Also see Democracy Fund Voice (Non-profit)
The Democracy Fund is a public policy-oriented foundation chaired and principally funded by eBay founder and former chairman Pierre Omidyar. The organization contributes to center-left and left-wing media organizations, groups seeking to infringe on campaign speech rights, left-of-center-leaning voter registration organizations, and nominally non-aligned public policy organizations.
Democracy Fund has stated that it attempts to be scrupulously bipartisan, though its giving suggests the group holds broad left-of-center views on campaign speech regulation and which prospective voters should be registered. Omidyar’s personal political giving is principally in support of Democrats and against Republicans. Democracy Fund president Joe Goldman was an aide to former District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams (D).
Democracy Fund grant recipients include think tanks and advocacy organizations on both the left and center-right, though the left-of-center organizations tend to be more ideologically extreme. Recipients from the center-right include the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the libertarian Cato Institute; left-wing beneficiaries of Democracy Fund contributions include Common Cause Education Fund, Rock the Vote, and the Campaign Legal Center.
Omidyar’s efforts go beyond Democracy Fund. Democracy Fund itself is associated with a 501(c)(4) organization, Democracy Fund Voice, which is permitted to intervene in elections. Omidyar also funds philanthropic activities through the Omidyar Network and has funded the left-wing media venture First Look Media, publisher of the online news website The Intercept which was co-founded by journalists who collaborated in the mass disclosure of a trove of classified national security documents by a former U.S. government contractor now residing in Russia. In 2017, First Look Media and Democracy Fund jointly announced $12 million in grants to left-of-center media outlets and activists.
Since early 2016, Omidyar and groups associated with the Democracy Fund have been funders of opponents of the campaign and administration of President Donald Trump. Omidyar contributed $450,000 to Super PACs advocating against Trump’s election in 2016; Democracy Fund Voice contributed $250,000 to Stand Up Republic, a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization advocating against the Trump administration and run by former Independent Presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
Pierre Omidyar, then-chairman of the online retailer eBay, founded Democracy Fund in 2014 as a spin-off from his existing philanthropy, the Omidyar Network. Prior to the foundation of Democracy Fund, Omidyar’s public policy philanthropy had supported a mixture of property-rights-based libertarian-leaning organizations at home and abroad alongside partnerships with conventionally left-wing philanthropy, including George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation. Early material indicated that Democracy Fund sought to support “social entrepreneurs working to ensure that our political system is responsive to the public and able to meet the greatest challenges facing our nation.”
Democracy Fund makes grants to a number of classes of organizations. They include liberal-leaning journalism outfits, most notably the publisher of controversial “fact-checking” website Politifact; election-related groups like Issue One which seek to institute tighter limits on political advocacy, like Democracy Works which seek to change how votes are cast, and like Rock the Vote which register left-leaning voters; and nominally centrist policy organizations like the No Labels Foundation.
Left-of-Center Media Outlets
In alignment with fellow Omidyar project First Look Media, Democracy Fund has made numerous contributions to media outlets generally considered on the center-left. Media outlets receiving Democracy Fund grants in 2016 included the Center for Public Integrity, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Times Publishing Company, which sponsors the controversial Politifact fact-checking service.
The Democracy Fund participates in one of the most notable efforts to fund left-of-center newsgathering. The Knight Foundation began funding the Institute for Nonprofit News (a membership group of left-of-center media outlets including the Center for Responsive Politics, Mother Jones, the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, Grist, and ProPublica, among others) in 2016 through the “NewsMatch” program. In 2017, Democracy Fund and the MacArthur Foundation each pledged up to $1 million to support NewsMatch. Nonprofit Quarterly reported that Democracy Fund had “coordinated” the expansion of NewsMatch in 2017.
In 2016, Politifact announced that Democracy Fund had pledged $500,000 over a two-year period to expand Politifact’s operations. In October 2016, during the height of the 2016 Presidential election, Politifact apparently wrongly classified reporting by a conservative-leaning news website on a partly Omidyar Network-funded Clinton Foundation program as inaccurate. Politifact initially denied receiving funding from Omidyar groups (which include Democracy Fund) when questioned about its report.
The Democracy Fund makes grants in a number of areas related to elections. The organization also engages in direct charitable activities to increase regulation of campaign activity and advance changes to election procedures and administration; the organization reported engaging in $1.4 million in such direct charitable expenditures in this area in 2016.
Democracy Fund is a major funder of organizations seeking to increase regulation on political speech and campaign activity. Issue One, the Proteus Fund, the Campaign Finance Institute, and the Campaign Legal Center have all received six-figure contributions from the Democracy Fund. The Democracy Fund has also given substantial support to Take Back Our Republic, a group backed by dissident Republican political consultant Mark McKinnon as a vehicle to promote restrictions on electoral activity.
Democracy Fund has also contributed to efforts to change the American electoral system, making contributions to FairVote, which advocates a system known as ranked-choice voting (notably used in Australia) which allocates votes by preference-order rather than aggregate first-preference totals.
Despite Democracy Fund’s pretensions to scrupulous bipartisanship, the organization has made substantial contributions to left-leaning voter registration and activation groups. Rock the Vote, a left-of-center voter registration group focused on young people, received $75,000 from Democracy Fund in 2015 and 2016. Democracy Fund has also funded Democracy Works, an online voter registration support group which partnered with the left-wing media website Mic during the 2016 election. Democracy Fund also provided $300,000 to the far-left think tank Demos to support its work regarding voter registration issues.
Democracy Fund is also a substantial funder of nominally centrist or non-aligned policy organizations. The group funds the No Labels Foundation and the Bipartisan Policy Center. The grant to Bipartisan Policy Center supported the organization’s work in electoral reform; the grant to No Labels Foundation supported its convening of lawmakers across party lines.
Voter Study Group
Since the 2016 elections, Democracy Fund has convened a cross-party review of public opinion research, known as the Voter Study Group. The project is directed by Henry Olsen of the right-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center, which has received funding from Democracy Fund.
In 2017, the Voter Study Group released reports studying the sectors of the electorate which supported the candidacy of Donald Trump, identifying growing cleavages in the Republican coalition over national identity and economic policy.
Democracy Fund Voice
Also see Democracy Fund Voice (Non-profit)
Democracy Fund is associated with a 501(c)(4) advocacy group which is permitted to intervene in elections, known as Democracy Fund Voice. According to the organization’s 2016 tax return, Pierre Omidyar was Democracy Fund Voice’s sole contributor, providing the group a contribution of $5.51 million.
In 2017, Democracy Fund Voice announced that it had made contributions of up to $550,000 to Stand Up Republic, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group associated with former Independent Presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
Relation to Other Omidyar Philanthropies
In addition to Democracy Fund, Pierre Omidyar has also created a philanthropic network, the Omidyar Network, and a left-wing media company, First Look Media. Democracy Fund was spun out of the Omidyar Network, having been organized in 2011 and spun off in 2014.
In addition to supporting left-of-center media through Democracy Fund, Omidyar personally pledged over $250 million to First Look Media. The nonprofit publishes The Intercept, a reporting website launched by the left-wing reporters who obtained and published leaked American national security information from government contractor Edward Snowden before his flight from the United States and arrival in Russia. As of 2015, Omidyar served as Board President of First Look Media Works, the group’s corporate parent.
In 2017, Democracy Fund jointly announced $12 million in contributions to left-of-center media organizations in concert with First Look Media. Recipients of the joint grants included the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica, and New York University professor Jay Rosen.