Rebekah Mercer doesn’t want to be in the news. But she wants to change it.
She’s one of the three daughters of Robert Mercer, a reclusive hedge fund billionaire who shells out millions to boost Republican candidates and causes. Like most mega-donors, the Mercers avoid media attention and seek to keep their influence quiet. Unlike most mega-donors, however, they don’t just focus on aiding candidates they like or think tanks they appreciate. Over the last eight years, the Mercers have put a special premium on actually changing the media landscape, investing heavily in projects that try to shift how American news consumers understand American politics.
And, by the way, they’re all in for Donald Trump.
Rebekah Mercer oversees the bulk of the family’s political giving, according to reports from Politico and The Hill, and she’s listed as the Mercer Family Foundation’s director on its most recent publicly available tax forms, from 2014. Under her auspices, the foundation has grown more generous with each passing year.
In 2005, it shelled out a paltry $69,000 to charitable causes, including $5,000 to a charity that sends flowers to old folks’ homes. It also gave $60,000 to what it incorrectly called the “Organ Institute of Science and Medicine.” The address listed on the 990 matches that of the “Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine,” a group that publishes a book on nuclear war survival skills. In 2006 and 2007, the Mercers’ foundation cut checks for totals of $174,000 (including $50,000 to the “Organ” institute) and $292,000, respectively.
In 2008, though, things started changing. The foundation cut a single check that was bigger than the previous two years’ contributions combined: a cool million bucks to the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for its efforts to discredit mainstream science on climate change. It also made the first of many contributions to a group called the Media Research Center, which rips mainstream media outlets and reporters for perceived liberal bias. All told, it gave five times as much money in 2008 as it did in 2007. The next year, the family’s foundation shelled out even more, including a contribution that was small but telling: $50,000 to the Council for National Policy, a nonprofit group comprised of the most influential social conservative leaders in the country—including, at least at one point, Donald Trump’s current campaign bosses, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. In every subsequent year, the foundation has given the group $50,000, except in 2014, when the sum dipped to $25,000. In 2014, all told, it gave out $18.3 million.
From 2008 to 2014, the foundation gave millions to groups looking to change American media. And from Hollywood to The New York Times best-seller list, their beneficiaries had outsize impact.
The Media Research Center has been the foundation’s biggest beneficiary over the years, according to the site Conservative Transparency. That site, run by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge, calculates that the Mercer Family Foundation has given the Media Research about $7.5 million in the past decade or so. The MRC, helmed by Brent Bozell, argues that mainstream media outlets are incorrigibly biased against conservative candidates and ideas.
Besides backing an advocacy site that tries to chastise mainstream reporters and outlets, the Mercers also help fund right-leaning reporters that investigate liberal figures.
For instance, one of the most influential projects they have backed is the Clinton Cash franchise.
On May 5, 2015, author Peter Schweizer published his opus on how Bill and Hillary Clinton made money in the private sector after his presidency. The book won adoring coverage from the Drudge Report, and Breitbart News (which we’ll get to in a minute) plastered its site with ads for the tome. Reporters from The New York Times also covered its findings extensively and built upon them, drawing scrutiny from their public editor. The book played a key role in directing media attention to questionable dealings of the Clinton Foundation.
Before the book was even published, CNN called it “the first major test of Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign’s ability to fend off attacks from detractors.” The book’s findings helped direct major scrutiny to the Clinton foundation. And more than a year after its publication, the criticism hasn’t dissipated; in fact, The New York Times recently ran an editorial calling for Bill and Chelsea Clinton to cut their ties to the foundation if Hillary Clinton wins in November.
The Clinton Foundation would have drawn pointed scrutiny without Schweizer’s book. But it’s undebatable that his research played a substantial role in raising questions about the group. Schweizer’s home base is the Government Accountability Institute, which has helped promote his book.
The funding behind that group?
According to Bloomberg, Rebekah Mercer was not only one of its donors, but also sat on its board. Tax forms show her family foundation gave the group $1 million in 2013, and another $1 million in 2014. Bloomberg noted that Mercer was also a co-executive producer for a movie based on Schweizer’s book. His book—which made The New York Times best-seller list—also became a graphic novel, which drew it another round of rapturous coverage from Breitbart News.
Breitbart, by the way, also gets Mercer funding, according to a report from Politico, which the Mercers have not publicly countered.
And Bannon, now the Trump campaign’s chief executive, is also closely connected to the Mercers. He formerly headed Breitbart News and is executive chairman and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute, according to its website. He’s also on the board of directors of a Manhattan group pushing for conservative policy changes called Reclaim New York. Rebekah Mercer is that group’s chairman, director, and treasurer. Her sister Jennifer is its secretary. Small world.
Breitbart, without question, has been the most influential conservative news site in the 2016 election. It helped propel Donald Trump to a win in the Republican primaries, and its friendly coverage of the racist “alt-right” helped that movement grow, too. Alt-right leaders, by the way, were delighted when Bannon joined Trump’s campaign.
Mercer money doesn’t stop with Breitbart, though. The family foundation has also generously supported the Moving Picture Institute ($300,000 in 2014), and Rebekah Mercer is on its board.
That group seeks to help movies with conservative, libertarian, pro-school-choice, and anti-communist messages get widespread distribution. According to its site, it also looks to help conservative and libertarian filmmakers jump-start Hollywood careers. And it even has a program for standup comedians. It’s produced a host of films pushing for school choice programs, according to its site, as well as a music video on monetary policy and a children’s movie about the Boston Tea Party starring animated cats and dogs.
Joe Biden is fond of saying, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
The Mercer foundation’s spending makes their priorities clear: building a media empire.