Person

Merle Chambers

Occupation:

Former CEO, Axem Resources, Inc.

President, Merle Chambers Fund

Democratic Donor

Former Member, White House Conference on Small Business

Merle Chambers is a former oil and natural gas CEO, lawyer, investor, and Democratic Party fundraiser and donor. She is also a left-leaning philanthropist whose funding organization, the Merle Chambers Fund, donates to abortion and left-leaning advocacy causes, as well as non-political arts and other entities. [1]

Chambers was founding President and CEO of Axem Resources, Inc. from approximately 1980 through 1997. After selling the company and founding the Chambers Family Fund (later renamed Merle Chambers Fund), Chambers became CEO of Leith Ventures, LLC. [2]

Background

Chambers graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968 with a degree in political science. A former student protestor, Chambers later received a law degree from Hastings College and Master of Tax Law from the University of Denver. She entered legal work in San Francisco before moving to Denver, Colorado. [3]

Chambers was founding CEO of Axem Resources Inc., a gas and oil company, from 1980 through 1997. The Merle Chambers Fund website notes that Chambers “was the first woman inducted into the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Hall of Fame” because of her work at Axem. [4]

In the 1992 election cycle, Axem was the 16th-largest source of individual or associated committee political donations in the oil and gas industry. It was the only oil-and-gas company among the top 20 in the industry by political contributions with more donations to Democrats than Republicans; it donated zero dollars to Republicans that year, $234,900 to Democrats, and made $210,200 in “non-partisan” donations. [5]

After she sold Axem, Chambers became CEO of Leith Ventures, LLC, a position which she still holds.

Chambers was married to Colorado museum curator and arts leader Hugh Grant from 1989 to 2017. They continue to promote and work together on artistic philanthropic efforts after their divorce. [6][7]

Political Advocacy

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton appointed Chambers to the White House Conference on Small Business Commission. [8]

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.” [9] She donated $430,260 to political candidates and causes from 2011 through 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 Democratic U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. [10]

In 2012, Chambers donated $200,000 to the Democratic-supporting Super PAC Fair Share Action. [11] 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] $5,000 to the Democratic Senate campaign committee in 1990, as well as a number of smaller donations to candidates. [14] Her first political contributions recorded by the Federal Elections Commission were made in the 1985-1986 election cycle. [15]

Chambers donated $250,000 to help Clinton-related organizations in 1992 and co-organized a fundraiser with Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore as keynote speakers. According to a book published two years later, Chambers’ goals with the donation and fundraiser were to support abortion rights and oppose a conservative U.S. Supreme Court. [16]

Chambers opposed a 2000 ballot measure in Colorado to require informed consent before an abortion could be performed. That law was defeated by voters. [17] Chambers was one of the top financial opponents of the amendment and donated $15,000 to defeat it. [18]

Chambers and Grant hosted infamous actress and opponent of the Vietnam War Jane Fonda at their home in 2000. [19] The “commitment to choice” luncheon cost $500 to attend and all donations went to Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

In 2018, Chambers donated $100,000 to a ballot effort to raise state taxes for the purposes of providing greater funding to Colorado education. [20] She also made a number of $500 to $2,700 donations to Democratic candidates for Congress, especially female candidates, in 2018. [21] She donated $33,900 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,0000 to the Democratic Party in Colorado.

The Merle Chambers Fund

The Merle Chambers Fund is a private foundation funded and directed by Chambers. [22] It was called “Chambers Family Fund” from its founding in 1997 until 2017. [23]

The Fund’s donations focus on education, “women’s economic security,” social justice, and other left-of-center causes. [24] Its revenues totaled $15,172,942 in 2017;[25] revenues included a $10 million contribution from Chambers. [26] Revenues dropped to $1.43 million in 2018. [27]

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.” [28]

A matching grant effort by the Fund was made to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. According to the Planned Parenthood affiliate’s 2008 report, the Fund helped raise over $1,000,000 for the abortion provider through matching half of the other funds donated. [29]

