Originally founded as the Barre Seid Foundation in Illinois in 1984, the charity has contributed to a number of right-wing causes as well as cultural, educational, and religious institutions across the United States over nearly four decades.
The Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation contributed at least 5 million dollars to conservative and libertarian groups until the mid-2000s, after which Barre Seid appeared to funnel his money to the same causes through dark money groups, like DonorsTrust and Leonard Leo’s network of right-wing nonprofits. The foundation was particularly generous to organizations that advanced free-market economic policies and promoted libertarian ideals in society. Grantees included:
The Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation is a charity associated with the conservative megadonor and tech mogul Barre Seid. Originally founded as the Barre Seid Foundation in Illinois in 1984, the charity has contributed to a number of right-wing causes as well as cultural, educational, and religious institutions across the United States over nearly four decades.
The majority of the foundation’s charitable giving to right-wing groups occurred prior to 2005. Since then, Seid has continued to seed conservative organizations with financial support through other avenues, including the libertarian donor-advised fund DonorsTrust and Leonard Leo’s “dark money” network.
Born in 1932 in Chicago, Barre Seid began his career as an assistant to the investor and businessman Graham Trippe, whose company Trippe Manufacturing produced headlights and revolving safety warning lights. By the mid-1960s, Seid had risen through the company’s ranks and became president as well as its sole owner. From there, the company, which began manufacturing electronics and other electrical equipment, grew as a result of computing’s increasing popularity. By the mid-1990s, Seid was raking in around $30 million a year, according to ProPublica.
In 1994, conservative activist Steven Baer founded a new political party called the Term Limits & Tax Limits Party in Illinois. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Seid had contributed $715,997 to the new political party, making him the group’s largest benefactor.
In filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Term Limits & Tax Limits Party pledged to reject increases in Illinois taxes, borrowing, and spending and to support term limits for state and federal lawmakers. In practice, however, the party found its base among social conservatives, including the anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ group Illinois Pro-Family Voters. In the summer of 1994, Illinois Pro-Family Voters aired a radio ad supporting Baer’s party and criticizing the Republican governor Jim Edgar as holding “the same liberal positions on gays, gambling, and abortion” as his Democratic challenger.
That year, the Term Limits & Tax Limits Party fielded a candidate for Illinois Secretary of State named William H. Regnery. The heir to a right-wing publishing dynasty, Regnery became disenchanted with the Republican Party at the end of the Cold War, when the mainstream Republican Party was increasingly embracing globalization.
Regnery continued to be a fixture in the far right until his death in 2021. In 2001, he founded the Charles Martel Society, a white nationalist organization that publishes The Occidental Quarterly. Four years later, Regnery seeded $380,000 to create the National Policy Institute, a think tank designed to inject white supremacist ideas into mainstream politics.
At the time of his death in July 2021, The New York Times credited Regnery for bankrolling “some of the leading organizations and figures behind the rise of the alt-right,” including the white supremacist Richard Spencer.
Steven Baer is a libertarian activist and close associate of Barre Seid. He was a director at the Barbara & Barre Seid Foundation until 2009. In 1994, Seid was the primary financier of Baer’s short-lived Term Limits & Tax Limits Party. A number of right-wing groups connected to Baer received funding from the Barre Seid Foundation in the early 2000s. One of these groups was the Americans for Limited Government Foundation, which listed Baer as a director on its tax filings in 2005, the same year it received $750,000 from Seid’s charity. Another was the U.S. Term Limits Foundation, which accepted $50,000 from the Barre Seid Foundation in 2003, when Baer was also serving as a director at both organizations.
In 2021, Seid contributed $1.6 billion to Marble Freedom Trust, a newly formed entity in Leonard Leo’s network of right-wing dark money groups, by transferring 100 percent of the shares in his company, then called Tripp Lite, to the nonprofit. According to the investigative news organization ProPublica, the “structure of the donation allowed Seid to avoid as much as $400 million in taxes.”
In January 2021, the publicly-traded Irish conglomerate Eaton (NYSE:ETN) announced that it would pay $1.65 billion to acquire Tripp Lite. As ProPublica reports, the next month Tripp Lite filed its Illinois state annual reports with Barre Seid’s name crossed out and replaced with Leonard Leo’s. A Tripp Lite subsidiary in Canada “similarly removed Seid as a director and added Leo as a director in March 2021, according to disclosure filings.”
The deal closed in March 2021. Eaton did not mention Marble Freedom Trust in any announcement. Marble Freedom Trust’s 990 for that financial year indicated that its $1.6 billion revenue came from the “sale of gifted company and subsidiaries,” but withheld identifying information “to protect donor confidentiality.”
