The Kanter Brothers: Joel and Josh

Wealthy heirs to real estate fortune support secret, Soros-aligned group the Democracy Alliance

Joel and Josh Kanter
September 4, 2012

A pair of brothers have steered millions from their father’s foundation to political organizations backed by liberal billionaire George Soros.

Joel and Josh Kanter have used their father’s real estate fortune to inject life into some of the left’s most important special interest groups. The brothers are also members of the secretive Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy liberals that pumps tens of millions of dollars into Democratic Super PACs and White House-friendly nonprofit organizations such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters.

The pair serves as top executives at the Kanter Family Foundation, an $8 million charity focused on imposing liberal healthcare reforms on the nation. Since 2006, the fund has provided lucrative grants to Soros-backed start-up groups that have more to do with politics than hospitals.

The foundation sent more than 20 percent of its grants to liberal groups while President Obama’s health care overhaul was being debated in 2009 and 2010, issuing $110,000 to CAP, Media Matters, the New Policy Institute, and the Brookings Institute. The charity doled out $1.4 million in grants between 2007 and 2009; $1 out of every $7 spent went to a political cause.

"The appeal of the Democracy Alliance is that it allows you to go beyond the traditional foundation-based giving," said Jacob Laksin, author of The New Leviathan. "It adds secrecy, so you can coordinate and participate without anyone knowing."

Since the Alliance does not handle any political contributions directly, it does not have to disclose its members or recipients, which allows rich progressives such as the Kanters to escape notice. It also forbids members from speaking publicly about the group’s activities.

The organization did not return emails for comment.

The Alliance requires members to contribute $200,000 per year to a select group of liberal organizations. Many of the lucrative grants underwritten by the Kanter Family Foundation have wound up in the hands of these groups. It is unclear if the Kanter brothers use their father’s charity to meet their pledges.

They also did not respond to requests for comment.

The Kanters have their own sources of income outside the foundation. Each serves as an executive at the investment firm Windy City Inc. in Virginia.

Their political giving has mirrored the Alliance’s increasing focus on campaign spending. Although it was established to provide seed money to small liberal organizations, the Alliance decided to lift its embargo on donating to Democratic Super PACs after a personal plea from Vice President Joe Biden in 2011. Many members, including cofounding billionaire Peter Lewis, left the group in protest.

However, Joel doubled down on the White House, giving nearly $36,000 to Obama in 2012, compared to just $7,300 in 2008.

"They are aware that their guy is in trouble, so they’ve shifted from the long game of investing in shadow political parties to the short game of keeping Obama in power," said elections expert John Samples.

Josh Kanter gave more than $14,000 to Obama in 2008 and 2012. He has contributed more than $70,000 to Democratic candidates since 2008—about half as much as Joel.

However, Josh has aided Democrats in more direct ways. He served as finance chair for Utah Democrat Peter Carroon’s 2010 campaign for governor. Carroon, who is the cousin of former presidential candidate Howard Dean, lost in a landslide.