- Assets: $139,830,154 (2017)
- Grants Received: $0 (2017)
- Grants Awarded: $5,887,457 (2017)
Businessman and philanthropist Jacob Merrill Kaplan (1891-1987) established the J. M. Kaplan Fund in 1945 with the proceeds he earned from selling his Welch’s Grape Juice Company to the National Grape Co-operative Association in Westfield, New York. He served as president of the Fund until 1977, at which time his daughter, Joan K. Davidson, took over that post and held it until 1993. After taking a two-year leave to serve as commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation under Governor Mario Cuomo, Davidson rejoined the Kaplan Fund in 1995 as a trustee and president emeritus. Under her stewardship, the Fund developed into a strong supporter of leftist agendas in the areas of civil liberties, human rights, the arts, and the built and natural environments. The chief beneficiaries of its philanthropy were projects and organizations based in New York State.
From 1993-2000, the Kaplan Fund was co-chaired by Richard D. Kaplan (Jacob Merrill Kaplan’s son) and Betsy Davidson (Joan K. Davidson’s daughter), who together helped propel the Fund further leftward. In mid-2000, the day-to-day management of the Fund and its grant-making was entrusted to an operating board composed of the founder’s seven grandchildren. They established four major program areas which remain in effect to this day and, in accordance with the “founder’s vision,” are geared toward a utopian “realization of an ideal society”:
1) The Migration Program supports “efforts to integrate” all of America’s foreign-born residents “so they can thrive and contribute fully to the country’s civic, cultural and economic life.” It also addresses “the labor market challenges facing foreigners educated and trained abroad who are underemployed in the U.S.”; it advocates “comprehensive immigration policy reform” providing a path-to-citizenship for the millions of people currently living in the U.S. illegally; and it supports Dream Act legislation that would allow illegal-alien students to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents—thereby helping them “achiev[e] their educational and professional goals.”
Over the years, the Migration Program has also endorsed initiatives that “facilitate immigrants’ links to their home communities” and provide them with “access to information on housing, education, jobs, health, or government services.” Moreover, the Kaplan Fund has called for “the right of citizens of any member country of NAFTA (or an expanded hemispheric version) to reside and work in any other member country.” Under such an arrangement, illegal immigration from Mexico would no longer technically exist—because all cross-border migration would be considered permissible and would thus go unregulated.
2) The Environment Program has focused principally on “High Seas Protection,” “Ocean Livability,” and “Marine Protected Areas.” In collaboration with other partners, the Kaplan Fund helped create the High Seas Alliance, the world’s largest marine conservation organization. Other Environment Program initiatives have sought to: “fight environmental havoc caused by overfishing and greenhouse gas emissions in the Pacific Islands”; “promote the inclusion of marine sites on the World Heritage List”; and “suppor[t] efforts for comprehensive regulations governing maritime transport.” Further, the Kaplan Fund supports numerous environmentalist groups that emphasize the destructiveness of man-caused global warming.
3) The City Life Program works with organizations across the five boroughs of New York City “to expand and improve the public realm,” focusing especially on parks, streets, “green spaces,” the waterfront, mass transit, and the creation of new biking and pedestrian zones.
4) The Historic Preservation Program seeks to “preserve the physical integrity of historic sites” locally, regionally, and worldwide. Particular attention is given to the conservation of archaeological resources in the Aegean Basin, most notably Turkey and Greece. The program also supports efforts to “shape and influence the protection and reuse” of former industrial sites in the U.S., including mines, power plants, grain elevators, and steel plants.
Among the noteworthy recipients of Kaplan Fund grants are the Alliance for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brookings Institution, Casa de Maryland, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Environmental Defense Fund, Food First, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition, the League of Conservation Voters, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the Migration Policy Institute, the National Immigration Forum, the National Immigration Law Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Progressive States Network, the Rainforest Alliance, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Sierra Club, the Southern Poverty Law Center, State Voices, The Nation Institute, the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center, Trust for Public Land, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Wilderness Society, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund.
To view a list of additional grantees of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, click here.
(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center, Undue Influence), and the “What We Fund” section of the J.M. Kaplan Fund website)