The Fund made 29 grants in 2017 which totaled $1,498,471. [30] 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 advocacy, and government preferences for low-income renters and homeowners. [31] [32] [33] [34]

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. [35] 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. [36]

The Fund’s 2016 tax return states that it was “one of the founders of the Bell Policy Center.” [37]

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. [38]

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. [39] The Fund and Chambers have provided all of the $22 million which was used to build the Museum’s new location. [40]

The Fund’s 2018 grants were allocated similar to its 2017 donations. The Bell Center received $150,000, NARAL’s Colorado chapter received $25,000, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains received $10,000. The Aspen Institute received $200,000. [41]

Chambers is the Merle Chambers Fund’s President and Board of Directors Chair. Lawyer Donald Hopkins, Community First Foundation executive director Marla Williams, Chambers’ ex-husband Hugh Grant, Sally Leibbrandt, and Joy Hall also serve on the board. [42]

Letty Bass is executive director of the Fund. Katy Arnold is its program associate. Bass has announced that she will be retiring from her position as the Fund’s executive director in June 2019. [43]

References

  1. Merle Chambers Fund, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2017, Schedule B ^
  2. Colorado Business Hall of Fame, Merle Chambers, Accessed May 15, 2019. http://www.coloradobusinesshalloffame.org/merle-chambers.html ^
  3. Merle Chambers Fund, Merle Chambers, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/merle-chambers/ ^
  4. Merle Chambers Fund, Merle Chambers, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/merle-chambers/ ^
  5. Open Secrets, 1992 election cycle donations by oil and gas industry, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?cycle=1992&ind=E01 ^
  6. Joanne Davidson, “PHOTOS: Golden Gala celebrates new Kirkland Museum,” April 13, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://theknow.denverpost.com/2018/04/13/seen-golden-gala-celebrates-new-kirkland-museum/181963/ ^
  7. Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Our Story, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.kirklandmuseum.org/about-us/our-story/ ^
  8. Merle Chambers Fund, “Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/merle-chambers/ ^
  9. Janalee Card Chmel, “Merle Catherine Chambers helped create DU’s center for women and girls,” March 1, 2009. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://magazine.du.edu/alumni/merle-catherine-chambers-helped-create-dus-center-for-women-and-girls/ ^
  10. Katie Kuntz and Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, “Top 10 list of Colorado’s political contributors,” November 2, 2014. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/politics/elections/2014/11/02/stryker-tops-list-colorados-political-contributors/18391069/ ^
  11. Federal Elections Commission, “Schedule A, Fair Share Action, 2012 donations” Accessed February 18, 2019. http://docquery.fec.gov/cgi-bin/forms/C00526673/894679/sa/ALL ^
  12. Federal Elections Commission, “Individual contributions, 2017-2018,” Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?two_year_transaction_period=2018&contributor_name=merle+chambers&min_date=01%2F01%2F2017&max_date=12%2F31%2F2018 ^
  13. Federal Elections Commission, “Individual contributions, 1991-1992,” Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?two_year_transaction_period=1994&contributor_name=merle+chambers&min_date=01%2F01%2F1993&max_date=12%2F31%2F1994 ^
  14. Federal Elections Commission, Merle Chambers 1989-1990 donations, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?two_year_transaction_period=1990&contributor_name=merle+chambers&min_date=01%2F01%2F1989&max_date=12%2F31%2F1990 ^
  15. Federal Elections Commission, Merle Chambers donations 1985-1986, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?two_year_transaction_period=1986&contributor_name=merle+chambers&min_date=01%2F01%2F1985&max_date=12%2F31%2F1986 ^
  16. Linda Witt, Glenna Matthews, Karen Paget, “Running as a Woman: Gender and Power in American Politics,” Published 1994. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://books.google.com/books?id=OtChCWOMPXoC&pg=PT195&lpg=PT195&dq=merle+chambers+abortion&source=bl&ots=PZyoROUNJ-&sig=ACfU3U1blvLbmiImw-2AgrWZxKEcui92Iw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj02OaZt53iAhWMMd8KHdK2Bcg4ChDoATAEegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=merle%20chambers%20&f=false ^
