Donors to Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller News Foundation Revealed

The non-profit that feeds the conservative Daily Caller website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from entities and individuals who have received favorable coverage, including some who authored opinion pieces, a new filing shows.

The document—the Daily Caller News Foundation’s fiscal year 2021 tax statement—includes for the first time a list of donors to the 501(c)(4) organization, a so-called “dark money” group that is not required by law to disclose donor information. The filing also reveals that Carlson, who in 2020 announced he was leaving the Daily Caller and selling his stake in the website, is still the foundation chairman, and has not cut back on his hours.

When Carlson announced his split with the Daily Caller in 2020, he cited work constraints. “I’m just too absorbed in what I’m doing,” the host told The Wall Street Journal at the time, explaining, “I wasn’t helping in any way, because I’ve got an hour to do every night” on his Fox News program. The tax filing, which covers the following year, shows he continued to hold the chairman position and put in the same hours as in all previous foundation filings—five hours a week.

Many of the foundation’s donors are tied to industries and issues that the Caller covers frequently. Most notable is the Ariel Corporation, which manufactures natural gas compressors and gave $135,000 to support the news organization—which has for years been criticized for its pro-carbon energy reporting and financial ties to the Koch brothers, the right-wing industrialists.

Other donors have an even closer relationship with the site, including some who have published pieces in their own names, without a disclosure of their financial ties. That, according to top journalism ethics expert Kelly McBride raises ethics questions.

“With any news organization that solicits donations, you really have to have an editorial policy that articulates how you separate out your loyalty to your audience and to your journalistic mission from your ties to your donors,” McBride, who is senior vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, told The Daily Beast.

Such a policy, she said, would ideally include an advisement to donors that they can’t influence editorial work, and a promise of transparency whenever there’s a conflict of interest.

“You’re looking for, first of all, separation between fundraising and the editorial product, and you’re also looking for clarity around what donors can expect in exchange for their donation, as well as transparency so the audience understands,” McBride said, adding that “a tagline on an op-ed would be an obvious transparency mechanism.”

The Daily Beast reached out to the Daily Caller and Carlson for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.

The journalistic and ethical standards published on the Daily Caller website don’t mention the foundation or any policy regarding donor influence over editorial content. But some donors have contributed content themselves.

For instance, RightForge, a internet infrastructure provider that caters to conservatives, in 2021 gave the foundation $7,500. In May of that year, the Daily Caller ran an op-ed from RightForge CEO Martin Avila, criticizing what Avila called the social media “witch trial” of former President Donald Trump. Months later, RightForge announced it would host Trump’s new social media network, Truth Social.

Real estate investor Adam Milstein gave the foundation $25,000 in 2021 and published an opinion piece that same year. The piece—titled, “Strategic Active Philanthropy Can Strengthen Our American Values”—includes a brief bio for Milstein, which describes him only as “an active philanthropist, an investor, and community leader.”

While the Caller has been blasted for its affinity for the fossil fuel industry, the tax filing shows the Daily Caller News Foundation received financial backing from conservative green-energy group ClearPath Action, which gave $10,000 in 2021.

ClearPath has received favorable coverage from the Caller, which earlier this year cited CEO Rich Powell in an article about his group, without a disclaimer. When Powell landed a Daily Caller op-ed earlier this month, the outlet added a note to the piece and his contributor page that read, “The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.” But those notes did not mention the financial relationship.

Then there’s Daniel Oliver, a Daily Caller regular​​ contributor who also serves as trustee of the George E. Coleman Jr. Foundation, which gave the foundation $7,500 in 2021. The Caller highlights some of Oliver’s rich experience in his bio—chair of the Education and Research Institute, director of Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, and former chairmanships of the Federal Trade Commission under President ​​Ronald Reagan and the National Review”—but doesn’t mention his role with the Coleman Foundation, or the donor relationship. (Buzzfeed News reported in 2019 that the foundation was a FDRLST Media investor, citing Oliver’s role.)

An even more influential GOP figure also appears in the filing, in the form of a $10,000 gift from CRC Advisors, a group headed up by arch-conservative megadonor and judicial activist Leonard Leo. The Daily Caller published a piece on Friday based on the results of a CRC poll, without disclosing the relationship. The two groups also show overlap in their employees, including current CRC vice president Kevin Daley, whose LinkedIn page says he left the Caller in 2020 after four years as a reporter.

