Non-profit

Piper Action Fund

Website:

www.proteusfund.org/piper-action-fund

Type:

Donor Advocacy Collaborative

Project of:

Proteus Action League

Program Director:

Melissa Spatz (2012-Present)

The Piper Action Fund is a donor advocacy collaborative hosted by the 501(c)(4) advocacy nonprofit Proteus Action League. It is affiliated with the Piper Fund, a donor collaborative hosted by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Proteus Fund. Both the Piper Action Fund and Piper Fund advocate for center-left campaign finance reform policies and were among Proteus Fund’s first “donor collaboratives.”

Background

Proteus Fund founder Meg Gage started the Piper Fund in 1997, with the intention of increasing government control over election-related speech. It’s unclear when the Piper Action Fund was formed, though it was likely created sometime after PAL’s formation in 2002. [1] The Piper Fund allocated “about $1.8 million in grants to 53 organizations in 38 states working on campaign finance reform,” starting in 1998. [2]

Political Activities

The Piper Action Fund lobbies against what it calls “special interest money on our political and judicial systems” through grants to other center-left groups (made via its parent nonprofit, Proteus Action League) and direct spending on ballot initiatives. [3] The Piper Action Fund and Piper Fund also sponsor campaigns run in tandem between the two groups focusing on particular issue areas, such as the “social justice” group Protect Dissent Network. [4]

The Proteus Fund has also funded efforts for disclosure of funders of political advertisements, including those made by independent organizations. [5] Ironically, the Piper Fund, while it discloses some of its donors, “acknowledges it receives money from anonymous givers and ‘numerous other individual donors.’” [6]

Issue Area Campaigns and “Rapid Response Funds”

The Piper Action Fund and Piper Fund sponsor campaigns called “rapid response funds” run in tandem between the two groups focusing on particular issue areas. The funds are designed to channel funding towards particular niche issues supporting left-wing organizations. [7]

Protect Dissent Network

Piper Action Fund and the Piper Fund created the Protect Dissent Network in 2018 with the aim of coordinating “strategic action to support the right to protest,” referencing left-wing groups such as Black Lives Matter[8] The project was reportedly co-sponsored by 18 other nonprofits, including the Wallace Global Fund. [9]

In February 2019, Piper Action Fund funneled grants to lobbying efforts to defeat state legislative bills in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wyoming which the group claims would create “exorbitant penalties for protests and civil liabilities” for activist groups which protest the construction of certain oil pipelines. [10]

The Action Fund also supported efforts to 2019 defeat bills in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, and South Carolina which would allow campus speakers to sue universities if students interfered with or threatened their speech. In 2019, the Action Fund supported efforts to defeat bills introduced in Mississippi and Minnesota which would increase criminal penalties for activists who block traffic as part of their traffic, a tactic the group noted was particularly favored by Black Lives Matter activists. [11]

Campaign Finance Reform

Advocating for left-of-center campaign finance reform policies was among Piper’s first activities. According to a report by the left-wing funder Voqal, Piper has funded efforts to “reduce corporate influence in politics” since its creation in 1997 and is regarded by some groups on the Left as an effective grantmaker. The report noted that the “Piper [Fund] offered an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with other institutional and individual donors and potentially increase the impact of its finite resources with those of other funders.” [12]

Seattle “Democracy Voucher” Program (2015)

In July 2018, Piper Action Fund noted its role in creating the “Democracy Voucher” program via ballot initiative (Measure No. 122, passed in November 2015) in Seattle, Washington, with partial funding from Voqal, a center-left communications nonprofit and pass-through organization. [13] Piper itself provided $35,000 in 2014 for initial planning on the ballot initiative; in 2015, Piper spent another $475,000 to promote the campaign, focusing especially on local “communities of color.” [14]

