Arnold Ventures LLC

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Arnold Ventures
TypeLimited liability corporation
Key people

Arnold Ventures (formerly known as The Laura and John Arnold Foundation) brings "philanthropy and political giving together in a new limited-liability corporation"[1] run by John D. Arnold, a former Enron trader and American hedge fund manager, and his wife Laura Arnold.[2] The organization was founded in 2008, the same year that the Arnolds signed the Giving Pledge, a pledge by some high-net-worth individuals to donate a large fraction of their income to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes.[3]

The foundation has funded a wide range of interventions, including Oregon's open primary ballot, health (opioids, contraceptive choice and access, drug prices, commercial sector prices, complex care), education reform, efforts to end public pensions, a data-first approach to criminal justice, and improving reproducibility and transparency in science through the funding of open science and metascience.[2] The organization has also been described as "another example of billionaire donors becoming ever more sophisticated about using private wealth to influence public policy—wielding exponentially more power in American life than ordinary citizens of more modest means."[1]

History and controversy[edit]

Since 2010, the foundation has invested more than $1 billion in a variety of political initiatives, focusing on pensions, pretrial and criminal justice, prescription drug prices, the quality of academic research, combating predatory higher education practices, the evaluation of social programs, school system governance, and electoral reform. In the period 2011–2016, LJAF made $684 million in grants, distributed as follows: $75 million for criminal justice, $206 million for education, $147 million for evidence-based policy and innovation, $1.5 million for planning, $81 million for research integrity, $5 million for science and technology, $56 million for sustainable public finance, and $112 million for new initiatives.[4] In August 2012, the foundation launched the Giving Library to help other philanthropists make their gifts more efficient and effective.[5]

This data-driven approach has caused major controversies:

  • In 2013, LJAF starting making a web-based tool available to assist courts in better assessing whether to release people on bail or keep them imprisoned after they are arrested but before the trial begins.[6] The foundation was sued by the families of two victims, the perpetrators of which were released due to this "public safety assessment tool.[7][8] One released murderer had "violated two probations. He was a convicted felon. And he had a gun charge just five days before the murder."[9] Despite this, the foundation "plans to make the tool available nationwide via an undisclosed national technical systems provider."[10]
  • In 2016, the foundation funded continuous aerial surveillance of Baltimore, Maryland.[11][12] The Baltimore Sun reported that the foundation donated $360,000 to fund a controversial surveillance program in Baltimore that conducted secret, warrantless aerial surveillance of Baltimoreans on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department. The BPD conducted the surveillance without informing elected officials or the general public, suspending the program after public revelation.[13][14]
  • In 2019, the Metropolitan Crime Commission released a report [1] calling the "public safety assessment tool" a "waste of money" and concluded that the tool "underrates the risk offenders pose to public safety."[15]

In January 2019, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation was restructured as an LLC and renamed Arnold Ventures. [16] The transition was made in order to combine the Arnolds efforts as many foundations are limited to only making grants to recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofits.[17] Arnold Ventures donates and spends money through a private foundation, a donor-advised fund, and a 501(c)(4).[17]

Areas of focus[edit]

The Arnolds have used an investment management approach to giving. Meaning that the foundation targeted most of its giving to higher risk efforts that the Arnold's viewed as having a higher potential to drive change over the long term and then a lower percentage of its giving to low risk, well-established institutions to help maintain their efforts[18]

Criminal justice[edit]

In the period 2011–2016, LJAF allocated $75 million in grants for its criminal justice initiative.[4] An overview of criminal justice reform in the United States by GiveWell listed the Arnold Foundation as one of the top foundations in the United States working in the area.[19]

Anne Milgram worked as the Attorney General for the state of New Jersey where she worked to bring data to bear on the New Jersey state justice system and became a professor at New York University; she was recruited by the foundation to become its vice president for criminal justice.[6] [20] The Leadership Conference Education Fund publsihed a statement about their support for ending secured money bail and the principles that pretrial risk assessments should ensure if they are necessary to be used. [21]

Despite this uncertainty, the foundation also funds the Data Collaborative for Justice.[22]

In 2019, the Foundation committed $17 million in grants to study prisons in the U.S. and how they can be a more effective part of the criminal justice system.[23]

Gun Violence Research[edit]

In July 2019, Arnold Ventures provided $9.8 million for 17 research grants awarded by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research. [24]


According to their list of grants, they have spent $206 million on grants related to education,[4] including supporting[25] donating to a new fund led by the disgraced Mike Feinberg,[26] founder of KIPP, after allegations of sexual abuse.

