Wealthy philanthropic foundations are helping bankroll the pro-immigration movement, while groups advocating for tighter control of U.S. borders say they take a more grassroots approach to raising money.
The Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and Democratic activist George Soros, among other liberal funders, have donated millions of dollars to pro-immigration groups, as the Senate continues its debate on a contentious bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration policy.
Three of the nation’s biggest and most influential pro-immigration groups — the National Immigration Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and the National Council of La Raza, or NCLR — collectively received more than $3.25 million from Ford Foundation since 2005.
The three advocacy groups generally support the proposed Senate bill — with some modifications — that would give the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. a path to citizenship. The bill also would allow aliens here to be bring close family members into the county.
But groups supporting stronger immigration policy and tighter border control say they rely more on small donations from individuals than large foundations.
Numbers USA, which says it has 366,000 members, saw its membership grow 50 percent since Jan. 1, and 18 percent in May, spokeswoman Caroline Espinosa said. Two-thirds of the group’s financial support comes from private individuals, with the average donation being $40.
“Contrary to what might be popular belief is that the grass-roots aspect is more on our side than the [pro-immmigration] side,” Mrs. Espinosa said. “They have more of these organized, established types of groups founding them and driving their activism.”
John Tanton, a retired small-town Michigan ophthalmologist who helped organize Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Numbers USA and the Center for Immigration Studies, says money along won’t win the immigration debate.
“Money can be a help, but it also can be a hindrance,” he said. “If you don’t have to go out and meet the public and get shouted at and get direct mail survey rejected, then you won’t know about the pulse of the public.”
“We’ve had our share of major supporters, but we’ve had to rely on nickel and dime support,” Mr. Tanton said.
A complete list of funders isn’t available, as these lobby groups are not legally required report their funding sources. But many major philanthropist institutions make at least part of their donor lists public, showing a strong pro-immigration bias in their donating.
The Open Society Institute, run by Mr. Soros, has given $825,000 between 2002 and 2004 to the National Immigration Forum, another major pro-immigration group that supports allowing aliens a path to legal residency or citizenship.
Mr. Soros, who donated large sums of money in a failed effort to defeat President Bush’s bid for reelection in 2004, also has donated $525,000 to NCLR, and $325,000 to MALDEF during the same period.
The Ford Foundation, with assets of more than $9 billion, is known to favor liberal causes. The foundation was significantly criticized in 2003 after it gave millions of dollars worth of grants to Palestinian nonprofit groups that later were accused of conducting terrorist activities.
The Carnegie Corporation has contributed almost $7 million collectively to the National Immigration Forum, MALDEF and NCLR since 1994.
NCLR also collected almost $2.2 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation between 2003 and 2005, and $425,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation since 2004.
The Rockefeller Foundation since 2004 also have given more than $1 million to MALDEF, and $300,000 to the National Immigration Law Center.
About one-third NCLR’s budget comes from foundations, although no foundation money is used for lobbying purposes, NCLR spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete said.
“Foundation money is used strictly for policy purposes and research work,” she said. “We keep a strict line on that.”
Less than two percent of NCLR’s budget is used to promote its immigration agenda, she added.
“We’re a Latino advocacy group — what we do is much broader than just immigration,” Ms. Navarrette said.
Advocacy groups on the other side of the immigration debate are not without some financial support from philanthropic entities.
The conservative Scaife Foundations of Pittsburgh gave FAIR — one of the biggest immigration-control nonprofit groups — $775,000 between 2003 and 2005. The foundations during the same time period also gave $420,000 to Center for Immigration Studies and $100,000 to the Numbers USA Education and Research Foundation — groups also that advocate tighter border control and restricting the flow of immigrants.
The Scaife Foundations, which include the Sarah Scaife and Carthage foundations, are connected with conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, the principal heir to the Mellon banking, oil, and aluminum fortune.
The F.M. Kirby Foundation, which has supported many conservative nonprofit groups in recent years, gave $475,000 to Numbers USA since 1998, and donated more than $375,000 to FAIR since 2000.
But overall, opponents of the bill say they rely more on strength in membership numbers translates beyond donations, as members helped send more than 750,000 faxes opposing the Senate bill to members of Congress last month.
“This just shows how angry people are about this bill and over the idea of amenity and allowing 12 million illegal aliens to remain here in this country and basically get rewarded for breaking the law,” Mrs. Espinosa said.