The city-administered program entailed giving individual vouchers to roughly 25,000 Seattle voters with which to donate to particular municipal candidates of their choosing. The group claimed that the program “increas[ed] participation among communities of color, women, young people and lower-income families.” [15] Voqal also noted in 2018 that similar programs were being considered in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York, New York; Austin, Texas; and New Hampshire. In 2017, Voqal reported that “funding [for the program] from Piper and Voqal was ‘earmarked’ for outreach to the New American Majority (people of color, young people, single women) communities.” The group noted that, according to one Seattle campaigner, “Without the support of Piper and Voqal, we would not have had field in communities we considered really important.” [16]

Public Financing of Elections

According to an October 2017 reported commissioned by Voqal (archived here), Piper Action Fund spent $20,000 in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2014 to “strengthen the gubernatorial public financing program” in the state. According to the report, “Piper views the pursuit of public finance campaigns in states and municipalities as a key strategic foothold in the national money-in-politics movement and focuses on states as the arenas most conducive to victory.” [17]

In March 2014, Voqal approved a $250,000 grant to Proteus Action League (Piper Action Fund’s fiscal sponsor) under the title “Fair Elections New York Campaign” to “support [a] campaign to pass small donor public financing in [New York] state.” The group later wrote that, among other accomplishments, Proteus Action League “pushed Governor [Andrew] Cuomo to include comprehensive public financing in his State of the State address and Executive 2014 budget,” held events with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on campaign finance reform, and met with Gov. Cuomo “on six different occasions regarding the Governor’s commitment to adopting public financing in 2015 and
securing robust efforts to swing the State Senate to Democratic control.”

In 2013, Voqal approved a $50,000 grant to Piper and an additional $350,000 grant “to support campaign finance reform in New York State.” Voqal approved additional $50,000 grants in 2014 and 2015 to Piper for similar purposes. The report specified that most of its grant funds went to Proteus Action League, not the Proteus Fund, though grants to the latter funded issue research for building future ballot initiative strategies in certain states. The grants were given in support of the following priorities: [18]

  • Engage national orgs in state-level campaigns by coordinating field and media activities.
  • Produce materials for grassroots lobbying in state assemblies.
  • Engage legislative champions, beyond usual suspects.
  • Mobilize netroots in grassroots lobbying.
  • Boost field ops and organize rallies and public events.
  • Recruit and train diverse leaders to be active in state campaigns.

In 2015, Piper and Piper Action spent $600,000 to support Maine’s “Clean Elections” ballot initiative (Question 1), which was approved by voters in the November 2015 elections. The initiative increased state funding to the Maine Clean Elections Fund from $2 million to $3 million by eliminating certain corporate tax exemptions and required advertisements and campaign communications to disclose their top three donors. [19]

Piper Fund and Piper Action Fund are touted as critical avenues for funding campaign finance reform in the 2017 Voqal report, which noted:

Voqal’s grants (direct and through the Piper Fund) have served both to help secure specific victories in certain places and to advance the field by producing proof of concept and lessons from which to learn, as evidenced by successful returns on investments in:

  • Ballot initiative campaigns bringing public financing to Seattle elections and important
    “fixes” to Maine’s Clean Elections law.
  • Transparency, disclosure and ethics reform measures in New Mexico, aimed at
    educating and engaging the public to condition the climate for future, broader
    campaign finance reforms.
  • Demos’ experimental Inclusive Democracy Project that helps to empower state and
    local justice advocates and engage them in campaign finance reform efforts by
    making the case for how reform can help build voice and political influence for
    working class people and people of color.
  • Not An Alternative’s high profile campaign urging the American Museum of Natural
    History to cut its ties to fossil fuels.
  • Demanding accountability through a Texas watchdog organization’s transparency
    database.
  • A two-year battle in New York that, while ultimately unsuccessful, did much to
    elevate and advance the issue with the media, the public and in the state’s legislative
    and executive chambers.

The report further reports that, since 2013, Voqal has developed “key relationships” with Every Voice, Citizen Action New York, and
Common Cause (left-wing groups which fund “money-in-politics” initiatives) that were “forged directly as a result of joining the Piper Fund funding collaborative.” [20]

Funding

The Piper Action Fund is a fiscally sponsored project of the Proteus Action League, a 501(c)43) nonprofit which provides fiscal sponsorship services to numerous left-of-center groups. As such, the Piper Action Fund does not file annual reports with the IRS or have tax-exempt status of its own.

