Stephen “Steve” Silberstein is a left-of-center donor from California known for his focus on income inequality and changing the way Presidents of the United States are elected. Retired, Silberstein made his fortune as co-founder and first president of Innovative Interfaces. The company develops automated systems for libraries, and has 2,400 library systems installed in 9,500 libraries in 66 countries. He founded the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation in the late 1990s. Silberstein sold his interest in Innovative Interfaces in 2001.
Silberstein is private and has made few public statements. He is a member of the liberal mega-donor group Democracy Alliance as well as a number of other left-of-center donor networks, and sits on the board of the National Popular Vote, a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation that aims to “study, analyze and educate the public regarding its proposal to implement” a popular election of the President of the United States. He has also given substantially to his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, and is a trustee of the U.C. Berkeley Foundation and the U.C. Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.
Silberstein earned a B.A. in economics and a Master of Library Science from University of California, Berkeley, as well as a master’s degree in econometrics from the University of Stockholm, in Sweden. He stayed at Berkeley after his studies and worked as a computer programmer in the 1970s in U.C. Berkeley’s library. He was responsible for the library’s total automation program that replaced the card catalog with a computer system. He also taught courses in the computer science department.
In 1978, Silberstein cofounded Innovative Interfaces, which designed automated catalog systems for libraries. Silberstein also served as the company’s first president. Now Innovative Interfaces has more than 2,400 library systems installed in 9,500 libraries, in 66 countries around the world. He liquidated his interest in the company in 2001, and focuses on his foundation and political activism.
Philanthropy and Political Activity
In May 1998, Silberstein established the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation in Belvedere, California. Recent available tax records are reported to show that the philanthropy held more than $112 million in assets and donated about $6 million. The Berkeley area has been a particularly fortunate recipient of his generosity over the years; Silberstein gave a $1 million grant to the U.C. Berkeley Foundation in 2013, and has also supported the Berkeley Public Education Foundation as well as the Oakland School of the Arts. Silberstein is still involved in library systems. He sits on the board of the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Foundation and has given substantially to the Berkeley Public Library as well as the Belvedere-Tiburon Library and Alameda Free Library Association.
In politics, foundation funds have gone to support both activist foundations and ballot initiatives. Inside Philanthropy reports that “Nearly every major progressive policy and advocacy group in the U.S. has received money from Silberstein in recent years.” Silberstein is particularly concerned by wealth inequality and has supported organizations advocating for raising taxes on the wealthy. He also executive produced Inequality for All, a documentary focusing on former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s examination of the country’s widening wealth and income gap.
National Popular Vote
In addition to his foundation work and concern for wealth inequality, Silberstein advocates for a direct election of the President of the United States, and sits on the board of National Popular Vote Inc., a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation which aims to reform the Electoral College in order to elect the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states by forming a compact among a sufficient number of states representing a sufficient number of Electoral College votes.