The Chiaroscuro Group, a Manhattan-based right-wing organization chaired by hedge fund manager Sean Fieler, is running radio ads featuring a talking fetus to attack Democratic New York state senator Tim Kennedy for supporting a bill that would secure a woman’s right to choose and protect women against employment and housing discrimination.
The Buffalo News reports that Chiaroscuro is funding two ads going after Kennedy, including one that features the high-pitched “voice of a presumed unborn child” and one voiced by a woman who tells Kennedy, “You and Gov. Cuomo keep saying you’re doing this for women. Well, we don’t want it.”
Although the Chiaroscuro Group appears to be a separate entity, it is clearly connected to two other Fieler-backed organizations, the Chiaroscuro Foundation and the Chiaroscuro Institute. The Buffalo News identifies Fieler as the chairman of the Chiaroscuro Group and lists its president as Greg Pfundstein, who also works for the foundation and the institute.
Fieler is a relatively little-known figure who seems to shy away from press and public appearances, but his money is behind a wide array of Religious Right campaigns on issues ranging from anti-choice initiatives to marriage equality opposition to rolling back the rights of transgender students.
Fieler chairs and largely finances the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a large grant-making operation, and the related Chiaroscuro Institute, which runs a handful of anti-choice projects. Fieler’s $3 million in contributions to the Chiaroscuro Foundation in 2012 made up nearly all of the organization’s revenue that year (the foundation also holds shares in gold and silver, the gold standard being one of Fieler’s pet causes). In turn, the Chiaroscuro Foundation gave the Chiaroscuro Institute $76,000 in 2012, or about half its budget.
Through the Chiaroscuro Foundation, Fieler contributes to a wide variety of social conservative causes. In 2012, the foundation granted $125,000 to the Susan B. Anthony List’s education arm; $77,500 to Students for Life; $25,000 to Family in America, the journal run by the Howard Center for Family, Religon & Society, which also runs the World Congress of Families; and $20,000 to the National Organization for Marriage.
Fieler himself has directly donated over $1 million to anti-marriage equality groups, including NOM. He also serves as the chairman of the American Principles Project, the group founded by former NOM chairman Robert P. George that now employs NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher.
Introducing Fieler at a 2012 APP gala, Bill Kristol called him a “very rare” person who “understands economics and understands issues of principles and values.” In his speech to the audience, which included Rep. Raul Labrador and Rep. Steve King, Fieler articulated APP’s mission of convincing conservatives to run on anti-gay and anti-choice platforms, and accused progressives of appealing to “the baser side of humanity.”
“Our base desires harmonize perfectly with the rhetoric of class warfare and the enthusiastic embrace of sexual impulses pitched just right for a thinned-down notion of choice and authenticity,” he said.
Fieler is also the major funder of the American Principles Fund, a super PAC run by Frank Cannon, a political consultant for right-wing groups including NOM and SBA List, and Mike Huckabee’s daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The American Principles Fund ran ads in the Wyoming Senate race accusing Liz Cheney of being too pro-gay and in New Jersey, calling now-Sen. Corey Booker an “extremist” on abortion rights.
In addition, the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reported last year that Fieler was the “single largest donor” to the effort to put California’s new transgender students’ rights law on the ballot for repeal, contributing $200,000 to the cause.
Fieler made a rare media appearance last year after David Blankenhorn, head of the Institute for American Values, announced that he would stop fighting against marriage equality. It was personal for Fieler, who was the Institute’s largest donor – contributing six figures annually—until he quit the organization’s board, and for Gallagher, who used to work for the group. Fieler responded by telling the New York Times, “The problem with gay marriage and the position David has taken, is it promotes a very harmful myth about the gay lifestyle. It suggests that gay relationships lend themselves to monogamy, stability, health and parenting in the same way heterosexual relationships do. That’s not true.”
Through the Chiaroscuro Institute, the smaller offshoot of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, Fieler funds “academic colloquia on issues pertaining to religious freedom and human life” and the “Women Speak For Themselves” project, run by anti-contraception activist Helen Alvare, which seeks to martial women’s voices against abortion rights and contraception access.
In his introduction of Fieler at the APP event last year, Kristol called the hedge fund manager a “very successful businessman, someone who I will think will play an increasing role in our public life, should play an increasing role in our public life, over the next years and decades.” Quietly, Fieler already is.