Despite the obvious political differences between President Donald Trump and left-wing plutocrat George Soros, they agree on one fundamental matter: these two self-made billionaires both like to think big. Trump expresses this basic credo in his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal: “To me it’s very simple: If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”
Soros, a mega-donor to radical organizations, also likes to think big. So when he publicly calls President Trump “an impostor and a con man and a would-be dictator”—as he did this past January—it’s not merely another sour-grapes throw-away line from a disappointed Clintonite. Indeed, given the massive size of Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the nearly limitless nature of his resources, the dozens of tax-exempt groups nurtured by his philanthropy, and the thousands of hardcore activists drawn into his orbit, this statement is best understood as a declaration of open war against President Trump.
If the characterization of “open war” sounds hyperbolic or alarmist, think again: Even the less than conservative New York Times noted that 50 of the organizations involved in January’s anti-Trump demonstrations had a funding link to the Soros apparatus. This disquieting factoid can be run to ground in “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington,” in the Times’ Women in the World supplement of January 20.
In 2015 alone, Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society made a total of $431 million in contributions and grants to far-left groups and causes around the world. What good is funding radical organizations on that scale if it doesn’t cover at least a few rent-a-mobs that can assemble in the streets on short notice? While Capital Research Center has for more than a decade regularly shined a spotlight on the Hungarian-born billionaire’s political activities, the ever-expanding Soros-Trump confrontation offers an opportunity to recalibrate. Questions loom, most as urgent as the following: How do we assess the political impact of the vast, half-hidden empire of Soros-sustained nonprofit groups?
To provide a refreshed view of this matter, the current issue of Foundation Watch will focus on Soros’s foundations’ grants to various religiously-oriented U.S. nonprofit organizations. The objectives behind the Hungarian born billionaire’s deliberate efforts to nurture political radicalism can be better understood by taking a closer look.
Beginning with Clear Vision
First, we need to discard the usual illusions that seem to crop up in mainstream media coverage of Soros and his role in American politics. Newsweek, for example, paints him as a much-maligned philanthropist, a “hate magnet” and punching bag for conservatives who, they say, have never forgiven him for taking such a public role in fostering opposition to the policies of President George W. Bush. To the reporters of Newsweek and their ilk, all criticism of Soros, purely partisan, has nothing to do with the support offered through his philanthropies to activists promoting the most corrosive brand of identity politics—as exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement. Mainstream media discourse will simply not allow reasonable observers to take exception to Soros’s radical activities. Forget that he promotes a worldview that is ultimately fatal to American democracy. Rational criticism of Soros, apparently, doesn’t exist; to his supporters in the mainstream media, it’s all just “hate” and noise.
Meanwhile, few journalists draw a connection between his campaign donations ($21 million in federal contributions last year, according to OpenSecrets.org) and his foundations’ support for left leaning nonprofit groups. This is a powerful combination, a one-two punch. Often, journalists simplistically focus on one or another aspect of Soros’s foundation funding—marijuana legalization, for example—without following the links to other aspects of his philanthropic activity.
Why does Soros lavish so much money on U.S. tax-exempt groups? Not to boost his ego, surely; and not to win himself plaudits for parting with a considerable portion of his wealth to advance his ideas. The real reason likely has to do with a cunning understanding of the role these groups serve in American society.
In a fascinating 2005 article for Non-Profit Quarterly, anthropologist Axel Aubrun and linguist Joseph Grady looked at what they called “a less widely recognized” aspect of the function of American non-profit groups, in terms of shaping public discussion in our democracy:
The role of a third sector in American society in helping the public understand issues is less widely recognized. As Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out a century and a half ago, organizations that are neither commercial nor governmental play a critical role in the American democratic process. By identifying and promoting public interest issues, he argued, “voluntary associations” allow the public to make collective choices about issues that would otherwise have escaped the democratic process. They feed the machine of democracy.
As society, science, and technology become more complex, it becomes increasingly apparent that a key part of “identifying and promoting” the issues is explaining them, and so a more specific role has emerged for nonprofits: namely, to help bridge the explanatory gap. Nonprofits are well-positioned for the role, since they have the expertise and the means to introduce issue-explanations into the national conversation, by passing explanations along to the media when their issue “hits the news,” for example. Importantly, this role transcends particular issues—it concerns the health of American democracy as a whole.
Now consider the above in terms of Soros and his foundations: When media are covering news stories at election time and seek to explain some complex policy point, Soros’s generous funding means there’s always an Open Society Foundations-linked group ready to answer reporters’ calls and emails on just about any conceivable issue. In the U.S. alone, Open Society Foundations are providing grants in many key areas, among them justice, drug policy, equality, democracy, economic advancement, national security, and human rights.
