Honesty and balance.
Barre Seid, a Chicago businessman, recently made a massive gift of $1.6 billion to the Marble Freedom Trust, a §501(c)(4) organization led by Leonard Leo. Criticism of this gift has already been as outsized as the gift itself. Much of it has focused on Leo’s effectiveness as a leader of the Federalist Society and the power that this new gift will give him in conservative circles. Other attacks have accused the donor of tax avoidance or worse. Before everyone gets lost in the narratives manufactured by the left concerning this contribution, allow me to give two cheers for Seid.
However, let me begin by disclosing that I am not completely disinterested in this story. One of my children works for CRC Advisors, an entity chaired by Leonard Leo. That said, Seid deserves our appreciation above and beyond anything linked to parental pride.
The first cheer is simply for his honesty about his intentions in making this large gift. Entities like the Marble Trust are allowed to engage in political activities short of making direct contributions to candidates. Many other wealthy people with the same intentions have been less open about their political ambitions and have made sizable donations to private foundations and donor advised funds (DAFs) under their control. Once there, they find multiple ways to support lobbying for their favorite issues, like climate change and justice reform, and to influence the outcome of elections through voter-registration drives, get-out-the-vote campaigns, and ads that address hot-button issues before elections. Seid did not choose this avenue. He knew he wanted his money to support a political agenda and he chose an organization explicitly created for that purpose.
In making this choice, he also decided to forego a major tax deduction. Seid avoided paying taxes on the capital gains on the stock he owned in his company, Tripp Lite. Wise legal scholars have lamented that this may be legal, but it is certainly unfortunate that he was not required make the gift after taxes. Ironically, if he had chosen to give the stock to a foundation or DAF, he would have avoided the capital-gains tax and received a charitable deduction. This is the approach used by Bill Gates and other wealthy people on the left who want to shape politics and policymaking, but do so under the guise of charity.
The second cheer is for Seid’s willingness to help balance the playing field between conservative and liberal money in the (c)(4) arena. Over the past two decades, numerous organizations of this kind have emerged and most have a distinct tilt towards the left. Arabella Advisers is the best known of these entities, but George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Tom Steyer ,and others have created similar entities. While it is hard accurately estimate the amount of money that have gone into these left-of-center organizations, it is certainly much more than the amount donated by this concerned Chicago businessman. Now, he is not the first to support this type of work on the conservative side. The Kochs and others have also supported (c)(4)s of various stripes. But the size of this gift and the donor’s willingness to entrust it in the hands of someone with a proven track record is quite extraordinary.
Thank you, Barre Seid. You are a man of integrity who does not pretend to be charitable when your goals are political. And everyone should applaud your willingness to balance the political scales just a bit as we approach another round of elections in the Fall.