Update 12/2/22: Dustin Moskovitz himself has commented.

The title is sort of self-explanatory. Should we arrange for an independent investigator to look into Dustin Moskovitz’s fortune, to try to ensure that the money is morally legitimate and stable? I’m sure other people have brought this up, I think I’ve seen a couple comments like this, and it is an obvious place to look in the wake of the FTX collapse, as Moskovitz is our current biggest funder by a long shot. That said, I haven’t seen it very prominently featured in a forum post yet, and I’ve kept fairly close tabs on the forum. I'm anxious that it has been brought up or there is some obvious reason it shouldn’t be done that hasn’t occurred to me yet, but I’m very busy right now, so I’m throwing this together just to raise (or reraise) the point, on the logic that doing so is at least better than nothing. These hesitations, however, have convinced me to post this as a question rather than its own positive post. Some possible objections that have occurred to me:

This is a double standard, no one else does it and we shouldn’t have to: I think the first part of this at least is very likely true. I think that Tyler Cowen or various Bernie Sanders fans will wind up looking fairly foolish if it turns out that Peter Thiel or Ben Cohen have been engaged in some sort of major fraud, given how they have implied we failed at our due diligence. I don’t think either group is going to incredible lengths to prevent the same thing being as likely to happen on their ends. I think this is just broadly true, that whoever criticizes us, there is probably some major cause area or movement they are invested in, that is funded by rich people who aren’t undergoing much actual scrutiny. All this seems true to me, but it might not be. More importantly, I think it's irrelevant. Perhaps it is relevant to outsiders who are trying to figure out how much to raise or lower EA’s status in their heads relative to other movements, but we are EAs, our job, from the inside, is to just do the work. However hypocritical the accusations of various critics might be, they tend to be true in an absolute sense. Considering how much is at stake, it is worth a non-trivial amount of EA time and money to make sure the community is healthy. This absolute point, and not some relative one, is what EAs should be worrying about. If in the process of doing as well as we can we are rising above the sanity waterline, so much the worse for the current sanity waterline.

This is hindsight bias: I am more worried about this, and I think many people are now either focusing too much on EA problems that specifically connect to this one catastrophe, or are dubiously reframing their own favorite EA criticisms in terms of this crisis in order to get some boost from it. That said, if we decide to do only one thing in the wake of the FTX crash that is inspired by it, this seems like the blatantly obvious, low-hanging one to do. It may be unlikely, but imagine how much we’ll be kicking ourselves if five years pass, and Moskovitz turns out to have been a second SBF. It will look so stupid in retrospect that we didn’t do the bare minimum to get off the tracks of the train that just ran us over. I think that obsessing over the minutia of what exactly went wrong with SBF’s fall from grace on the EA forum is hindsight bias. Applying some general outside scrutiny to Moskovitz is just the sensible productive take away.

We should be applying scrutiny to someone else, like Holden Karnofsky: People who run the major orgs billionaires are donating to often have more granular say over funds than the actual funders, Karnofsky, for instance, has arguably had more impact on how Moskovitz’s money is distributed than Moskovitz himself. I don’t mean for this post to be exhaustive of who should face more scrutiny, but I do think there is an important difference here. If it turns out that Karnofsky is a fraudster, but Moskovitz is squeaky clean, he can just pull the funds from Karnofsky. The damage that was done can’t be undone, but it is isn’t too hard to move forward without Karnofsky from there. I think it might be worse if we miss Moskovitz being a fraud than if we miss Karnofsky being a fraud.

We shouldn’t take out SBF’s misdeeds on Moskovitz: I think this one is probably one of the biggest reasons there hasn’t been more discussion of this. Just the title of this post looks like an accusation, and SBF gave me no more reason to be suspicious of Moskovitz than I already had. I don’t want EA to eat itself alive over this, and I think Moskovitz is probably not a fraud. But he doesn’t have to be for some basic housekeeping to be a good idea. It wouldn’t surprise me if Moskovitz would even agree with this, and would happily submit to the examination. EA is a high trust environment, possibly too high trust. When it became increasingly clear to me that SBF was a sham, it hit me like a personal betrayal, and I now feel like anyone could be next. It is worth keeping in mind that what happened with SBF was super weird and sudden, nothing quite like his fall has happened before. EA should introspect, but to some extent, this happening to us has a component of just stupendously bad luck to it. We should keep this in mind when we move forward, and not overshoot into paranoia. I want to be abundantly clear that this post is not a call for paranoia, and we shouldn’t treat a commonsense audit like a criminal trial.

So those are some beginning thoughts, does anyone else have anything to contribute? Any objections or suggestions? Any beginnings of work along these lines?


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As a few people have mentioned, I have a very different financial background than SBF in that everyone knows how I became wealthy. In cinematic detail, no less!

