Soros, Ford Foundations ‘Lavish’ $196 Million to Push Internet Regulations

The government could gain unprecedented control over the Internet, depending on the decision made this week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It is a move long supported by top liberal foundations to the tune of at least $196 million.

On February 26, the commissioners of the FCC will decide if the Internet should regulated by the agency as a public utility as proposed by President Barack Obama and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Doing so would give “the FCC broad and unprecedented discretion to micromanage the Internet,” FCC commissioner Ajai Pai said in a February 10, press release.

The left calls the debate “net neutrality,” the idea that all data should be transmitted equally by Internet service providers (ISPs). Critics like founder and Chairman Emeritus of MIT's Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte argue that net neutrality “doesn't make sense” because “the truth is, not all bits [of data] are created equal.” The Ford Foundation, which claims to be the second-largest private foundation in the U.S., and Open Society Foundations, founded by far-left billionaire George Soros, have given more than $196 million to pro-net neutrality groups between 2000 and 2013.

Foundation leaders have said activists will “see more money available from the foundations to do this work,” and claimed the upcoming FCC vote was the “direct consequence” of efforts by numerous Ford Foundation partner groups “to persuade, and to challenge, to evangelize” net neutrality principles. These left-wing groups not only impacted the public debate and funded top liberal think tanks from the Center for American Progress to Free Press. They also have direct ties to the White House and regulatory agencies. At least five individuals from these groups have ascended to key positions at the White House and FCC.

American Commitment President Phil Kerpen told MRC Business, “The biggest money in this debate is from the liberal foundations that lavish millions on self-styled grassroots groups pushing for more and more regulation and federal control.”

Among best known pro-net neutrality groups that received grants from these foundations were the Center for American Progress (CAP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Media Matters for America. These groups received a total of $54,226,097 from the Ford and Open Society foundations.

The Ford Foundation has a history of supporting a wide range of liberal organizations that work on social and economic issues, including Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Friends of the Earth and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The Ford Foundation awarded $12,790,000 to these groups.

One member of the Ford Foundation’s Board of Trustees is Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. Planned Parenthood received $18,171,250 from the Ford Foundation.

Open Society Foundations has also been a major source of liberal financing. Since founding Open Society Foundations in 1984, George Soros has used his foundation to give more than $8 billion to charities around the world including ones pushing his economic agenda. Soros has given more than $500 million to liberal organizations in the U.S. since 2000, underwriting almost every major liberal initiative.

Net Neutrality Agenda of Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations

High-level members of both the Ford and Open Society foundations have openly promoted greater government involvement in regulating the Internet.

Perhaps the best-known member of Ford Foundation’s Board of Trustees is Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

“Net neutrality is really, really important,” Berners-Lee said at an event in his home city of London in October 2014, according to The New York Times.

He also argued for regulation that would ensure net neutrality in a European Commission blog post February 2, claiming that “Enshrining net neutrality” through “[b]inding net neutrality rules under consideration” in the EU would drive “economic growth and social progress.”

Both foundations explicitly supported strong internet regulations in the U.S.

The Ford and Open Society foundations, along with three other pro-net neutrality foundations, hosted an event called NetGain on February 11, 2015. The event, attended by “leading figures from government, philanthropy, business, and the tech world,” was intended “to launch a major new partnership” to deal with “significant challenges at the intersection of the Internet and philanthropy,” according to the Ford Foundation’s website.

At the event, both groups made clear these “significant challenges” included addressing net neutrality rules, and reiterated their support government regulation of the Internet and their commitment to fund net neutrality activism.

Open Society President Chris Stone said his foundation signed onto the NetGain “Declaration of Principles” in an article February 11, the day of the event. Stone said this reflected how “the Open Society Foundations work to secure effective legal protections for net neutrality, in an effort to create a level playing field for all online services and users.”

During a panel discussion at NetGain, Stone also promised “you’re going to see more money available from the foundations to do this work.” He said they had “doubled” their investment in Internet-related issues since he joined the foundation in 2012, and that “I hope we will be doubling it again.”

At the same event, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said, “the Internet, the Internet rights are civil rights. And like so many other civil rights, they need to be secured, safeguarded, protected and celebrated.”

Walker then lauded FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to regulate the Internet as a public utility, saying it was “the direct consequence of the tireless efforts of many of you in this room, the organization you represent, to persuade, and to challenge, to evangelize” the principles behind net neutrality.

