Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The billionaire takeover of civil society – spiked

Posted by M. C. on February 1, 2021

The Omidyar Network

Omidyar, whose Omidyar Network funds AELP, also funds the Democracy Fund which is now part of Omidyar Group (1). The Democracy Fund, in turn, together with the Knight Foundation, Quadrivium, the McArthur Foundation and Luminate (also funded by Omidyar) fund Democracy Works (2). Omidyar also funds Democracy Fund Voice, which in turn contributes to Defending Democracy Together (3). Then there is Healthy Democracy which is funded by the Democracy Fund, Silicon Valley Community Foundation (which also receives money from Democracy Fund) (4) and the Ford Family Foundation. The Omidyar Network also co-funds New Public by Civic Signals, along with the Knight Foundation, One Project, the National Conference on Citizenship and the University of Texas at Austin, Centre for Media Engagement. Of course, the University of Texas at Austin, Centre for Media Engagement is also funded by the Omidyar Network, the Democracy Fund (funded by Omidyar), the Knight Foundation, Robert McCormick Foundation, and Google. To name just a few others, the Ada Lovelace Institute also receives funding from Luminate, the Wellcome Trust and Nuffield Foundation, while TicTec, a MySociety event about ‘civic tech’, is funded by Facebook, Luminate and Google, among others.

Roslyn Fuller

As the founder and operator of a pro-democracy civil-society organisation, I’ve often been astounded at calls to give NGOs a greater say in rule-making, more visibility during negotiations and privileged access to decision-makers. Because I know what few people do – that small, member-driven, self-funded NGOs are relatively rare.

Instead, the kind of organisation that tends to drive the political agenda is generally billionaire (or at least multimillionaire) funded. The most well-known examples here are groups funded by conservatives like the Koch brothers and large companies like ExxonMobil. I had naively assumed that others criticised these organisations for the same reasons I did – because their actions undermined the principle of democratic equality by giving the impression that their ideas enjoyed far more backing than they did.

However, I stand corrected.

A few months ago, I suffered a rare relapse into naivety and decided that it was about time I got on to the NGO ‘funding’ gravy train. Apparently, floods of money were out there waiting for me in the democracy world. Meanwhile, for incomprehensible reasons, I was stubbornly insisting on behaving like some old-fashioned grandmother, cackling things like, ‘In my day, we used to go around with a tin can collecting for Amnesty International at Christmas! We met in the basement of a pub and everyone paid for their own beer!’

People were so baffled at this attitude that I began to doubt myself and look into how to get funding for projects in the democracy space. And because I thought it would be a good idea to be organised about it, I made a database.

That turned out to be a good idea, because it revealed the influence exerted by a wealthy few over civil society. To illustrate this, I am going to show how just a tiny fraction of a small slice of one funding network starts, but definitely does not end, with eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

I should stress that I have no particular axe to grind against Omidyar, who has supported things I whole-heartedly approve of, like the Intercept under Glenn Greenwald. I also don’t believe that Omidyar is the source of any kind of unique evil or that he is up to anything other wealthy people aren’t. I merely picked him as my starting point to illustrate the generalities of the modern NGO-industrial complex, which includes an end-to-end web of political financing, of which Omidyar is merely a part.

Omidyar provides funding for, among many other things, the American Economic Liberties Project. AELP views itself as a check on the influence of big business on politics. According to its website: ‘All across society, monopolistic corporations govern much of our economic lives and exert extraordinary influence over our democracy.’

According to a typically fawning article about the AELP, during one meeting:

the conversation turned to a report the group was producing: a series of graphics showing that different brands of a certain product – or coffee – were, in fact, owned by a small number of conglomerates. The graphics represented the group’s hope that people will understand how concentration affects their lives – and be moved to do something about it. [To which AELP’s executive director Sarah Miller said:] “Let’s just wonder at it for a minute.”’

And that is exactly what we’re going to do here: just wonder at the concentration of power behind a bazillion different brand names and hope people understand how it affects their lives.

See the rest here

Be seeing you

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