Until just a few years ago, Brett Kimberlin was a convicted drug dealer and terrorist doing 51 years in federal prison for planting eight roadside bombs in the town of Speedwell, Indiana. The last of those bombs left a man so severely disfigured that he committed suicide a few years later. An inveterate liar and con artist, Kimerblin managed to gain fame from prison in 1988 by falsely claiming to have sold drugs to then-presidential candidate Dan Quayle.
Kimberlin’s story doesn’t end there, however. Since his early release from prison in 2000, the convicted terrorist has found a second act: as the darling of America’s leading, tax-free progressive foundations. Kimberlin’s seamless transition from prison inmate to the beneficiary of left-wing philanthropy offers a stark illustration of the radical course that progressive foundations have adopted. As we document in our newly released book The New Leviathan, these foundations have fallen under the sway of hard-left ideologues who have channeled the foundations’ tremendous resources to bankroll groups and individuals far outside the political mainstream, thereby shifting public policy on crucial issues dramatically to the left.
Kimberlin is a case in point. It was enough for the ex-terrorist to become involved in left-wing political causes for these nominally apolitical institutions to open up their wallets and avert their eyes from his troubling past. Today, Kimberlin serves as the director of Justice Through Music Project (JTMP), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that uses “famous musicians and bands” to support a host of left-wing causes, from the anti-capitalist protests of Occupy Wall Street to environmental agendas. When he’s not overseeing the group, Kimberlin uses frivolous lawsuits to censor discussion about his criminal past by bloggers and journalists.
One might assume that prominent philanthropies would shun an association with a convicted terrorist, but Kimberlin’s political allegiances seemingly trump his criminal rap sheet. Since 2005, JTMP has received a generous $1.8 million in donations from major funders like the Tides Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, and many others.
JTMP has received at least $70,000 in grants from the Tides Foundation since 2006 for “general operations,” which means JTMP can use the funds without restriction. JTMP has also received at least $20,000 since 2006 from the Heinz Family Foundation, which is headed by Tereza Heinz Kerry, the wife of Mass. Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry. Happy days are also here again for Kimberlin thanks to Barbara Streisand. JTMP has received at least $10,000 from the singer’s Streisand Foundation. The fact that these foundations see nothing amiss with funding a group headed by a former terrorist is a telling commentary on their political priorities.
To be sure, our system of philanthropy makes it easy for left-wing donors to hide their connections to someone like Kimberlin. The Tides Foundation is a case in point. Tides was set up as public charity that receives money from donors and then funnels it to the recipients of their choice. Because many of these recipient groups are, like JTMP, quite radical, the donors often prefer not to have their names publicly linked with the donees. By letting the Tides Foundation, in effect, launder the money for them and pass it along to the intended beneficiaries, donors can avoid leaving a paper trail. Such contributions are called “donor-advised,” or “donor-directed,” funds.
It should come as no surprise that a number of JTMP’s funders use this very approach. Pressed on its financial support for an extremist like Kimberlin, one donor, Schwab Charitable Funds, protested that its funds “are cause-neutral, and exist to facilitate the charitable giving of their clients.” At the same time the fund, a charitable arm of brokerage giant Charles Schwab, stressed that its “grants do not in any way reflect the views or perspectives of Schwab, Schwab Charitable or the management of either organization.” So it goes: Radicals like Kimberlin get their money, and the true identities of his funders remain hidden. Meanwhile, patently political foundations can claim a tax-free status that depends on their eschewal of political activity.
That Kimerblin’s group counts leading foundations among its financial backers is also an indication of the extent to which so-called progressive foundations have shifted their funding to the far left. The Tides Foundation has led the way in this leftward shift. Tides operations include the richest and most venerable philanthropies, among them the Rockefeller Foundation and its Rockefeller Family Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation. In a profound historical irony, these onetime symbols of American capitalism now dispense their endowments to the anti-capitalist agitators Occupy Wall Street.
There are conservative foundations, too, of course, but they cannot match the resources of their counterparts on the left. With over $100 billion in tax-exempt assets at their disposal, left-wing foundations have been able to invest massively greater amounts in their beneficiary groups than have their political opposites. In splashing their cash, these foundations have not balked at sponsoring groups helmed by political radicals and extremists, so long as their political causes are congenial. Just ask Brett Kimberlin.