Merle Chambers Fund


Tax-Exempt Status:



Private Grantmaking Foundation

President and Principal Donor:

Merle Chambers

The Merle Chambers Fund is a private foundation funded and directed by former oil and natural gas company CEO, lawyer, investor, and Democratic Party fundraiser Merle Chambers. 1 It was called “Chambers Family Fund” from its founding in 1997 until 2017. 2

The Fund’s donations focus on education, “women’s economic security,” social justice, and other left-of-center causes. 3 Its revenues totaled $15,172,942 in 2017;4 revenues included a $10 million contribution from Chambers. 5


The Merle Chambers Fund is named for its founder and principal donor, Democratic donor and liberal activist Merle Chambers. 6 She was CEO of Axem Resources Inc., a gas and oil company, from 1980 through 1997. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton appointed Chambers to the White House Conference on Small Business Commission. 7

On her politics, Chambers said in 2009, “My mother was a good liberal, and she gave of her time and talent….That’s where I got the emotional underpinnings of my work.”8 She donated $430,260 to political candidates and causes from 2011 to 2014, including to the campaigns of then-Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the campaign of then-Secretary of State candidate and current U.S. Representative Joseph Neguse (D-CO), and to female Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. 9

In 2012, Chambers donated $200,000 to the Democratic-supporting Super PAC Fair Share Action. 1011 She donated to many Democratic campaigns and $33,900 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the 2018 federal election cycle. 12

Her large donations to the DNC go back decades. Chambers donated $208,000 to the DNC in 1992. 13

In 2018, Chambers donated $100,000 to a ballot effort to raise state taxes for the purposes of providing greater funding to Colorado education. 14

Fund Mission and Initiatives

The Merle Chambers Fund describes itself as focused on funding “organizations and projects” which “are well-positioned to advance social justice, women’s economic security and early care and education.” Their grant provisions are largely limited to groups inside Colorado, and “focus … on policy, advocacy and systems change.” 15

The Fund’s major initiatives are broken into four areas – collaboration, innovation, policy and advocacy, and women’s philanthropy. 16 17 18 19

Grant Recipients

The Fund made 29 grants in 2017 which totaled $1,498,471. 20 A number of Fund grant recipients are policy and political advocacy organizations, all with left-leaning priorities such as Medicaid expansion, reducing economic inequality, climate change alarmism, and government preferences for low-income renters and homeowners. 21 22 23 24

A number of recipients are advocates for abortion. The Global Fund for Women, for example, received $10,000. NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Foundation and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains received $10,000 and $15,000, respectively. 9to5 Colorado received $10,000 and the Denver Women’s Collaborative received $11,000.

Other groups with explicitly left-leaning missions received grants in 2017. The Bell Policy Center, a left-leaning policy group based in Colorado, received $165,000. 25 According to the Bell Policy Center’s 2016 990 its total budget that year was $862,447. That year, the Merle Chambers Fund provided $160,000 – nearly 19 percent of the Bell Policy Center’s revenues in 2016. 26

The Fund’s 2016 tax return states that it was “one of the founders of the Bell Policy Center.” 27

The Merle Chambers Fund 2016 annual report shows that it provided NARAL and Planned Parenthood $30,000 and $25,000 respectively that year.

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado received $100,000 from the Merle Chambers Fund for matters surrounding its 30th anniversary. Chambers is a former president and a founding board member of the Foundation, which is located at the University of Denver. The Women’s Foundation’s lexicon is founded upon left-leaning premises, such as “herstory” instead of “history,” and it supports policies such as state-funded contraceptives and abortion, as well as so-called “Equal Pay” legislation. 28

Other recipients of Merle Chambers Fund contributions were educational and arts institutions. The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art in Denver, Colorado, which opened its new location in 2018, received $500,000 from the Fund in 2017. 29 The Fund and Chambers have provided all of the $22 million which was used to build the Museum’s new location. 30


The Merle Chambers Fund’s President and Board of Directors Chair is Merle Chambers. Lawyer Donald Hopkins, Community First Foundation executive director Marla Williams, Merle Chambers’ ex-husband Hugh Grant, Sally Leibbrandt, and Joy Hall also serve on the board. 31

Letty Bass is executive director of the Fund. Katy Arnold is Program Associate. Bass has announced that she will be retiring from her position as the Fund’s executive director in June 2019. 32


  1. Influence Watch, “Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  2. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Highlights,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  3. Merle Chambers Fund, “Who We Are,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  4. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Financial Overview,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  5. Merle Chambers Fund, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2017, Schedule B
  6. Merle Chambers Fund, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2017, Schedule B
  7. Merle Chambers Fund, “Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  8. Janalee Card Chmel, “Merle Catherine Chambers helped create DU’s center for women and girls,” March 1, 2009. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  9. Katie Kuntz and Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, “Top 10 list of Colorado’s political contributors,” November 2, 2014. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  10. Influence Watch, “Fair Share Action,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  11. Federal Elections Commission, “Schedule A, Fair Share Action, 2012 donations” Accessed February 18, 2019.
  12. Federal Elections Commission, “Individual contributions, 2017-2018,” Accessed February 18, 2019.
  13. Federal Elections Commission, “Individual contributions, 1991-1992,” Accessed February 18, 2019.
  14. Kelly Ragan, “Colorado election: What you need to know about Amendment 73, school funding,” October 12, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  15. Merle Chambers Fund, “How We Fund,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  16. Merle Chambers Fund, “Collaboration,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  17. Merle Chambers Fund, “Innovation,” Accessed February 15, 2019
  18. Merle Chambers Fund, “Policy and Advocacy,” Accessed February 15, 2019
  19. Merle Chambers Fund, “Women’s Philanthropy,” Accessed February 15, 2019
  20. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Grantees,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  21. Bell Policy Center, “Briefed by the Bell – Health Care,” December 17, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  22. Bell Policy Center, “Briefed by the Bell – Wealth & Income Inequality,” October 22, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  23. Aspen Institute, “From Despair to Optimism on Climate Change,” August 27, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  24. Colorado Center on Law and Policy, “Securing Affordable Housing,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  25. The Bell Policy Center, 2016 990, Accessed February 15, 2019.
  26. Merle Chambers Fund, “2016 Annual Report Grantees,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  27. Merle Chambers Fund, 2016 990, Accessed February 15, 2019.
  28. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, “2018 Public Policy Results,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  29. KUSA, “Kirkland Museum opens new $22 million location in Golden Triangle,” March 10, 2018. Accessed February 18, 2019.
  30. Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, “Our Story,” Accessed February 18, 2019.
  31. Merle Chambers Fund, “Board And Staff,” Accessed February 15, 2019.
  32. Merle Chambers Fund, “Message from Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019.

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Merle Chambers
    President and Principal Donor
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