Moreover, as an American citizen and California resident, audits aren't just a fun intellectual exercise for me - they really happen 😲. Recently (culminating in 2021), the California Franchise Tax Board audited my 2016-2018 filings. Here's what my accountant wrote me about that: 

they have issued a “No Change” report.  This audit was so extensive they literally ticked and tied every number on your tax return back to original source documents.  We responded to a number of Information Document Requests (IDRs) and had over 20 video calls with the FTB team to talk them through various reporting positions on investments you hold.  In talking with the lead agent on our audit conclusion call he said “we didn’t even find a rounding error……….great work on the tax reporting.”  For tax filings of this size this is the Super Bowl victory for us geeky accountants.

We run self audits every year to prepare for the real ones, and I generally  see no benefit to trying to get away with cheating at wealth generation when there are many legitimate options in front of me. (e.g. when I'm not fishing for karma on twitter, I run the enterprise software company Asana. Check it out!)

Would an independent auditor go deeper somehow than the govt who's trying to find fraud and generate revenue? I guess so, maybe? Maybe you'll trust that I didn't fabricate the above? I'm open to it, but generally skeptical it's actually adding that much. Perhaps PR self-oppo (like politicians do) would be a more novel exercise.

And as a public company, Asana financials are also heavily audited. Here's a new, audited, public filing from just yesterday: https://investors.asana.com/financials/sec-filings/sec-filings-details/default.aspx?FilingId=16238301

Huh Asana sure seems to have taken a dive from that news. 

Thanks for commenting, this is very reassuring!

(Not urgent, feel free to ignore)

I don't mean to derail the thread, but one question I'd have, at some point, is to get some idea of what you might feel comfortable with, regards to public forecasting of finances. 

I generally stay away from forecasts around individuals. However, in our (unusual) situation, a huge amount of the EA landscape is now highly dependent on your net worth over time. 

By chance, would you be okay or have reservations with any of the following being publicly forecasted? Is there anything you might actively be interested in ... (read more)

Thanks so much for the information+links here!

One tiny point: 

I have a very different financial background than SBF in that everyone knows how I became wealthy. In cinematic detail, no less!

It's looking like in a few years we'll also have cinematic representations of SBF too, for better or worse. Looking forward to comparing them. :)


The source of Moskovitz’s money is a very well known corporation, no? And large quantities of the money are in a private foundation whose Form 990-PF information is publicly available (although someone could show up at the foundation's place of business and ask to see the 2021 form, or ask it to publish the 2021 data online now). When I glanced at the 990-PF data, it suggested that the money that has been irrevocably committed to charity is in fairly boring / safe investments.

That doesn't necessarily mean further investigation would be a bad idea, but there is already far more information available than there was for SBF (whose wealth was in a privately-held company and whose charitable foundation was brand new).

I am also not sure what anyone would do with any potential derogatory information. If -- hypothetically -- we found out tomorrow that all of Moskovitz’s money somehow came from a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, what then? Of course, no one should take any more of that money, but I am not convinced the risk that Moskovitz is SBF 0.5 could be effectively mitigated. 

The idea that that EA needs to be more aware of potential major risks relating to its most pivotal funder is a valid one. However, there are a range of donor-related risks, and potential fraud is rather low on the threat list here. It is just more salient given recent events. Better to focus on contingency planning that would cover any number of much more likely reasons Moskovitz's money could largely or entirely dry up -- massive stock market crash, he decides that his foundation should spend its money on other causes, whatever. 

To the extent that discovering Moskovitz is SBF 0.5 would be survivable, I think the plan would be largely the same as for other scenarios in which his money is no longer available.

I don't think anyone should be required to share detailed personal financial information in order to donate

I usually agree, but Moskovitz isn’t just any donor, he makes up the great majority of EA funding. Insofar as this rule has any limits in exceptional cases, Moskovitz’s money seems to rise to the level where it’s worth considering. I should also add, in case the wording made it seem otherwise, I’m not necessarily suggesting this should be a super burdensome audit of the sort the IRS might conduct, if that seems like too much even something much lighter seems like it would be useful.

I think the reason this hasn't been proposed in a forum post yet is because it would be movement suicide. Suppose you are Moskovitz, and CEA comes to you and says they want you to hand over all of your personal financial records, all kinds of Facebook business records, etc, to some random law firm or whoever to do the audit. What do you think? How do you feel? Obviously you aren't going to do it - that's an insane invasion of your personal privacy, and would reveal a lot of confidential information about your Facebooks business in violation of business norms if not legal agreements. Probably you are going to feel insulted. Certainly you can find plenty of other non-EA charities that would be happy to take your money and say "thank you" no questions asked. You'll probably just do that.

The reality of the situation is that if Moscovitz is another SBF, then EA is screwed. We can't mitigate the risk by seriously investigating Moscovitz. The mitigation strategies available are to see to our own governance better - be prepared to loose funding - take any opportunities to diversify funding sources, build up savings ("endowments") to see us through hard times, document our activities so that if we have to shut down for a few years due to lack of funding, people can pick up the pieces and restart when funding becomes available again.

