The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) is a foundation-funded, non-profit investigative journalism corporation registered in Washington, D.C. CPI, founded by disgruntled television investigative reporter Charles Lewis, states its mission is “to serve democracy.” In practice, the organization works more like the journalism arm of leftist activist groups. Invariably, the targets of its investigations are institutions and individuals that oppose its progressive-left view of “integrity” – be they nonprofit groups, conservative/libertarian donors, or Republican politicians.
CPI describes itself as “strictly non-partisan,” but zealously promotes Democrats, particularly President Barack Obama and his climate change policy. The CPI website’s Climate Change Lobby page contains only hostile attacks on climate realists – such as the libertarian Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute – which question Obama’s climate-alarmism orthodoxy. CPI does not attack pro-Obama climate change lobbyists for exaggeration or scare mongering but instead give praise and approval to alarmist pressure groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In November 2010, CPI published a report on bluefin tuna overfishing titled “Looting the Seas.” Politico reported that “to obtain key information for the project, reporters accessed a database maintained by an intergovernmental fisheries regulatory body with a password given by a source, likely breaking the law.”
CPI’s own lawyer and an outside law firm both determined that CPI’s staff likely broke the law in obtaining information for the report. In addition, one of the experts quoted in the associated documentary was paid $15,000 as a project consultant to CPI. The investigative methods used to produce the report became a point of contention within the organization when CPI employee John Solomon made a number of accusations against the team that had worked on the series.
The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Politico all ran stories in August 2011 exposing coordination between CPI and Greenpeace on a CPI story about supposed Koch Industries wrongdoing. According to Politico:
Last Wednesday, the Center for Public Integrity published a tough look at Koch Industries’ lobbying against post-Sept. 11 attempts to tighten safety regulations on its chemical businesses.
Shortly afterward, Greenpeace published its own report on essentially the same topic.
The timing was enough to prompt Koch Facts, the Koch Industries website that rebuts reporting about the company, to declare the two reports “a coordinated campaign against Koch that has been underway for some time.”
Politico also reported in December 2011 that Pew Charitable Trusts, a funder of the “Looting the Seas” report, hosted a screening of a CPI documentary and then organized a call to action with other NGOs for the protection of bluefin tuna.
Liberal columnist Alex Beam of the Boston Globe wrote of CPI’s obsession with the Koch brothers:
I’ve been hanging out on the website of the Center for Public Integrity which calls itself a “nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization.’’ At the CPI, it seems as if every day is Fear the Dread Koch Brothers Day.
Last week, the Center noted that the Kochs – pronounced like the drink “Coke’’ – who own a vast pile of refineries and chemical plants, have been resisting post-9/11 security regulations. In April, in a lengthy report on “Koch’s web of influence,’’ the Center wrote that “Koch Industries is spending tens of millions to influence every facet of government that could affect its global empire.’’
No Koch misstep evades the gimlet eyes of the Integrity People! Earlier this summer, they noted that “a foreign subsidiary of Koch Industries has been fined $4,700 by the Federal Election Commission for making 12 illegal donations totaling $26,800 to seven non-federal committees over a four-year period.’’ Where did this “investigative news organization’’ glean this tidbit? Hilariously, the Koch baddies reported the infraction voluntarily to the FEC.
In 2008, CPI published a report on tobacco that was both funded by and promoted by an advocacy group called Tobacco Free Kids.”
According to a March 9, 2008 article in the New York Times Magazine, Lewis’ departure from CPI surprised and upset billionaire donors Herb and Marion Sandler – who were also the founding funders of John Podesta’s leftist think tank, the Center for American Progress. The Sandlers’ foundation had just sunk three grants totaling $350,000 into CPI’s coffers to help pay Lewis’ $187,000 salary and felt betrayed. According to the story:
“They [the Sandlers] are keenly interested in the management of nonprofits, and they are struck by how badly managed most of them are,” says Chuck Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, an investigation-oriented nonprofit that got a few small grants [$350,000] from the Sandlers a few years ago. “They have almost a fetish about it. They have an absolute infatuation with focusing on management. Who are the leaders? What is their background? Is it getting bigger or smaller? They rigorously chew over what they are about to do, much more than others do.” …
“So that’s one part of their philanthrocapitalist approach: They want their money to go to organizations they feel are well run and led by people they can count on to keep them that way. They want some control. This is true, it turns out, even when they’re not the biggest donors. Lewis, for instance, had been running the center for about 12 years when the Sandlers showed up and made a relatively small grant. “Chuck was a terrific leader,” Herb recalls.
But the Sandlers felt the center needed a better management structure, and so they began working with him on that. When Lewis decided a few months later that the time had come for him to leave, the Sandlers were furious and took his departure as a betrayal. “We had put in an enormous amount of effort,” Marion says.
