The Left Machine: Foundations and Government

Part 1: Left wing Foundations put billions into left wing activist campaigns, but nobody seems to notice.

Part 2: How Foundations buy manufactured “research” from activist-academics like Elizabeth Warren.


In part 1 of this series on the Foundations behind the Left, I mentioned that left wing Foundations sometimes collaborate with government agencies. Let’s look at one particular collaboration.

The Open Technology Fund (OTF), was started under Secretary of State Clinton, and is funded by “yearly U.S. Congressional appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs”, which are routed to the Broadcast Board of Governors (BBG), then to Radio Free Asia (RFA), then to the Open Technology Fund. OTF gets 50% of the BBG’s “internet freedom” funding. 

Some of this taxpayer money goes towards various “internet freedom” projects — some of which, no doubt, are quite good and political neutral — and some of the money funds Fellowships that place staff at both academic institutions (e.g., Berkman Center, Stanford, etc) and activist organizations (e.g., New America Foundation, EFF). Of course, the line between academic and activist is often non-existent and some of these academic organizations are quite openly left wing activists. 

The thing is, the Open Technology Fund (OTF) isn’t simply a government program. OTF is also “a shared program of Media Democracy Fund and Radio Free Asia (RFA)…”

The Media Democracy Fund (MDF) is a left wing “dark money” group that was launched in 2006 by the Ford Foundation, Open Society and various other left wing Foundations to work on technology policy issues. MDF funds activist groupsincluding “grassroots organizing, field building, public education, research, litigation, lobbying, and legislative and regulatory reform efforts.”  But there are layers to this. MDF itself is “a project of the New Venture Fund”, which Lachlan Markay has pointed out operates as a “dark money” pass-through group that allows big donors to secretly funnel money to activist groups for both c3 and more political activities.  


So why is a government agency project partnering with a left wing dark money group? There are a couple reasons. First, because Congress began requiring the internet freedom programs to seek private funding. Second, because almost all of the private sector funding for internet freedom issues comes from the Left. The Right is, unfortunately and shortsightedly, largely absent. 

And so, in 2015, “OTF partnered with MDF to facilitate engagement with private funders.” You may be able to guess what kind of private funders they are engaging with. 

The result has been an overt partnership of government programs and progressive Foundations — one which existed in a de facto sense before 2015 and now has been formalized. According to OTF’s 2014 annual report, “our program helped open up nearly 100 million dollars of private funds to Internet Freedom efforts.”  

Who did OTF, a government program, partner with? Well, it wasn’t the Heritage Foundation or the Koch Brothers. It was, instead, the usual suspects who ultimately drive much of the “grassroots” activism on the Left.

On the privately supported funding side, we shared our experience and expertise with the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Access, Google, and the Linux Foundation. … [S]ubject matter experts from the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Google volunteer on OTF’s Advisory Council.


At the 2014 Rightscon conference, a Media Democracy Fund representative said that Foundations have been approaching OTF “about setting up an audit system that could be used as a resource by philanthropies”, as well as collaborating to develop strategies, discover who is funding what, determine where gaps exists, and uncover what additional infrastructure is necessary.” 

But it wasn’t just informal collaboration with the Left. 

In mid-2015, the State Department’s Inspector General reprimanded Radio Free Asia/Open Technology Fund for running a bit of a rogue operation with taxpayer money, handing out grants without much oversight, including to the left wing think tanks and organizations they used to work with. 

Specifically, OIG found that RFA entered into 14 contracts, totaling $4.0 million (51 percent of the amount of OTF FYs 2012 and 2013 project related contracts), with organizations that had some affiliation with either RFA officials or members of the OTF Advisory Council. … Some RFA officials who determined which OTF proposals to fund were affiliated with organizations that received OTF funding. Specifically, OIG identified four RFA officials who had some affiliation with two organizations that were awarded a total of seven contracts during FYs 2012 and 2013.

Specifically, the New America Foundation got 5 contracts worth $1,411,800 (OTF’s principal director is a former technology fellow at the New America Foundation) and the Freedom2Connect Foundation got 2 grants worth $1,200,000 (RFA’s President was a director and advisor at Freedom2Connect and other RFA employees were also involved). 


And do you remember that OTF advisory council that was so heavily stocked with lefties? The State OIG also found that OTF had given 14 contracts to organizations affiliated with members of their advisory council. 

OIG reviewed the 30 OTF project-related contracts and identified 14 contracts, totaling $4.0 million, with organizations that had some affiliation with 7 of the 19 members of the Advisory Council. For example, one Advisory Council member is a founder of one of the organizations that received OTF funding. Additionally, five other Advisory Council members are employees of organizations that were awarded contracts. These 14 projects represented 51 percent of the total amount (about $7.8 million) of OTF project contracts for FYs 2012 and 2013.

But wait, there’s more!  

One of the things OTF funded was a Wikileaks-inspired project, GlobaLeaks. This is ironic, considering that when Wikileaks disclosed State Department cables, Secretary of State Clinton and her team were talking about offering “a bounty for the capture of those responsible” and Anne-Marie Slaughter sent Hillary Clinton an email discussing “legal and nonlegal strategies re wikileaks” and how it “could impact our own internet freedom agenda.” 

Anne-Marie Slaughter? Yeah, she’s now the President-CEO of the New America Foundation, which was getting that conflicted funding from OTF. So Anne-Marie Slaughter has gone from being directly on the government payroll to being indirectly on the government payroll. Among New America’s 2015-2016 donors

  • Radio Free Asia: $250,000-999,999
  • USAID: $250,000-999,999
  • US Department of State: $1,000,000+

Stop and think about all of this.

Taxpayer money is being used to fund a left wing think tank, to fund left wing activists, and to collaborate with left wing Foundations.  Can you imagine the holy sh**storm we would hear from the Left if Congressional Republicans managed to slip that much money to the Heritage Foundation or the Koch Institute?

Let me reiterate here that many of the things these groups do is justified, important and valuable. The people involved are, I’m sure, mostly good people with good intentions and good goals, even if their political values and priorities are not always the same as my own. The problem is not their existence, nor is it “money in politics” (which mostly means “other people’s money in politics”).  To some extent, the problem is our own fault for letting the Left monopolize the global “internet freedom” space and hijack the language of freedom to undermine the decentralized market and elevate centralized technocrats as the source of freedom. 

But the result is the same: for left wing Foundations, think tanks, activists and academics, this is normal, this is just how the world works. Billions of dollars, from Foundations, wealthy investors and government agencies — slushing around to fund the Left’s research, activism and media all around the world. 


Jon Henke is an unpaid advisor to TechFreedom. You can reach him on Twitter (@JonHenke) or via email at [email protected].

** it (but, come on, you already knew that)


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