To paraphrase Aubrun and Grady, grants from the Open Society Foundations influence many vital issue areas, allowing Soros to assert his views and the views of his intellectual cronies. These views are thus mainlined directly into the veins of the democratic process; in this metaphorical model, the media is the “pusher,” the groups Soros’s foundations support, the “supplier.”
Soros’s foundations’ support for radical media outlets, documentary film makers, and others attempting to mold public opinion provides him with additional influence—an issue examined in depth in “Media Matters for the Left” in the December 2014 Organization Trends. Between election cycles, “explanations” of topical hot-button issues offered by Soros-funded nonprofits assume a heightened importance: Constant repetition of his perspective across multiple media channels over many months creates a kind of liberal earworm that can colonize the thinking of media consumers unaware of the nuances of policy.
The priority of cultivating faith groups as key game pieces on the Soros chessboard becomes clear in light of the above. Consider how much more powerful an explanation of a policy issue becomes, especially with religious audiences, when it can be mated to a faith-based moral narrative. Do not conclude, however, that Soros or the staff of his foundations have a special regard for religious organizations. The latter are mere conveniences, pre-assembled vehicles bearing Soros’s political concerns at top speed down the highways of the democratic process.
Faith in Public Life
Founded in 2005 and based in Washington, D.C., Faith in Public Life (FIPL) reported revenues of $2.252 million for 2015. Between 2012 and 2015, it received approximately $1.7 million in grants from Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society.
FIPL calls itself a “strategy center advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good.” Another strategic goal is to “change the narrative about the role of faith in politics, successfully countering the Religious Right and advancing social justice.”
If the reference to the “Religious Right” isn’t enough of a hint regarding FIPL’s politics, then there’s always the fact that the Rev. Jennifer Butler, its executive director, also served as chairman of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships during the Obama administration. If public criticism of the Trump administration were an Olympic sport, Rev. Butler would be a gold medal winner many times over.
FIPL has engaged in a variety of energetic anti-Trumpian shenanigans since the election. Here are a few of the more egregious examples: On November 26, 2016, FIPL released a public letter signed by 1,500 clergy condemning President Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry” for the “ambassadors of hatred, bigotry and intimidation.” On January 9, 2017, it organized a “moral march” of 200 “moral leaders” at the U.S. Capitol to oppose Jeff Sessions’s nomination as attorney general. A couple of weeks later, under the imprimatur of John Gehring (FIPL’s Roman Catholic program director), the group assumed an apostolic tone, circulating an op-ed claiming that “People of faith who want to give moral cover to Trump’s actions turn their backs on Jesus.” On February 1, they published a letter signed by 4,000 clergy condemning “any policy change that would bar refugees based on their religion or nationality [from re-settling in the U.S.]” On March 2, they held a press conference calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign; four days later, they held another press conference to “condemn President Trump’s new executive order banning the entry of immigrants and visitors from Muslim-majority countries.” In April, they organized a prayer vigil in Washington, D.C., “to urge Congress to reject President Trump’s sinful and immoral federal budget proposal, which makes deeply destructive cuts to programs that address human needs in order to increase Pentagon spending.”
In other words, FIPL, aided by Soros’s generosity, has been very busy indeed.
Beyond grabbing news headlines, FIPL is also focused on “building networks of clergy in key states—as well as a faith leadership pipeline—that can win local and national policy victories.” It claims to have contact with about 35,000 clergy across America, and takes credit for putting many of these leaders in touch with media with the goal of “helping shape national policy debates.”
To further this agenda, the group published “Toward a Politics of the Golden Rule,” a 12-page voter’s guide for the 2016 election cycle, endorsed by some 200 religious leaders representing various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations. The guide focuses on the economy, global warming, immigration, gun violence, racial justice, and national security—undergirded by a FIPL website, faithfulvoter.org, to further disseminate the voter guide. Separate from, but equal in importance to the “Golden Rule” voter’s guide, FIPL helped create another voter’s guide directed specifically at Catholics, grandly entitled “A Revolution of Tenderness: A 2016 Election Pope Francis Voter Guide.”
While FIPL is ecumenical in nature, it singles out the American Catholic community for special attention. FIPL’s 2015 IRS filing discloses that it spent $224,613 “in preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.” by commissioning “extensive opinion research on a broad range of issues.” The survey findings were later republished on the Open Society Foundations’ website. No doubt this information proved valuable during the planning of “Revolution of Tenderness.” FIPL called the Pope’s visit “a tremendous opportunity to help foster progressive change” and noted that “the AFL–CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and community organizing groups [held] scores of events around the country exploring the pope’s statements on inequality.” They also called for “a nationwide day of prayer during [the Pope’s] time stateside, and asked Congress to take up immigration reform anew.”
