America’s Top Foundations Bankroll Attack on Big Tech

They have their work cut out for them. Tech companies spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying every year. And antitrust issues hinge on dense questions of law and economics that don’t fit on bumper stickers.

“It’s not just about trends and corporate accountability,” said Maria Torres-Springer, the vice president for United States programs at the Ford Foundation, which has a $12 billion endowment. “It’s about creating and sustaining a movement that rebuilds political and economic power for everyday Americans.”

A leading beneficiary of the money is the Open Markets Institute, a research group whose focus on antitrust issues has been pivotal in making corporate concentration a matter of public debate. It expects to bring in more than $3 million in 2020, according to an internal document from the first half of this year. In 2016, before the group split off from a bigger organization, New America, its revenue topped out at just over $900,000.

This year, the Knight Foundation, which focuses on journalism, awarded Open Markets $2 million to study the impact that concentration among technology platforms has on the media. In September, the Ford Foundation gave it $200,000 to examine how tech monopolies affect workers. A public campaign it has led to break up Facebook will expand to include Google next year, according to Sarah Miller, the organization’s deputy director.

Mr. Hughes’s Economic Security Project is contributing to that campaign. It is also paying for Open Markets to conduct public opinion polling.

“Our view is you need an ecosystem,” Mr. Hughes said. “You need a community of people who generally share the same values but who, among themselves, may even have different approaches to the issues.”

Another progressive group, Jobs With Justice, plans to hold sessions next year explaining to people the antitrust case against tech companies in simple terms. In the draft script of the training, the session’s leader seizes on a simple metaphor, asking attendees to consider two lemonade stands.