He also it was important that “the Internet remains for everyone,” and that “as a public utility, yes a public utility, it remains a force for good. In service of this obligation, we at the Ford Foundation are very excited about the many partnerships, both new and ongoing, with so many of you in this room.”

However, Wheeler’s plan has been criticized for how much control it would give the government. Even FCC commissioner Ajai Pai admitted, “The plan gives a Washington bureaucracy a blank check to decide how Internet service providers deploy and manage their networks, from the last mile all the way through the Internet backbone.”

Groups Funded by Ford, Open Society

The Ford Foundation and Open Society not only funded established organizations like the Center for American Progress (CAP), which The Huffington Post called “the mothership” for “Obama’s 2012 Campaign Cavalry.” Both foundations also funded liberal activist organizations like Free Press, which received a combined $6,120,000 from the Ford and Open Society foundations.

Free Press mobilized a range of organizations and companies in May 2014, which called on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to adopt tougher net neutrality rules. Ford Foundation and Open Society funded at least 32 of the groups that signed Free Press’s letter to Wheeler.

In his 2011 book, “Democracy Denied,” Kerpen wrote, “[g]roups like Free Press and people like Obama genuinely believe that they can design and manage the Internet in some centralized fashion sure to achieve their political objectives and desires.”

Free Press was co-founded in 2002 by Robert McChesney, a strident lefty media commentator. He suggested in January 2010, that the government should spend $30 billion a year to subsidize the media.

“Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism,” McChesney said in the Marxist magazine Monthly Review in November 2000.

Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality,” succeeded McChesney as the chairman of Free Press’s board in 2008. Wu called Obama’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility “bold and courageous and, in some ways, just obvious” in an interview with The Verge Nov. 10, 2014.

“I don't understand why we would do anything else,” Wu said.

In 2006, Wu became a full-time professor at Columbia Law School, which also got funding from the liberal foundations. Columbia University as a whole received a total of $31,597,023 from the Ford and Open Society foundations. Only general donations to Columbia University or to Columbia Law School were included in the MRC's total.

Net Neutrality Activists in the Obama Administration

Groups supported by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations not only helped shape the public debate about net neutrality, but ascended to important positions at the White House and FCC.

The Obama administration appointed net neutrality proponents from these groups to fill key staff positions for setting Internet policy. In 2008, Obama selected John Podesta as the co-chair of his transition team. Podesta was the founder, former president and current Chair and Counselor of CAP.

Most recently, Podesta finished a one-year stint at the White House as the Counselor to the President. The New York Times reported that after he left his role in the administration on February 13, he might next become chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, since he has been a long-time “top adviser” to the Clintons.

Before he left, Podesta made a crucial move to help hire while co-chairing the president’s transition team. Podesta helped to hire University of Michigan Law School professor Susan Crawford onto the FCC Review team.

Obama later appointed Crawford as the Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, a position she held from 2009 until 2010. She was termed Obama’s “Internet Czar” by commentators.

Crawford made no secret of her views on net neutrality. In 2005, Crawford founded OneWebDay, an organization that sponsored an annual event that it claimed was like “Earth Day for the Internet.” Crawford said in a 2008 OneWebDay press release that “we must advocate for the Internet politically” because “peoples’ lives now are as dependent on the Internet as they are on the basics like roads, energy supplies and running water.”

Among OneWebDay’s “participating organizations” were Free Press, Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Future of Music Coalition, according to the group’s website. These groups received a combined $10,975,000 from the Ford and Open Society foundations, not counting the additional $32,076,830 awarded to Harvard, home of the Berkman Center. Only general donations to Harvard University or to Berkman Center were included in the MRC's total.

OneWebDay also counted among its supporters the far-left protest group ACORN, which was accused of giving out tax advice on child prostitution and human trafficking in 2009.

When Wheeler initially proposed more moderate Internet rules in April 2014, Crawford disagreed. She had a problem with “not labeling these guys [ISPs] as utilities” in a PBS “Moyers & Company” interview from May 2, 2014. Crawford argued that despite political opposition to regulating the Internet as a utility, “the answer is not to give up on public oversight, but to make it better, to unleash the regulatory ideal, which is for pro-innovation, pro-American people. We've just fallen down on the job.”

At that time, Crawford’s extreme views were radical even for the Obama administration. Kerpen told MRC Business, “Susan Crawford got fired in Obama’s first term for her extreme liberal belief that government should own and control the Internet.”

After leaving the Obama administration, she joined the faculty of Harvard Law School and became a co-director of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.

