‘Politico’ Misses Mark in Story on Who’s Funding Pro-Palestine Protests Against Biden

On Sunday, Politico published a story suggesting that foundations tied to several top Democratic donors have been funding the pro-Palestine protest groups dogging President Joe Biden wherever he goes. “Pro-Palestianian protesters are backed by a surprising source: Biden’s biggest donors,” read the headline.

The story quickly went viral — Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), for instance, posted on X that the piece confirmed “anti-Israel astroturfing.” Fox News cited the report to write that “President Biden’s biggest Democratic donors are also funding some anti-Israel protests that have taken over college campuses.”

However, a Rolling Stone review of the numbers and documents cited in the Politico report raises questions about many of its claims.

For one, the story attempts to trace relatively small donations through a massive black box, a group that acts as a pass-through entity, into specific recipients’ coffers — something that dark-money reporters generally know to avoid. Making matters worse, the foundations named in the story disclose online where the donations ultimately ended up. In other words, there’s no reason to guess.

Lastly, the story leaves out a few publicly available details that would help substantiate its overall premise.

Politico reported Sunday that donors to pro-Palestine groups protesting Biden “include some of the biggest names in Democratic circles: Gates, Soros, Rockefeller and Pritzker.”

“Two of the main organizers behind protests at Columbia University and on other campuses are Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow,” the outlet wrote Sunday. “Both are supported by the Tides Foundation, which is seeded by Democratic megadonor George Soros as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it in turn supports numerous small nonprofits that work for social change.”

The Tides Foundation is a sprawling liberal donor-advised fund, meaning that donors give funds to the group and then direct where they want their money to go. Tracing money from individual donors, through a donor-advised fund, to any ultimate grant recipient is unwise, and particularly so when the donations involve such a large group like the Tides Foundation. The group reported $573 million in contributions in 2022.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $300,000 to the Tides Foundation in 2022. The Tides Foundation donated roughly $100,000 that year to the pro-Palestine protest groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow.

Attempting to connect the $300,000 going into the organization, as part of its $573 million in contributions, to the $100,000 going out to these groups is unrealistic, to say the least, without any specific indication from the donor.

The Gates Foundation notes in a grant spreadsheet linked on its website that the $300,000 it gave to the Tides Foundation was “to establish a social outcomes market that unlocks greater philanthropic capital.” This description hardly fits with the protest work led by IfNotNow or Jewish Voice for Peace.

“We don’t have any active grants with the Tides Foundation or to the entities named in the story,” a spokesperson for the Gates Foundation tells Rolling Stone. “We’ve reached out to Politico for correction.”

After this story was published, Politico issued a correction and update to its story, writing: “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has previously funded the Tides Foundation and other groups, said it no longer has active grants to Tides. It also does not support Jewish Voice for Peace or IfNotNow.”

A Politico spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There are more issues with the story, though.

Take the connection made with George Soros, the liberal billionaire and a longtime bogeyman for conservatives. His Open Society Foundations have made significant donations to the Tides Foundation. But the foundations’ website specifies the Tides Foundation projects these donations were intended to support, none of which appear to relate to Jewish Voice for Peace or IfNotNow.

Not mentioned in the story: The Open Society Foundations specifically disclosed giving $225,000 in 2022 to Jewish Voice for Peace and $150,000 to JVP Action in 2021. The Open Society Foundations separately gave $200,000 to the IfNotNow Education Fund in 2021.

Politico continues: “Another notable Democratic donor whose philanthropy has helped fund the protest movement is David Rockefeller Jr., who sits on the board of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. In 2022, the fund gave $300,000 to the Tides Foundation; according to nonprofit tax forms.”

This is wrong. The linked document in that paragraph shows a donation the Tides Foundation made to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — not the other way around.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has donated to the Tides Foundation in the past, but did not disclose any such donations in its 2022 tax return. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund filing return does show donations in 2022 made to the Tides Center, part of the same Tides network, with $75,000 of those funds earmarked for the Adalah Justice Project and $75,000 for Palestine Legal. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has separately donated $500,000 to Jewish Voice for Peace since 2019, and $100,000 to IfNotNow since 2020.

These examples, not expressly cited in the article, show donations going from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to pro-Palestine groups. However, the past donations from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to the Tides Foundation appear to have been earmarked for unrelated causes, such as the Green New Deal Network.

The story seeks to connect donations from the Pritzker family’s Libra Foundation to the Tides Foundation as going to the Adalah Justice Project. “The Tides Foundation, funded by the Prizkers, has also supported the Adalah Justice Project, which has also been part of protests at Columbia University,” the story says.

The Libra Foundation discloses where its Tides Foundation donations go — and none of them went to the Adalah Justice Project.

Journalists have a professional obligation to follow the money. Reporting on donations to pro-Palestine protest groups is an absolutely fair topic — indeed, in the process of reporting this story, Rolling Stone identified several publicly available donations that would help substantiate Politico’s story. But reporters should not guess at who’s funding whom.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to note that Politico issued a partial correction on its story.

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