Who Funds the Fund Watchers?

Pro-transparency liberal group United Republic won’t disclose donors

May 17, 2012

The progressive non-profit advocacy group United Republic, which is dedicated to rooting out "big money in politics," has failed to disclose its big-money donors despite numerous promises to do so.

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), which opposes restrictions on political speech, said United Republic should be more open if it wants to fulfill its stated purpose.

"It’s a bit ironic," said CCP president David Keating in an interview with the Free Beacon. "If they’re doing that, then they should be willing to disclose their donors."

United Republic launched in November. The organization comprises a coalition of groups, such as Dylan Ratigan’s "Get Money Out," that share the "goal of ending the domination of Big Money over the political process."  Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff joined the organization in February and now writes for its blog, Republic Report.

United Republic claims it "is funded by hundreds of individual donors and foundations, big and small, who understand that nearly every issue Americans care about is held hostage by well-financed special interests."

United Republic’s first-year budget is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million, according to National Journal.

The identities of the special interests bankrolling United Republic are unknown.

Many non-profit advocacy groups that engage in political activity do not disclose their donors. United Republic is different, however, because it regularly promises to disclose.

The Fund for the Republic, United Republic’s 501(c)(3) arm, states on its website: "Because we advocate for transparency in political spending, we ask that our own donors be transparent as well. While we don’t post donors’ names publicly, we like to provide them upon request."

United Republic did not return numerous requests by the Free Beacon for information about its donors, however.

The organization has been dragging its feet for months. Two United Republic staffers confronted a staffer for the Media Research Center (MRC) in March and accused the MRC of being connected to ALEC. However, when asked who funds United Republic and its website Republic Report, Lee Fang hedged.

The following is a transcript of the encounter:

MRC'S DAN JOSEPH: What group did you say you were with?

UR'S LEE FANG: Republic Report.

JOSEPH: And who are you guys funded by?

FANG: We're going to be disclosing our donors soon. We just launched.

JOSEPH: Off the top of your head, who are you funded by?

FANG: We are going to disclose soon.

JOSEPH: Can you tell me, like, maybe two of your donors?

FANG: We'll reveal...

JOSEPH: Wait a minute ... you just gave me guff for 10 minutes that I didn't know who my donors were, and you're sitting here and you can't name a single donor?

FANG: But we are going to disclose!

On March 30, Fang wrote on Twitter: "We're posting our donors next week."

The group has yet to do so.

United Republic has not been transparent in other ways, as well.

Salon published two pieces by Fang in January and February that attacked the wife of Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.) for accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists. It also published an op-ed on campaign finance reform by Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor whose group Rootstrikers is part of United Republic.

Yet in none of these instances was Fang or Lessig identified as being on United Republic’s payroll. Fang was identified only as "an investigative journalist in the Bay area."

Salon did not respond to a request for comment on why it did not disclose this information.

The transparency record of United Republic co-founder and CEO, liberal activist Josh Silver, is also questionable. The Daily Caller reported in 2010 that the Free Press—a media reform organization Silver previously led—had failed to disclose numerous meetings with the FCC in its direct lobbying reports.

When asked if Silver attended a confab in Miami last week hosted by the Democracy Alliance, a coalition of some of the most powerful progressive groups in the country, a United Republic staffer said he would have to check because Silver "keeps his calendar kind of quiet."

In a follow-up interview, the staffer said he could not confirm Silver’s appearance and referred a Washington Free Beacon reporter to the voicemail of a second United Republic official.

That official did not return multiple requests for comment.