Reputation Laundering

Kleptocrats gaining influence through philanthropy

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has brought new scrutiny to the influence of Russian and other foreign oligarchs in the United States and Europe.

In 2020, ACDC began building a database of donations by post-Soviet oligarchs from post-Soviet countries to leading U.S. nonprofit institutions, spanning education, healthcare, culture and religion. Such donations can be an instrument for promoting the individuals’ own political agenda, facilitating access to decision-makers, polishing tarnished reputations and helping push back against scrutiny and negative publicity.

Since we first published some of our findings in Foreign Policy, more than a dozen media outlets have cited our data in their reporting.

Transparency measures to counter reputation laundering through philanthropy should not create administrative obstacles to charitable giving, but instead require the government to collect information about large foreign donations, as has been the case for higher education since the 1960s.

Recommendations to U.S. policymakers

  • For all registered nonprofit institutions, collect and make available information about contracts with and gifts from a foreign source that, alone or combined, are valued at $50,000 or more in a calendar year.

Recommendations to nonprofit institutions

  • Ensure that development teams are aware of how donations and associated access may be instrumentalized for malign purposes.
  • Conduct the fullest due diligence on new donors possible, bearing in mind that new information may have come to light since previous donations to other institutions.
  • Respond proactively when new information about donors comes to light. This can include severing ties, reviewing due diligence practices and contributing to compensation of victims.

Reporting utilizing our data analysis

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Members working on this problem

David Szakonyi Co-Founder
Casey Michel Member

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