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Update: summation posted here.

This is a follow-up to my previous diary on the possibility that the "Anonymous Donor" mentioned in the Heartland Institute Denialgate documents is Chicago industrialist Barre Seid.  My conclusion there, which remains my conclusion here, was:

Barre Seid is by far the most likely known candidate for the status of the Heartland Institute's "Anonymous Donor."  The project is a close fit with Seid's known interests, the method is a close fit with Seid's known MO, and Seid is already known to be closely connected with the Heartland Institute, to which he has been the largest single [known] donor. In addition, Mr. Anonymous and Mr. Seid match up in at least three ways that are unlikely to be coincidental: the use of the obscure "Donors Trust" vehicle to mask his identity, the insistence on being referred to internally only as "the Anonymous Donor", and the very recent accession of known Seid deputy Chuck Lang to the board of the Heartland Institute.

(You'll probably want to read that diary before reading or not reading this one.)

In this diary, I'll make a couple of minor factual corrections, explore an aspect of Seid's behavior that seems to answer one logical objection to his being the Anonymous Donor, and take a closer look at what exactly the Denialgate documents have to say about Mr. Anonymous.

The evidence remains circumstantial, although it is (in my opinion) compelling.  There's no question that Mr. Seid has earned some public scrutiny in any case, but the possibility that Heartland's Anonymous Donor is someone else cannot be ruled out.  

For the details, meet me beneath the Mark of Kos.

(Note: There were rumors earlier in the week that the New York Times would be revealing the Anonymous Donor's identity, but so far, no actual revelations have been forthcoming.  For the time being, then, we blurnalists must blunder bravely forward on our own. I write, in part, in the hope that somebody out there is looking at the missing piece of the puzzle without realizing it.)


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).


1. I want to correct the misunderstanding that arose, here and elsewhere, that based on what I'd posted, Barre Seid must be a billionaire.  I'm not aware of any reason to assume that his net worth is that large. His known behavior seems equally compatible with wealth in the nine-figures range: big enough to be able to make occasional eight-figure donations without undue pain, but still small enough that he has to think long and hard about how to make those donations as effective and long-lasting as possible.  (Or to put it another way, he's no Sheldon Adelson.)

2. I stated in the previous diary that this was the only known photo of Seid as an adult.  That is not quite accurate.  I should have said it was the only known recent photo of him; there is at least one other photo of him, viewable here; it dates from when Seid was still working actively in opera.

So far, those are the only factual issues that have come to my attention.  If you're aware of any others, please mention them in the comments.

Pattern of behavior

A few people have observed that if Seid is the anonymous donor, it seems odd that he would make such a big deal about being anonymous when he was already a known and major supporter of the Heartland Institute.  This is certainly odd, but it fits Seid's known pattern of behavior in other cases.  To illustrate that, let's take a quick look at three cases -- the two that were discussed in the previous diary, and one more that I hadn't paid close attention to until today.

Clarion Fund and the Obsession video

In this case, Seid's anonymous donation was completely out of the blue; there are no previous donations from the Seid Foundation to Clarion, nor any other obvious association between Clarion and Seid.  If the Clarion Fund staff hadn't erred in including their disclosure of "Barry" Seid's donation in a public filing, there would be very little reason to even suspect Seid was behind the Obsession video.  But the expenditure dovetailed far too neatly with Seid's known MO, interests and wealth for the attribution to have been erroneous.  (Even if such an error were plausible.)

So this is one case where there was just one anonymous contribution, and no prior donation history.  Admittedly, that doesn't fit especially well with the Heartland donation pattern.