In June 2013, another intervention by FIPL into Catholic matters took the form of a pamphlet entitled, quizzically, “Be Not Afraid?” The pamphlet criticizes the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a once-reliable source of funding for “grassroots community organizing,” for giving into pressure from “conservative Catholic activists and their ideological allies on the political right” and defunding various organizations for political reasons. Foundation Watch’s September 2009 issue offers a cogent analysis of this situation in “Left-Wing Radicalism in the Church: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development.”
In 2011, “Be Not Afraid?” asserted that a radical group called the North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP), based in Santa Rosa, Calif., sought to renew its funding relationship with CCHD. Instead, the latter withdrew its funding completely from the organization. The authors of “Be Not Afraid? suggest that the newly appointed bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa, Robert Vasa, had had an important role in this denial of funding. They claim Vasa, in conversation with an NBOP leader, had expressed his personal distaste for what he termed NBOP’s “Alinsky-style organizing.” This reference to Saul Alinsky, provocateur extraordinaire and the ideological father of much of the “community organizing” tactics so beloved of radical groups is disconcertingly apt. (CRC senior vice president Matthew Vadum’s book Subversion, Inc. offers an in-depth discussion of Alinsky and his methods.)
The blatant fellow-traveler tone of the FIPL pamphlet, however, is strong. Allegiance to Alinsky’s methods they suggest, appears to be a key reason, why CCHD should fund groups such as NBOP.
FIPL is not the only way that the Foundation to Promote Open Society has sought to build influence within the Catholic community. In 2015, it provided a total of $970,000 to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, for example. That’s on top of $150,000 in 2014. Two other groups that have received Soros funding are Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which were profiled in the article “Rallying the Catholic Left,” in Organization Trends, July 2012.
Training and Organizing
Another important aspect of FIPL’s work has to do with providing training to religious leaders who wish to “become game-changers in public policy debates and in our culture.” FIPL points the way with advocacy, messaging, and media strategy. It also organizes webinars teaching participants about, for example, “strategies for addressing controversial political issues from the pulpit in an effective, nonpartisan manner.” Forget that legislating from the pulpit has long been frowned upon in American religious life.
In addition to its focus on clergy, FIPL supports an outreach arm dedicated to fostering an “online activist network [of] faith activists.” This aspect of FIPL ops, known as FaithfulAmerica.org, has been an independent entity since 2013. It is not clear exactly how many people participate in FaithfulAmerica.org’s mischief, which consists mainly of promoting online petitions attacking an institution or prominent personality for being out of step with the religious left. Here’s a brief example of their polemics, a 2014 petition protesting congressional Republicans’ views of unemployment benefits that begins as follows:
“Rep. Paul Ryan talks a lot about his Catholic faith, but it doesn’t seem like he’s been paying much attention to Pope Francis…” Etc.
Though it claims more than 210,000 supporters, FaithfulAmerica.org has difficulties mustering even 10 percent of that figure for many of its petitions, as a review of the website clearly reveals.
PICO National Network
Calling itself “a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities,” PICO is active in more than 20 states. It was originally known as the “Pacific Institute for Community Organization” but later characterized the acronym as standing for “People Improving Communities Through Organizing.” Whatever the meaning of their acronym, between 2012 and 2015, PICO received $1.6 million from the Foundation for Promotion of Open Society.
PICO’s talk of “innovative solutions” sounds innocent enough, but look a little deeper and this organization’s sharp edges become frighteningly apparent. Like Faith in Public Life, PICO has already engaged in a long list of actions against the Trump administration, all duly announced by press release, and complete with instructions detailing media contacts for further information. PICO’s strident press releases—weekly since January—highlight allegations of misconduct by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and falsely characterize ICE’s raids as the systematic and deliberate “terrorization of immigrant communities” committed in the name of President Trump’s agenda.
Fr. John Baumann, SJ, founded PICO in 1972 after working in Chicago between his first and second year of seminary training. There, Baumann had extensive contact with the infamous Saul Alinsky. In a 2014 interview published by Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif., Baumann spoke about Alinsky in glowing terms:
Saul Alinsky was one of the people who delivered a workshop for us, and he was a fascinating person. The way he could describe the importance of how to make democracy work in our communities[emphasis added] and the importance of bringing people together was remarkable…So with that experience, with the workshops that Alinsky gave, we were given placements. And my field placement was under the direction of Tom Gaudette, who was an Alinsky lieutenant.
Gaudette, Baumann added, had been “really helpful in being a mentor to me over the years.”
But Gaudette was no mere “lieutenant” in Alinsky’s service; rather one of his chief devils. Gaudette trained directly under Alinsky to learn the latter’s techniques of “community organizing.” Gaudette also worked close with Msgr. John J. Egan, another Chicago-based Alinsky ally.
PICO National Network is not the only religiously-oriented, pro-Alinsky organization on the Open Society grantee list. There’s also the Gamaliel Foundation, which has received $550,000 from the Foundation to Promote Open Society since 2012. For more on Gamaliel, and its links to President Obama, see the article “The Gamaliel Foundation: Alinsky-Inspired Group Uses Stealth Tactics to Manipulate Church Congregations,” in the July 2010 Foundation Watch.