The New York Times broke news of the transfer and sale of Tripp Lite in August 2022. The Times wrote that the transaction at that time was “among the largest — if not the largest — single contributions ever made to a politically focused nonprofit.”
Between 2001 and 2021, the foundation distributed more than $56.2 million dollars in grants financed mostly by Barre Seid’s personal contributions as well as dividends and interest on the group’s investments. While the majority of this money went to cultural organizations, educational institutions, and religious groups, the foundation also funneled more than $5 million to organizations championing conservative and libertarian causes.
Based on publicly available information, the majority of the foundation’s charitable giving to right-wing groups occurred prior to the mid-2000s. In November 2005, the foundation changed its name to the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation and its grantmaking largely shifted to apolitical causes. In the span of a year, the foundation’s charitable contributions to conservative groups fell from more than $1.9 million in 2005 to roughly $207,000 in 2006, a decline of more than 89 percent. The foundation’s politically-oriented donations never returned to their pre-2006 levels.
Although the focus of the foundation’s grantmaking shifted after 2005, it appears that Barre Seid continued to direct funds into right-wing organizations through other channels, including dark money groups. In November 2005, the foundation made its first and only known contribution to Donors Capital Fund for $25,000. Formed in 1999, Donors Capital Fund is one of two donor-advised funds (the other being Donors Trust) that have been dubbed the “dark-money ATM of the conservative movement,” by Mother Jones. Republican donors and conservative activists who have been linked to Donors Capital Trust include the Koch brothers and Leonard Leo. Other donors are publicly unknown as donor-advised funds are not obliged to reveal the identities of their donors, affording contributors “total anonymity.”
Donors Capital Fund is intended for individuals who plan to contribute large sums of money to right-wing causes. An initial gift of at least $1 million is required in order to open an account with Donors Capital Fund, suggesting that Seid made a personal high-value donation to the fund prior to his foundation’s contribution of $25,000 in 2005.
Tax filings for Donors Capital Fund revealed that in 2008 the group contributed more than $17.7 million to the Clarion Fund, a Delaware-based nonprofit organization that claims “to educate Americans about issues of national security to influence voters.” Weeks before the presidential election that year, the Clarion Fund sent copies of a documentary on Islamic extremism to 28 million households and religious institutions in key swing states. Titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” the 60-minute documentary was widely panned by Muslim groups as Islamophobic. The Council for American-Islamic Relations accused the group of “seeking to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a way to influence the outcome of our presidential election.” CAIR called on the Federal Election Commission and the IRS to investigate the Clarion Fund for engaging in political activity in violation of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
The Donors Capital Fund grant that the Clarion Fund received in 2008 represented 97 percent of the group’s total revenue that year. In 2010, a reporter at Salon identified the ultimate funder of the grant as Barre Seid—further proof that Seid continued to funnel money to right-wing organizations after his foundation stopped financing them in the mid-2000s.
Barre Seid has been “the major patron” of the Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based libertarian think tank, according to Steven Baer, who is a former director of the Barre Seid Foundation and a longtime friend of Seid. Since 1984, the Heartland Institute has advanced purported “free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” In practice, the think tank has engaged in attacks against climate science and has sought to undermine government action on climate change through specious research and its online publication, The Heartland Daily News.
Between 2001 and 2007, Seid’s foundation gave more than $612,000 to the group. Thereafter it appears that Seid continued to fund the Heartland Institute through personal donations. Leaked documents from the institute obtained by the climate-focused investigative blog DeSmog showed that between 2007 and 2011 an anonymous donor contributed more than $13.3 million to Heartland. DeSmog reporter and data scientist John Mashey has argued that this donor was Seid. “The combination of IRS Form 990s, [the leaked] February documents, and other information proves his identity, as the numbers simply do not work otherwise,” Mashey wrote.
In 2005, the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation contributed $25,000 to Donors Capital Fund, a donor-advised fund that supports conservative and libertarian causes. In 2013, Mother Jones dubbed Donors Trust the “dark-money ATM of the right.”
Donors Capital Fund and its sister organization Donors Trust receive funding from a significant number of Republican megadonors and right-wing foundations. These include the Searle Freedom Trust, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation. Tax filings have also tied the Koch family to Donors Trust. For example, the Knowledge and Progress Fund, whose board included Charles Koch, reported giving $4.85 million to Donors Trust in 2013.
Groups associated with the conservative activist Leonard Leo have been major beneficiaries of Donors Trust and Capital Fund, including the 85 Fund and the Federalist Society.
Between 2001 and 2006, the Seid Foundation contributed more than $42,000 to Philanthropy Roundtable, the predecessor organization to Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which is still in existence.
