Blue Fortress: California, and Its Funders, Get Ready to Fight Trump


This week, the California state legislature announced that it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., to lead its legal efforts in expected fights with the new Trump administration over immigrants and other issues. The move came not long after Los Angeles announced it was creating a $10 million defense fund to provide legal aid to residents facing deportation. 

Welcome to fortress California. No state has vowed stiffer opposition to the Trump agenda, with officials from Governor Jerry Brown stepping up with tough statements. Some top California funders are also girding for battle.

In the nearly two months since the election, we've written on several rapid-response initiatives to resist Trump that have emerged nationwide. The Open Society Foundations announced a new $10 million fund to combat hate crimes, while the Women Donors Network and the Solidaire created a new initiative called the Emergent Fund to provide fast money to communities leading resistance and building a new way forward in the Trump era. In addition, the San Francisco Foundation announced a rapid-response fund. Various other efforts are also underway or percolating. 


So far, though, we have yet to see a funder that's preparing for the worst under Trump to the degree of the California Endowment. Not long ago, the foundation announced that it was setting aside $25 million to help California residents who would be hurt by Trump policies if events play out as expected. The endowment’s new program to tackle these post-election challenges is called Fight4All, and the grants will assist those affected by an anticipated repeal of the Affordable Care Act, immigrants who are at risk of deportation, and others. 

While the deportation threat has garnered the most attention in California, the fate of Obamacare may be even more on the minds of some funders in the state. After Robert Wood Johnson, no foundations have done more to implement the ACA than those in California. And from the start, the California Endowment was at the forefront of this work, spending over $200 million to publicize the new benefits available under the law and sign up residents. 

The bold leadership of Robert K. Ross, the foundation's CEO and president, played a key role in helping Obamacare succeed in California. That work drew the attention of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which honored Ross and the California Endowment with a 2014 Impact Award.

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Now, Ross and his foundation are gearing up to defend the major gains they've made in insuring low-income Californians. In announcing the Fight4All  initiative, Ross said:

California was a champion for the successful implementation of [the] Affordable Care Act and was one of the first states to implement the act. Undocumented and lower-income Californians have been at the core of our statewide Health4All campaign, and we will continue to support the fight to protect their wellness, health coverage, and safety net services. We know that California's Central Valley has the most to lose, as it is has the highest concentration of Medi-Cal recipients in the state and we cannot allow them to fall through the cracks.

The new grants will largely fall under the endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative, as the foundation will focus on keeping all types of Californians insured. Medi-Cal was expanded in 2016 to include undocumented children, and three statewide propositions were approved in November to support that expansion. But with the future of healthcare in America even more uncertain now, it is unclear how far those protections will go. The foundation had previously planned to put a significant amount of money toward supporting Obamacare and Medicaid, but some of those funds will now back Fight4All grants.

The California Endowment, which has $3.4 billion in assets, has shown a willingness under the hard-charging Ross to plunge into a range of tough policy battles in a way that's not so common among funders of its size. The foundation also embraced racial justice as a top priority long before this area gained its recent traction among funders. Now, the California Endowment is doubling down on its mission.

In a November press release, the board of directors released a statement that said:

To ensure the health, safety and equity of Californians, it is more urgent now than ever to dismantle systems of racism and oppression. We call upon our philanthropic partners to join us in taking bold and courageous stands, and in making the investments necessary to make a vision of health and justice for all a lived reality.

Fasten your seatbelts for tough fights ahead in the Golden State under a Trump administration.