Foundations bankrolling advocates for aliens
By Sean Lengell
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
June 6, 2007
Wealthy philanthropic foundations are helping bankroll the pro-immigration movement, while groups advocating for tighter control of U.S. borders say they take a more grass-roots approach to raising money.
The Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and Democratic activist George Soros are among the liberal funders that have donated millions of dollars to pro-immigration groups, as the Senate continues its debate on a contentious bill that would overhaul the nation's immigration policy.
Three of the nation's biggest and most influential pro-immigration groups -- the National Immigration Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) -- collectively received more than $3.25 million from Ford Foundation since 2005.
The three advocacy groups generally support the proposed Senate bill which would give many of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. a path to citizenship. The bill also would allow aliens here to bring close family members into the country.
Pro-immigration nonprofit groups say they're hardly awash in cash compared to organizations lobbying on other contentious issues, such as abortion, the environment and tort reform.
"To me, it's remarkable how little money goes into immigration reform on both sides of the issue," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "It's Lilliputian."
Mr. Sharry said groups on both sides of the immigration issue can rightfully be considered "grass-roots" outfits.
"We have a staff of only 10 people," Mr. Sharry said of his group, which supports allowing aliens a path to legal residency or citizenship. "These groups on all sides of the debate are small, intense and highly informed."
But groups supporting stronger immigration policy and tighter border control say they rely more on small donations from individuals than large foundations.
NumbersUSA, which says it has 366,000 members, saw its membership grow 50 percent since Jan. 1 and 18 percent in May, spokeswoman Caroline Espinosa said. Two-thirds of the group's financial support comes from private people, with the average donation being $40.
"Contrary to what might be popular belief is that the grass-roots aspect is more on our side than the [pro-immigration] side," Mrs. Espinosa said. "They have more of these organized, established types of groups funding them and driving their activism."
John Tanton, a retired small-town Michigan ophthalmologist who helped organize Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, says money alone won't win the immigration debate.
"Money can be a help, but it also can be a hindrance," he said. "If you don't have to go out and meet the public and get shouted at and get direct-mail surveys rejected, then you won't know about the pulse of the public.
"We've had our share of major supporters, but we've had to rely on nickel-and-dime support," Mr. Tanton said.
A complete list of funders isn't available, as these lobby groups are not legally required to report their funding sources. But many major philanthropic institutions make at least part of their donor lists public, showing a strong pro-immigration bias in their donating.
The Open Society Institute, run by Mr. Soros, has given $825,000 from 2002 to 2004 to the National Immigration Forum.
Mr. Soros, who donated large sums of money in a failed effort to defeat President Bush's bid for re-election in 2004, also has donated $525,000 to NCLR and $325,000 to MALDEF during the same period.
The Ford Foundation, with assets of more than $9 billion, is known to favor liberal causes. The foundation was significantly criticized in 2003 after it gave millions of dollars worth of grants to Palestinian nonprofit groups that later were accused of conducting terrorist activities.
The Carnegie Corporation has contributed almost $7 million collectively to the National Immigration Forum, MALDEF and NCLR since 1994.
NCLR also collected almost $2.2 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation from 2003 to 2005 and $425,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation since 2004.
The Rockefeller Foundation since 2004 also have given more than $1 million to MALDEF and $300,000 to the National Immigration Law Center.
About one-third of NCLR's budget comes from foundations, NCLR spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete said, noting, however, that her group cannot use money from tax-exempt foundations for political purposes, but rather uses it to support its other functions.
"Foundation money is used strictly for policy purposes and research work," she said. "We keep a strict line on that."
Less than 2 percent of NCLR's budget is used to promote its immigration agenda, she added.
"We're a Latino advocacy group. What we do is much broader than just immigration," Ms. Navarrete said.
Advocacy groups on the other side of the immigration debate are not without some financial support from philanthropic entities.
The conservative Scaife Foundations of Pittsburgh gave FAIR -- one of the biggest immigration-control nonprofit groups -- $775,000 from 2003 to 2005. The foundations during the same time period also gave $420,000 to the Center for Immigration Studies and $100,000 to the NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation -- groups also that advocate tighter border control and restricting the flow of immigrants.
The Scaife Foundations, which include the Sarah Scaife and Carthage foundations, are connected with conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, the principal heir to the Mellon banking, oil and aluminum fortune.
The F.M. Kirby Foundation, which has supported many conservative nonprofit groups in recent years, gave $475,000 to NumbersUSA since 1998 and donated more than $375,000 to FAIR since 2000.
But overall, opponents of the bill say they rely more on strength in membership numbers that translates beyond donations, noting the more than 750,000 faxes opposing the Senate bill sent to members of Congress last month.
"This just shows how angry people are about this bill and over the idea of amnesty and allowing 12 million illegal aliens to remain here in this country and basically get rewarded for breaking the law," Mrs. Espinosa said.