By George Colli
NOVEMEMBER 10, 2023
The Connecticut Mirror, a self-described “independent, nonprofit” news site covering Connecticut government received more than $4.4 million dollars from donors undisclosed to it’s readers over a two-year period in 2020 and 2021, according to tax documents obtained exclusively by G. COLLI Investigates.
The Connecticut Mirror launched in 2010 and holds its journalistic standards in the highest regard however it appears to be breaking one of the first rules a journalist learns in school – disclosure of funding.
The Connecticut Mirror states it is in partnership with most major news outlets in the state that post syndicated CT Mirror articles on their sites. It amplifies the reach of CT Mirror to almost every news consumer in the state and brought in around $500,000 per year in 2020 and 2021 to the “independent” news site. Without disclosure, however, there is no way for the audience to know who is paying for the “news” it is reading.
Unredacted 990 tax forms reveal The Connecticut Mirror hid from its readers and larger syndicated audience show $2,199,048 in donations in 2020 and $2,209,691 in 2021 a handful of donors.
The donors include partisan Democratic billionaires Karen Pritzker of the famed Hyatt Hotel Pritzker family and a nonprofit funded by billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive, who is spending hundreds of millions of dollars around the country to push leftist policies, including in education, criminal justice reform and healthcare.
The nonprofit newsroom posts redacted 990 forms on its website, but the page with the names and donation totals from these contributors are excluded in each posted tax form going back to its founding. It is a blatant a violation of the standards and guidance for members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, of which CT Mirror is a member.
The INN guidance related to editorial independence clearly states, “Each INN member publicly states its commitment to independence, from advocacy, financial or other influence, meaning its coverage serves no cause beyond informing the public and the communities it serves.”
In terms of transparency, the INN guidance states, “any person relying on a nonprofit news site’s reporting should be able to easily learn the major financial supporters of the news outlet, and about its values and leadership. INN member newsrooms commit to financial transparency, letting the public know the institutions and individuals that provide significant levels of funding to support the journalism. INN members do not rely on anonymous donations or “dark money” to fund their journalism”.
THE SECRET DONORS
Karen Pritzker is the wealthiest heir in one of the wealthiest families in the world, according to Forbes. She is a board member of CT Mirror but no where on the site does it show any personal donations made by Pritzker going back to the launch in 2010. The unredacted 990 forms show her Seedlings Foundation contributed a total of $1.14 million over the two-year period. Pritzker contributed an additional $300,000 per year personally bringing her total contribution to CT Mirror to $1.74 million in 2020 and 2021.
The Seedlings Foundation states on its website it “supports programs that nourish the physical and mental health of children and families and foster an educated and engaged citizenship.”
The Pritzker family is one of the most powerful Democratic families in the country. Her cousin, JP Pritzker is the Governor of Illinois. The New York Times declared him the Democrats “break glass candidate” in the event of President Joe Biden being unable to run for re-election. The Times article mentions his progressive credentials and vast fundraising network across the country as reasons he is a possible last-minute candidate in 2024.
Karen Pritzker’s cousin Penny was a Commerce Secretary under President Barack Obama.
The Pritzker family feud with Donald Trump goes back to 1979 and the Commodore Hotel deal. It was the first major Manhattan real estate deal for Donald Trump. His partnership with the Pritzker’s in renovating the midtown Manhattan hotel into the Grand Hyatt led dueling lawsuits and years of court proceedings between the two parties that eventually settled in the early 1990’s.
The vitriol between the Pritzker family and Trump extended all the way to the 2016 presidential campaign. Karen Pritzker’s late husband Michael Vlock was quoted by the New York Times in 2016 as saying of Trump, “He’s an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard.”
Connecticut Republican candidates and elected officials often speak of being asked the “Trump test” question of the day. Without disclosure of such significant funding from someone whose family so publicly feuded with Trump for decades, it raises serious questions as to the motivations behind daily “Trump test” questions.
Action Now Initiative donated $400,000 in both 2020 and 2021 to CT Mirror. Action Now Initiative describes itself as “a non-partisan advocacy network that supports the mission of Arnold Ventures to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice through evidence-based policy reform”. It advocates for reform to many leftist policies, including criminal justice, energy and climate, immigration, Democracy, health care, housing and public finance.
Arnold Ventures is funded by its founders, ex-Enron executive and retired hedge fund manager John Arnold and his wife, former Colbalt International Energy lawyer Laura Arnold. Records show Arnold Ventures gives an average of over $230 million annually to 3200 projects. That included groups such as Alliance for Global Justice, a pro-Palestine liberation organization with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group. Arnold Ventures recently announced it would withhold more funding to that group, according to Washington Examiner. The Alliance for Global Justice is under congressional scrutiny for its terror ties.
Arnold Ventures is also one of the largest funders behind the movement to allegedly fight the spread of “misinformation” and “disinformation”. Arnold Ventures donated almost $14 million to five groups. It’s a cause that’s brought heavy criticism from Republicans and conservatives as biased and anti-free speech. Arnold Ventures also donated $45 million towards “criminal justice reform” in New York.
