The Philanthropy Roundtable is a Koch-funded non-profit that coordinates and organizes right-wing charitable giving and strategy. To that end, it opposes efforts to increase oversight of tax-exempt charities or strengthen disclosure requirements; the group’s president, Adam Mayerson, says anonymous giving “is grounded in our constitutional freedom of association” and that “so-called ‘dark money’ illuminates our free society.”
The Roundtable was founded in 1983 and housed under Irving Kristol and William Simon’s Institute for Education Affairs (which funded right-wing scholarship) until it spun off into an independent organization in 1991. Simon, a former treasury secretary under Richard Nixon, lamented in his book, A Time for Truth, that most philanthropy flows towards sources that are “philosophically committed to the destruction of capitalism.” Simon and his conservative friends started the Philanthropy Roundtable to come to capitalism’s defense and more broadly, to serve as a counterweight to the more centrist Council on Foundations.
Unsurprisingly, large right-wing foundations give generously to the organization, with the Bradley Foundation leading the way with almost $4 million in contributions since 1993. Other donors include the John Templeton Foundation, the John Olin Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the Walton Family Foundation, and the William E. Simon Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation has given the group a more modest $319,245 since 1993.
In total, the Conservative Transparency database has identified more than $17 million in donations to Philanthropy Roundtable.
In 2012, the most recent year for which financial information is available, the group took in more than $6.2 million in donations and spent $6.1 million on its own operations, including more than $675,000 on its flagship publication, Philanthropy, which runs puff pieces on right-wing outfits and philanthropists. In a recent profile, for instance, the American Justice Partnership, a corporate-funded tort reform group which has backed voter suppression efforts, was referred to as the “nation’s most effective advocates for state civil justice reform.” Another on Charles Koch notes his “direct engagement with the world of politics.” Charles and David Koch spent over $400 million to influence the 2012 election.
In 1999, the Roundtable created two donor advised funds, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, as a way to funnel money to conservative causes without having to identify the source. The two entities – dubbed the “right’s dark money ATM” – distribute money to a veritable who’s who of right-wing institutions, including prominent anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-climate groups, all without the public knowing the original source of the money. Echoing Simon, Whitney Ball, who runs DonorsTrust, and who was formerly the executive director of the Philanthropy Roundtable, has accused liberal foundations that fund environmental groups of waging a “jihad against capitalism.” (DonorsTrust also funds the Project on Fair Representation, a little-known entity behind the effort to repeal the Voting Rights Act.)
The Roundtable is also behind the Alliance for Charitable Reform, which it created in 2005 to lobby against Congressional efforts to plug glaring holes in the rules governing foundations following news reports of rampant abuse of tax law by philanthropies. According to a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, “the Alliance has reportedly garnered support beyond the Roundtable’s conservative foundation supporters with its ‘concern about the threat of potential legislation to every foundation’s integrity and freedom to operate.’”
Philanthropy Roundtable also focuses its efforts on preserving ‘donor intent’ and has complained about foundations set up by business interests giving to liberal causes after the original founders have passed away. “It hurts the growth of philanthropy,” Mayerson told the New York Times, “if the foundations that donors set up proceed to ignore or violate the most cherished principles of their founders.”
Several Philanthropy Roundtable staff have previously worked at other Koch-funded groups, including Freedom Partners. State Policy Network, the Institute for Humane Studies, Capital Research Center, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, AEI, ALEC, Americans for Prosperity, and the Heritage Foundation. Mayerson, the group’s president, was a longtime editor of the Heritage Foundation’s policy journal.