media bias

Dark Money Funded Alliteration

For some time, we at Red Maryland have caustically referred to the folks at Maryland Matters as the “Alliterative, Dark Money Funded, Baltimore Sun, Jr.” website.  While we have had fun with this disparaging sobriquet it belies the serious point that we have made since Maryland Matters was founded which is that they are a left-wing outlet which Maryland conservatives should be wary of and hesitant to support even by sharing their work.

Brian Griffiths wrote in 2016 that “it appears based on the financial backers that Maryland Matters is intended to be another left-wing media outlet, somewhat of a Center Maryland on steroids” with original reporting.  Fearing the backlash our reporting might stir, Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz denied this insisting that “Md. Matters, despite the composition of the steering committee, is not some liberal cabal.

Of course, given Mr. Kurtz’s involvement with various groups over the years, which we have chronicled in detail, we remained skeptical.

Turns out, our skepticism was justified.  The Capital Research Center issued a stinging report today that ties the alliterative, dark-money funded, Maryland Matters to, well, left-wing dark money.

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For those not familiar, the Capital Research Center describes itself as,

“The Capital Research Center was established in 1984 to examine how foundations, charities, and other nonprofits spend money and get involved in politics and advocacy, often in ways that donors never intended and would find abhorrent.

From the start, CRC has exposed how those organizations are “captured” by interest groups and used to undermine Americans’ freedoms.

Today, we study unions, environmentalist groups, and a wide variety of nonprofit and activist organizations. We also keep an eye on crony capitalists who seek to profit by taking advantage of government regulations and by getting their hands on taxpayers’ money.

We’re not afraid to take on the Washington Establishment—Republican, Democrat, or anyone else.

CRC reports take the form of articles on this website, newspaper and magazine articles, and books. We’re also a source of information for commentators and people in the news media.

We do have a specific point of view. We believe in free markets, Constitutional government, and individual liberty. But facts are facts, and our journalists and researchers go where the facts lead them.”

(Remember that when the Maryland Matters apologists of the world try to dismiss the CRC as “right-wing kooks”.)

Here are some key parts of their report.  We encourage everyone to read it in its entirety and review the evidentiary links they provide.

[W]hen you look at the sort of “grassroots” liberal media pundits favor, a curious pattern develops: many of these smaller and more locally focused news organizations bear a striking similarity to a top-down news organization.

For example, The Newsroom is not all that it appears to be. The Newsroom is a news network that links together several media outlets (namely Arizona Mirror, Maine Beacon, Colorado Independent, Florida Phoenix, Maryland Matters, Michigan Advance, North Carolina Policy Watch, Nevada Current, Pennsylvania Capital-Star, and Virginia Mercury) to cover news at the state level.

According to the Newsroom’s website, The Newsroom’s founders were inspired by an increasing amount of national news coverage and a decreasing amount of coverage of state news, which leaves “a void that is too often filled by partisan or unreliable sources.” To counter these “partisan” sources, Newsroom vows that their media outlets “provide the relentless stream of quality reporting and commentary that helps sustain a vibrant democracy.”

While the organization’s ideals are aspirational, each of the local media outlets are awash with left-wing angles and opinion pieces. For example, the Arizona Mirror has a cartoonist who routinely attacks Trump and Arizona’s Republican governor Doug Ducey; the Maine Beacon’s staff  podcast is a strategy session about how Maine Democrats can further their agenda; and the North Carolina Policy Watch has a blog called “Pulse,” which pumps out tons of progressive policy suggestions for the state government to adopt and critiques of the state’s various existing policies from a left-wing perspective.

We have made this very point about Maryland Matters for some time.  They take the left-wing angles on most stories and their site is replete with the most left wing opinion pieces. Like this take on Governor Hogan’s decision to withhold funds from Metro after the resignation of its chairman, their softball pieces on the Kirwan Commission’s work, or this left wing political screed.

