Arnold Ventures LLC
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|Type||limited liability corporation|
Arnold Venture (formerly known as The Laura and John Arnold Foundation) brings "philanthropy and political giving together in a new limited-liability corporation" run by John D. Arnold, a former Enron trader and American hedge fund manager, and his wife Laura Arnold. 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.
The foundation has funded a wide range of interventions, many controversial, including Oregon's open primary ballot, Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, the Network of Abortion Funds, the Center of Reproductive Rights, 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. 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."
History and Controversy
Arnold started donating to the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) in 2004 with a gift of $30,000 which was then based in Houston, and two years later he and his wife pledged $10 million to help KIPP expand to other cities. Other multi-million gifts followed to other education programs, for example to Washington, D.C. city schools for merit pay, to Teach for America, and to StudentsFirst.
Since 2008, 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. In August 2012 the Foundation launched the Giving Library to help other philanthropists make their gifts more efficient and effective.
This data-driven approach has caused major controversies:
- In 2013 the LFAF starting making available a web-based tool 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. The foundation was sued by the families of two victims, the perpetrators of which were released due to this "public safety assessment tool. One released murderer had "violated two probations. He was a convicted felon. And he had a gun charge just five days before the murder." Despite this the foundation "plans to make the tool available nationwide via an undisclosed national technical systems provider."
- In 2019, the Metropolitan Crime Commission released a report calling the "public safety assessment tool" a "waste of money" and concludes that the tool "underrates the risk offenders pose to public safety"
- In 2016, the foundation funded continuous aerial surveillance of Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Sun reported that the foundation donated $360,000 to fund a controversial surveillance program in Baltimore 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. 
In August 2019, Arnold Ventures recruited GOP operative Kevin Madden as head of advocacy. Madden is a former press secretary to disgraced House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and national spokesperson for both of Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns
Areas of Focus
The Arnolds have used an investment management approach to giving, and as of 2013 the foundation targeted some of its giving to low risk, well-established institutions to help maintain their efforts, and most of its giving to higher risk efforts that the Arnolds view as having a higher potential to drive change over the long term.
In the period 2011–2016, LJAF allocated $75 million in grants for its criminal justice initiative.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, along with the Open Society Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project, the Ford Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.
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. In a 2013 TED talk, she explained her work at LJAF creating tools to capture and use data to make the justice system more effective and efficient, which she called "Moneyballing crime". This was not well received. The Leadership Conference Education Fund had 120 criminal justice organizations sign a statement pushing for the halt of pretrial risk assessment instruments, stating "although they may seem objective or neutral – threaten to further intensify unwarranted discrepancies in the justice system and to provide a misleading and undeserved imprimatur of impartiality for an institution that desperately needs fundamental change."
Despite this uncertainty, the foundation also funds the Data Collaborative for Justice.
According to their list of grants, they have spent $206 million on grants related to education. Including supporting donating to a new fund led by the disgraced Mike Feinberg, 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. StudentsFirst reported its spending shortly thereafter.
On June 26, 2012, the Foundation launched the ERIN Project, a tool to help analyze the national K-12 education landscape
During the United States federal government shutdown of 2013, the foundation announced that it would be donating $10 million in emergency funds to the Head Start program so that some 7,000 kids from low-income families could continue to receive educational services. The programs were at risk because their Federal grants were up for renewal after October 1. The federal government reinstated Head Start funding in a deal approved by Congress on January 13, 2014.
The foundation has funded various politically-oriented 501(c)4 organizations, including Engage Rhode Island. 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. 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.
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. LJAF has, in particular, generated controversy media coverage in connection with its funding of initiatives favoring pension reform.
In March 2014, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Pensions and Investments had asked the Pew Charitable Trust to stop taking money from the LJAF because of the LJAF's support for pension reform.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 $10 million on a campaign to roll back pension benefits for public workers. 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.”
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. Subsequent conversation between Arnold and Taubes led to the foundation funding the Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego, where Taubes and Peter Attia and are trying to find the cause of obesity. The foundation backs the Action Now Initiative (ANI) which in turn funds The Nutrition Coalition (TNC) which backed Nina Teicholz when she wrote an investigative piece for The BMJ.
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. 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. It also provided funding for the AllTrials initiative led in part by Ben Goldacre.
As of 2017 it had given around $80 million in grants under its "Research Integrity" initiative.
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