The Arnolds are also funders of Third Way, which Politico describes as a centrist group partnering with Move On and the Lincoln Project attempting to block No Labels Party from getting ballot access.
On its website, Arnold Ventures boasts of giving tens of millions of dollars to over 100 different independent journalism organizations and projects across the country.
The $800,000 to CT Mirror in 2020 and 2021, however, goes undisclosed to the CT Mirror readers.
How many more “independent journalism organizations and projects across the country” are keeping the Arnold Ventures funding a secret to their audience?
Another undisclosed donor is William C. Graustein. The William C. Graustein Memorial Fund is a major funder lobbying some of the most controversial housing legislation making its way through the Connecticut legislature in recent years. Legislation that the CT Mirror covers daily without any disclosure of the $275,000 donated by Graustein to the news organization in 2020 and 2021.
The Graustein Memorial Fund is listed as one of the “partner-funders” of Desegregate CT, the leading housing reform lobbying group behind the calls for the state to takeover local zoning.
Along with housing, Graustein provides grants for equity in education, ending racism and poverty. It prominently displayed Black Lives Matter on its website and describes its advocacy strategy as building community power, disrupting institutional inequity and transforming key systems. In big bold red text it proclaims “ We must be unapologetic and bold in our pursuit to dismantle white supremacy”.
It’s grantees include Bridgeport Generation Now, a Bridgeport based far left political activist group whose members are at the center of election fraud lawsuits in Bridgeport from 2019 and 2023. The Graustein fund also provided money to the Connecticut Black and Brown Student Union, Connecticut far left group advocating for the “Free Palestine” movement.
Another funder to CT Mirror is Melville Trust. The Melville Trust website shows a two year grant for $50,000 per year for the CT Mirror to fund a housing reporter through the Report for America program. It lists the root cause for the grant to identify “Lack of pathways to decent, permanent housing, Racist housing, zoning, and land use policies” with the stated goal of shifting public and political will”. It provided similar multi -year grants for CT Public, the state’s NPR affiliate, to hire a housing reporter with the same focus. Melville Trust also is granting $900,000 per year for two years to Partnerships for Strong Communities, another vocal housing reform group lobbying for the state takeover of local zoning in Connecticut. The grant states that its focus is on anti-racist housing policies. A search of articles on the CT Mirror and other syndicated sites shows no disclosure that the housing reporter is being funded by the same groups pushing for the legislation.
Would these disclosures impact how the audience reads news about the “racist” small town zoning policies often mentioned in CT Mirror articles?
The Connecticut Health Foundation contributed without disclosure to the CT Mirror readers $468,750 in 2020 and $393,750 in 2021 for a total of $862,500. The Connecticut Health Foundation lists it strategic plan as focusing on health equity for people of color. Its focuses also include health coverage for undocumented immigrants. It is listed as another “partner-funder” for Desegregate CT.
Another undisclosed contributor is the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation. It gave CT Mirror $150,000 in 2020 and $225,000 in 2021. Its website includes a list of grants for education, land conservation, medical and journalism. It’s journalism grants went to CT Mirror, Pro Publica, The Groundtruth Project and Institute for Nonprofit News. It also contributes to The City, a self-described nonprofit, non-partisan NYC based news site that appears to advocate for leftist activist and union causes.
The last undisclosed donor to The CT Mirror is Roslyn Milstein Meyer and Jerome Meyer. The founder of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas and a Yale educated psychologist, Roslyn Milstein Meyer sits on the board of CT-4, along with the daughter of Governor Ned Lamont. Milstein Meyer gave $155,298 in 2020 and $200,941 in 2021 to CT Mirror. Her father, Paul Milstein, was a NYC real estate mogul who built more than 50,000 apartments, 8,000 hotel rooms and millions of square feet of office space in Manhattan. He was included on Richard Nixon’s “master enemies list”.
G. COLLI Investigates reached out to CT Mirror for comment but did not receive a response.
OUTLIER OR TREND?
These revelations of undisclosed donors to CT Mirror comes as other independent, nonprofit news organizations across the country face criticism for similar failures to disclose funders. A New York Post investigation from June found Pro Publica received more than $6 million dollars from donors kept secret from its readers. The article states “the identity of two donors who appear to have made up nearly a quarter of their donations last year, ProPublica declined to name.”
More recently, the Nebraska-based “independent, nonprofit” news site Flatwater Free Press was caught manufacturing negative and biased news against Governor Jim Pillen. Digging done by the Washington Times finds the news site is funded by wealthy, leftist activists and foundations.
Is the nondisclosure of donors an outlier in Connecticut and potentially at Pro Publica and Flatwater Free Press? Or is it a much more common trend? How many of the more than 100 independent news outlets receiving money from John Arnold-funded groups are disclosing it to their audience? If reporters are being funded by the activists lobbying for the legislation they’re covering, could it be considered a lobbying violation? Are there campaign finance violation questions when the news organization is secretly funded by political partisans and there is heavy criticism for one party and fawning praise for the other during a election cycle?
Trust in media is at a decades long low. These revelations of undisclosed funding of “independent” news by wealthy progressive activists will do nothing to increase that trust.
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