  17. Ballotpedia, “Colorado Requirements for Consent to Abortion, Initiative 25, 2000,” Accessed May 15, 2019. https://ballotpedia.org/Colorado_Requirements_for_Consent_to_Abortion,_Initiative_25_(2000) ^
  18. Denver Post, “Top contributors to Amendment 25 campaigns, as of October 16,” October 30, 2000. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://extras.denverpost.com/news/topbox1030.htm ^
  19. Bill Husted, “Show didn’t exactly ‘burn the floor’ in some towns,” April 25, 2000. Accessed May 15, 2019. http://extras.denverpost.com/scene/husted0425.htm ^
  20. Kelly Ragan, “Colorado election: What you need to know about Amendment 73, school funding,” October 12, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/10/12/colorado-election-what-you-need-know-amendment-73-school-funding-great-schools-thriving-ballot/1216354002/ ^
  21. Federal Elections Commission, Merle Chambers donations 2017-2018 election cycle, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?two_year_transaction_period=2018&contributor_name=merle+chambers&min_date=01%2F01%2F2017&max_date=12%2F31%2F2018 ^
  22. Influence Watch, “Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/merle-chambers/ ^
  23. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Highlights,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/highlights/ ^
  24. Merle Chambers Fund, “Who We Are,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/ ^
  25. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Financial Overview,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/finances/ ^
  26. Merle Chambers Fund, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2017, Schedule B ^
  27. Merle Chambers Fund, 2018 Financial Report Overview, Accessed May 15, 2019.https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/finances/ ^
  28. Merle Chambers Fund, “How We Fund,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/funding/ ^
  29. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, 2008 Annual Report, Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/4914/0313/1335/PPRM_Annual_Report_08.pdf ^
  30. Merle Chambers Fund, “2017 Annual Report Grantees,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/grantees/ ^
  31. Bell Policy Center, “Briefed by the Bell – Health Care,” December 17, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019. http://www.bellpolicy.org/2018/12/17/health-care-brief/ ^
  32. Bell Policy Center, “Briefed by the Bell – Wealth & Income Inequality,” October 22, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019. http://www.bellpolicy.org/2018/10/22/wealth-income-inequality/ ^
  33. Aspen Institute, “From Despair to Optimism on Climate Change,” August 27, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/podcasts/from-despair-to-optimism-on-climate-change/ ^
  34. Colorado Center on Law and Policy, “Securing Affordable Housing,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://cclponline.org/focus_area/family-economic-security/securing-affordable-housing/ ^
  35. The Bell Policy Center, 2016 990, Accessed February 15, 2019. http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/841/841550841/841550841_201612_990.pdf ^
  36. Merle Chambers Fund, “2016 Annual Report Grantees,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/2016-annual-report/ ^
  37. Merle Chambers Fund, 2016 990, Accessed February 15, 2019. http://www.foundationsearch.com/990/LATEST/8/MERLE%20CHAMBERS%20FUND%202017%20840929410.PDF ^
  38. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, “2018 Public Policy Results,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://www.wfco.org/impact/2018-public-policy-advocacy ^
  39. KUSA, “Kirkland Museum opens new $22 million location in Golden Triangle,” March 10, 2018. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.9news.com/article/life/kirkland-museum-opens-new-22-million-location-in-golden-triangle/73-527495103 ^
  40. Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, “Our Story,” Accessed February 18, 2019. http://www.kirklandmuseum.org/about-us/our-story/ ^
  41. Merle Chambers Fund, 2018 Annual Report Grantees, Accessed May 15, 2019.

    https://chambersfund.org/annual-reports/grantees/ ^

  42. Merle Chambers Fund, “Board And Staff,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/board-staff/ ^
  43. Merle Chambers Fund, “Message from Merle Chambers,” Accessed February 15, 2019. https://chambersfund.org/about/news/ ^

Connected Organizations

  1. Clinton Administration (Government Agency)
    Member, White House Conference on Small Business Commission
  2. Merle Chambers Fund (Non-profit)
    President and Principal Donor
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