Teddy Schleifer is a founding partner of Puck, a new media platform for entrepreneurial journalists that is fully launching after Labor Day and will cover, by its own description, “power, money, and ego.” Schleifer also writes The Stratosphere, a private e-mail newsletter that will remain part of Puck. He previously has worked at both Vox’s Recode and CNN.
Schleifer was kind enough to speak with me last week. During the first of two parts of our discussion, which is here, we talk about Puck, the financing for which is subscription-based, the state of coverage of and commentary about philanthropy, and the shift in American giving to Silicon Valley.
In its second part—the just less than 18-minute video below—we talk about the different factors motivating Silicon Valley giving, scrutiny of and transparency in philanthropy in general, progressive and populist critiques of grantmakers in particular, and the prospects for future reform of nonprofitdom.
Schleifer and Hartmann
“People here don’t think about their social contributions to the world, or civic contributions, just in terms of capital-P Philanthropy,” Schleifer tells me. “You see lots of wealthy people set up LLCs or just running out of a family office because they want to invest in what they see as pro-social startups … startups that have a social purpose, and that's something that’s not true of the East Coast charitable institutions, frankly.
He notes that “there’s not the same culture of kind of venerating philanthropists publicly with names on buildings like there is on the East Coast, on Wall Street, and at things like the Met Gala.” On the West Coast, “startup investing sort of plays that role. People talk about, oh, I’m an early investor in company X and that’s their way of giving back, but is that always really giving back? I don’t know.”
Regarding transparency, Schleifer says, “I encounter lots of doublespeak when I talk with wealthy people about how, of course, come on in scrutinize us, no problem—but when push comes to shove, they’re not really interested in real scrutiny” or only “interested in their version of scrutiny.”
On harsh critiques of wealth and philanthropy, and overlap in those critiques from progressives and populists, “I think the word billionaire shows it to me,” he says. “The word billionaire is literally just an objective fact about, you know, this person is worth over a billion dollars … I use the word billionaire as an objective fact, like I have hazel eyes, right? … But you see on the left and the right, the word billionaire has been an epithet.”
As for the Arnold-Madoff proposal currently being considered and taking specific legislative form on Capitol Hill, Schleifer says “I’ve been surprised at the lack of fierce opposition to the effort … The ‘losers’ of this bill are sort of not necessarily fighting it that strongly … It feels like the momentum is clearly on the other side.”
Looking forward more largely, “You’re getting more and more power concentrated in a smaller and smaller group of people,” he concludes, which “maybe enables nimbler responses to America’s greatest challenges, but also kind of borders on oligarchy or something like it. So it’s a package deal.”