Founded in 2006, ProPublica (PP)—meaning “For the Public” in Latin—is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is to produce “investigative journalism in the public interest.” Toward that end, PP tasks its 34 full-time journalists to “shine a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.” By thus “expos[ing] abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions,” PP aims to “spur reform” in American society.
Herb and Marion Sandler—longtime philanthropic allies of George Soros and Peter Lewis—are the founders and principal funders of PP. From 2006 to 2009, they gave $30 million to the enterprise through their Sandler Family Supporting Foundation. In the New York Times, Herb Sandler described his media project as a venture in the pursuit of moral justice: “All of my life I’ve been driven crazy whenever I encounter corruption, malfeasance, mendacity, but particularly where those in power take advantage of those who have few resources.”
In addition to the Sandlers' support, PP has received funding from such sources as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the (now-defunct) JEHT Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
PP’s leadership reflects the progressive makeup of its funders. With Herb Sandler as chairman, the organization's board of directors includes such notables as Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates; Herb Allison, a former Merrill Lynch executive who in 2009 was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Gara LaMarche, who has been an official of the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Institute, and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; and Kathryn Taylor, a board member of the Insight Prison Project.
While PP has been portrayed as a “new champion” of investigative journalism, issues of partisanship have plagued the news organization from its inception. Jack Shafer of Slate.com initially claimed that the Sandlers seemed to be intent on “return[ing] us to the days of the partisan press.” The Capital Research Center, for its part, has documented PP’s overtly partisan agenda. During the ACORN voter-registration scandals of 2008, for instance, PP did not investigate the many charges of fraud that were plaguing the community organization, which for many years had received funding from the Sandlers. Instead, PP came to ACORN's defense.
PP displayed its partisanship again in September 2008, when it published six reports challenging Republican vice pesidential candidate Sarah Palin’s record of fiscal responsibility, which had been one of the chief motifs of her campaign. By contrast, PP’s coverage of Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama included no probe of any of his controversial relationships with such radical figures as Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers.
PP's articles and investigative reports clearly reflect the organization's leftwing orientation—e.g., depicting free-market capitalism as a breeding ground for greed, exploitation, and environmental degradation; portraying America's traditional healthcare system as inefficient and corrupt; painting the U.S. as a nation rife with white racism; and casting America's treatment of captured terrorists as cruel and inhuman. Consider, for example, the following PP investigations which were published between April 2011 and May 2013:
In an effort to
disseminate its political message as widely as possible, PP
other media outlets to “steal our stories” and republish them,
asking only that those outlets “credit us and link to us.”
In late 2012, a division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent PP confidential information on 31 conservative groups that were applying for tax-exempt status. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved by the IRS and thus were not supposed to be made public. But PP made six of them public after redacting their financial information, deeming that “they were newsworthy.” In May 2013, it was revealed that the same IRS division that had passed along the aforementioned information to PP had unlawfully targeted conservative Tea Party-affiliated groups for burdensome tax scrutiny in 2010-11.
PP identifies itself as a “partner” of more than 80 news organizations, including ABC News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, CBS News, the Chicago Tribune, CNBC, CNN, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Dallas Morning News, the Denver Post, the Detroit News, Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, The Nation, NBC News, National Public Radio, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, Slate, the Sunlight Foundation, Time, and the Washington Post.
In 2010 and 2011, PP reporters received Pulitzer Prizes for investigative journalism. In 2013, PP earned a Peabody Award for its role in the production of a documentary about a 1982 Guatemalan civil-war massacre.