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William Skipworth
By William Skipworth December 3, 2020

George Soros is not the mastermind behind startup news outlet the Missouri Independent

If Your Time is short

  • George Soros is a wealthy hedge fund tycoon that has donated to countless causes, many of which lean liberal.

  • Conservative political group Liberty Alliance claims Soros is behind a new news outlet called the Missouri Independent. 

  • Liberty Alliance points to the charity Hopewell Fund’s role in starting the Missouri Independent’s parent organization, States Newsroom, but there is no evidence that Soros is involved in the Hopewell Fund. 

The Missouri Independent is a news outlet that was founded in October in partnership with States Newsroom, a national nonprofit funded by grants, donors and readers. It has created nonprofit news organizations in 19 U.S. states.

Liberty Alliance, which advocates for conservative causes, has accused the Missouri Independent of being a liberal propaganda outlet created by left-leaning philanthropist George Soros.

In a Facebook post, the group told their supporters, "Beware - George Soros is starting a Fake News site in Missouri. Don’t fall for it - the Missouri Independent is BAD NEWS."

The group has repeatedly made this claim online and even called for conservative elected officials to refuse to give interviews or provide comment to the outlet. This all came to a head when Republican Gov. Mike Parson refused to answer Missouri Independent reporter and deputy editor Rudi Keller’s question at a Nov. 5 press conference.

"First of all Rudi, I’m not gonna answer your question," Parson said before Keller had a chance to speak. "But I’m gonna tell you this: I am not going to respond to a c4 (nonprofit) out of Virginia that is absolutely a propaganda news agency… This political agenda, whether it’s George Soros or people like him, of what you’re gonna be doing is not fair to Missouri outlets."

Before co-founding the Missouri Independent, Keller worked for 22 years at the Columbia Daily Tribune and spent 30 years as a journalist.

Liberty Alliance has even created a website devoted to trashing the Missouri Independent and its founders. In addition to calling the founders "Liberals who have made a career of attacking Conservatives," it repeats the claim that Soros is behind it all.

"George Soros-connected entities started the States Newsroom network as a pet project to spread misinformation to appease their Liberal donors," it reads.

Soros is a Jewish Hungarian whose family hid from the Nazis during the Holocaust and later fled a communist regime in their home country. He eventually emigrated to the United States and became a hedge fund tycoon and one of the wealthiest men in the world. He has used that wealth to support countless liberal causes, largely through his charity, the Open Society Foundations.

Conservatives have criticized his use of personal wealth to affect U.S. politics in favor of liberal causes.

Soros has also been the target of countless right-wing conspiracy theories including that he is a former Nazi officer, that he’s made it his "life’s mission to destroy the United States" and that he instigated racial protests in Charlottesville, Va. PolitiFact and other independent fact-checkers have found these to be false.

Where’s the connection?

Chris Vas, the executive director of Liberty Alliance, pointed to an investigation done by the Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics, a research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. The investigation detailed a number of news outlets and their financial connections and briefly mentions States Newsroom. It found that States Newsroom had a connection to the Hopewell Fund, a liberal charity that promotes various social projects and left-wing causes, that Vas alleges is run by Soros.

States Newsroom’s connection to the Hopewell Fund goes back to the early days of the news organization, before the Missouri Independent was founded.

States Newsroom is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and donors. According to Influence Watch, an online database that tracks influencers of public policy, the Hopewell Fund served as a fiscal sponsor before States Newsroom’s tax-exempt status was approved in July 2019. In November that year, the two organizations separated.

Fiscal sponsorship allowed States Newsroom — then known as Newsroom Network — to use Hopewell’s legal and tax-exempt status until its nonprofit status was approved. This is a common practice among nonprofits. The Hopewell Fund also managed its funding and performed all the administrative and business functions, such as human resources and legal compliance.

States Newsroom and the Missouri Independent said that despite that assistance, the Hopewell Fund did not give any money to the news outlet.

The Hopewell Fund’s 2018 IRS 990 tax form — which can be accessed via ProPublica’s nonprofit database — shows that the charity did not give States Newsroom or any affiliated organization more than $5,000. The form does not disclose donations smaller than that.

Even if they did, is the Hopewell Fund run by Soros?

Featured Fact-check

There is no evidence of this.

Based on that IRS 990 tax form, we know that Soros doesn’t serve as an executive there.

We also looked through the IRS 990 tax forms filed by Soros’s organization, the Open Society Foundations as well as its sister organization, the Foundation to Promote Open Society, dating back to 2015, the year the Hopewell Fund was founded. We found that neither gave money to the Hopewell Fund. Additionally, neither gave money to States Newsroom or any of its affiliates.

At times, projects funded by the Hopewell Fund and Open Society Foundations overlapped. That’s not unusual, and none of them amounted to Soros and Open Society Foundations controlling the Hopewell Fund.

States Newsroom discloses all donations over $500. Neither the Hopewell Fund nor Soros are listed as donors. Andrea Verykoukis, deputy director of States Newsroom, also said it received no donations from Soros or the Hopewell Fund.

Additionally, Thomas Watson, a representative of the Open Society Foundations, said that neither Soros nor his foundation have given funding to States Newsroom or the Missouri Independent.