The Shimer College takeover attempt

The people, united, can never be defeated.
(Linda Goldstein)
Many of the payments Seid made as part of the unsuccessful attempt to take over Chicago's tiny Shimer College were to or by way of his proxies on the Board, such as Heartland's Joe Bast and Sam Adams' Eric O'Keefe; that muddies the waters somewhat, and a comprehensive account is out of place here.  But zeroing in just on direct donations, there are two payments to Shimer in the Seid Foundation's disclosures: one for $650,000 in 2007 and one for $175,000 in 2008.  In 2009 (PDF, page 53/55), as the trap was sprung,  Seid switched channels and donated $585,000 via Donors Trust.  This fits well with the putative pattern for Seid as Heartland's Anonymous Donor: openly at first, anonymously later.

Foundation for Jewish Camp

Before I go into this one, I want to be extremely clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Seid's donations to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, anonymous or otherwise.  FJC is a good cause, and Barre Seid is a good man for supporting it, particularly in the way that he (probably) did.  Anyone who says otherwise had better have a hell of an argument on their side.  Now then...

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), also referred to in many sources (including the 990s of both the Seid Foundation and Donors Trust) as the "Foundation for Jewish Camping", supports summer camps for Jewish children (and children of interfaith couples) across the United States.  The Seid Foundation has made several contributions to FJC, most notably a $375,000 grant for "general support" in 2006.  Nothing unusual there, apart from generosity.

Beginning with a pilot program in Chicago in 2006, FJC rolled out a nationwide program of subsidies for children attending Jewish camp for the first time.  The pilot program was supported by a $1 million donation by an anonymous donor, followed by a record-setting $15 million donation from the same donor for the national program.  FJC identified this donor as a "highly successful" "Chicago businessman."  The same anonymous donor followed up with another $10 million donation in 2008.  The channel used for the first two donations is unknown -- perhaps the donor simply wrote a check -- but the 2008 donation was made via Seid's favored vehicle, Donors Trust.  (It was the second-largest donation processed by Donors Trust that year, behind Seid's ~$17 million for the Clarion Fund's Obsession campaign, and ahead of the ~$4 million from the Heartland Institute's Anonymous Donor.) This donation had already been linked to Seid based purely the size, channel and receiving organization; that the donor was a "highly successful Chicago businessman" provides additional corroboration.

In 2010, Seid was awarded an honorary doctorate by Israel's Bar-Ilan University, in part for "playing an instrumental role with the Foundation for Jewish Camp in initiating and expanding a novel program for subsidized summer camp."  If Seid wasn't the anonymous donor, this "instrumental role" would be rather difficult to explain; one scours the FJC website, press releases, etc. in vain for any mention of him.

The case for Seid having been the anonymous donor to FJC seems pretty solid.  Clearly, he didn't take nearly the pains to conceal his identity in the case of FJC that he took in the cases of Clarion or Shimer.  But why would he?  He was doing an uncontroversially good thing.  Ordinarily there would be no reason for anyone to want to expose him, and no shame even if he were exposed.  

If we focus just on the giving -- leaving out the vastly different contexts in which these donations occurred -- we have the same pattern as in the attempted Shimer takeover: at first, some donations are made openly via the Seid Foundation, but later donations are made anonymously via Donors Trust.  So while Clarion does not fit the Heartland pattern, the other two cases do. Since this identical sequence of events occurred in the very different cases of Shimer and FJC, there would be nothing surprising about it occurring in the case of Heartland as well.

This pattern in itself doesn't make it any more likely that Seid is the Anonymous Donor, but it does eliminate one plausible objection to that possibility.  This was one puzzle piece that seemed at first like it ought not to fit -- but turns out to fit quite snugly.


Moving on, here is something else I glossed over in the first diary.  The Seid Foundation's disclosures show something interesting. Compare 2005 (or any year before it) to 2006 (or any year after it): in 2005, approximately half of the donations are for obviously political 501(c)3s, such as Cato and AEI (Heartland is already gone, the last major donation having been made from the Seid Foundation to them in 2004, as mentioned here).  But in 2006, these all disappear, and only uncontroversial charities remain (except for a few strays, like one last very small payment to Heartland in 2007).  