Though brief, Crawford made an impact during her time in the Obama administration. Crawford was involved in the appointment of Harvard Law School professor Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. Genachowski, a “trusted friend” and advisor of Obama according to The New York Times, attempted to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. These efforts were blocked by the Obama’s Economic Council, which it said were “overly heavy-handed approaches to net neutrality,” the Times said.

After Genachowski’s appointment in 2009, he hired Free Press communications director Jen Howard as his press secretary. He also brought on Mark Lloyd as the FCC’s Chief Diversity Officer.

Lloyd was a former senior fellow at CAP and general counsel at the Benton Foundation, in addition to being a former reporter and producer for NBC and CNN. CAP and Benton received a combined $20,596,786 from the Ford and Open Society foundations.

In a CAP article February 21, 2006, Lloyd wrote that “Net Neutrality should be a given.” To achieve net neutrality, he recommended that the government adopt a similar approach to when it “cut down the giant telecommunications corporation, Ma Bell, and required its offspring (Bell Atlantic, Bell South, etc.) to share the wires they controlled with all comers, even competitors.”

It wasn’t just the internet he wanted the government to assert more control over. While at CAP, Lloyd also co-authored a report with Free Press in June 2007, entitled “Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” saying the federal government should address the “problem” of Americans disproportionately listening to conservative talk radio. In a follow-up essay, Lloyd suggested the FCC fine conservative talk show stations and then give the money to liberal public broadcasting.


Open Society Foundations Funding:

  • American Civil Liberties Union Foundation – $19,609,845

  • Appalshop – $235,000

  • Center for American Progress – $10,742,186

  • Center for Media Justice – $645,000

  • Center for Rural Strategies – $20,000

  • Citizen Engagement Laboratory – $250,000

  • Columbia University – $9,525,373

  • Common Cause Education Fund – $3,528,500

  • Consumers Union of United States – $725,000

  • Defending Dissent Foundation – $22,900

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation – $1,150,000

  • Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting – $3,000

  • Foundation for National Progress – $645,000

  • Free Press – $2,210,000

  • Greenlining Institute – $30,000

  • Harvard University – $5,421,735

  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance – $175,000

  • Media Consortium – $675,000

  • Media Matters – $1,700,000

  • MoveOn.org – $1,460,000

  • The Nation – $77,000

  • National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture – $180,000

  • New America Foundation – $4,556,875

  • Open Society Institute – $100,000

  • PEN American Center – $1,283,784

  • Proteus Fund – $15,693,000

  • Public Knowledge – $1,380,500

  • Sunlight Foundation – $590,000

  • Syracuse University – $125,000

  • United Church of Christ – $25,000

Ford Foundation Funding:

  • American Civil Liberties Union Foundation – $8,546,000

  • Appalshop – $290,000

  • Benton Foundation – $550,000

  • Center for American Progress – $9,884,600

  • Center for Media Justice – $1,900,000

  • Center for Rural Strategies – $2,100,000

  • Citizen Engagement Laboratory – $4,732,500

  • Citizen Engagement Laboratory Education Fund – $925,000

  • Columbia University – $12,874,485

  • Columbia Law School – $712,000

  • Common Cause Education Fund – $870,000

  • Consumers Union of United States – $5,425,000

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation – $100,000

  • Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting – $600,000

  • Free Press – $3,910,000

  • Future of Music Coalition – $1,675,000

  • Greenlining Institute – $650,000

  • Harvard University – $18,405,449

  • Harvard Law School, Berkman Center for Internet and Society – $1,930,000

  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance – $275,000

  • Media Alliance – $60,000

  • Media Matters for America – $3,243,466

  • Media Mobilizing Project – $150,000

  • National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture – $134,800

  • National Association of Black Journalists – $400,000

  • National Association of Hispanic Journalists – $100,000

  • National Association of Latino Independent Producers – $100,000

  • National Hispanic Media Coalition – $500,000

  • New America Foundation – $9,521,000

  • Pacific University – $6,000

  • PEN American Center – $550,000

  • Prometheus Radio Project – $1,500,000

  • Proteus Fund – $13,097,500

  • Public Knowledge – $4,975,000

  • Sunlight Foundation – $1,005,000

  • Syracuse University – $833,000

  • United Church of Christ – $40,000

  • Women’s Media Center – $950,000

  • Writers Guild of America East Foundation – $100,000

Joseph Rossell
Joseph Rossell
Joseph Rossell is a staff writer for MRC Business