There’s a new media organization in town.
The Arizona Mirror launched on Tuesday with a staff of four journalists who previously worked for Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Republic.
The site describes itself as "an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on connecting public policy with the people it affects.” The Mirror intends to do the sort of watchdog journalism that has been on the decline with the newspaper industry. The small staff has high aspirations: amplifying voices. Shining lights. Holding public officials accountable.
But this is where things get interesting. The site is funded by an obscure charity called the Hopewell Fund, which "specializes in helping donors, social entrepreneurs, and other changemakers quickly launch new, innovative projects.”
Finally, the site states that "The Mirror retains full editorial independence."
Who is behind Hopewell Fund and why do they care about journalism in Arizona? Good luck finding that out!
The Hopewell Fund is relatively new, having launched in 2015. Its most recently available tax disclosure form, covering 2016, shows that it has given money to a host of progressive organizations, including left-leaning think tanks, voter outreach groups, and nine family planning centers that perform abortions.
The group's board chair is Lee Bodner, who also serves as the head of New Venture Fund, another nonprofit with a vague mission of supporting projects for public good. Bodner has given a couple of hundred bucks to Act Blue, a group supporting Democrats. The board's secretary, Michael Slaby, served as President Obama's Chief Integration and Innovation Officer.
The 2016 disclosure form shows that the charity had $14,789,805 at the end of the year, thanks to an influx that year of about $8 million worth of publicly traded securities. The document doesn't say anything about who is behind all that money and explicitly notes that Hopewell Fund does not make its governing documents, conflict of interest policy, or financial statements available to the public.
Arizona Mirror's editor, Jim Small, who previously served as the editor of Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet Report, told Phoenix New Times that representatives from Hopewell Fund approached him "several months ago" about starting a news organization focused on Arizona public policy.
Small said the representatives, who he declined to name, were interested in Arizona because the state often gets national attention but there's a lack of local coverage of issues that affect people who live here. The only condition of the funding, Small said, is that they do journalism.
The Mirror plans to keep things straight.
"We’re engaged in journalism, not in advocacy in terms of public policy," Small said. "We’re going to have straightforward, nonpartisan news coverage. The kind that I built, frankly, my reputation on."
Small added that the Mirror's opinion section will be dedicated to progressive viewpoints. If anybody from Hopewell Fund tried to dictate coverage or push an op-ed, Small said he would "view that as an affront" the same way any newspaper editor shouldn't tolerate meddling from advertising reps.
On Wednesday, the site had published stories on a Tempe landlord, Puerto Ricans in Arizona reflecting on the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, and the potential impact of a Proposition 126 — a ban on sales taxes on services — on education funding.
Small said he does not know the source of the Hopewell Fund's money or whether there are Arizona ties. He also said he was not authorized to say how much money Arizona Mirror received from the group or how long the money will sustain his news operation.
The Hopewell Fund did not respond to late afternoon requests for comment.
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Previous attempts to unravel the source of Hopewell Fund’s money and the structure of the nonprofit left open many questions. Silicon Beat reported in 2016 that the group funded a campaign demanding greater transparency from Google. And Deadspin reported last year that Hopewell Fund — through a project called the Player's Coalition — is the beneficiary of millions paid by the NFL in an an agreement to get players to stop kneeling during the national anthem.
As both of those reports noted, the Hopewell Fund is run by managers for a private consulting service called Arabella Advisors. That's clear from the organization's staff page, and Arabella CEO Sampriti Ganguli serves as the Hopewell Fund board treasurer.
It gets even more complicated. The disclosure form says that New Venture Fund, of which Bodner serves as president, pays the salaries for Hopewell Fund's managers. Then Hopewell pays the amount of those salaries back to New Venture Fund.
Have any tips about Hopewell Fund and potential ties to Arizona? Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org