In the wake of the leak of several apparently official documents from the Heartland Institute (along with one highly disputed two-page memo), much speculation has focused on the identity of an anonymous donor who has reportedly donated more than $13 million to Heartland in the last six years.
A number of possibilities have been put forward over the last days, but a clear front runner has emerged as Heartland’s likely primary donor. And the winner is …
I first became aware of Seid’s probable role as Heartland’s Donor-in-Chief (and indeed his very existence) via a comment last week by Thomas Elifritz.
The really big donor would most likely be Barre Seid from Chicago.
See for instance : http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/11/18/921508/-Barre-Seids-Obsession
That 2010 Daily KoS diary entry by “shenderson” gives a harrowing first hand account of Seid’s attempted takeover of tiny Shimer College in Chicago. (And it also makes a strong case that Seid was behind the Islamophobic “Obsession” DVD, inserted into millions of newspapers in the U.S. during the 2008 election campaign).
As related by “shenderson”, things at Shimer started changing when it attracted the interest – and donations – of a new cadre of “businessmen” and “conservatives” with no apparent previous connection to the school.
And when one friendly person after another showed up offering ten grand or more just for a chance to sit on the Board of Trustees, well, so much the better.
… But the businessmen weren’t just businessmen, and the conservatives weren’t just conservative. Almost to a person, they turned out to be hand-picked stooges of Barre Seid, Chicago millionaire and longtime supporter of far-right causes. The businessmen ran companies in which Seid had a large or controlling stake; many of the conservatives ran organizations that received massive sums from Seid. These relationships were finally brought to public attention in late 2009 through two articles in the Chicago Reader. But by then it was almost too late.
The second Chicago reader article (in early 2010) showed the takeover in full swing. And it also pointed to the involvement of Heartland and its head Joe Bast; Bast had leveraged a 2006 Heartland $650,000 donation to get a seat on the board of trustees in 2008. And other anonymous donations from the Donors Capital foundation were coming in, accompanied by the arrival on the board of other Seid lietenants. By early 2010, the newcomers had installed a new president, Thomas Lindsay, and gotten a revised mission statement passed, despite the protest of students, faculty and alumni.
But some were starting to fight back. Recent graduate Daniel Merchan (class of 2009) traced the large donations back to Barre Seid, and even uncovered an unauthorized ad for Shimer College in Heartland’s School Reform News, with the provocative headline, Tired of Political Correctness?
The confrontation was in full swing.
Barre Seid—who Merchán says isn’t a Shimer alum and hasn’t been on the board or given the school a donation in his own name—heads Chicago-based Trippe Manufacturing and Michigan City’s Fiber Bond Corporation. Trippe CFO/COO Charles Lang joined the Shimer board in 2008, as did Fiber Bond president John Marienau. That was also the year Heartland’s Bast joined.
Seid didn’t return calls for this story, and a Shimer spokesman said this week that “none of the administrative staff or board members are taking interview requests at this point.” But Bast did comment, saying that if there’s an attempt to change the school “I think it’s an attempt to return to the mission.” He added, “Many of the trustees are involved in philanthropy . . . so we have a lot of donors in common. And that’s not a conspiracy.”
Fortunately, in April 2010, the board voted narrowly to remove Lindsay as president, finally turning the tide.
Fast forward to last weekend, when I decided to look at the profile of Daily KoS diarist “shenderson”. And, lo and behold, he was back to connect the dots himself in an entry entitled, Who is the “Anonymous Donor” behind Denialgate? Here’s one possibility. The case is laid out in a lot of detail, and draws on the previous Shimer experience. But the summation ties all the evidence together rather neatly.
I contend that Chicago industrialist Barre Seid is by far the most likely known candidate for the status of the Heartland Institute’s “Anonymous Donor.” The project is a close fit with Seid’s known interests, the method is a close fit with Seid’s known MO, and Seid is already known to be closely connected with the Heartland Institute, to which he has been the largest single donor. In addition, Mr. Anonymous and Mr. Seid match up in at least three ways that are unlikely to be coincidental: the use of the obscure “Donors Trust” vehicle to mask his identity, the insistence on being referred to internally only as “the Anonymous Donor”, and the very recent accession of known Seid deputy Chuck Lang to the board of the Heartland Institute.
The only slight misstep in the piece is the assertion that the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation donated more than $1 million to Heartland from 1998 to 2007.
Although this is technically true, Media Matters shows the 2007 donation was only for $21,500. The last large donation from the Seid was in 2004, for $176,788. Previous years also show similarly large donations, starting with $150,000 in 1998.
As John Mashey has shown in his exhaustive study of Heartland and other think tanks, large donations from Donors Capital (part of the donor-advised Donors Trust foundation) started in 2005 and continued through at least 2009. That presumably includes 2006, the year of the Heartland donation to Shimer. (A list of recipients is normally attached in the foundation’s tax statements each year,but Mashey was unable to track down the 2006 list, as noted on p. 59. But it does seem very probable that there was a significant anonymous Donors Capital donations to Heartland in that year as well).
That revised sequence only strengthens the evidence, as it shows a compelling transition from the Seid foundation to Donors as Seid’s preferred vehicle for Heartland donations after 2004.
As I write this, Australian e-magazine Crikey says that the New York Times is about to report the identity of Heartland’s “anonymous donor”. I can’t know for sure, but I anticipate that the Times may well adduce additional evidence from the newly leaked Heartland documents, possibly including matching up the yearly amounts donated and pointing to new projects of likely interest to a virulently right-wing donor from Chicago.
If and when that happens, I’ll be sure to provide an update – and I may just remove the question mark from the title of this post once and for all.