NEO Philanthropy, formerly known as Public Interest Projects, is a New York-based nonprofit that serves as a fiscal clearinghouse for left-of-center causes. The group serves as a vehicle for progressive foundations to pool resources, hosts donor-advised funds, and sponsors various liberal projects.
The organization is the fiscal sponsor of progressive entities, including the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, a liberal voter activation consortium. Disbursing grant money serves remains one of NEO’s primary functions; NEO Philanthropy gave close to 60 percent of its total expenditures as grants.
Inside Philanthropy described NEO as “an intermediary that doesn’t have its own resources for grantmaking.” The group receives funding from major progressive donors, including the Atlantic Philanthropies, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Gill Foundation, the Pew Trusts, and the Carnegie Corporation, among others. The organization and similar left-of-center groups that engage in “nonpartisan” voter registration have received criticism for appearing to favor the registration of voters exceptionally likely to vote for Democratic candidates.
The organization runs what it calls “funder collaboratives,” each focusing on an area of left-of-center donor interest. The Four Freedoms Fund is directed toward supporting the political interests and welfare of illegal immigrants. The Just and Fair Schools Fund seeks to ease school discipline. The State Infrastructure Fund engages in voter registration and opposes conservative electoral reform legislation. The Sunrise Initiative for Human Rights in the U.S. opposes immigration law enforcement activities.
NEO fiscally sponsors the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, a membership organization of progressive donors including the Democracy Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the MacArthur Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and numerous other donors that focuses on voter registration and liberal-backed changes to election systems. The Funders Committee is formally a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity as a sub-organization under NEO, but critics have noted that the organization’s election-related efforts are funded by liberal foundations and support strategies which help Democrats get elected.
In the electoral area, NEO Philanthropy also operates the Shelby Response Fund, dedicated to opposing voting laws in states affected by changes to the Voting Rights Act ordered by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. That fund was managed by Karen Narasaki, an attorney with ties to numerous liberal nonprofits who was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. According to leaked documents reported on by the Washington Free Beacon, the Open Society Foundations funded by progressive financier George Soros are a principal funder of the Shelby Response Fund, with liberal voter registration practices such as expanded same-day registration and early voting on the Fund’s agenda.
NEO is also involved in efforts to change criminal justice. The MacArthur Foundation gave NEO $18 million for juvenile justice projects aimed at preventing juveniles from entering the adult justice system.
NEO supports projects in the feminist and pro-abortion spheres. The group was the charitable partner for the producers of the controversial campus sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. (Reason magazine described the film as “a work of activist propaganda,” and, ironically, it was distributed by The Weinstein Company of alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.) NEO Philanthropy is also the fiscal sponsor of “Shout Your Abortion,” an aggressive pro-abortion messaging campaign seeking to normalize the practice.
Past projects include the incubation of InsideClimate News, an environmentalist media outfit. NEO Philanthropy, then still named Public Interest Projects, reportedly served as fiscal sponsor for InsideClimate and its associated public relations firm, Science First, from 2010 through 2014.
NEO reported approximately $46.9 million in total expenditures for 2014 and reported more than $32.1 million in grants to domestic organizations. In 2015, those numbers were $39.7 million and $22.7 million, respectively. Since 2003, NEO has granted more than $176 million to likeminded left-of-center organizations.
Grantees for 2015 include branches of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Tides Center, Border Action Network, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation, Citizen Engagement Lab Education Fund, Chinese Progressive Association, Center for American Progress, and the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS), among others.
NEO Philanthropy serves as a philanthropic intermediary, similar to a donor-advised fund (which NEO reportedly operates). Reports indicate that NEO partners with upwards of 100 left-wing funding groups. NEO Philanthropy reportedly does not typically raise funds from the general public, though it began to do so as part of its association with the film The Hunting Ground.
Foundations provide the backbone of NEO Philanthropy’s funding. In 2014, NEO Philanthropy reported $51.7 million in total revenue; grants to NEO Philanthropy from foundations in 2014 totaled over $37 million. Other progressive nonprofits have provided funds to NEO: Tax records show grants from New Venture Fund, The Energy Foundation, Greenpeace, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey in recent years.
Atlantic Philanthropies, a now-closed Bermuda-based foundation consortium formerly headed by Democracy Alliance chief Gara LaMarche, granted NEO-associated entities more than $14.3 million from 2010 until Atlantic expended all its funds in 2016.
Michele Lord serves as the co-president of NEO. She also serves as director of the Ottinger Foundation, a foundation that “supports work in the areas of economic justice, civic participation and environmental justice.” She was previously director of the Norman Foundation for six years, and “has overseen program evaluations on behalf of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Open Society Institute.”
Lord has a background in Democratic electoral politics. She also worked as director for the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues from 1984 to 1988. She later worked in the New York City Mayor’s Office 1990 to 1993 under then-Mayor David Dinkins (D). NEO paid Lord $272,618 in 2015, with an additional $38,567 in other compensation.