I don’t think it has to be that burdensome to be useful, just some independent investigation into relevant information, ideally with some help from Moskovitz with some of the relevant documents/information. That said I would bet actual real money that Moskovitz won’t stop donating to EA if he faces some audit, provided it doesn’t require some sort of serious breach of contract of the sort you mention. I think he would understand given the circumstances and my impression is that he genuinely cares about this stuff quite a lot. If you want to arrange somethi... (read more)

That's the key question, and I don't think you've answered it. Would SBF have been less likely to take people's money if there were a light touch EA audit of major donors in place? Or would he have still taken people's money, but not donated it to EA charities? Or would he have still taken the money, still donated it to EA charities, and we would feel even more foolish because we thought we had prevented this possibility? Any of those three stories sound plausible to me, but ultimately I do think it sounds strange to require an audit of someone's business accounts before they buy bednets to save lives
Devin Kalish
SBF specifically might have been less likely to commit fraud, if some of this fraud was motivated by wanting to earn to give, but in general I don’t think it would actively prevent most people from committing this fraud. That’s not what I take the point of an audit like this to be. I also think if we look, find nothing, and then later it turns out there was harder to spot wrongdoing, that won’t be worse than if we don’t even try and the same wrongdoing comes up. If the concern is that it will cause us to be overconfident, I would want to see an example of what we would be doing differently from what we are doing now if we were overconfident. Finally, I think the point “ultimately I do think it sounds strange to require an audit of someone's business accounts before they buy bednets to save lives” proves too much. I think EA’s involvement with SBF was bad, and it would have been worth some effort to try to avoid that. I think this is true even if SBF still engaged in fraud, and still donated money some other place. You could have raised identical points to defend not doing this in the case of SBF, which maybe you also think it wouldn’t have made sense to do, but at the very least in retrospect there was a cost to not doing so. Given this cost, it doesn’t seem particularly odd to me at all.
Yes, exactly - I don't think it would have made sense for us to try to audit FTX. That's not the role of the EA community.
Devin Kalish
Sure, I don’t think that’s a crazy position, I just disagree with it pretty strongly. Insofar as movement building and community health are valid EA cause areas (and at least we often treat them as such) this strikes me as highish on the list of most impactful things, not just in hindsight but also in expectation, people working on this cause area could have done.

If there was a consequence-free way to do it, it seems like a good idea. One difference is that Moscovitz’s funding and fortune has been reliable for years. Just by the Lindy principle, it seems on its face to be more likely than SBF’s to continue without scandal or disappearance.

Couple thoughts:

In society, a fundamental problem is the tradeoff between effort spent and information gained.

I could imagine a cursory "audit" that would catch blatant badness, while anything more subtle could take (for instance) experienced lawyers, forensic accountants, and other experts.

Not to mention, the access they'd need to these figures' businesses, organizations, relationships, communications... potentially anything and everything.

Most people wouldn't give such access, but I think you're right that with the unusual situation (1-2 people being a key nexus for funding/influence, inside a movement that tries to be more self-correcting than most), it makes more sense here.

Who should do the audit? Here's some criteria I think could help:

  • Orgs that don't get a high/any % of their funding from the individuals/groups under scrutiny.
  • People who've been longtime community members with some level of good reputation in it.
  • Orgs that do kinda "meta" things about the EA movement, like CEA or Nonlinear (disclosure: I used to volunteer for Nonlinear).

I think if we do an audit, we shouldn’t hire someone for it who’s part of EA at all.

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Even from an unsympathetic outside view, there needs to be some cause or at least some narrative to do something like this:

It’s been a decade since Dustin and Holden has been working in philanthropy.  Open Philanthropy worked closely with thousands of people, making hard decisions. There’s a vast amount of trust built up, that is more than just money. This is accumulated evidence in their favor.

Without a reason or even narrative to do so, I think even a high quality investigation or audit will be a waste of time or a distraction. All of this is bad if there are important issues or reforms in EA. 

Pointing at arbitrary people or generating fear is bad.


For Karnofsky in particular:

Holden built GiveWell and Open Phil. Those are really good. And the truth is that making those built a lot of enemies and critics. 

I mean, what do you really think happened with Criminal Justice Reform?

Also, if there was some dumb investigation, it will make my name mean and I’ll have to change it.

For Moskovitz in particular:

I always saw Dustin as an abstract bag of money. This was until two weeks ago when I found out there was an EA Twitter.


I think we should investigate if he is paying someone to be this funny.

I have a long track record of being funny, thank you very much!  https://twitter.com/moskov/status/1556349357879808000

I’m not sure what you mean here, I give a narrative in the post - Moskovitz makes up most of our funding, this is a big deal worth some worry and scrutiny, therefore even if we trust him, as I tend to, a little extra housekeeping would be prudent. Maybe you think it’s a bad narrative, but it’s certainly a narrative.