Meet the Funders Gunning to Kill Obamacare

On November 14, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up the case King v. Burwellwhich challenges health premium subsidies at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. While that case has received loads of attention, what's been unexamined is private foundations helping to pay for this and other lawsuits against Obamacare. Philanthropic support for the legal attack on Obamacare is just one way that funders are channeling money into nonprofits to attack a law that has extended health coverage to millions of low-income Americans. 

Who are the funders gunning to destroy Obamacare? That question isn't so easily answered, because many of the groups leading the charge against the ACA work on multiple issues and have many donors. Most grants going to such groups are for general support, leaving few concrete clues as which funders are specifically putting up money to rollback the health law. 

Maybe the best way to map the money trail is to see who's funding the groups at the very forefront of the attack on Obamacare

A good place to begin is the Pacific Research Institute, which has been a leader in litigating against the ACA over recent years, and took a lead role in writing a key amicus brief in support of King v. Burwell. The institute is headed by Sally Pipes, a healthcare expert and one the most visible conservative critics of Obamacare. From her platform at PRI, Pipes has made frequent media appearances, writes a regular healthcare column for Forbes, and published a 2010 book attacking the ACA entitled The Truth About Obamacare

Who pays Pipes's salary and underwrites PRI's litigation work? Different funders. The Sarah Scaife Foundation has been a steady backer over many years, and big money has also come from a range of other familiar conservative foundations, including the William Simon, Jacqueline Hume, and Bradley foundations. The Searle Freedom Trust has also been a frequent and generous funder, while some of PRI's biggest grants have come from the Donors Trust, which channels money anonymously through donor-advised funds. 

Predictably, as well, funds from the Koch brothers has reached PRI over the years, with the most public of these funds taking the form of grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. 

The Cato Institute has worked closely with PRI in making both a legal and policy case against Obamacare. It's the second group listed in the amicus brief in support of King v. Burwelland has been waging a multi-faceted battle against the Affordable Care Act since Obama first proposed the legislation. Cato's senior fellow Michael Tanner has been at the forefront of this work. 

Cato's funders include many of the same foundations that back PRI and a host of other conservative policy groups, but it draws even bigger support from wealthy individual donors. The Koch brothers have been major supporters of Cato since its beginning, and David Koch sits on the board. Another billionaire board member is the media mogul John Malone, while Cato's current CEO was previously the chairman of BB&T, a bank. 

The three other groups joining the King v. Burwell amicus brief are the American Civil Rights Union, the Individual Rights Foundation, and the Reason Foundation. ACRU's Legal Director and General Counsel is Peter J. Ferrara, who formerly led Cato's work to privatize Social Security. The Individual Rights Foundation is the legal arm of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, another group that's been steadily supported by a host of conservative foundations. 

Moving beyond the groups behind King v. Burwell, no analysis of the attack on the ACA would be complete without mention of Americans for Prosperity, which has engaged in a variety of efforts to roll back the law. And while AFP is a 501(c)4, it has still drawn support from various foundations. 

One of AFP's supporters is the John William Pope Foundation, which gave AFP $1 million in general operating support in 2013. Since 2004, Pope has given 24 grants to Americans for Prosperity, some of which were half a million dollars a pop, and most of which were in the six figures.

And while we're on the topic of the Pope Foundation, which is controlled by the North Carolina conservative leader Art Pope, we should also note that it's a big backer of the John Locke Foundation, giving it $2.5 million in 2013. And while those grants were for "general operating support," the John Locke Foundation is deeply involved right now in pushing an anti-Obamacare agenda as laid out by their website. 

In 2013, Pope also gave over $1.3 million to the John William Pope Civitas Institute. Again, while these funds took the form of general support, Civitas is heavily invested in destroying Obamacare through its research and policy work. 

Another player in the fight against Obamacare that draws generous funding is the Heartland Institute, which focuses mainly on state policy issues and has helped lead the fight against the part of the law that expands Medicaid coverage in the states, as well as making the broad argument that Obamacare is bad for consumers. 

Where does Heartland get the dough for these campaigns? From many of the same conservative funders mentioned so far, with some other additions, include Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, which gave them $180,000 in 2011, $300,000 in 2012 and $300,000 again in 2013 for general operating expenses. Another big supporter is Robert Mercer and the Mercer Foundation, who gave them $3.2 million between 2008 and 2014. (Mercer, a hugely wealthy hedge fund manager, also had a big influence in recent elections.)

Also worth knowing about: The Citizens United Foundation, who put out report called "Not What the Doctor Ordered: the Sickening Impact of Obamacare." Citizens United got $2 million from the Robert Mercer and the Mercer Foundation between 2008 and 2014.

There are many more policy groups out there trying to roll back Obamacare, including the National Center for Policy Analysis and the State Policy Network, both of which receive funds from a range of conservative funders. And the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute have been closely involved in policy work aimed at challenging Obamacare, and both institutions draw substantial support from many deep-pocked donors.  

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