Why Seid made this switch is unclear, though plenty of rationales suggest themselves; perhaps he hadn't realized how public a public filing is in the internet age, or perhaps he was being unexpectedly hassled about some of the donations, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid calling attention to himself when he ramped up his giving in the future.   In any event, this is one more area where Seid's observed behavior corresponds quite well with the donation patterns of the Anonymous Donor.

(Notably, this is about the same time we start to see significant payments to Heartland and other specifically Seid-favored organizations via Donors Trust -- payments that Heartland credits to the Anonymous Donor.  Notably, however, Heartland is absent from the Donors Trust 990s from this transitional period (such as 2005 (PDF)); in fact, the 2008 990 is the first from Donors Trust to show significant funds moving to Heartland. So if Seid is the Anonymous Donor, he must have used another channel -- perhaps just making the donations directly -- between ceasing to use the Seid Foundation in 2004/5 and starting to use Donors Trust in 2008.  That gap is one stubbornly missing piece of this puzzle -- but it's worth noting that this is the same period in which Seid was also donating to FJC via a channel other than the Seid Foundation or Donors Trust.) UPDATE: My error, based on an insufficiently careful reading of the documents.  The Donors Capital donations start immediately after the Seid Foundation donations end.

Review of all mentions of the Anonymous Donor in the Denialgate documents

One thing I didn't do, but should have done, before posting the previous diary, is to canvass the Heartland documents for every mention of the Anonymous Donor to ensure that I hadn't skipped over some inconvenient truth that would rule out Barre Seid.  So without further ado...

WARNING: Dull.  Skip down for the one interesting data point, if you'd like.

The 2012 Budget (PDF) mentions the Anonymous Donor on three pages.

Twice on page 2/34:

The principal sources of the $3 million increase in revenue are:


271,000      Increased giving by the Anonymous Donor

The reasons for the $1.5 million increase in spending are:


318,000        Two projects on climate change partially funded by the Anonymous Donor

Twice on page 4/34:
Category     2012 Budget     2011 Actual     2012/2011
Anonymous Donor     $1,250,000     $979,000     128%
Anonymous Donor: We expect the Anonymous Donor to contribute $1,250,000 in 2012 in gifts for budgeted projects, 28 percent more than he contributed in 2011, but still less than he contributed in any other year since 2004. He already pledged to give $1 million in January.
Once on page 5/34:
We project raising $4.1 million  in 2012 by renewing the approximately 100 past donors other than the Anonymous Donor who gave $10,000 or more in 2010 or 2011.
(emphasis in original)

The 2012 Climate Strategy document (PDF), of disputed authenticity, mentions the Anonymous Donor twice on page 1/2:

Our climate work is attractive to funders, especially our key Anonymous Donor (whose contribution dropped from $1,664,150 in 2010 to $979,000 in 2011 - about 20% of our total 2011 revenue). He has promised an increase in 2012 - see the 2011 Fourth Quarter Financial Report.
We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000  for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.
The 2012 Fundraising Plan (PDF) mentions the Anonymous Donor on numerous pages.  Most of the information is presented on pages 20-21:
4. Anonymous Donor

Because the Anonymous Donor has given a large percentage of Heartland’s budget in past years, it is useful to single out his expected gift at the beginning of the year.  In 2011, he gave Heartland $979,000, less than any years since 2005. In January 2012, he pledged $1 million. We project that he will give $250,000 more over the course of the year.

Table 5 summarizes the recent history of the Anonymous Donor’s giving, and Table 6 breaks out the projects he has already agreed to support in 2012 and those we hope he will agree to fund as the year progresses. We believe the increase from 2011 to 2012 is reasonable in part because 2011's level of giving was the lowest since 2005 and seemed to be due to some developments that are now past. Until 2011, he had given more than $1,250,000 every year since 2005.

Table 5.