In 2017, the Proteus Action League reported program expenditures for the Piper Action Fund totaling $859,593. [21]

Piper Action Fund Grant Recipients

According to the Proteus Fund’s online grant database, the Proteus Action League has distributed grants through the Piper Action Fund to the following nonprofits: [22]

Piper Action Fund: Grant RecipientsAmountYear
Grand Total:$3,371,870
Arizona Advocacy Network $20,0002015
Arizona Wins$20,0002015
Citizen Action New York$35,0002015
Common Cause$20,0002015
Every Voice$105,0002015
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund$40,0002015
MCCE Action$200,0002015
North Carolina Voters For Clean Elections$38,0002015
Progressive Maryland $20,0002015
Public Citizen Inc.$42,0002015
Washington Community Action Network$337,5002015
Win/Win Action$137,5002015
Working Families Organization$45,0002015
Yes for Maine Clean Elections $100,0002015
Yes for Maine Clean Elections $250,0002015
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment $15,0002016
Arizona Advocacy Network $20,0002016
Common Cause$15,0002016
Common Cause $104,0002016
MCCE Action$15,0002016
New Florida Majority$40,0002016
North Carolina Voters For Clean Elections$10,0002016
Progress Florida$15,0002016
The Advocacy Fund$50,0002016
Working Families Organization$30,0002016
Arizona Advocacy Network $25,0002017
Center for Popular Democracy$18,0002017
Common Cause$25,0002017
Common Cause$62,5002017
Maplight$15,0002017
Marypirg Citizen Lobby$10,0002017
MCCE Action$25,0002017
Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action$120,0002017
North Carolina Voters For Clean Elections$15,0002017
Ohio River Valley Environmental Coalition $4,5002017
Open Democracy Action$20,0002017
Organizers in the Lnd of Enchantment$100,0002017
Progress Florida$15,0002017
Progressive Maryland $15,0002017
South Carolina Progressive Network$15,0002017
Working Families Organization$40,0002017
Arizona Advocacy Network $25,0002018
Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund$15,0002018
Citizen Action New York$346,0002018
Common Cause$35,0002018
Community Voices Heard Power$33,0002018
Jobs with Justice Ballot Fund$90,0002018
Long Island Progressive Coalition$50,0002018
Marypirg Citizen Lobby$20,0002018
MCCE Action$30,0002018
Mi Familia Vota$15,0002018
New York Communities for Change$50,0002018
Ohio River Valley Environmental Coalition $10,0002018
Open Democracy Action$25,0002018
Organizers in the Lnd of Enchantment$85,0002018
Progressive Maryland $20,0002018
Tides Advocacy $50,0002018
Citizen Action Coalition $12,0002019
Common Cause$15,0002019
Common Cause $20,0002019
Dakota Resource Council $7,0002019
Illinois Peoples Action $8,0002019
Justice Not Politics $15,0002019
Marypirg Citizen Lobby$20,0002019
Mississippi Center for Justice$5,0002019
Missouri Coalition For The Environment $3,5002019
Ohio River Valley Environmental Coalition $12,0002019
Oregon Action$15,0002019
Oregon State Public interest Research Group$15,0002019
Organization for Black Struggle$10,0002019
Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality Northside $6,8202019
Progressive Maryland $20,0002019
Society of Native Nations$5,0002019
Texas Campaign for the Environment $15,0002019
The People's Lobby$10,0002019
Working Committee For Peace And Justice $9,5502019

Leadership

Since the Piper Action Fund and Piper Fund are projects of the Proteus Action League and Proteus Fund, respectively, they do not employ their own staff. However, the funds are administered by a program director, Melissa Spatz.

