Non-profit

Kaphan Foundation

Location:

SEATTLE, WA

Tax ID:

65-1211107

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)-PF

Budget (2015):

Revenue: $2,062,534
Expenses: $2,299,980
Assets: $34,943,956

Formation:

2005

Type:

Left-of-center grantmaking organization

President:

Sheldon Kaphan

The Kaphan Foundation is a left-of-center grantmaking organization founded by Sheldon Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee. The Foundation funds a variety of left-of-center causes and organizations, including Planned Parenthood, groups seeking to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and abolish the Electoral College, and various environmentalist organizations. The Foundation does not have an online presence. [1]

Founding and History

The Kaphan Foundation was founded in 2005 by Sheldon Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee. Kaphan’s stock options in the company made him very wealthy, and he used significant amounts of his wealth to fund the Foundation. [2] [3] The Foundation does not have a website and does not appear to solicit grant applications online.

Finances

In fiscal year 2018, the Kaphan Foundation reported $62,023,402 in revenue, of which $61.5 million came from a stock contribution by Kaphan, and $931,349 came from dividends and interest. The foundation had $4,405,381 in expenses, of which $4.4 million were disbursed as contributions and grants. At the end of fiscal year 2018, the Foundation’s assets had a book value of $182,715,004. [4]

Grant Recipients

The Kaphan Foundation’s grantmaking is focused on left-of-center causes, including criminal justice policy, environmentalism, and technological development.

In 2018, the Kaphan Foundation provided grants including $300,000 in general support to the left-of-center news organization Democracy Now!, $150,000 in general support to abortion provider Planned Parenthood, and  $25,000 in general support to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Foundation also funded left-of-center electoral administration policy organizations, including $200,000 in general support to FairVote, a campaign to abolish the electoral college; $10,000 in general support to Fix Democracy First, which advocates the reversal of the Citizens United decision and taxpayer funding of election campaigns; and $300,000 in general support to the political finance organization MapLight. The Foundation also gave $100,000 in general support to the Northwest Immigrant Rights project, $100,000 in general support to Oxfam, and $50,000 in general support to the Washington Progress Fund. [5]

On criminal justice policy, the Foundation gave $50,000 in general support to Families Against Mandatory Minimums and $100,000 in general support to the Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate incarcerated people through DNA testing. [6]

The Foundation made several grants to environmentalist causes, including $25,000 to Earth Economics, $25,000 to National Parks Conservation, $25,000 to the Rainforest Alliance, $25,000 to the Sugar Pine Foundation, and $100,000 in general support to the controversial National Resources Defense Council. [7]

The Foundation also provided $100,000 in general support to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and $75,000 to Wikipedia. [8]

Leadership

The Kaphan Foundation was founded and funded by Sheldon Kaphan, the first employee hired by Jeff Bezos when he started Amazon in 1994. Kaphan left Amazon in 1999, accumulating an enormous amount of wealth due to his stock options with the company. Kaphan used this wealth to found the Kaphan Foundation in 2005. [9]

Following his departure from Amazon, Kaphan stayed out of the spotlight and did not sit down for an in-depth interview until 2011. Since then, Kaphan has been more outspoken, usually concerning “big tech” issues and Amazon. He has stated that he has not kept in touch with Jeff Bezos, but that he would like to ask Bezos if he still believes in less government regulation. [10] Kaphan has since gone on to say that it might make sense for the government to break Amazon up, but that the fundamental problem is with the economic system of capitalism itself and the lack of regulations in the market. Kaphan characterizes Bezos as a technological determinist and has called Bezos’s political philosophy “essentially libertarian.” [11]

Kaphan has not made major political contributions, though he contributed $2,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in 2006 and $1,000 to Democrat Darcy Burner’s campaign for the House of Representatives in 2008. [12]

References

  1. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part XV ^
  2. Cook, John. “Meet Amazon.Com’s First Employee: Shel Kaphan.” GeekWire.com, June 14, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2021. https://www.geekwire.com/2011/meet-shel-kaphan-amazoncom-employee-1/. ^
  3. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Schedule B ^
  4. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part I ^
  5. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part XV ^
  6. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part XV ^
  7. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part XV ^
  8. Kaplan Foundation, IRS (Form 990 PF), 2018, Part XV ^
  9. Cook, John. “Meet Amazon.Com’s First Employee: Shel Kaphan.” GeekWire.com, June 14, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2021. https://www.geekwire.com/2011/meet-shel-kaphan-amazoncom-employee-1/. ^
  10. Cook, John. “Meet Amazon.Com’s First Employee: Shel Kaphan.” GeekWire.com, June 14, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2021. https://www.geekwire.com/2011/meet-shel-kaphan-amazoncom-employee-1/. ^
  11. Pinchin, Karen, Anya Bourg, and James Jacoby. “Exclusive: Amazon’s First Employee Calls Company a ‘Huge and Unstoppable Force.’” PBS.org, February 13, 2020. Accessed March 13, 2021. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/amazon-first-employee-shel-kaphan-calls-company-huge-unstoppable-force/. ^
  12. “Browse Individual Contributions: Sheldon Kaphan.” FEC.gov. Accessed March 13, 2021. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: April 1, 2005

  • 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
    2015 Dec Form PF $2,062,534 $2,299,980 $34,943,956 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2014 Dec Form PF $5,164,597 $3,022,174 $34,990,001 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2013 Dec Form PF $2,948,177 $640,721 $32,784,241 $1 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2012 Dec Form PF $5,852,939 $1,610,130 $30,476,785 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2011 Dec Form PF $2,629,084 $1,389,328 $26,233,976 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Kaphan Foundation

    200 W MERCER ST STE E300
    SEATTLE, WA 98119-3995