Left-leaning NC organizations receive $1M in ‘civic engagement’ grants 

North Carolina State flag. FILE

RALEIGH — The Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust announced $3.55 million in “civic engagement grants” in late 2023. Per the news release, grantees were chosen for their work “focusing on increasing voter access in communities of color, with an emphasis on voter registration and education.” 

Rob Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts Inc., chats with reporters during an interview in downtown Denver on Wednesday, March 22, 2006. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“We are committed to funding organizations that help close racial gaps in voter participation, so we can move towards the promise of a multiracial and inclusive democracy,” Vail Resorts CEO and co-founder of the Katz Amsterdam Foundation Rob Katz said in the news release. “These civic engagement grants are focused on increasing voter participation to help build community power and address the concerted voter suppression tactics that threaten to destabilize the foundation of our democracy.”  

This is the eighth year Katz Amsterdam has awarded such grants, with funding totaling more than $56 million. 

The grants support civic engagement and provide “funding focused on improving community-developed behavioral health services for communities of color and reproductive justice.” 

The “Civic Engagement Grants” were awarded to six national groups as well as multiple groups focus in three states; Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina. 

One million dollars in grants have been awarded to six groups in North Carolina, all of which are all progressive and left-leaning organizations that include Blueprint NC, known for its leaked “attack memo” issued to its coalition members which outlined directives to “cripple,” “slam,” and “eviscerate” elected Republican officials in the state a decade ago.  

North Carolina recipients include: 

  • We Are Down Home – $250,000 for impacting “community change by increasing voter registration in rural communities of color and addressing the disinformation and voter disenfranchisement.” 
  • Blueprint North Carolina – $200,000 for Convening “41 organizations to provide training and resource sharing to advocate for their communities and advance equity and social justice.” 
  • North Carolina Asian Americans Together – $200,000 for fostering “community among Asian Americans and allies in North Carolina through civic engagement, leadership development, grassroots mobilization and political participation.” 
  • Southern Coalition for Social Justice – $200,000 for supporting “marginalized communities in fighting for their right to responsive representation by protecting free and fair elections.” 
  • Imagine North Carolina First – $150,000 for “strategic efforts to promote civic participation among underserved communities in North Carolina.” 

Imagine North Carolina First (INCF) is a “nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization,” which was registered with the N.C. Secretary of State in 2013 by Raleigh attorney Michael Weisel. The registered address is Weisel’s Firm, Capital Law Group. 

Imagine North Carolina First’s website returned a DNS error when accessed on various dates beginning on Dec. 13, 2023. The site, however, had been archived multiple times on the Wayback Machine  since 2017 and the most recent capture was March 30, 2023. 

One of the main goals of INCF is “to increase underrepresented voter participation in the electoral process,” with a primary mission “to foster an economy and democracy that works for all of North Carolina’s citizens.” 

According to the IRS, INCF’s tax-exempt determination letter was sent in June 2015 to Sabra Faires of Bailey & Dixon LLP, Weisel’s former firm. Faires was a Democrat candidate for N.C. Supreme Court in 2016. She only received 12.4% of the vote. 

According to INCF’s most recent available tax filings in 2021, Russ Swindell is listed as the “Executive Director.”  

Russ Swindell is the “Client Strategist” at the progressive polling group Public Policy Polling, according to his LinkedIn bio. He has also served as the Director of a North Carolina donor alliance, Chief of Staff to Congressman Bob Etheridge, and the Communications and Party Outreach Director for the North Carolina Democratic Party. 

Other Board members include notable figures such as N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s father, Adam Stein. The board also includes other long-time, high-profile Democrats such as Nina Szlosberg-Landis (Chairperson), Mary Mountcastle, Kim McGuire, and Joel Fleishman. 

Szlozberg-Landis is a 2023 Biden appointee as a member of the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.  

In North Carolina, Szlosberg-Landis was appointed to multiple boards and commissions over Cooper’s two terms including three separate appointments to the NCDOT Board between February 2017 and July 2019. She has also served on the board of Lillian’s List and WakeUP Wake County. 

Additionally, Szlosberg-Landis was involved a fight that took place in 2013 between she and Randy Voller for leadership of the North Carolina Democratic Party.  

Mountcastle is a Reynolds family heir; Mary Reynolds Babcock was Mountcastle’s grandmother. She is a trustee of the two groups that have given the largest amount of money by far to left and progressive organizations both in North Carolina; the Z. Smith Reynolds and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundations. 

Of note, Blueprint NC’s biggest start-up and maintenance cash source has been the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. 

Kim McGuire is a past board member of Democracy NC (pre-2019), which INCF has also significantly supported over the years.  

Joel Fleishman is a law and public policy professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. According to his bio, Fleishman left Duke for around a decade (1993-2003) to “became president of The Atlantic Philanthropic Service Company (NYC), the U.S. program staff of Atlantic Philanthropies.” 

Since 2016, INCF has received over $21.275 million in gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees received. 

2021 spending included multiple voting-related items such as $1.4 million for “civic engagement programs” and $450,000 for a “Narrative Program,” a “comprehensive multi-modal messaging research project to determine the core values, attitudes and motivations of North Carolina’s current and potential voters.” 

2020 filings were similar to 2021’s with over $4.5 million in revenue, however, INCF’s net income went negative by over a million. Expenditures that year spanned 19 organizations, including many of the same names from the 2021 filing, with Blueprint NC receiving the most money with $1.445 million, followed by Think North Carolina First with $760,000 and Progress NC with $662,650. 

This is not the first year North Carolina organizations have received Katz Amsterdam grants. 

In 2022, five organizations received grants that included an emphasis on increasing “BIPOC voter participation” in North Carolina. 

The 2022 grants included North Carolina Asian Americans Together – $200,000, Down Home North Carolina – $200,000, You Can Vote – $200,000, Blueprint North Carolina – $150,000 and Imagine North Carolina First – $100,000.  

About A.P. Dillon 1253 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_