Politics as philanthropy: Seattle billionaire funds Minnesota Democrats

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, made headlines yesterday for giving away a small part of her massive fortune to a handful of Minnesota nonprofits. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports,

MacKenzie Scott gives $20 million to 10 Twin Cities nonprofits

The donations, announced Tuesday, from the Seattle billionaire will help Minnesota nonprofits expand their work. 

The Minnesota donations were part of a total $640 million she gave away this week.

In the most recent edition of the Forbes 400 list of the richest American billionaires, Scott ranks 21st with a fortune estimated at more than $37 billion. In 2021, her fortune stood at more than $53 billion. But since 2020, Scott has reportedly given away more than $16 billion to nonprofits, through her vehicle Yield Giving.

Her ex, Bezos, ranks 2nd overall on the current Forbes list, behind Elon Musk, with an estimated $161 billion.

Forbes reports that Scott was married to Bezos for 25 years and received 4 percent of Amazon’s stock in her 2019 divorce settlement.

The Star Tribune‘s article reporting this latest news uses the words “philanthropist” and “philanthropy” to describe these business transactions. What will these “charities” do with the money? Cure cancer? House orphans?

It turns out that the “work” will be nothing so useful.

We’re going to focus on three of the ten Minnesota recipients in Scott’s latest round of giving, as reported by the Star Tribune,

$2 million to ISAIAH, a faith-based, nonpartisan coalition in St. Paul

ISAIAH is “nonpartisan” in only the narrowest, legalistic meaning of the term. Founded in 1999, the nonprofit is organized as a 501c3 “charity” in order for its donors to be eligible for tax deductions. The “partisan” work of electing Democrats is left to ISAIAH’s subsidiary companies: the dark money 501c4 Faith in Minnesota and its campaign finance (527) vehicles Faith in Minnesota Action and the Faith in Minnesota Fund. All four entities share a common management and are housed in the same office suite on University Avenue in St. Paul.

In the 2022 election year, “Action” reports spending around $300,000 to support Democratic candidates. Of that dollar amount, more than $72,000 was provided to Action by the state’s Democratic (DFL) party, according to reports submitted to the state’s Campaign Finance Board.

“Action” donated $4,000 that year directly to the campaign committee for Gov. Tim Walz.

In 2022, the “Fund” spent over $600,000 electing Democrats, nearly all of which was contributed by the dark money Faith in Minnesota corporation.

In giving to this organization, Scott stands in good company with other political billionaires. Through his Open Society Foundation, New York-based financier George Soros has given ISAIAH $475,000 and an additional $650,000 to Faith in Minnesota in recent years.

ISAIAH is a registered lobbyist organization at the state capital, with 10 lobbyists on its roster. Among the subjects of interest to ISAIAH are campaign finance, elections, and voting. Faith in Minnesota is separately registered as a lobbyist organization.

$2 million to OutFront Minnesota, a St. Paul-based LGBTQ advocacy organization

OutFront MN was founded in 1997 and is also located on University Avenue in St. Paul. Under the OutFront name are both 501c3 and 501c4 corporate entities, and two 527 campaign units, including an OutFront “Action” and an OutFront “Fund.”

In 2022, OutFront Action gave $500 each to the campaigns of state Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty.

Outfront MN is a registered lobbyist organization, with 8 lobbyists on its roster.

$2 million to Gender Justice in St. Paul, a legal and policy advocacy organization

Gender Justice was founded in 2010 and is headquartered on University Avenue in St. Paul. Under the Gender Justice name are both a 501c3 and a 501c4 (Gender Justice Action) corporations.

The nonprofit 501c3 is the employer of state Sen. Erin Maye Quade (DFL-Apple Valley). Sen. Maye Quade was paid more than $106,000 by the nonprofit in 2022, according to its tax return for the year.

Both Gender Justice and Gender Justice Action are separately registered lobbyist organizations at the state capitol, with a total of 5 lobbyists.

Gender Justice Action is also the name used by the group’s 527 registered campaign committee. In 2022, “Action” spent over $100,000 on behalf of Democratic candidates.

All three nonprofits–ISAIAH, OutFront, and Gender Justice–belong to the Minnesota Voice consortium of Democrat-supporting 501c3 “charities.”

According to Federal tax filings, in 2021, Minnesota Voice donated $12,500 to Gender Justice. In 2020, Voice gave $25,000 to Gender Justice and $144,902 to ISAIAH. In 2018, Voice donated $20,000 to OutFront.

As they say, “Charity begins at home.”