In May 2012, Reuters reported that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation had committed $20 million over a five-year period to an initiative called StudentsFirst, led by Michelle Rhee, who used to head the Washington D.C. public school system.[27] [28]

On June 26, 2012, the foundation launched the ERIN Project, a tool to help analyze the national K-12 education landscape.[29]

Public finance and accountability[edit]

The foundation has funded various entities. including Engage Rhode Island.[30] Many of these organizations advocate pension fund reform, encourage state and local governments to reduce benefits to workers and to invest assets in riskier investments such as hedge funds.[31] Some have criticized the foundation's efforts, saying that hedge fund managers (like John Arnold) collect generous sums in fees for managing the funds, while the workers are left with reduced pensions.[3][32][33]

The foundation has funded various politically-oriented 501(c)4 organizations, . Many of those organizations focus on tax and retirement policies.

LJAF's attempts at pension reform have been met with hostility, and critics have argued that they have bought out groups such as the Pew Charitable Trust, the Public Broadcasting Service, and the Brookings Institution.[34][35][36][37] LJAF has, in particular, generated controversial media coverage in connection with its funding of initiatives favoring pension reform.[34][35][36][37][38]

In July 2014, the Arnold Foundation donated $2.8 million to the Center for Public Integrity to launch a new project focused on state campaign finance. According to the International Business Times, "as CPI was negotiating the Arnold grant, Arnold’s name was absent from a CPI report on pension politics." Arnold has spent at least $28 million on a campaign to roll back pension benefits for public workers.[39] Despite this spend,“When people hear of an effort to get rid of pensions,” says Bailey Childers of the National Public Pension Coalition (NPPC), which is supported by unions, “the source is almost always John Arnold.”

Health Care[edit]

By 2020, Arnold Ventures had donated $119 million to address concerns with health care organizations. This included funds for the Center for Healthcare Transparency ($5.67 million), Nutrition Science Initiative ($23.19 million), and the Research Triangle Institute ($1.67 million. [40] Arnold Ventures was one of three organizations to invest in Civica RX, a nonprofit focused on driving down drug costs. [40] [41] 50 large hospital systems partnered with Civica RX. [41]

Research integrity[edit]

One of the first projects funded by the foundation was research into obesity, which was drawn to Arnold's attention when he heard an interview with Gary Taubes on the EconTalk podcast.[2] Subsequent conversation between Arnold and Taubes led to the foundation funding the Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego, where Taubes and Peter Attia are trying to find the cause of obesity.[2][42] The foundation backs the Action Now Initiative (ANI), a 501(c)4 organization which in turn funds The Nutrition Coalition (TNC), which works to reshape the process by which the Dietary Guidelines for America are formulated.[42] TNC backed Nina Teicholz's disputation of the role of saturated fat in cardiovascular disease, expressed in an article for The BMJ,[42]and through lobbyists arranged for her to meet with government officials to advance an ultimately successful campaign to insert a request for a National Academy of Medicine review of the guideline process.[42]

In 2013, the foundation funded the launch of the Center for Open Science with a $5.25 million grant and by 2017 had provided an additional $10 million in funding.[2] It also funded the launch of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford at Stanford University run by John Ioannidis and Steven Goodman to study ways to improve scientific research.[2] It also provided funding for the AllTrials initiative led in part by Ben Goldacre.[2]

LJAF has published guidelines, based on the Open Science Framework, that anybody seeking research funding from them must follow.[43]

As of 2017 it had given around $80 million in grants under its "Research Integrity" initiative.[2]