​​Power the Future, a nonprofit that advocates for the fossil fuel industry, donated $10,000 in 2021 and appears frequently enough in the Caller that articles about the group have their own tag on the site. Since the donation, Power the Future Executive Director Daniel Turner has been cited in multiple Caller pieces as an expert voice, without no mention of his status as a foundation donor.

Justin Olson , an elected Arizona utility regulator and former Arizona GOP Senate candidate, gave the foundation $10,000 in 2021, listing his role at the time as an officer with right-wing youth activist group Turning Point USA.

The Caller has given TPUSA favorable coverage, including after the donation. It also published an exclusive report in November 2021, the month after Olson announced his bid, revealing that a Scottsdale school board official had access to a so-called Google Drive “dossier” of personal information of vocal conservatives. (Police cleared the official of wrongdoing.) Olson tweeted the article when it came out, and expressed repeated outrage at the story on the platform, while a Twitter search shows he had not tweeted about schools previously.

The filing reveals the names of 2021 donors, but does not indicate whether they had donated before. Some of the contributors who present apparent conflicts of interest have had contributor roles in the publication previously, such as Leo and Adam Milstein, who published op-eds in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, when Power the Future announced its debut, the Caller had the exclusive story.

There are, of course, numerous examples of media companies drawing funding from non-profit backers. But the Caller and the DCNF have a unique relationship.

The foundation was created in 2011, a few years after Carlson founded the Daily Caller with then-partner Neil Patel, who still helms the operation. Thanks to the organization’s non-profit status, the foundation can subsidize not only publication costs, but the production of the actual content—with a built-in tax break.

Part of the foundation’s stated mission is to train young reporters, but its staff also generates content, which the Daily Caller then gets to post to its site for free. And while this content is nominally available to any publication, The Washington Post reported that it’s rarely used by anyone beyond the Caller. A 2017 Center for Media and Democracy report found that the Caller published “virtually everything” the nonprofit churned out.

However, other groups have taken advantage of the arrangement. The fact-checking site Snopes reported in 2019 that conservative political activists appropriated foundation content to populate a number of small-time websites styling themselves as local news outlets to smuggle political content to unsuspecting audiences.

The Caller has also been called out for its financial and political ties to Trump’s campaign, which shelled out about $150,000 for access to the Daily Caller email list in the 2016 election, the Center for Media and Democracy reported.

One of the most familiar examples of a donor-funded news organization would be National Public Radio. While NPR gets some government grants, most of its money comes from private contributors—including from industries it reports on. But McBride noted that NPR puts disclaimers on stories that may present an apparent conflict.

“When you listen to public media, you hear that certain people give money for certain lines of reporting, like for climate change, et cetera. So you can fund a line of reporting, but you get no influence over how that news is presented, and public media also lets the audience know when that funding may intersects with the reporting,” McBride said.

It’s unclear whether any Daily Caller News Foundation donors tabbed their contributions for specific issues or series. But some well-known issues-driven names populate the list, including top GOP megadonor and election-denial enthusiast Dick Uihlein ($25,000), anti-climate change groups the Bradley Foundation ($50,000) and Sarah Scaife Foundation ($350,000), and conservative free-market underwriters Searle Freedom Trust ($230,000).

The source of the biggest donation, however, is still unknown. That would be the $400,000 the group received through DonorsTrust, a nonprofit known as a conservative dark money “ATM,” which allows funders to channel money anonymously to various recipients. The foundation also got a $300,000 injection from someone identified as “anonymous.”

The Daily Caller operation—which has been exposed for ties to white nationalists—has been widely criticized on the left for its financial ties to energy interests, most specifically Charles Koch, who has provided millions in funding over the years, and at one point reportedly accounted for more than 83 percent of the foundation’s annual revenue.

That bankroll swelled between 2020 and 2021. The foundation’s fiscal year 2020 filing shows $1.57 million in contributions, a number that nearly doubled to $2.8 million the next year, according to the 2021 document. The foundation spent $1.4 million—$254,000 of it on fundraising—which, combined with previous assets, left it with a year-end balance of about $2.1 million.

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