Founded in 1987, Philanthropy Roundtable acts as a middleman between wealthy conservative donors and organizations. In a 2021 interview on the thirtieth anniversary of Philanthropy Roundtable, libertarian activist Kimberley Dennis said that the group “was founded to create a counterweight to forces that were pushing philanthropy in a direction that was more professionalized, driven more by staff than by donors, and more animated by trendy notions of social justice than by donors’ unique preferences and interests.”
The foundation gave $150,000 to the State Policy Network in the early 2000s. Originally called the Madison Group, the SPN was born in 1986 as an “informal confederation” of conservative state-level policy think tanks and their supporters. Today, the group has 64 members with representation in all 50 states.
In 2007, The National Review described the SPN member organizations as “political springboards” for conservatives seeking public office. Former vice president Mike Pence and former Congressman Jeff Flake are among the individuals who entered politics after leading one of the SPN’s affiliates.
In recent years, the SPN has worked closely with partner organizations to draft model legislation advancing conservative principles in state government. The New York Times reported in 2021 that SPN was collaborating with the American Legislative Exchange Council and Heritage Action for America on a “two-year effort” to produce model legislation restricting voting.
The foundation was a major donor to the libertarian Palmer R. Chitester Fund in the mid-2000s. Between May 2004 and May 2005, Seid’s group granted the fund a total of $660,575.
Now defunct, the Chitester Fund was a libertarian organization that “produced various shows for television and VCR distribution which were of an educational nature.” In 1999, the fund seeded financing for “Stossel in the Classroom,” an educational program that repackaged specials by the libertarian journalist John Stossel for a younger audience.
In 2005, Seid’s foundation gave the Americans for Limited Government Foundation $750,000, its single-largest grant that year. The 501(c)(3) research arm of Americans for Limited Government, the ALG Foundation, produces “in-depth research to further reduce the size and scope of government and maximize individual freedom.”
Both the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation and ALG Foundation listed longtime Seid associate Steven Baer as a director in their 2005 tax filings.
The Barre Seid Foundation has funded a number of think tanks advancing free market economics, deregulation, and limited government in public policy. Recipients of Seid Foundation grants have included the Koch-linked Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Institute for Policy Innovation, among others.
The Barre Seid Foundation has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the “school choice” movement. Recipient groups have included, among others, the Parents in Charge Foundation, the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, and the Legislative Education Action Drive.
LEAD, which received $500,000 from the Barre Seid Foundation in 2004, championed school voucher programs and tuition tax credits for parents who wish to send their children to private schools. Although the school choice movement claims to empower parents, its efforts have drained millions of dollars from the public education systems in the states where they have been implemented.
The founder of the Parents in Charge Foundation and the Legislative Education Action Drive was the real estate developer Howard S. Rich. Rich also chaired the Americans for Limited Government Foundation as well as the U.S. Term Limits Foundation, two libertarian groups which received funding from the Barre Seid Foundation.
Between 2001 and 2021, the Barbara & Barre Seid Foundation and its predecessor gave more than $5 million to conservative and libertarian organizations.
|Americans for Limited Government Foundation||750,000.00|
|The Palmer R. Chitester Fund||660,272.00|
|The Heartland Institute||612,977.50|
|Legislative Education Action Drive||500,000.00|
|Parents In Charge Foundation||400,000.00|
|Citizen Government Foundation||300,000.00|
|Competitive Enterprise Institute||293,190.00|
|Illinois Taxpayer Education Foundation||180,000.00|
|Greater Education Opportunities Foundation||168,000.00|
|State Policy Network||150,000.00|
|Foundation for Individual Rights in Education||100,000.00|
|Education and Research Institute||100,000.00|
|Lincoln Legal Foundation||87,500.00|
|International Society for Individual Liberty||50,000.00|
|Advocates for Self-Government||50,000.00|
|U.S. Term Limits Foundation||50,000.00|
|Center for Individual Rights||50,000.00|
|Institute for Humane Studies||40,000.00|
|Donors Capital Fund||25,000.00|
|Oklahoma Family Policy Council||20,000.00|
|Intercollegiate Studies Institute||15,000.00|
|Ethics and Public Policy Center||15,000.00|
|Public Service Research Foundation||12,500.00|
|American Enterprise Institute||10,000.00|
|Fund for American Studies||10,000.00|
|National Taxpayers Union Foundation||10,000.00|
|American Educational Reform Foundation||10,000.00|
|American Alliance of Jews & Christians||10,000.00|
|National Legal and Policy Center||10,000.00|
|Center for the Study of Popular Culture||10,000.00|
|The New Criterion||5,000.00|
|The Henry Hazlett Foundation||5,000.00|
|Institute for Policy Innovation||5,000.00|
|Illinois Family Institute||2,500.00|
|Young America’s Foundation||2,500.00|
|Capital Research Center||1,000.00|
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