Update 12/21/21: People’s Forum confirmed the hypothesis of this post that tech billionaire Roy Singham used Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund to launder money to them.
Update 1/18/22: Newsline magazine confirmed all of the substantive findings of the post below and found that many of the entities we mentioned have significant investments in Israeli companies and/or companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians in stark violation of the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) campaign.
Using Cause IQ’s database of non-profit organizations, Twitter users discovered that in 2019 Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund (GSPF; EIN: 31-1774905) funneled over $12 million to the People’s Forum, over $12 million to Vijay Prashad’s think-tank The Tricontinenal LTD (EIN: 82-2882135), $210,000 to Codepink, and $20,000 to AIPAC (the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees [a pro-Assad lobbying group] not to be confused with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which has the same acronym).
Based on this information one might conclude that Wall Street’s most reviled investment bank is funding certain leftist projects, but the reality is more complicated.
GSPF is a donor-advised fund, which means donors send their money to GSPF and that GSPF, in turn, sends the donation to the non-profit of the donor’s choice. These donations are both tax-deductible and anonymous. GSPF vets and approves each non-profit and once the donor hands over the money, the donor loses control over it which means GSPF approved and wrote checks to People’s Forum, Tricontintental, Codepink, and AIPAC at the behest of unknown third parties.
This arrangement raises both obvious questions—who is funding these organizations, why, where is the money going—and less obvious questions, like why was GSPF chosen to launder these donations instead of a ostensibly left, liberal, or progressive donor-advised funds like Tides or the Jewish Communal Fund?
Barring a repeat of GSPF’s 2018 leaks, definitively identifying the donors is virtually impossible. However, clues about who might be funding these particular institutions and what their political agenda is are buried across the annual 990 disclosure forms that these organizations file with the Internal Revenue Service to keep their non-profit status under the U.S. tax code.
The People’s Forum
Perhaps the single most important aspect of the annual GSPF dark money donations to the People’s Forum is that they began in 2017 with the creation of the organization to the tune of $2.5 million. This indicates that People’s Forum is not a grassroots activist initiative built up from scratch that eventually won over a rich sympathizer or two; rather, it suggests that People’s Forum is an astroturf creation of the person, persons, entity, or entities that contributed $2.5 million in seed money for the project.
The second most important aspect of GSPF dark money donations to People’s Forum is that they skyrocketed in 2019 to $12.5 million, up from $4.4 million in 2018. By way of comparison, Democratic Socialist of America (EIN: 13-3109557) raised $3 million in 2019, 73% of which came from dues paid by their over 50,000 members while Jacobin magazine’s revenue in 2019 was $2 million derived mainly from subscriptions and its largest single donation was $141,000 via the donor-advised fund Jewish Communal Fund (EIN: 23-7174183).
The third most important aspect about People’s Forum GSPF funding is not only does it constitute the majority of their funding but there is a strange series of overlapping 501c3 and 501c4 organizations funding one another and GSPF is overwhelmingly where most of the money in this incestuous web originates from (see chart below):
Party of Socialism and Liberation (PSL) member Manolo De Los Santos is on the executive boards of both People’s Forum and the Justice and Education Fund (JEF; EIN: 82-4975378) and David Sung Mo Chung has a salaried position on the board of People’s Forum and is listed as JEF’s principle officer (although his first name “David” appears to have been omitted from the JEF tax filing). Why is this relevant? Well JEF received over $15 million from GSPF in 2019 and gave $8.3 million to a 501c4 called the United Community Fund (UCF; EIN: 37-1913339) which in turn gave People’s Forum a little over $3 million. In 2018, People’s Forum paid a salary to Manolo De Los Santos of just over $63,000 and just over $23,000 to Chung; in 2019, it was Chung who was paid just over $63,000 by People’s Forum while Manolo De Los Santos received no salary that year.
Which is a long way of saying that it appears David Sung Mo Chung may have paid himself or personally profited from his position on the executive board of People’s Forum by directing JEF to fund UCF which in turn funded People’s Forum. But since he is not on the executive board of JEF despite being listed as a principle officer, perhaps it was Manolo De Los Santos who used his position as executive board member of JEF to make this transaction happen.
The confusing tangle of relationships between People’s Forum, GSPF, JEF, and UCF becomes even more complicated when their myriad connections to Vijay Prashad’s think-tank Tricontinental LTD are factored in.
Like People’s Forum, Tricontinental also received a $12 million donation from GSPF in 2019. Tricontinental was one of only two U.S.-based recipients of UCF funding in 2019, the other being People’s Forum (the amounts were $700,000 and $3,015,000 respectively).
Then there’s the overlap between UCF board members and Tricontinental personnel: Renata Porto Bugni and Tings Chak are both Tricontinental researchers and UCF board members; Bugni is also on the executive board of Tricontinental as deputy director. (People’s Forum’s De Los Santos is also listed as a Tricontinental researcher and People’s Forum has hosted talks by Bugni and Chak.) Like De Los Santos, Chak is also on the executive board of JEF alongside De Los Santos.