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Founded in 2003, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference’s (SDPC) mission statement calls it to “nurture, sustain, and mobilize the African American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human and social justice within local, national, and global communities. SDPC seeks to strengthen the individual and collective capacity of thought leaders and activists in the church, academy, and community through education, advocacy, and activism.”
The SDPC received approximately $900,000 from Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society between 2012 and 2015.
The most important event on their calendar is the annual Clergy and Lay Leadership Conference, which took place in Richmond, Va., back in February. In his biography of Barack Obama, David Maraniss calls the SPDC “an alliance of big-named preachers from around the country who saw it as their responsibility to set the agenda for the black community.” Named for a former pastor emeritus of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City, the group’s founders included none other than Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Yes, the same Rev. Wright, notorious for his extremist rhetoric, who served for so many years as a spiritual advisor to President Obama. With his passionate attachment to “black liberation” theology and all the separatism that implies, Rev. Wright can certainly be ranked among the foremost ideologues of contemporary identity politics. See the article “Barack Obama: A Radical Leftist’s Journey from Community Organizing to Politics,” in Foundation Watch, June 2008, for more on Rev. Wright.
On April 19 this year, SDPC co-hosted a webinar entitled: “Protecting Our Communities: A Community Guide to Resisting the Trump Budget.” Participants were offered a chance to learn about “a new set of communications tools that will powerfully inform the language and the arguments we will need to push back against the current federal budget proposal.” Joining SPDC in organizing this webinar were the Center for Community Change (CCC) and the National Priorities Project (NPP). CCC coordinates community organizing development efforts at a national level, while NPP exists to circulate critiques of federal spending, particularly on defense. Both CCC and NPP are recipients of Soros money. CCC has received more than $1.5 million since 2012, while NPP has taken in $200,000 during the same period.
These two organizations aren’t the only connections between SPDC and the Soros octopus. SPDC’s 2013-2015 biennial report includes a page where the organization thanks its “key program partners.” Included in these acknowledgments are the Open Society Foundations, the PICO National Network, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). In 2012, the DPA, long a Soros darling, received a 10-year financial commitment for a total of $50 million from the Open Society Foundations “to advance drug policy reform.” DPA now serves as Soros’s primary henchman to push for the legalization of marijuana at the state level and federal level, and also internationally.
In June 2013, SPDC and the Alliance jointly organized a two-day gathering of black clergy called “A View from the Pulpit: Faith Leaders and Drug Decriminalization.” The conference represented a significant breakthrough for the Alliance, in that it offered the organization a forum to link the rate of incarceration for African-Americans to America’s drug laws and argue that decriminalization of marijuana would address the injustice of this supposedly disparate impact on African-American communities. The argument has resonated with many black clergy and won DPA new vocal allies in its policy fights.
The relationship between the two groups remains strong. In November 2016, SPDC joined the Alliance and other organizations to hold a public conference call with media opposing the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The invitation to the call attacked Sessions for his alleged plans to “expand mass criminalization and drug war policies that will put communities at risk and intensify the marginalization and stigmatization of Muslims, immigrants and others.”
As for PICO National and SPDC, they continue to enjoy close ties, exemplified through their joint announcement on Feb. 2, 2017. Alongside the ACLU and others, they launched an initiative called “StopTrumpIntelPro,” a campaign to undermine President Trump’s plans to shore up domestic security and immigration enforcement by convincing local law enforcement not to cooperate with the FBI or other federal bodies.
StopTrumpIntelPro seeks to influence local law enforcement to follow the example of the San Francisco Police Department, which earlier this year ended its cooperation with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. “San Francisco’s success is a model for local resistance to Trump’s plans,” the campaign’s website loudly proclaims. Though “success,” by this definition, seems a strange word to describe something that leaves Americans less secure and more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Through the tentacles of his many foundations, George Soros has invested billions of dollars to mobilize activist organizations. His purpose is to help them amplify their views through new virtual technologies and ultra-aggressive media strategies. His money animates a series of groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Samuel Proctor DeWitt Conference which are mutually reinforcing on some issues, while connecting separately with distinct broad constituencies. The same goes for PICO National’s focus on immigration enforcement issues and FIPL’s work to bring together Christians, Muslims and others around various “progressive” causes.
No doubt the more political constituencies Soros and his foundation associates are able to combine through alliances between the organizations they back, the more power they will have to advance their agenda and shape public policy. Multiply this approach across the many geographies, issue areas, and demographic groups as profiled in Soros’s foundations’ grants, and a monster emerges: A meticulous, impeccably funded effort to influence public opinion on an unprecedented scale. This is the kind of big thing—or rather its negative reflection—referred to by President Trump when he wrote “If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”