Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Billionaire Seeks to Mend Partisan Divide

Democrat David Einhorn, son of right-wing, north-shore Republicans, funds effort to heal America.

By - Nov 16th, 2022 03:49 pm
Fox Point Footbridge. Photo taken Aug. 6, 2022 by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Fox Point Footbridge. Photo taken Aug. 6, 2022 by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

A national group called the New Pluralists has launched a massive effort to combat the partisan acrimony in America, with the slogan “Many Voices, One Future.” The group has pledged to spend $100 million, which it hopes to increase to $1 billion over the next decade to fight polarization by funding face-to-face interactions among Americans across political, racial and religious divides.

The initial funding and leadership for this venture came from the Einhorn Collaborative, a foundation started by hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who was raised in metro Milwaukee and whose father Stephen Einhorn was arguably a key contributor to the rise of partisan meanness in this country. Back in 2012 the Einhorn Family Foundation paid for scary billboards signs warning that Voter Fraud Is a Felony!” punishable by up to three and a half years in prison and fines of $10,000.

This prompted MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton to do a segment attacking the billboards: they were intended to scare minority voters,” Sharpton charged and then promised, “were going to help make them (the Einhorns) famous, so you will get to know them, too.” He then disclosed that Stephen Einhorn was then a board member of the Milwaukee Art Museum and a former Milwaukee Repertory Theater board member.

The Einhorn family lived in New Jersey, but moved to Fox Point on Milwaukee’s North Shore when David was seven. His mother Nancy was originally from Shorewood. His father was a paint factory owner who became interested in mergers and acquisitions and founded Einhorn & Associates, a consulting firm, and Capital Midwest Fund, a venture capital fund, which made him a wealthy man. “By all accounts,” David’s “childhood was a studious and comfortable one,” noted a New York Times profile.

David graduated from Nicolet High School, got a B.A. in government from Cornell University, and in May 1996, at the tender age of 27, started the Greenlight Capital hedge fund with $900,000 in start-up capital. Within a decade he was so wealthy Einhorn considered buying the Milwaukee Brewers, but was beaten to the punch by Mark Attanasio. Years later Einhorn was unsuccessful in his attempt to become a one-third owner of the New York Mets for $200 million.

By 2012, David Einhorn had become a billionaire, according to Forbes, and was included in Time magazines list of 100 most influential people in the world” in 2013. A Forbes story in 2018 called him “one of Wall Street’s most closely watched investors due to his bold investment calls.” But in 2019, Forbes removed him from its list of billionaires after a string of bad investments by Greenlight left Einhorn with an estimated net worth of only $700 million, according to the magazine. But by March 2022, Forbes found Einhorn had bounced back and now had a net worth of over $1.2 billion.

Which probably makes him more wealthy than his father (whose net worth is unknown.) And while the parents still live in the metro area, David lives in Westchester County, New York. And David has become a Democrat while the parents are Republican donors who created a family foundation with “a self-professed commitment to conservative ideology,” as Source Watch reported. They were major donors to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and also donated to a conservative candidate in the unsuccessful attempt to recall Mequon-Thiensville school board members. The couple also donated $11,000 to the campaign of Rebecca Kleefisch and more than $10,000 to the state Republican Party.

David, meanwhile, has contributed to the campaigns of Democratic candidates like Mark Warner and Evan Bayh, groups like Act Blue and True Blue Democrats, as well as New York Democrats like Andrew Cuomo and Chuck Schumer.

One can imagine the holiday discussions at the dinner table between David and his parents might get tense at times. Might that help explain David’s interest in an effort to make peace between America’s warring political tribes?

David and his wife Cheryl created a nonprofit based in midtown Manhattan, the Einhorn Collaborative in 2002, (the two separated in 2017), which reported assets of $34.8 million on its latest (2019) federal tax form. The foundation initially funded “a variety of colleges and left-leaning nonprofit organizations,” such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, as Sourcewatch reported.

But in the years since David’s father funded those controversial billboards, and the rise of Donald Trump increased the nation’s polarization, the foundation has embraced a mission to address “America’s growing crisis of connection,” its website states. “We believe the prevailing narratives of distrust and division are not only flawed, but reversible.”

In the wake of Trumps election, Einhorn Collaborative executive director Jennifer Hoos Rothberg told the New York Times, the foundation “kept getting calls from people who were alarmed by the level of polarization and thought they could help fix it.” In response, she said, “we set up a rapid response organizing around bridging divides.”

The Einhorn Collaborative gave away $6 million in grants to groups to address this, but wanted to do something bigger. “In 2019, Ms. Rothberg invited other donors involved in similar work to a meeting in New York to see if they could pool their money to fund these projects on a larger scale. She purposefully invited donors from across the political spectrum,” the story reported.

The result was the creation of a nonprofit called The New Pluralists, with funding from nine other foundations, including the Stand Together Trust, formerly the Charles Koch Institute, which funds social ventures to solve common problems. “But that made some social justice funders on the left balk because they didnt want to be in the same room” with the Koch-connected group, one attendee told the Times.

For that matter, the Einhorn Family Foundation, run by David’s parents, is not listed as a donor to the effort.

The New Pluralists have founded a number of groups “dedicated to bridging divides: the Peoples Supper, which helps communities host potluck dinners and other events that promote racial and political reconciliation; the One Small Step project at StoryCorps, which brings together strangers for recorded conversations about their lives;” and “More in Common, which surveys public opinion and put out an influential paper about the countrys ‘exhausted majority,’” the story noted.

But the group’s overarching mission is “to turn pluralism into a coherent field — like public health — with clearly defined norms and practices that can be replicated, measured and improved.”

In September, at a White House unity summit hosted by President Joe Biden, the New Pluralists announced it wants to ratchet up the spending on this effort and is challenging donors to devote $1 billion over the next decade to the cause.

The group does not appear to have a media representative, but does have a “director of storytelling” you can contact along with a blog. It’s all intended to convey a passion for the cause. “Healing Starts Here,” the website declares.

Correction: An early version of the story wrongly stated that David Einhorn contributed to Hillary Clinton.

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