- Assets: $866,533,972 (2009)
- Grants Awarded: $51,325,595 (2009)
In 1988, Herb and Marion Sandler, husband and wife, launched the Sandler Foundation (SF) -- or the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, as it is also known -- as a philanthropic enterprise to memorialize the legacy of Herb’s brother, Leonard, a New York appellate court judge. For much of its history, SF was a low-profile enterprise. In 2002, it had assets totaling $71,894,602. Four years later, the Sandlers sold their World Savings Bank (WSB), formerly called the Golden West Financial Corporation, to Wachovia for $24 billion. Of this sum, the Sandlers pocketed $2.3 billion, putting $1.3 billion into SF and making it one of the largest foundations in the United States.
The Sandlers played a significant role in the subprime mortgage crisis that hit the American economy in 2008. Their WSB was one of the first banks in the U.S. to aggressively promote adjustable-rate mortgages, which constituted about 80 percent of all loans to subprime borrowers. At the time of its sale, WSB held $122 billion worth of these mortgages, which helped to cause the implosion of Wachovia soon thereafter. In October 2008, Saturday Night Live lampooned the Sandlers as “people who should be shot” for their role in causing the financial havoc plaguing the nation. In 2009, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a story portraying the Sandlers’ WSB as an example of “how the mortgage industry destroy[ed] itself.” Soon after, the New York Times labeled the Sandlers as “pariahs,” and Time magazine identified them as two of the “25 people to blame for the financial crisis.”
The Sandlers have fiercely defended their reputation, arguing that “it is just plain wrong to pin the blame on us.” "[P]rior to Golden West’s sale," they explain, "we transferred the majority of our personal, long-term holdings in Golden West to a spend-down charitable foundation, and the remainder remains committed for philanthropic use, as was always our family’s plan."
The Sandlers' wish “to make the world a better place for the most vulnerable among us” has led the couple to bankroll some of America's most prominent leftist groups, to which the Sandler Foundation gave more than $247 million between 2003 and 2009. Through their foundation, for example, the Sandlers became major donors to Human Rights Watch (HRW), giving $30 million to the group between 1988 and 2008; they also built a strong relationship with HRW’s head, Aryeh Neier, who eventually became president of the Open Society Institute. During this same period, the Sandlers became philanthropic allies of the heavyweight progressive funders, George Soros and Peter Lewis.
Other noteworthy recipients of SF grants include: ACORN, which had received at least $5,723,222 from SF as of 2010; the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Institute for Social Justice, which received well over $4 million from SF between 2003 and 2010; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and the National Partnership for Women and Families.
SF’s self-described “pride and joy” project is the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). The Sandlers co-founded CRL in 2002; over the next six years, their foundation poured more than $20 million into it.
In 2003 the Sandlers -- along with George Soros, Morton Halperin and Harold Ickes -- co-founded the Center for American Progress, a powerful progressive organization with leaders like Hillary Clinton and John Podesta. That same year, the Sandlers, again with George Soros and also with Peter Lewis, established and funded America Votes to coordinate get-out-the-vote drives during the 2004 election season.
In 2004 the Sandlers donated a total of $13 million to liberal and leftist causes, including $1 million to Democratic political campaigns and $2.5 million to the MoveOn.org Voter Fund. Also that year, SF became the fourth largest donor to Democrat 527 groups, giving $14,009,039 to a number of organizations; among these were the Joint Victory Campaign and Citizens For A Strong Senate, the latter of which received $8.5 million of this sum.
In 2005 the Sandlers became members of another Soros-Lewis-funded group, Democracy Alliance, which finances progressive advocacy and Democratic political campaigns. That same year, SF donated $700,000 to Project Vote, the voter-mobilization arm of ACORN (which SF has also supported consistently over the years).
In 2006 the Sandlers co-founded and bankrolled a new operation, ProPublica, whose mission is to provide the American public with independent "investigative journalism in the public interest" -- "journalism that shines 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." From 2006 to 2009, SF gave $30 million to its new media group. In October 2009, Jack Shafer of Slate.com claimed that the Sandlers were simply intent on “return[ing] us to the days of the partisan press” – and Capital Research profiled ProPublica as a partisan organization, designed to attack conservatives.
Other recipients of SF grants in recent years include two ACORN affiliates, Project Vote and the American Institute for Social Justice, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Community Change, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, Environmental Defense, Media Matters for America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Tides Foundation & Tides Center, and the William J. Clinton Foundation.
To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, click here.
(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)