Warren Buffett-Funded Group Signs on as Democracy Alliance ‘Partner’

Foundation financed by billionaire Clinton supporter among the newest members of the left’s leading donor club

Warren Buffett / AP
November 30, 2015

A foundation financed by the billionaire investor Warren Buffet recently signed on as a member of the left’s leading donor club, according to internal documents, joining a handful of other new "partners" who will help bankroll liberal nonprofits, advocacy groups, and political vendors ahead of the 2016 elections.

The NoVo Foundation is one of 10 individual and institutional Democracy Alliance donors that have signed on this year, according to those documents. Alliance "partners" are required to contribute at least $200,000 per year to the groups in its portfolio of supported organizations.

With net assets of more than $527 million, according to its latest annual tax filing, the New York-based foundation has the resources to provide a significant cash infusion for the Alliance’s portfolio, which currently consists of 33 core organizations, according to additional documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Nearly $400 million of those assets are stock in Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm. Buffett himself donated nearly $150 million in securities to the group last year, its only contribution in 2014, the tax filing shows. His son and daughter-in-law run the foundation.

Joe Voeller, a spokesman for NoVo, said that the foundation had become a partner in January, but "we will not be funding any organizations via the DA." Asked how that squared with the giving requirements placed on all partners, Voeller stopped responding to questions.

The foundation already has financial ties to existing Democracy Alliance donors and some of the groups they support. The foundation granted $161,000 last year to groups such as Color of Change, National People’s Action, and the New Organizing Institute Education Fund (the last of which has since been dropped from Democray Alliance’s portfolio).

It also granted a combined $14.4 million to two other groups, the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Tides Foundation, that are themselves Democracy Alliance partners.

The Alliance does not actually touch the money that its partners donate to portfolio groups, whose combined annual budgets documents amount to more than $300 million. Instead, it connects donors to effective left-wing organizations in the hopes of increasing and coordinating financial support for those groups.

NoVo's membership will grant it extensive access to organizations vetted and strategically recommended by the Alliance’s staff, and to other like-minded millionaires and billionaires who have together donated hundreds of millions of dollars to left-wing causes, groups, and politicians in recent years.

That access manifested last week s a conference at Washington, D.C.’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, where the Alliance held its biannual donor conference. At a welcome reception on Wednesday, Nov. 18, Lisa Guide, an official at the Rockefeller Family Fund, introduced two NoVo staffers to event attendees.

Seven other partners got introductions at the event. One is listed on program material only as "Anonymous 3." That donor was represented at the conference by Mitchell Singer, a director at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and Doug Bauer, a former official at Rockefeller Philanthropy and Goldman Sachs executive who now helps direct three other foundations.

The Alliance’s other new institutional partners are the Civic Participation Action Fund, a $50 million grant-making group established this year by the Atlantic Philanthropies; the Public Welfare Foundation, a $460 million group that derives most of its revenue from investment income; and the Wyss Foundation, whose chairman and sole donor, the Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, is also a controversial donor to the Clinton Foundation.

Warren Buffett is also a Clinton supporter. He contributed to the super PAC Ready for Hillary last year and pledged to vote for the former secretary of state. His son, Peter Buffett, NoVo’s president, has donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. The Susan T. Buffett Foundation, named for Warren Buffett’s late wife, is also a Clinton Foundation donor and a Democracy Alliance partner.

In their capacity as partners, the Buffett and NoVo Foundations will be encouraged to contribute to groups such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America that are seen as important arms of Clinton’s political network.

Another high-profile Clinton supporter, Sean Eldridge, the husband of the Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, is among the Alliance’s new individual partners. Clinton recorded a last-minute robocall for Eldridge’s failed 2014 congressional run, and he and Hughes reciprocated this year by hosting a fundraiser for Clinton’s presidential campaign at their New York City apartment.

Documents leaked from an Alliance board meeting last year referred to Hughes and Eldridge as a "partner unit," and warned "that they are unlikely to renew their membership in 2014." At the conference last week Eldridge was listed as a "new partner," but Hughes was mentioned only in his husband’s bio.

In addition to Hughes, the Alliance welcomed four additional new individual partners: Daniel and Sunita Leeds, who chair the Enfranchisement Foundation; Barbara Simons, a technologist and online voting opponent; and Scott Satterwhite, a former investor with Artisan Partners and now an official at the William-Josef Foundation.