  1. ^ a b "When Philanthropy Is Not Enough: A Top Donor Couple Takes a Broader Approach to Impact". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Apple, Sam (January 22, 2017). "The Young Billionaire Behind the War on Bad Science". Wired.
  3. ^ a b Preston, Caroline (October 16, 2011). "A Thirtysomething Billionaire Couple Take on Tough Issues Via Giving". Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  4. ^ a b c "Grants". Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  5. ^ Kroll, Luisa (August 14, 2012). "Billionaire John Arnold And His Wife Launch Giving Library". Forbes.
  6. ^ a b Davis, Jenny B (November 1, 2013). "Ex-NJ attorney general works to reform the pretrial process with a Texas foundation's backing". ABA Journal.
  7. ^ Wing, Nick (2017-07-31). "Dog The Bounty Hunter Joins Lawsuit Against Chris Christie Over Bail Reform". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  8. ^ "Who stays in jail before trial? Who goes free? Sometimes, an algorithm helps decide". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  9. ^ "Did A Bail Reform Algorithm Contribute To This San Francisco Man's Murder?". Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  10. ^ "Arnold Foundation to Roll Out Pretrial Risk Assessment Tool Nationwide". InsideSources. 2018-09-04. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  11. ^ "Baltimore Will Continue Aerial Surveillance Program". 2016-08-25.
  12. ^ "Radiolab Podcast". 2016-09-12.
  13. ^ Prudente, Tim. "A look at recent Baltimore Police scandals, from De Sousa's resignation to Gun Trace Task Force". The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  14. ^ Donovan, Doug. "Donor to Baltimore police surveillance program says privacy debate 'healthy'". The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  15. ^ Masson, Rob. "Crime Watchdog: New Orleans risk assessment program waste of money". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  16. ^ Piper, Kelsey (2019-02-07). "Why this billion-dollar foundation is becoming a corporation". Vox. Retrieved 2020-11-03.
  17. ^ a b Piper, Kelsey (2019-02-07). "Why this billion-dollar foundation is becoming a corporation". Vox. Retrieved 2020-11-03.
  18. ^ "The Bold Philanthropy of Laura and John Arnold Embraces Risks and Bets Big". The Bridgespan Group. February 7, 2013.
  19. ^ "Criminal Justice Reform". GiveWell. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  20. ^ Milgram, Anne (October 2013). "Why smart statistics are the key to fighting crime". TED.
  21. ^ "Pretrial Risk Assessments". The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  22. ^ "Funding Agencies". Data Collaborative for Justice. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  23. ^ "Two Texas Billionaires Think They Can Fix Philanthropy". 2019-12-12. Retrieved 2020-12-02.
  24. ^ "Gun Violence Researchers Find Their Field at a Crossroads". The Trace. 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  25. ^ Arnold, John (2018-02-22). "I don't know the details of Mike Feinberg's departure from KIPP, but I do know that for the past 25 years there hasn't been a bigger champion or harder worker for education equality in America's underprivileged neighborhoods". @johnarnoldfndtn. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  26. ^ "Controversy Follows the Funding Behind KIPP Co-Founder's Charter School Venture". InsideSources. 2018-07-29. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  27. ^ Simon, Stephanie (May 15, 2012). "Michelle Rhee, Education Activists Targeting U.S. Schools, Backed By Big Bucks". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters).
  28. ^ Simon, Stephanie (June 25, 2012). "StudentsFirst Spending: National Education Reform Group's Partial Tax Records Released". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters).
  29. ^ "Laura and John Arnold Foundation Launches Powerful K-12 Education Tool". Ed Surge. 2012-06-26.
  30. ^ Juan, Gonzalez; Amy, Goodman (September 26, 2013). "Matt Taibbi on How Wall Street Hedge Funds Are Looting the Pension Funds of Public Workers". Democracy Now!.
  31. ^ "Looting the Pension Funds: How Wall Street Robs Public Workers | Politics News". Rolling Stone. 2013-09-26.
  32. ^ Reid, Tim (2013-06-25). "Texas hedge fund billionaire seeks California pension reform". Reuters.
  33. ^ "A closer look at the Texas billionaire who backed EngageRI | Blogs". 2013-05-20. Archived from the original on 2014-07-13. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  34. ^ a b Cohn, Gary (September 24, 2013). "Promise Breakers: How Pew Trusts Is Helping to Gut Public Employee Pensions". Huffington Post (originally from Frying Pan News).
  35. ^ a b Sirota, David (February 13, 2014). "How PBS is becoming the Plutocratic Broadcasting Service". PandoDaily.
  36. ^ a b Sirota, David (February 12, 2014). "The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS's news division". PandoDaily.
  37. ^ a b Hiltzik, Michael (February 28, 2014). "First PBS, now Brookings: Has another institution sold its soul?". Los Angeles Times.
  38. ^ "Pension Funds Press Pew to Cut Arnold Foundation Ties". Chronicle of Philanthropy. March 4, 2014.
  39. ^ Sirota, David (August 6, 2014). "Enron Mogul John Arnold Funds State Politics... And Now Journalism About Money in State Politics". International Business Times.
  40. ^ a b "This billionaire couple is taking on Big Pharma to lower your prescription drug prices". NBC News. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  41. ^ a b Retrieved 2020-11-16. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  42. ^ a b c d Purdy, Chase; Bottemiller Evich, Helena (October 7, 2015). "The money behind the fight over healthy eating". Politico.
  43. ^ "Guidelines for Investments in Research" (PDF). Laura and John Arnold Foundation. July 29, 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 25, 2014.

External links[edit]