Mad Money

Campaign finance reform org United Republic finally reveals donors—all five of them

July 2, 2012

The campaign finance reform special-interest group United Republic has released a list of its major donors—all five of them—months after promising to reveal its funding sources.

United Republic is a nonprofit launched in November 2011 and dedicated to getting "big money" out of politics.

However, as reported by the Free Beacon, for months it refused to disclose who funded its operations, despite promises of transparency on its website and by United Republic staffers.

According to a recently added page on United Republic’s website, the five major donors who contributed more than $5,000 to the organization’s $5 million to $10 million first-year operating budget are John Cogan, Mrs. Francis Hatch, Vincent Ryan, Albert Wenger, and the Democracy Fund.

The Democracy Fund is the former name of United Republic. The 501(c)4 group rolled all of its assets into United Republic when the name changed. One of the Democracy Fund's primary funders was Donald Sussman, chairman of the holding company Paloma Partners and husband of Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine). Sussman donated $1.26 million in 2010 to Democratic candidates, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Before it was the Democracy Fund, the group was known as the Change V2 Foundation, a group formed by Harvard Law professor and campaign finance reform advocate Lawrence Lessig and Democratic campaign strategists Joe Trippi and Monica Walsh.

The Change V2 Foundation received a grant from the Arkay Foundation, a prominent progressive philanthropic organization, according to the foundation’s website. However, a search of foundation grants to Change V2, the Democracy Fund, and United Republic did not return any results.

United Republic does not list any of the donors to the Democracy Fund or Change V2, nor does it acknowledge what percentage of its funding came from those organizations.

Other groups also have fallen outside of United Republic’s disclosure. Lessig’s organization "Rootstrikers," a grassroots-organizing project of the Democracy Fund, was folded into United Republic when it launched, as was former MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan’s 250,000-member group, "Get Money Out." Neither is listed on United Republic’s donor list.

The individual contributors belong to the cadre of big-time Democratic donors.

Mrs. Francis Hatch Jr. is a former Trustee of the Merck Fund, and a major Democratic donor, having given more than $180,000 to Democratic candidates, PACs, and campaign committees since 2008.

Hatch is not the only link to the Merck Fund. Ruth Hennig, not listed as a donor, is a United Republic Board Member and also the Executive Director of the Merck Fund. United Republic does not list the Merck Fund as a donor.

Hennig said the fund has not given money to United Republic.

"It’s a little confusing I admit," Hennig said. "Each trustee is able to make a charitable donation to a nonprofit of their choice, and it goes through us. We haven’t made a grant to United Republic."

When asked about the lack of disclosure regarding the Democracy Fund, Hennig said, "I’m going to refer that kind of question to the United Republic staff. If they’re not getting back to you, what can I say?"

Vincent Ryan, Chairman of the United Republic board, is a major Democratic donor and the president, CEO, and chairman of Schooner Capital, "a Boston-based private investment firm." Schooner Capital also runs the Schooner Foundation, which describes itself as "a progressive family foundation focused internationally on human rights, peace & security and economic opportunity issues. Domestically, the Foundation supports progressive media, campaign finance reform, the green economy, investigative reporting and judicial reform."

United Republic does not list the Schooner Foundation as a donor.

John Cogan is the deputy chairman of Pioneer Global Asset Management and president of the Pioneer Family of Mutual Funds. He is also a major political donor who has given more than $82,000, all to Democrats, so far this election cycle.

Albert Wenger is a Partner at Union Square Ventures with Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who was involved in promoting net neutrality.

United Republic did not respond to multiple requests for comment.