Back to the story:

Most of these outlets are staffed by average local-news type journalists—some of their higher-up staff members, however, are more connected. Laurie Zeller is the publisher over at Colorado Independent, another affiliate of The Newsroom. Zeller has significant connection to the Democracy Alliance, a large and wealthy collective of leftist donors in Washington, even working as the executive director of its Colorado branchin 2008. 

Rob Schofield, the Director of Research at North Carolina Policy Watch, worked as lawyer for left-wing legal nonprofits like the Migrant Legal Action Program and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Curiously, Newsroom itself, the administrative nonprofit, which unites these media outlets together, is operated by several alumni of North Carolina Policy Watch and its blog, Pulse.

Chris Fitzsimon, Newsroom’s director and publisher, is also the founder and director of North Carolina Policy Watch. He has led a career in left-wing politics, as the former director and founder of the now-defunct Raleigh-based progressive think tank known as the Common Sense Foundation and as former policy adviser to congressman Dan Blue (D-NC).

[Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz precisely fits this profile.  He is a former Gazette reporter and editor at Roll Call before working for years at Center Maryland, an outlet we documented for years was little more than a front for cronies of Martin O’Malley.]

The further up one goes, the less the Newsroom and its affiliates seem like a loose coalition of rebels. Since July 2018, the Virginia Mercury bought two dozen Facebook ads promoting the publication’s articles.  But, if one digs around a little bit more, they will quickly find that the Hopewell Fund is the funder behind it all: Virginia Mercury itself is a project of Hopewell Fund, not a separate organization, and every media outlet said to be affiliated with Newsroom is directly connected to Hopewell. Some of them are even funded by Hopewell, like the Arizona Mirror.

The Hopewell Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based out of Washington, D.C. Created in 2015, the Hopewell Fund is the newest pillar of Arabella Advisors, which manages a huge “dark money” network in the capital. Despite its youth, Hopewell pulled in a revenue of $130.6 million in 2017.

Hopewell funds other left-wing organizations as well. In 2017, it gave about $5 million to the Priorities USA Foundation, the nonprofit extension of the Democratic Party super PAC Priorities USA, which is funded by major Democratic donors like George SorosFred Eychaner, and Donald Sussman.

Hopewell also gave $2.9 million in 2017 to the Voter Registration Project Education Fund, $750,000 to the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, $1.6 million to the Checks and Balances Education Fund, and $125,000 to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Executive director Bonnie Scott Jones and managing director Scott Nielson have also worked with powerful left-wing organizations in their careers, such as Georges Soros’s Open Society FoundationsDemocracy AllianceRockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The major funders of the Hopewell Fund are all wealthy, left-leaning organizations: the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Nduna Foundation, Imago Dei Fund, and the Catesby Foundation. (Some of these foundations fund several other “journalistic” outlets as described by CRC’s Michael Watson’s here.)

The Newsroom and its affiliates claim to be “independent” from Hopewell Fund’s direction and guidance, but their political message is 100 percent in line with the other sort of political nonprofits that receive Hopewell funding. If any of these media outfits were to change their political ideologies, it seems unlikely that they would continue to be eligible for membership with Newsroom or for financial support from Hopewell.

[T]he Left doesn’t have a Fox News. Instead, it has a more subversive and misleading system of “newsmakers”—The Newsroom is only one among many.

And this is the point.  Maryland Matters isn’t the nonpartisan outlet simply trying the fill the void in local political coverage.  They have an agenda and it shows in the stories they tell and don’t tell and the way they tell them.  It would be fine if, like we at Red Maryland, Maryland Matters acknowledged the sources of their funding and left-leaning editorial point of view, but they don’t. Instead, they perpetuate the dangerous disingenuity that they are “straight down the middle” taking a play out of the Center Maryland playbook and deceiving their readers.

Conservatives in Maryland should be wary and should not be supporting Maryland Matters even by sharing their work on social media.  If you want a truly neutral source for state and local politics, consider the Maryland Reporter.

Better yet, if you want quality reporting and opinion of state and local politics from a candid and honest center-right perspective, you should be supporting us here at Red Maryland.

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