News and analysis
July 09, 2015

MacArthur, Mott, and Open Society Foundations Are Under Scrutiny in Russia

Facing a potential blacklist in Russia, three major U.S. foundations defended their support of higher-education, civil-society, science, and human-rights organizations in that country.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott, and Open Society foundations were among a dozen organizations that Russia’s upper house of parliament put on a "patriotic stop-list" on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Under a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, the list will be sent to Russian justice and foreign-ministry officials for vetting, to consider whether the organizations included are a threat to Russia.

'Serious Misunderstanding'

Julia Stasch, president of MacArthur, said the notion that the philanthropy was engaged in "undesirable activity" under the law "rests on a serious misunderstanding of our activities in Russia."

The Chicago foundation started making grants in Russia in 1991, opened a Moscow office the following year, and has made grants to individuals and organizations in the country totaling nearly $179 million.

Recent MacArthur grants in Russia include $150,000 in support of Public Chronicles, a Russian group that trains journalists, bloggers, and civic activists, and $300,000 to Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, which trains litigators and advocates for human rights.

"The MacArthur foundation is entirely independent and receives no funding from the United States government," Ms. Stasch wrote in a statement that included a Russian translation. "We do not engage in or support political activities."

No Plans to Stop Giving

Neal Hegarty, vice president for programs at Mott, said the foundation is watching the situation closely. Last year, it awarded more than $1 million to Russian organizations.

"We’re disappointed to learn we’re on the list," he said. "It would be regrettable if Russia were to block nonpolitical funding that enables its own people to do a lot of good."

In a statement, the Open Society Foundations said the Russian action was regrettable. The organization has made grants in Russia since 1987.

"We are determined to continue to support those who seek our assistance in accordance with our mission and within the limits of the law," the statement said. .

Russia is not the only country that has recently placed limits on foreign nonprofits operating within its borders. In April, for instance, the Indian government shut down thousands of domestic charities that receive foreign support.

Send an e-mail to Alex Daniels.