EXCLUSIVE: Documents Shed Light On Those Underwriting The Foundation For Defense Of Democracies

Posted with permission of Think Progress

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has been a vocal presence in Washington since its founding in the days following the 9/11 attacks as a self-described “nonpartisan policy institute dedicated exclusively to promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that threaten democracy.” But FDD’s position consistently fell in line with the Bush administration’s militant “war on terror” and policies espoused by Israel’s right wing Likud party. In recent years, FDD has become one of the the premiere DC organizations promoting more aggressive actions against Iran.

FDD’s effectiveness in promoting their hawkish messages is magnified by their access to major media outlets. FDD president Clifford May appears regularly on Fox News as a terrorism expert, and other FDD employees — including Mark Dubowitz, Benjamin Weinthal, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and Michael Ledeen — often appear in the oped pages of major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.

Given FDD’s prominence in the media and influence that results from it, it’s important to explore sources of the group’s funding. Documents obtained by ThinkProgress offer new insights into who funded the first four years of FDD’s operations.

The documents, which have been combined into one PDF with addresses redacted, offer a comprehensive list of grants, accounting for virtually all of FDD’s funding from 2001 to 2004. They reveal that the Abramson Family Foundation, headed by founder and CEO of U.S. Healthcare Leonard Abramson, offered the largest portion of FDD’s startup funding with a $222,523 grant in 2001. Abramson continued to generously fund FDD with an additional $600,000 in contributions from 2002 to 2004.

Canadians Edgar M. and Charles Bronfman, heirs to the Seagram liquor company fortune, contributed $1,050,000 to FDD between 2001 and 2004. Edgar M. Bronfman served as president of the World Jewish Congress from 1979 to 2007. Charles Bronfman, along with fellow FDD donor Michael Steinhardt cofounded Taglit Birthright which offers free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. Steinhardt is a hedge fund mogul who contributed $850,000 to FDD from 2001 to 2004.

Other notable donors included: Home Depot cofounder Bernard Marcus who contributed $600,000 between 2001 and 2003; mortgage backed securities pioneer Lewis Ranieri contributed $350,000 between 2002 and 2004; and Ameriquest owner, and Bush administration ambassador to the Netherlands from 2006 to 2008, Roland Arnall contributed $1,802,000 between 2003 and 2004.

Other notable, but less generous, donors included: media mogul and Democratic Party donor Haim Saban, a surprising donor considering FDD’s Republican bent and Clifford May’s former role as an RNC spokesperson; The Israel Project director Jennifer Mizrahi; and Dalck Feith, father of former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith.

When contacted for comment, May said, “Ms. Mizrahi and Mr. Saban are not current supporters of FDD,” and added that “FDD is fortunate to have hundreds of donors, all kinds of donors, who are interested in defending democratic societies around the world from their sworn enemies.” May said “most of the original group of donors were introduced to me by Jack Kemp, FDD’s founding chairman, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a founding member of FDD’s board of directors.”

Most of the major donors are active philanthropists to “pro-Israel” causes both in the U.S. and internationally. With the disclosure of its donor rolls, it becomes increasingly apparent that FDD’s advocacy of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, its hawkish stance against Iran, and its defense of right-wing Israeli policy is consistent with its donors’ interests in “pro-Israel” advocacy.

While FDD has a 10-year history of engaging in alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering — e.g. in 2002 FDD aired a series of ads conflating Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein — and helped promote the “Bush doctrine” which led to the invasion of Iraq, its donors have, for the most part, hidden behind their anonymous contributions to the organization. The new documents should permit for greater scrutiny of the interests and individuals behind FDD’s hawkish presence in the Washington think tank world.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.