We reached out to Jason Hancock, editor-in-chief and co-founder the Missouri Independent to discuss their policies. Formerly the lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star, Hancock has spent nearly two decades working for news organizations across the Midwest.

The Missouri Independent, like other States Newsroom affiliates, is free to read and has no ads. Unlike many traditional newspapers, it funds its journalism through donations made by readers, grants and foundations, but Hancock said this is the only difference between it and other outlets. Where traditional newspapers have subscribers and advertisers, the Missouri Independent has donors.

"Ultimately, what we’re doing is not that much different from any other newsroom," he said.

On its website, the Missouri Independent contends that it retains "full editorial independence, and all editorial decisions are made by our journalists. Donors have no influence over content."

The site pushes investigative beat reporting in state government. Like traditional newspapers, its commentary section is separate from news. 

Hancock compared the Missouri Independent’s business model to NPR-affiliated news radio stations that are usually nonprofit and largely funded by donors and grants.

Hancock said that fundraising is left to the national offices at States Newsroom and that the Missouri Independent doesn’t deal with any fundraising matters directly. He said that even if he were to cover an event involving a large donor, he would have never met that donor.

"I’m aware of some of the small donors because they may have reached out, like readers who donated 10 bucks or 25 bucks or something like that, but those are the only donors that I’m aware of," he said.

Hancock said even if Soros cut him a check, his coverage wouldn’t change. He said it’s no different than not letting advertisers dictate your coverage at a traditional newspaper.

"At the end of the day," Hancock said. "if you’re gonna judge us, judge us based on our work, which I think stands with any other journalistic work out there."

Our ruling

Liberty Alliance said, "George Soros is starting a Fake News site in Missouri," referring to the Missouri Independent, but there’s no evidence of Soros being involved.

Liberty Alliance points to the Missouri Independent’s parent organization, States Newsroom, and its ties to the Hopewell Fund as evidence. But IRS tax forms tell us that Soros’s foundations have not given any money to the Hopewell Fund, States Newsroom or the Missouri Independent. Soros does not serve in any sort of officer capacity for these organizations.

The Missouri Independent is not a "fake news" site. It’s a news organization covering state government politics and policy — not a website peddling hoaxes.

Therefore, we rate this claim False.

Our Sources

The Missouri Independent, About, Nov. 6, 2020

Liberty Alliance, Who We Are, Nov. 6, 2020

Liberty Alliance on Twitter, Nov. 5, 2020

Liberty Alliance on Facebook, Oct. 14, 2020

Gov. Mike Parson’s Press Conference, Nov. 5, 2020

Columbia Daily Tribune, Editor’s Notebook: Bidding farewell to a Tribune icon, Sept. 26, 2020

MissouriDependent.com, Nov. 6, 2020

Britannica, George Soros, Aug. 8, 2020

PolitiFact, Viral photo of SS officer is not George Soros, Oct. 31, 2018

PolitiFact, No, George Soros never said he made it his life’s mission to ‘destroy the United States,’ April 20, 2019

PolitiFact, Infowars' Alex Jones falsely says George Soros, Hillary Clinton instigated Charlottesville violence, Aug. 14, 2017

Reuters, Fact check: False claims about George Soros, Sept. 29, 2020

Interview with Chris Vas, executive director of Liberty Alliance, Nov. 6, 2020

Open Secrets, ‘Dark money’ networks hide political agendas behind fake news sites, May 22, 2020

Influence Watch, States Newsroom, Dec. 1, 2020

Email exchange with Andrea Verykoukis, deputy director of States Newsroom, Nov. 18, 2020

2018 IRS Form 990 for the Hopewell Fund, Jan 17, 2020

Interview with Brent Haden, nonprofit law attorney with the Law Firm of Haden and Colbert, Nov. 11, 2020

Interview with Jordan Ault, nonprofit law attorney with Husch Blackwell, Nov. 16, 2020

Email exchange with Jordan Ault, nonprofit law attorney with Husch Blackwell, Dec.2, 2020

ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, Dec. 2, 2020

2015 IRS Form 990 for Open Societies Foundations, March 29, 2017

2016 IRS Form 990 for Open Societies Foundations, Jan. 2, 2018

2017 IRS Form 990 for Open Societies Foundations, Feb. 8, 2019

2018 IRS Form 990 for Open Societies Foundations, Jan. 21, 2020

2015 IRS Form 990 for the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Nov. 18, 2016

2016 IRS Form 990 for the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Nov. 20, 2017

2017 IRS Form 990 for the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Nov. 19, 2018

2018 IRS Form 990 for the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Nov. 21, 2019

Interview with Jason Hancock, Editor-in-chief of the Missouri Independent, Nov. 6, 2020

InfluenceWatch, Hopewell Fund, Nov. 7, 2020

InfluenceWatch, Arabella Advisors, Nov. 7, 2020

States Newsroom, Support, Dec. 1, 2020

Email exchange with Thomas Watson, senior editorial advisor at Open Society Foundations, Nov. 17, 2020

Interview with Jason Hancock, editor-in-chief of the Missouri Independent, Nov. 23, 2020

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George Soros is not the mastermind behind startup news outlet the Missouri Independent

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