IMPACT: Following Payday Expose, Anti-Immigrant Funder Removed as Sponsor of Pittsburgh Downtown Holiday Festivities

Colcom Foundation name taped over at Santa's House at Pittsburgh's Downtown Holiday Market (Ryan Deto/ City Paper)

Earlier this month, Payday revealed how the largest funder of anti-immigrant groups in the country, Colcom Foundation, was being allowed to prominently sponsor the Pittsburgh  Downtown Holiday Market.

Following the Tree of Life Synagogue Massacre, where 11 Jews were killed by armed gunmen because they assisted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in resettling immigrants, immigrant rights and community groups in Pittsburgh were outraged to see the anti-immigrant hate funder sponsor a prominent holiday event in a public square.

According to IRS documents obtained by Payday Report, in 2016, the Colcom Foundation gave more than $19 million to three different anti-immigrant organizations identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate group.”

However, despite their anti-immigrant funding, the Pittsburgh-based Colcom Foundation, founded by banking heiress of the Mellon Scaife fortune, Cordelia Scaife May, has been prominently listed as the sponsor of prominent events in the Pittsburgh area.

Following the publication of Payday’s expose, 13 different organizations called on the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which runs the Pittsburgh Downtown Holiday Market, to remove Colcom as a sponsor of the event.

Over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership removed a sponsorship banner touting the Foundations’ logo over the main stage of its festivities and tapped over references to Colcom Foundation on other signs.

“The recent attention regarding Colcom Foundation’s funding has deflected from our mission and the positive results which the Holiday Market generates, so at the request of Colcom Foundation, we have removed signage from the market acknowledging their support,” Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership spokesperson Leigh White said in a statement. “The PDP encourages further community dialogue on this topic and will continue to focus on ensuring we produce events that are open to all, and support the development of a vibrant, welcoming Downtown.”

However, a coalition of groups said that simply removing the name isn’t enough; they want groups that receive Colcom money to return it unless the group divests entirely.

“The Colcom Foundation funds groups that promote hatred toward immigrants and people of color. These groups are closely associated with white nationalists who see racial and ethnic diversity as a threat to white supremacy,”  says Christina Acuna Castillo of Casa San José, a local non- profit resource center for immigrants. “These views are abhorrent and totally contrary to our values as a city and no civic group that embraces a diverse and welcoming Pittsburgh should accept support from a foundation that funds this kind of hatred.”

The coalition has called for a rally at noon on Thursday in downtown Pittsburgh in Market Square to celebrate the victory and to call on groups including local conservation groups to divest funds given to them by Colcom Foundation.

The coalition includes IfNotNow Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), the Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), Pittsburgh United, the May Day Band, and the Thomas Merton Center.

This work is underwritten by the memorial Jewish Yinzer Fund for Immigrant and Racial Justice Labor Reporting Created to Honor the Victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue Massacre

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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