The Next Soros? The Pierre Omidyar Ukraine Connection

Last week, the Silicon Valley website Pando Daily broke the story that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has been funding several Ukrainian opposition groups that were instrumental in removing former president Viktor Yanukovych from power. 

Given that Omidyar has also donated $250 million to create the independent journalism network First Look Media, there was some question as to why this was not disclosed, and if it created a conflict of interest.

Of course, as with most non-profits, the records are there if you care to look, which led Glenn Greenwald to respond that he had no idea Omidyar was funding Ukrainian opposition groups, but it wouldn’t have affected his reporting anyway, and went on to slam the original reporter for making it appear as if this was some sort of conspiracy when a quick Google search revealed a press release from the Omidyar Network dated September 15, 2011, detailing the $335,000, two-year commitment to Ukraine’s Centre UA, in support of its initiative, New Citizen.

New Citizen is described as a coalition of more than 50 Ukrainian civil society organizations seeking to secure a greater voice for citizen participation in the political process and holding government to account, and according to the release, the Omidyar Network lent its support to build out New Citizen’s technology platforms, enable education and outreach, and expand the program with the Ukraine.  

The incident brings to mind the recent grant that WNET returned to the Arnold Foundation due to the perceived conflict of interest, and also criticisms of longtime pro-democracy supporter George Soros, whose footsteps Omidyar seems to be following with his grants supporting technology platforms and outreach for these groups.

As Greenwald goes to some length to point out, money from people like Omidyar and Soros finds its way to a lot of different places. But that doesn’t mean that the groups that receive funding don’t retain their independence, or are somehow swayed by their ideologies. In fact, it would be more logical to presume the opposite—that these groups receive funding because they already have ideologies that these billionaires are drawn to. And sure, sometimes some of these groups are going to do things that will make some people question the funders’ intentions, but those are usually people who are trying to invent a story where there really isn’t one.

Yes, Omidyar’s money helped affect a regime change in Ukraine, and reasonable people can argue whether or not this was a good thing, or whether the proper tactics were used. But it doesn’t appear to have had an effect on how the media outlets Omidyar funds are covering the story, and it’s hard to ascribe any intent behind his grant to Centre UA beyond what was publicly stated when he made it. And whether or not Omidyar agrees with the tactics or the outcome, there’s no reason to think that he won’t continue to increase his support of pro-democracy groups and independent media throughout the world.