On the morning of Feb. 16, 2018, Mark Mankiw, president of the Center for Responsive Politics, and others began receiving emails from donors who wanted to help fund a project to create a database of American foundations.
The project, a nonprofit called the National Foundation of Foundations, would provide access to financial information and information about the philanthropy of American leaders.
“It is a huge opportunity,” Mankiziw told TIME in January, after receiving the first batch of the emails.
“I’m thrilled to be part of this initiative.
I think it will be the best data set of the last 30 years.”
The nonprofit is launching the new database as part of its effort to fight the scourge of insider trading, a growing problem that has seen foundations rake in billions of dollars in fees from stock trades that are often done with little oversight.
A $250 million settlement between the New York Stock Exchange and the SAC Capital Group was the first big-name financial institution to admit to its role in the trading.
The fund, which now holds nearly half a trillion dollars in assets, has faced scrutiny for its role as a conduit for money that could be used to buy favored stocks and to buy back worthless stock that’s being traded.
The foundation also is the subject of a federal investigation by the SEC into its dealings with hedge funds and other financial institutions, and is currently the subject to a separate investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
In addition to its focus on insider trading and the foundation’s ability to track its fund’s investments, the foundation is also trying to fight back against the growing use of the term “gift-giving” in the public lexicon.
For the past three decades, the term has been used to describe how the wealthiest Americans, many of whom have foundations, donate money to causes such as health care, education and foreign aid.
But this term is increasingly being used to cover charitable giving in general, according to research from the Brookings Institution, a think tank focused on philanthropy.
It’s the latest push to limit the misuse of the phrase as a synonym for gift giving.
In fact, it’s one of the first major developments in a campaign to make sure that the term is never used in its broadest sense.
“Gift giving is a very broad category, but it includes so many different things,” said Andrew Sorensen, a professor of governance at the University of Virginia.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure we don’t create a big mess of an entire set of definitions.”
The foundation is aiming to make the database of foundation-related donations publicly available, in the hopes that donors will become more conscious of what they’re giving.
But it’s not the only organization looking to improve its image with the public.
Last year, a group of leading foundations launched a website that will provide donors with the information they need to track how they’re donating.
And on Monday, the New America Foundation announced a $100 million program to help fight the rising use of “gifts for insiders” — which is essentially what the term means — in the financial industry.
A new effort by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which works to bring transparency to the global economy, is also hoping to fight insider trading.
Pew’s initiative is one of several efforts aimed at fighting the practice, which the Pew researchers say has led to “a vast increase in the amount of money that goes unaccounted for and hidden in the U.S. economy.”
While the Pew project will include financial data from the nonprofit, the Pew site will focus on the philanthropic giving that goes to foundations rather than the ones that make donations themselves.
The nonprofit’s CEO, Ed Rogers, said in an interview with TIME that the site will also be able to provide a database that will show how much the organizations themselves give to their respective foundations.
“We want to make this data publicly available,” Rogers said.
“When people see it, they’ll know exactly how much they are giving.
They’ll also be aware of the charities that they’re supporting.”