M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, one of the largest charities in the Pacific Northwest, gave $375,000 this year to a right-wing legal group that supports North Carolina's anti-transgender legislation.
In February, the Vancouver, Wash.-based Murdock trust announced a $375,000 grant to a Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based group called the Alliance Defending Freedom. The group is a conservative Christian nonprofit that's backing laws across the nation to require transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.
The North Carolina law, the first in the nation to restrict people from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity, has been widely pilloried as an attack on LGBTQ rights.
In the past two weeks, the city of Portland and Portland Public Schools have both banned travel for public officials on government business to North Carolina.
Yet the money to fund one of the most prominent groups supporting the North Carolina transgender law is coming in part from a foundation created by one of the giants of Oregon's technology industry, Jack Murdock, who grew up in Portland and graduated from Franklin High School.
In 1946, Murdock and Howard Vollum co-founded of Beaverton-based Tektronix. The company, which manufactured testing and measuring devices, was Oregon's biggest and most significant high-tech company for decades, spinning off half a dozen other companies, including Merix Corp., Planar Systems and Mentor Graphics.
Murdock's foundation began making grants in 1975 and today, with assets of more than $1 billion, is one of the biggest sources of philanthropy in the Portland metro area, giving away $50 million annually.
Two of the trust's three current trustees are Oregonians: John Castles and Lynwood Swanson. The third, Jeffrey Grubb, lives in Vancouver. He's an executive vice president and senior managing director in the Portland Wealth Management Group of banking giant Wells Fargo.
The Murdock Trust's website says "the Trust's mission is to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest."
And the organization does give much of its money away to Northwest causes. In Oregon, many of its donations have gone to arts and educational institutions. This year, they included groups such as the Oregon Zoo to help build and expand education programs, Lewis & Clark College for research on clouds, Oregon Health & Science University for four grants including research on training of monkeys, and the dance troupe White Bird for more staff.
But among the largest grants this year was $375,000 to the Alliance Defending Freedom. Murdock has given $975,000 in the last nine years to ADF.
It's not the first time Murdock Trust has faced controversy over its gifts to conservative Christian groups.
The Northwest Accountability Project, a Seattle-based, labor-backed nonprofit that watchdogs the funding of right-wing groups, has decried Murdock sending money to the Alliance Defending Freedom and other conservative groups.
It says the passage of North Carolina's law should cause people to look more closely at where Murdock money is going.
"While many think of the Murdock Trust as the Northwest's arts and education foundation, the truth is that it's become a major backer of controversial, extremist groups," says Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Accountability Project.
Steve Moore, executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, tells WW that the $375,000 grant to Alliance Defending Freedom was earmarked for teaching schools how to follow the law when creating nondiscrimination and free-speech policies.
Moore says the money did not go to crafting anti-LGBTQ legislation.
"We ourselves do not expect to agree with everything that grant recipients do or say," Moore says. "We respect the rights of organizations and individuals to disagree politically and engage in productive civil discourse."
Yet the Alliance Defending Freedom has for more than a year been leading the fight to restrict bathroom use to people whose birth certificates match the gender on the door.
The group, co-founded in 1994 by conservative radio host Dr. James Dobson, has been a fierce opponent of gay marriage. In February 2015, the Alliance Defending Freedom crafted model legislation in Colorado restricting bathroom use at schools. That bill has been used as a template in several states, including North Carolina.
When North Carolina passed its legislation, Alliance Defending Freedom officials cheered. Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, tells WW in a statement that the bill increases safety for children.
"Increasingly, laws allowing men to enter private facilities with young girls are being enacted," claims Campbell, "which ignores basic physical privacy rights and is especially insensitive to those who have experienced sexual abuse and may undergo additional trauma when forced to be present with a member of the opposite sex in this setting. Laws like North Carolina's Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act are thus becoming very important."