Jessica Piper at Politico:
The Covid-19 pandemic has produced a remarkable financial windfall for anti-vaccine nonprofits. Revenue more than doubled for the Informed Consent Action Network and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense in 2021 compared to the year prior, according to a POLITICO analysis of tax filings. The nonprofits that survived on operating budgets of around a few million dollars just a few years prior are now raking in more than $10 million each.
Informed Consent Action Network was among the most well-funded groups in the anti-vaccine movement prior to the pandemic. The nonprofit was pulling in $1.4 million in 2017. By 2021, its annual revenue topped $13.3 million, according to tax documents.
The group’s founder, Del Bigtree, hosts a podcast, The HighWire, where he discusses the group’s work. During the pandemic, the show released near-daily episodes, where Bigtree criticized lockdowns and masks, touted unproven treatments such as the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and questioned the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
Bigtree told POLITICO that his audience grew over the pandemic, from thousands of weekly listeners to millions. “The pandemic in many ways played right into our conversation,” he said.
The growth came despite major distribution platforms such as Facebook and YouTube removing The Highwire, citing misinformation policies.
It also brought in a rush of grassroots giving. Bigtree said smaller, recurring donors now account for a large share of the group’s funding. Most of the donations to the Informed Consent Action Network documented in tax documents are through donor-advised funds, a setup often used by wealthy benefactors to keep their identities private.
The group was not alone in its pandemic-era growth. A longtime anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense, the nonprofit launched in 2011 under the name World Mercury Project, also saw its revenue balloon. The group, which is led by longshot Democratic presidential candidate Kennedy, saw its revenue go from just over $1 million in 2018 to more than $15 million in 2021, according to the nonprofit’s federal tax filings.