Spatz has worked as program director for both Piper Action Fund and the Piper Fund since 2012. Prior to that, she worked as a co-founder and coordinator for the Chicago Taskforce and Violence Against Women & Girls, founding executive director of Women & Girls Collective Action Network, and at a number of other modest-sized left-of-center nonprofits. [23]

Piper’s “Money-in-Politics Reform” initiative is administered by Proteus program officer Estevan Muñoz-Howard, a position he’s held since 2016. Prior to that, Muñoz-Howard worked for a number of center-left nonprofits such as the Social Justice Fund NW and Washington-based Sightline Institute. [24]

References

  1. “Piper Fund: A Proteus Fund Initiative.” The Proteus Fund. 2018. Accessed January 01, 2018. http://www.proteusfund.org/piper. ^
  2. Dreyfuss, Robert . “Reform Gets Rolling.” The American Prospect. July & Aug. 1999. Accessed January 01, 2018. http://prospect.org/article/reform-gets-rolling. ^
  3. “Piper Action Fund.” Proteus Fund (Piper Action Fund). Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/piper-action-fund/ ^
  4. “Right to Protest.” Piper Fund. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/piper/right-to-protest/ ^
  5. Peterson, Josh. “Left-wing Foundation Influence Disclosed among FCC Rule-change Petitioners.” The Daily Caller. November 05, 2011. Accessed January 01, 2018. http://dailycaller.com/2011/11/05/left-wing-foundation-influence-disclosed-among-fcc-rule-change-petitioners/. ^
  6. Whyte, Liz Essley. “Groups Decrying ‘Dark Money’ Use Shadowy Money Themselves.” Center for Public Integrity. January 20, 2016. Accessed January 05, 2018. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/01/14/19124/groups-decrying-dark-money-use-shadowy-money-themselves. ^
  7. “Right to Protest.” Piper Fund. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/piper/right-to-protest/ ^
  8. “Right to Protest.” Piper Fund. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/piper/right-to-protest/ ^
  9. Melissa Spatz. “There’s no democracy without protest.” Alliance Magazine. March 5, 2019. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.alliancemagazine.org/analysis/theres-no-democracy-without-protest/ ^
  10. Melissa Spatz. “Efforts to Restrict Freedom of Assembly Becoming More Virulent.” Proteus Fund. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/efforts-to-restrict-freedom-of-assembly-becoming-more-virulent/ ^
  11. Melissa Spatz. “Efforts to Restrict Freedom of Assembly Becoming More Virulent.” Proteus Fund. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.proteusfund.org/efforts-to-restrict-freedom-of-assembly-becoming-more-virulent/ ^
  12. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  13. “Piper Action Fund Supports Successful Campaign Finance Reform in Seattle.” Voqal. July 16, 2018. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://voqal.org/piper-action-fund-supports-successful-campaign-finance-reform-in-seattle/ ^
  14. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  15. “Piper Action Fund Supports Successful Campaign Finance Reform in Seattle.” Voqal. July 16, 2018. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://voqal.org/piper-action-fund-supports-successful-campaign-finance-reform-in-seattle/ ^
  16. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  17. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  18. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  19. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  20. “Taking Money Out of Politics: A Weighty Lift.” Voqal. October 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019. Original URL: https://voqal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MiP_Eval-1_vFFFExhApps_vFFF.pdf. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Taking-Money-Out-of-Politics.-Voqal.-07.2019.pdf. ^
  21. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). Proteus Action League. 2017. Part III (Statement of Program Service Accomplishments), Line 4b. Archived here: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Proteus-Action-League-2017-Form-990.pdf ^
  22. “Our Grants.” Proteus Fund (Grants Database). Accessed July 3, 2019. Original URL: https://www.proteusfund.org/grants-index/. Archived here:

    2019: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Piper-Action-Fund-2019-Grants.pdf

    2018: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Piper-Action-Fund-2018-Grants.pdf

    2017: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Piper-Action-Fund-2017-Grants.pdf

    2016: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Piper-Action-Fund-2016-Grants.pdf

    2015: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2019/07/Piper-Action-Fund-2015-Grants.pdf ^

  23. “Melissa Spatz.” LinkedIn. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-spatz-0383b020/ ^
  24. “Estevan Munoz-Howard.” LinkedIn. Accessed July 18, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/in/estevanmh/ ^

Associated Organizations

  1. Piper Fund (Non-profit)
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