74Joined Jun 2022


A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

I do not believe this explains the funding rationale. If you look at the groups funded (as per my comment), these are not groups interested in bipartisan political compromise. If OP were interested in bipartisan efforts there are surely better and more effective groups to fund in that direction rather than the groups funded here with very particular, and rather strong, political beliefs which cannot in many cases (even charitably) be described as likely to contribute to bipartisan efforts at reform.

A Critical Review of Open Philanthropy’s Bet On Criminal Justice Reform

Considering the size of these donations and the policy focus of many of these groups, it is useful to look at the campaigns these groups run. The issue is that political association for core EA institutions is not likely to be net positive unless very carefully managed and considered. It is also similarly the case that EA's should not support policy groups without clear rationale, express aims and an understanding that sponsorship can come with the reasonable assumption from general public, journalists, or future or current members, that EA is endorsing particular political views.

The Color of Change group, to which OP donated 50% of Color of Change's annual budget (at $2.5 million) for “increasing the salience of prosecutor and bail reform”, describes their work in a variety of mission statements. Some of these are very clearly not EA, such as:

  • "Achieving meaningful diversity and inclusion behind the scenes in hollywood"
  • "Ensuring Full and Fair Representation in the 2020 Census"
  • "Protecting Net Neutrality"

Other mission statements are politically motivated to a degree which is simply unacceptable for a group receiving major funds from an EA org. Under a heading "Right Wing Politics and White Nationalism" - a clear elision of right wing politics with hard-line racism - there appears the mission statement:

  • "Dismantling right-wing and white nationalist infrastructure/support"

This is a dishonest reading of politics, to be expected only of bad faith interpretations (akin to rendering left-wing politics as synonymous with Stalinism). Worse still than the rhetorical elision of RW and White Nationalism, is the mission itself - which taken at face value - commits the group to dismantling support and infrastructure for right-wing political beliefs. This is not an effective cause, and is - instead - a politically motivated one.

What, then, are the beliefs of the Color of Change? Under the title "Economic Justice", Color of Change advocates for "Building momentum for progressive tax, labor and education policies".

Their politics are all the clearer when looking to their current campaigns. These range from racial audits of Amazon, to advocating for the employment of a teacher fired for teaching critical race theory, to letters sent to prosecutors to stop "Anti-Trans Laws". Indeed, most of the campaigns appear to be letter writing. It is difficult to see how this organisation should be considered for $2.5 million of EA funds.

It should be clear at this point that Color of Change is a left-wing political pressure group designed to reduce right-wing infrastructure and support, and to smear right-wing beliefs (their political opponents) as synonymous with racism. What relevance has this to Effective Altruism?

These political beliefs are common across those funded. Mijente - given $255k in a grant to “support its work on criminal justice reform”  describes itself as believing "our people can't afford 4 more years of despair, fear and growing systematic criminalization. Our plan of attack is to win at the ballot box by mobilizing Latinx voters against Trump." Regardless of personal opinions on Trump, or his suitability for the office of President, this is not an EA cause area (arguments of x-risk prevention aside as this was apparently for a criminal justice reform grant). Furthermore, as a side note, from the Campaigns section of Mijente's website, it no longer appears they have an active criminal justice focus despite the $255k OP grant.

Similarly, LatinoJustice, given $500k from OP to encourage "Latinx activists to support criminal justice reform" does not advocate for criminal justice reform but rather states that  "The criminal justice system in the U.S. needs not only to be reformed; it needs to be dismantled. It needs to be de-structured. It needs to be decolonized". This is a political programme, disconnected to the original rationale for the OP grant.

Indeed, OP's reasoning itself was expressly political for funding of at least one of these groups. The $100k grant to ReFrame was described as a grant for the ReFrame Mentorship, which OP describes as "an intensive training and mentorship program in strategic communications for social justice movement organizers". This appears to be an expressly political rationale.

This is all to emphasise - not only as the post above does - that these groups were very likely far from effective uses of OP's grants, but that they were also given expressly to groups with very clear, particular politics. It is difficult to see how any of these groups met the bar of OP funding, but it is all the more concerning that these were essentially a pattern of political campaigning groups, with very particular (but coherent with one another) political beliefs, receiving significant OP funds. This appears more akin to political activism, and less to effective giving. It is surprising and disappointing that OP funds were apparently used in such an ineffective and expressly political direction. The above shifts my estimate strongly towards the Progressive Funders and Mind Killer hypotheses.