It appears that Renata Porto Bugni and Tings Chak used their positions as board members of UCF to direct funding to Tricontinental where they also hold positions just as David Sung Mo Chung and Manolo De Los Santos funded People’s Forum by using their positions at JEF albeit without the third-party intermediary, UCF.
An interesting question is what Tricontinental spent their $12 million GSPF donation on because in 2019 their expenses only amounted to $148,677 in salaries and wages and they do not have a massive, expensive storefront/office to pay rent on like People’s Forum. $141,900 of that $148,677 was paid to an entity based in New Delhi, India called “Tricontinental Research Services LTD” for “research, analysis, and translation services.” Perhaps Tricontinental’s 990s for 2020 and 2021 will reveal where the $12 million was ultimately spent.
Another fact worth noting is Vijay Prashad’s unexplained lurch from being critical of the Chinese government’s repression of Marxist students and Uyghurs in 2018 to whitewashing the latter a few years later as GSPF dark money donations to Tricontinental began to surge. And his ‘evolution’ have something to do with Prashad becoming a fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in 2020?
Unlike Tricontinental, JEF, UCF, and People’s Forum, GSPF does not appear to have an ongoing relationship with the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees since only a single $20,000 donation was recorded in 2019. The only remarkable thing about the $20,000 GSPF gave to AIPAC in 2019 is that this amount is exactly what AIPAC paid Max Blumenthal in 2018. Whether this is a coincidence or not is unclear.
While Codepink (formally, Codepink Women for Peace; EIN: 26-2823386) did receive GSPF funding throughout the same time period as People’s Forum, there is no similarity in either the donation patterns or overlap with associated 501c3s and 501c4s. And according to the group’s 2020 990, Codepink is effectively out of business with neither donations nor spending of any kind.
The same cannot be said of People’s Forum which received Paycheck Protection Act loans from the federal government in 2020 and 2021.
The Main Suspect
Once word got out about People’s Forum and Tricontinental each receiving $12 million GSPF donations in 2019, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina guessed that the ultimate source of the money would turn out to be tech capitalist Neville Roy Singham:
The surprising thing about this blind guess is that there is circumstantial evidence in the 990s of the aforementioned organizations that make Singham a compelling suspect as the source of GSFP largesse that keeps the lights on at the People’s Forum’s expensive Manhattan storefront. Consider the following:
- India’s Enforcement Directorate named JEF and Tricontinental in a money-laundering investigation of the news organization NewsClick (where Vijay Prashad is a columnist). They allege that Singham funneled money to NewsClick for the purpose of publishing pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda using JEF and Tricontinental as intermediaries. JEF’s 990s in 2018 and 2019 show that it donated roughly $4.5 million to unnamed recipients outside the U.S.
- The principal officer, director, and president of UCF (funder of People’s Forum and Tricontinental) is Franziska Kleiner, a ThoughtWorks employee. ThoughtWorks is the company founded in 1993 and run by Roy Singham up until 2017.
- Singham sold ThoughtWorks to private equity firm Apax Partners for an undisclosed amount in 2017, the same year People’s Forum got $2.5 million in seed money.
- Singham is a big fan of the Venezuelan and Chinese governments and was quoted as saying, “China is teaching the West that the world is better off with a dual system of both free-market adjustments and long-term planning.”
Could all of the above be coincidences? Yes. But how likely is it that a former employee of Singham just happens to run a 501c4 (UCF) that got a massive GSPF donation in 2018 and that the Indian government discovered evidence linking Singham to a 501c3 (JEF) are linked to one another and to People’s Forum through large sums of money? Furthermore, the number of millionaires or billionaires with fortunes large enough to sustain tens of millions of dollars in donations over multiple years to tiny, obscure left institutions that stand in solidarity with the governments of China and Venezuela is simply not that large. Very few individuals aside from Singham have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to blow this kind of money on ineffectual organizations espousing ‘tankie‘ politics; after all, a minimum of $25,000 is required to even open an account with GSPF. While it’s true that funding by the governments of China, Venezuela, or Russia through GSPF is a possibility, states tend not to fund political projects they cannot directly control and certainly not to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year.
What About PSL?
What role PSL plays in all this is unclear, although the fact that both People’s Forum executive directors—Manolo De Los Santos and Claudia De La Cruz—are party members means that the forum will never stray far from the party line which means People’s Forum is effectively a PSL front, or at best a satellite organization. Hence why their insufferably long 10-hour livestream event on “China and the Left” contained zero discussion of strikes in China, the destruction of unions in Hong Kong by the CCP, genocide of Uyghurs, or the oppression of Tibetans.
Given PSL’s micro-management members’ activities, it’s safe to assume the party approves of the GSPF dark money donations that are the only reason People’s Forum exists. PSL’s inability to raise more than a few hundred thousand dollars per year through its 501c3, the Progress and Unity Fund, suggests that whoever is behind the massive GSPF donations to People’s Forum is probably not a dues-paying member.