William Soskin: Foundation King

Attorney Bill Soskin and wife Marian Penn use Arkay Foundation to fund Democracy Alliance-allied groups

September 6, 2012

A power couple has put its multi-million dollar liberal foundation at the disposal of a secretive liberal money machine.

Legendary California attorney Bill Soskin and his wife Marian Penn have enlisted the lefty Arkay Foundation in the Democracy Alliance, an invitation-only group that funnels its members’ $200,000 annual dues to Democratic Super PACs and liberal behemoths such as the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters.

The funding mandate pales in comparison to the support the couple already offers these groups. The Arkay Foundation helped provide the initial funding that launched CAP and Media Matters after the 2004 election. In 2006, the foundation provided the Soros-backed organizations with $85,000, a crucial funding commitment that helped make the two groups fundraising giants with more than $20 million each in cash.

"These types of donations help keep organizations alive," said campaign finance expert Bradley Smith. "The Alliance helps donors move beyond traditional foundation giving to give them the means to accomplish their political goals."

The Alliance does not handle any of its members’ money directly. Instead, it selects certain groups to which members are permitted to send donations. The narrowed focus magnifies the impact wealthy liberals can have on the political process.

The Alliance’s network also provides a fundraising boost for member foundations. Soskin’s foundation has provided lavish gifts to organizations affiliated with other Alliance members. From 2008 to 2010, Arkay gave $90,000 to the Rainforest Action Network, which is run by Alliance member James Gollin. It has also partnered with the Breakthrough Institute, a liberal foundation that has won the ear of Barack Obama thanks to advisory board chair and Alliance member Rachel Pritzker Hunter.

Obama has introduced legislation drafted by the institute dating back to his days as an Illinois state Senate. As president, he modeled $150 billion in green subsidies on policies that originated at the nonprofit group.

"You cannot underestimate the influence that a lot of these guys, particularly in the environmental movement, exert over the administration," said New Leviathan author Jacob Laksin. "There is a revolving door between liberal groups and governance that gives them a distinct advantage over traditional conservative think tanks."

Unlike other Alliance members, Soskin and Penn do not use their wealth to finance political campaigns. Penn has donated a mere $2,250 to Democrats between 1990 and 2006, while Soskin wrote a $1,000 check to the Obama campaign in 2008. The couple reserves Soskin’s multi-million dollar paychecks as an estate lawyer for ideological missions.

The foundation has pumped more than $900,000 to the Tides Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a pair of liberal powerhouses. Much like the Alliance, these organizations serve as a clearinghouse for Democrats. Contributions are distributed to groups of Tides and Rockefeller’s choosing, providing supporters with political cover.

"If you don’t want to be associated with, say, a radical group whose cause you support, then groups like Tides are the best way to get money to them," Laksin said. "It gives you a degree of deniability that you don’t get in ordinary philanthropy or political contributions."

The Alliance maintains its secretive nature by refusing to disclose its recipients or members, neither of which are allowed to speak publicly about the group.

Neither Soskin, nor Penn returned requests for comment. The Alliance has ignored repeated e-mails and calls from the Washington Free Beacon.