For his part, Lewis felt he should be able to quit without giving the Sandlers advance notice and was angered by their reaction. There were hurt feelings all around. “They are high-maintenance donors,” Lewis says now.”
In January 2008, the Media Research Center exposed a Center for Public Integrity attack against President George W. Bush. The report, titled “Iraq – The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War,” made headlines across the nation. Excerpts from the Human Events report, “The Center for Public Integrity and a Media Scam,” exposed CPI’s highly partisan, selective condemnation tactics – such as CPI’s one-sided “study” claiming Bush deliberately lied about weapons of mass destruction:
The Establishment Media howled the study’s lead “finding”: 935 false statements by Bush Administration officials in the two-year period leading up to the launch of the War. The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post and – of course – the New York Times were all exhilarated to once again climb aboard the “Bush Lied – People Died” Express. …
President Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq immediately prior to our invading Mesopotamia. Saddam Hussein indeed at one point had them – we know this because he had used them, twice, on the Iranians and the Kurds. His every move right up to the moment we went in was calculated to foster the appearance that he had them still, lest his neighbors think him weak and vulnerable.
But in we went, and we found nothing. We had the wrong information. This is not a lie — this is an error of fact. … According to the CPI study itself, at least 532 of the “false statements” cited – more than half the grand total – had to do with assertions that Iraq indeed had these weapons. So let us trip down memory lane and revisit some other “false statements” on the subject made at the very same time as those made by the Bush Administration, by non-Bush administration individuals.
“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.” — Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002.
“We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction. “[W]ithout question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. And now he has continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real …” — Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003.
“Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.” — Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.
“We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.” — Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002.
“The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons.” — Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002.
The Center for Public Integrity was incorporated in the District of Columbia on March 30, 1989 by Charles Lewis, a former producer for ABC News and CBS News 60 Minutes. Lewis recruited two trusted journalists, Alejandro Benes and Charles Piller – whom he had met through his television work – to serve on the board of directors while he ran the nascent CPI from his home.
All three, according to Lewis’ 2014 book 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity, had grown frustrated and dissatisfied with what was being done in the name of investigative journalism by established news organizations. They chose the name “public integrity” as a way of underlying the “ultimate purpose of investigative journalism” which is “to hold those in power accountable and to inform the public about significant distortions of the truth.”
Lewis led the group for 15 years and left the lasting stamp of his activist liberalism on the organization until he abruptly departed in January 2005. As of 2016, Lewis holds a position at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. His faculty profile identifies him as a professor and executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop.
CPI’s board of directors chose television journalist Roberta Baskin as Lewis’s successor. She led the organization until May 24, 2006, when she was replaced by interim executive director Wendell Rawls, who was in turn succeeded in 2007 by William Buzenberg, a vice president at American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio. In 2010 The Huffington Post Investigative Fund merged into the CPI, and eight Huffington Post journalists moved to CPI.
In April 2011, with support from the Knight Foundation, the organization’s all-time top donor, CPI launched iWatchnews.org as its main investigative reporting website. In August 2012, CPI stopped using iWatchnews.org and returned to its original domain. In December 2011, CPI eliminated 10 staff positions in order to compensate for a $2 million budget shortfall. Buzenberg and other senior staffers also took salary cuts. CPI board chairman Bruce Finzen said the budget would be “reduced between $2 and $3 million, more like $2.5 million. The budget for next year will be in the $6 to $7 million range.” Buzenberg stepped down from CPI at the end of 2014, at which time Peter Bale, former vice president and general manager of digital operations at CNN International, was named CEO.
CPI releases its reports for publication in media outlets throughout the U.S. and around the globe. CPI lists on its official website its donors’ names without amounts or earmarks. CPI’s annual reports are also posted on the organization’s website. In 1997, CPI launched the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This international network, based in Washington, D.C., is not incorporated or recognized by the IRS, and is solely a project under the tax exemption of CPI. It includes 165 investigative reporters in more than 65 countries. Its website publishes The Global Muckraker, focused on issues such as “cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power.” In 2013, the consortium reported having 160 member journalists from 60 countries but does not reveal any international financial transactions.
The organization claims it has 66 employees on a $5.6 million payroll (2014) and 19 volunteers, making it one of the largest private non-stock investigative journalism corporations in America.
The Center for Public Integrity is cited in 692 Congressional Research Service Policy Reports from 1995 to 2016. (Paywall)
Financial data from Center for Public Integrity 2014 Form 990, most recent available in 2016
Visit the Muckety Map for the Center for Public Integrity for an interactive social network diagram.
From 1998 to 2014, 103 foundations gave CPI 442 grants totaling $58,280,008
Only a selection of top dollar donors is listed. Most significant are in bold:
Source: Foundation Search