Giving by the Anonymous Donor, by Program

Project 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
General Operating $500,000 $500,000 $500,000 $700,000 $350,000
Ramp Up Program $800,000 $800,000 $400,000 $0 $0
Global Warming Projects $1,976,937 $3,300,000 $1,732,180 $964,150 $629,000
Health Care $0 $0 $190,000 $0 $0
School Reform $0 $0 $0 $0 $80,000
Total $3,276,937 $4,600,000 $2,822,180 $1,664,150 $979,000
Table 6.

2012 Gift and Potential Gifts from the Anonymous Donor

Quarter Amount Projects
First Quarter
(already pledged
but not received.)
$457,000 General Operating
$194,000 NIPCC Project
$44,000 Weather Stations Project
$100,000 Global Warming Curriculum Project
$105,000 Cook County Debt Project
$100,000 Operation Angry Badger
$1,000,000 Total
Second Quarter $0
Third Quarter $250,000 Additional gift, possibly for Operation Angry Badger in Wisconsin or to
take the Cook County debt project to key states.
Fourth Quarter $0
Total $1,250,000
Several pages simply restate a portion of the information on 20-21, so we'll skip those. Those with further information are:

Page 5/29:

Heartland has an anonymous donor who has given as much as half the organizations’ entire budget in some past years, and currently gives about one-fifth of total receipts. Renewing him each year and keeping him informed and engaged is a major responsibility of the President. We regularly solicite his ideas for new projects.
Page 28/29:
Excluding gifts from the Anonymous Donor reveals the projected cost of fundraising from all other sources in 2012 would be 12.4 percent, lower than all but one previous years since 2006. See Table 13 for a recent history of our cost of fundraising.

In past years when the Anonymous Donor’s gifts were more than half of our budget, we were spending a lot more trying to raise funds from other sources. Last year, 2011, was quite low as we went half the year without a development director and didn’t do any direct mail.

(Mr. Anonymous is not mentioned directly in the other documents: the 1/17 agenda, 2010 990 form, "Binder" file, Board Directory, or Board Meeting Package.)

So, that's interesting: "2011's level of giving was the lowest since 2005 and seemed to be due to some developments that are now past."  That's a useful test for any prospective candidate for Anonymous Donor: are there "some developments" that occurred around 2011 that might have caused that candidate to cut back on his donations for a year? A business setback, for example?  

For Barre Seid, one doesn't have to look very far at all. 2011 was the first calendar year following the collapse of the Shimer takeover scheme, in which Heartland's president Joe Bast had taken a leading role.  The failed takeover was also the first occasion on which Seid was publicly outed as an "Anonymous Donor" (thanks to Shimer alum Dan Merchán).  After that double comeuppance, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if donor Seid became comparatively cold and ungenerous toward Heartland president Bast; nor would it be very surprising if subsequent efforts to patch things over involved a party at which the parties congratulated one another on their wisdom and fortitude and, let's say, gave each other awards and vowed to fight another day.  Which is exactly what happened in December 2010.  Assuming that most of Mr. Anonymous' donations were planned at the start of the year (which is certainly the case for 2012, judging from the excerpts above), and assuming that the party didn't instantly resolve things, then -- if the Anonymous Donor is Seid -- 2011 would be the year that reflected the frosty aftermath of the failed takeover, and 2012 would be the first calendar year in which Seid's increased giving would reflect the newly healed relationship.  

Fits pretty well, it does.  The possibility can't be ruled out that another candidate for Mr. Anonymous might have an equally good (or better) explanation for those "developments" that led to a sudden one-year dip in giving, or for any of the other coincidences mentioned in the previous diary.  But taken in the aggregate, it seems awfully unlikely.


Not always the best strategy
for staying out of sight.
In closing, I would note that the "big fish in a small pond" preference of Mr. Seid's, which as mentioned in the previous diary is evident in much of his giving, fits logically with the role of "angel" investor that he has assumed in contexts both musical and political.  But alas for Mr. Seid, it doesn't seem to be very compatible with anonymity.
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