The Public Welfare Foundation is a left-of-center grantmaking organization founded in 1947 that claims to focuses on issues of criminal justice, juvenile penal changes, and labor union-backed employment policy. Since its founding, the organization has given more than $500 million in grants to left-leaning organizations.
Charles Edward Marsh founded the Public Welfare Foundation in 1947 as his personal fortune swelled from building the Marsh-Fentress newspaper chain alongside his brothers, Charles and E.S. Fentress. Marsh’s newspaper business ultimately turned into an early source of income for the foundation. After Marsh retired from the business in the early 1940s, he donated three newspapers he owned to the organization in 1952 to provide it with a stable source of funding.
The organization’s vague name was deliberately chosen by Marsh to allow the foundation to “evolve with the times.” Not wanting to tie down the organization with a fixed, unchanging purpose, Marsh obscurely named the foundation so as to allow it to be involved in any and all activities that would “promote the well-being and happiness of human beings” in the future.
Marsh aligned and associated with prominent mid-20th-century Democrats including future President Lyndon Johnson, Vice President Henry Wallace, and controversial Senator Claude Pepper (D-Florida); Wallace and Pepper opposed President Harry Truman’s re-election because Truman was insufficiently left-wing. Marsh would oversee the organization until the decline of his health in the late 1950s and eventual death in 1964. His wife at the time, Claudia Haines Marsh, remained actively involved with the Public Welfare Foundation until her death in 2000.
Today, the Public Welfare Foundation makes grants to support left-progressive policy in a number of issue areas, focusing on so-called “difficult” and “often overlooked” areas to spur political and policy activism. In 2018, the largest projects included left-of-center interests such as liberalized criminal justice, union-aligned employment and labor policy, and youth justice. Since its inception, the organization has distributed more than $570 million in grants to thousands of left-leaning organizations.
The foundation provides grants to organizations and associations that claim to work towards reducing state incarceration levels and racial disparities. The organization likewise advances liberal policy in juvenile justice. The foundation supports organizations that advance alternatives to incarceration for crimes. The organization’s last area of focus is workers’ rights, in which the foundation works to donate grants to those willing to “advance reforms to hold employers accountable for wage theft,” “advance reforms to prevent severe illness, injury, and death on the job,” and develop “private enforcement of fundamental workplace protections,” all major labor union priorities.
Public Welfare Foundation’s 2016 tax returns report total assets of $488,474,152 and disbursements of $20,715,620 in grants. The Public Welfare Foundation allocated grants to hundreds of left-of-center organizations in 2016 including $100,000 to the union-environmentalist coalition group Bluegreen Alliance Foundation, $150,000 to the far-left community organizing group Center for Popular Democracy, $150,000 to the labor union-aligned think tank Economic Policy Institute, and $975,000 to liberal “dark money” group New Venture Fund. Grants totaling $1,175,000 were also allocated to the Tides Center, “a subsidiary entity of the Tides Foundation, a donor-advised fund for left-of-center causes that allows donor organizations which might otherwise have to disclose contributions to liberal organizations to obscure their contributions.”
The organization is currently run by Candice C. Jones, who has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Foundation since 2017. Prior to her work at the Public Welfare Foundation, Jones served as a senior advisor at Chicago CRED, an organization focusing on gun violence in Chicago, where she secured funding for violence intervention programs. Jones also served as a program officer with the left-of-center MacArthur Foundation.