The New York Times missed the opportunity to explore the close connection between Donors Trust, the right-wing's “Dark Money ATM,” and the conservative activist behind high-profile Supreme Court cases that are successfully attacking decades-old civil rights precedent.
The Times recently ran a profile of Edward Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, a non-profit group that solicits plaintiffs to challenge civil rights policy and law like affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. The article reported that this self-described “one-man organization” receives funding from “conservative groups like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust.” This support from some of the right-wing's biggest donors has allowed Blum to pursue high-profile cases that are challenging half a century of civil rights precedent.
Blum was the driving force behind the failed attempt to overturn constitutional race-conscious admissions policies in the recent case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who sued the University of Texas after she was denied admission. Blum also organized the recent challenge to the Voting Rights Act, which successfully gutted a key provision of the Act that protects minority voters from racial discrimination at the polls. Blum is now rolling out new websites to troll for other rejected students in his attempt to once again provide the Supreme Court's conservative justices an opportunity to overturn case law that allows affirmative action.
But the Times provided an incomplete picture of Blum's access to deep-pocketed conservative groups by omitting the fact that Blum also has long-standing ties to the “donor-advised fund” Donors Trust. Mother Jones recently coined the "dark money ATM of the conservative movement" to refer to Donors Trust because of its history of raising and handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to libertarian and conservative groups, without disclosing the original sources. Although Blum's website explicitly noted the connection between the Project on Fair Representation and Donors Trust as recently as June 30 and September 9 of last year, he has scrubbed that information from the site, instead claiming to now be affiliated with “Project Liberty, Inc.” This new sponsoring organization has the exact same contact information as Donors Trust, which Joan Biskupic of Reuters previously reported "fully financed" Blum's efforts to roll back civil rights law.
This is what Blum's website looked like in 2013, with explicit references to Donors Trust:
And this is what it looked like on April 8, 2014, with references to Donors Trust replaced with Project Liberty:
Tax records from 2012 show that Project Liberty is a grantee many times over of Donors Trust. These same records also show that the Project on Fair Representation was spun off from Donors Trust to “a supporting organization during 2012.”
According to the Conservative Transparency website, in 2012 alone Donors Trust donated over $1 million to Project Liberty, conveniently housed at the same address as Donors Trust. In fact, Donors Trust's website still lists the Project on Fair Representation as one of the “current special program funds” it administers, described as “donor-initiated and donor-funded projects incubated by DonorsTrust and administered at the pleasure of its Board of Directors.”
The spotlight of a Times profile could have clarified why this significant financial tie between Blum and Donors Trust is in the process of being buried.
In addition to the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust, Donors Trust's ability to "drape[ ] in secrecy" the right-wing money fueling the current attack on progressive law and policy has also attracted donations from the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund, the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and the Adolph Coors Foundation -- money that has funded conservative groups like Blum's as well as think tanks like the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. As explained by a former top IRS official to the Center for Public Integrity: “Koch is among an exclusive pool of donors who have used Donors Trust as a 'pass-through,' says Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, now in private legal practice. 'It obscures the source of the money. It becomes a grant from Donors Trust, not a grant from the Koch brothers.'”
Hopefully, now that the Times has once again turned to the peculiar story of Blum and the Project on Fair Representation, they will investigate his role in this obfuscation as well.