Update: summation posted here.
Valentine's Day exposure of key Heartland Institute internal documents, exposing (inter alia) a scheme to "dissuade teachers from teaching science", made national and international news. The story has now been covered at length on DK and elsewhere.
But throughout this story, a recurrent but unanswered question has been the identity of the "Anonymous Donor" who ponied up the support for Heartland's "science" "education" campaign.
In this diary, I will make the case for one person whom I believe to be an extremely strong candidate for this role -- much stronger than alternative candidates like the Koch brothers: Chicago industrialist Barre Seid.
(Seid has previously been featured right here on the Great Orange Satan for his known role in the attempted takeover of Chicago's resolutely independent Shimer College, and his extremely likely role in funding the Clarion Fund's Islamophobic "Obsession" campaign.)
(For the TLDR, click here.)
Who is Barre Seid?
Barre Seid as an adult.
Chiefly through the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation, Seid provides funding to a range of causes, including many quite unexceptionable ones. His philanthropic choices show a particular interest in music and education, and in both cases it is likely that his enthusiasm is genuine; he was, for example, the founder and for some years the producer of Chamber Opera Chicago.
when the world was a simpler, blurrier place.
I think this bit of background can tell us something about his motivations: like any good Great Books graduate, Seid has a well-honed appreciation for the Very Long Game. He may not be able to throw around truly ginormous sums of money like a Charles Koch or a Foster Friess, but he understands that the real payoffs are to be found elsewhere, in making political investments that will pay off in conversational shifts over decades and generations. That's why he wanted a college -- and specifically a small college not beholden to anyone else, that could be shaped as he saw fit. It's why he has been for many years the largest single donor to the Heartland Institute -- again, a small think tank, not significantly beholden to anyone else. It may also be why he makes his largest and most important donations anonymously: he doesn't care whether he gets the credit, he just wants his vision to prevail, and he knows that having his name associated with the effort will only be a distraction.
Seid may be very wrong about a lot of things, but he's not wrong about the importance of the long game. And that's why he has to be taken seriously.
Summary of coincidences
In order for Seid not to be the Denialgate mystery man, there has to be an alternative explanation for every one of the following coincidences. This is not impossible, but it does not seem likely.
Channel: The channel for the donations of Heartland's "Anonymous Donor" was Virginia-based Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund of which Seid is a known heavy user. Donors Trust was the channel by which various donations were made, for example, in support of the attempted Shimer College takeover (both direct donations and pass-through donations to legitimate the presence of Seid's proxies on the Board).
One shouldn't go too far with this; Donors Trust is a donor-advised fund set up for the specific purpose of masking the source of donations to right-wing "charities", so it's not inconceivable that more than one wealthy Heartland sympathizer might choose to use it to channel their donations. But just as Heartland is a small fish among the big think tanks, Donors Trust is actually a pretty small operation as donor-advised funds go -- handling between 10 and 40 million bucks in most years. Furthermore, going through the grant lists, one is hard-pressed to find many donations much over $2 million that aren't targeted to one or another of Barre Seid's favorite causes. (The top three disbursements in 2008, for example, were $17.7 million to the Clarion Fund (which blew his cover by crediting the donation to "Barry Seid"), $10 million to the Foundation for Jewish Camping (of which Seid is a strong supporter -- though why he wanted anonymity on that one is anyone's guess), and $4.4 million to the Heartland Institute.)
So if the donor is not Barre Seid, it must be some other very wealthy person who just happened to choose this uncommon and idiosyncratic vehicle for his donations to this relatively obscure think tank. Color me skeptical.
Pseudonym: Lots of donors like to be anonymous, but Seid takes this further than most. Back when he was donating to Shimer College, his name was never written in internal documents; he insisted on being "the Anonymous Donor" to all (and as in Heartland's case, typically capitalized, with gender but nothing else disclosed), and on knowledge of his identity being kept to the smallest circle possible. It's not often that someone preparing to part with such large quantities of money would be so determined to avoid getting any credit whatever -- while nonetheless maintaining operational control -- let alone that they would insist on using this exact approach.
Place: If we suppose that the donor is someone other than Mr. Seid, we need an explanation for why they wouldn't take such a large and important project to one of the big national think tanks, like AEI or Heritage. Heartland's record of promoting right-wing lies in the service of industries from tobacco to coal is strong, but it's hard to say that it's any stronger than other larger and more prominent organizations. Heartland is relatively small (around 40 employees) and Chicago-based -- characteristics that place it outside of the usual conservative gravy train, but which it shares with other recipients of Seid's largesse and interest, from legitimate causes like Shimer College and Chamber Opera Chicago to rather less legitimate ones like the glibertarian freak show of the Sam Adams Alliance. So again, this fits Seid much better than other likely candidates who don't have specific close ties to Chicago in general or Heartland specifically. And on that topic...
Connections to Heartland Institute: It is a matter of public record that Barre Seid is the largest (identified) donor to the Heartland Institute, via the Barbara and Barre Seid Foundation; these donations amounted to $1,037,977 from 1998 to 2007. On the one hand, this makes it seem more plausible that he would make an additional and even larger contribution; on the other, it also raises the question of why he would insist on being anonymous when he had already made such extensive donations. But since Seid's political preferences have been public for some decades now, it seems likely that Seid's choice of anonymity for his most important projects has more to do with strategy and personal style than with any fear of being "outed".
Nor are the connections limited to money. Seid has turned to Bast for assistance with his pet projects before, particularly the 2009-2010 assault on Shimer College, in which Bast served as de facto spokesman for Seid's wrecking crew.
(As it happens, he was
on his way to a meeting with
Joe Bast when this was taken.)