High-Rollers Are Rewarded with Overnight Stays at the White House,” which detailed how wealthy donors were able to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom in the Clinton White House.6
Much of the operations of the center have led many to question the stated nonpartisan mission of the Center for Public Integrity. The center bills itself as nonpartisan yet often reserves its most intricate opposition research for free market organizations and Republican politicians. Critics have charged the Center for engaging in “activist journalism.”7 In one case, Center for Public Integrity appeared to coordinate the release of a story attacking Koch Industries (the commercial business controlled by libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch) with far-left environmentalist group Greenpeace.8
Center for Public Integrity has also faced criticism for its journalistic ethics. In 2010, a Center for Public Integrity report titled “Looting of the Seas” concerning the management of Bluefin tuna stocks was withdrawn from the Pulitzer Prize nominations when a Center internal investigation discovered that the journalists involved had collected data by using a stolen password to log into the database of an intergovernmental agency. Lawyers both inside and outside of the organization concluded that such action likely was illegal.9
The executive editor of the Center at the time was John Solomon, was had formerly served as Executive Editor of the Washington Times. Solomon was livid about the Bluefin tuna documentary and demanded that the Center withdraw it from consideration for the Pulitzer Prize due to the scandal. As the scandal escalated Solomon stated that he received a bonus that he referred to as “hush money”, a charged denied by the Center leadership who stated the payment was for him carrying two titles. Solomon also stated that working in leadership at the Center during the Tuna scandal “was like watching Watergate” and was described as having left because “it had become clear that Buzenberg and the board weren’t going to take the “corrective action” he sought in the wake of the tuna ordeal.” 10
John Dunbar, a former Associated Press reporter, has served as CEO of Center for Public Integrity since 2016. He has worked for the organization since 2011 and previously served stints at the Center in the 1990s and late 2000s.11 Board members of the organization include Craigslist founder Craig Newman, and Ariana Huffington. Other Board members include current and former employees of Google, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Mother Jones, CNN, MSNBC and PBS.
- “Become a Citizen Sleuth”. The Center for Public Integrity. Accessed May 21 2018 https://www.publicintegrity.org/2017/07/07/20971/become-citizensleuth-and-uncover-trump-administration-mysteries
- “TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PERSONAL FINANCES: SEARCHABLE SPREADSHEETS” Google Sheets. Center for Public Integrity Accessed May 21 2018. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1R5AOpTBa6kro2qbSRa7kUD-Gg2FKD7v6vc2EJS7Dooo/edit#gid=1990489212
- Data compiled by Foundationsearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc. from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted May 24, 2018.
- Baskin, Roberta. “Taken Aback”. American Journalism Review. February–March 2008.Accessed May 25 2018 http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=4468
- Cohen, David. “Huffington Post Investigative Fund to Become Part of Center for Public Integrity” Adweek. October 19 2010 Accessed June 26 2018. https://www.adweek.com/digital/huffington-post-investigative-fund-to-become-part-of-center-for-public-integrity/
- “Profile Margaret Ebrahim “School of Communications, American University. Accessed May 21 2018
- “Center for Public Integrity”. Left Exposed. Accessed May 21 2018. http://leftexposed.org/2016/10/center-for-public-integrity/
- Hagey, Keach. “Did CPI Coordinate with Greenpeace? – On Media.” Politico. August 29, 2011. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.politico.com/blogs/onmedia/0811/Did_CPI_coordinate_with_Greenpeace.html.
- “Tuna and turmoil at CPI”. Politico. December 5, 2011. Accessed May 21 2018. https://www.politico.com/story/2011/12/tuna-and-turmoil-at-cpi-069763
- Blake, Mariah. “Something Fishy?”. Columbia Journalism Review. July/August 2012. Accessed June 26, 2018. https://archives.cjr.org/feature/something_fishy.php
- “A New Title for an Old Friend” Center for Public Integrity:” Accessed May 21 2018. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/11/15/20471/new-title-old-friend