An anonymous investigator blew the whistle today on Liz Allison, the primary director of the $228 million Stanton Foundation. Allison was caught editing Wikipedia’s article about her own organization, despite having a huge personal financial conflict of interest. Her substantial editing took place on March 15, but went unnoted until April 26, when an unidentified source notified Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales that his “bright line rule” had been broken by the Stanton Foundation. The bright line rule has been issued multiple times in various ways by the Wikipedia guru; either, “If you are a paid advocate, you should disclose your conflict of interest and never edit article space directly”, or “best practice: do not edit Wikipedia directly if you are a paid advocate.” Wales has even emphasized, “This is not complicated.”
But the Stanton Foundation director disagrees with Jimmy Wales. Liz Allison said on March 14:
My connection to Stanton is major. I am the co-director of the Stanton Foundation. I’ve come to this page because I propose to edit “our” page to correct several factual errors and to expand upon the description of our activities. I understand that it would be better if this were done by an unconnected person, but we share the problem of many smaller organizations, that not many people follow our article and so the quality improvement mechanism doesn’t work as well as it does with major entries.
Indeed, major is her connection to the foundation bankrolled by and named for her old friend, deceased CBS executive Frank Stanton. Allison pockets $180,000 per year for her 30-hour work week acting as one of the fund’s two trustees. (The other trustee is Andrew Weiss of the accounting firm Baker Tilly. He takes $100,000 annually from the fund, for 20 hours of service per week.)
Were these corrections?
While Allison claims that she was just correcting factual errors, her edits to the Wikipedia article removed numerous reference sources (typically a no-no on Wikipedia), including an interesting mention that Stanton served President Eisenhower “on a committee that would plan the country’s response to a nuclear attack.” She also eighty-sixed a mention that the roots of the present Stanton Foundation were laid out in September 1991, when the Ruth and Frank Stanton Fund was established, and whose assets were later transferred over to the newly-named Stanton Foundation. Instead, she changed the article to describe the “previously unfunded Ruth and Frank Stanton Fund”. Federally-filed documents showed that the Ruth and Frank Stanton Fund had assets of $28.89 million in 2007. Most objective readers would not characterize nearly $29 million as the asset balance of an “unfunded” charitable organization.
Additionally, Allison had been a key player in a highly controversial 2012 Stanton Foundation grant to the Wikimedia Foundation, which was in turn used to hire Timothy Sandole as an inexperienced Wikipedian-in-Residence. Sandole was given the assignment to work at Harvard’s Belfer Center, which is headed by — of all people — Liz Allison’s husband! Before Allison started manipulating the Wikipedia article about the Stanton Foundation, this controversial grant was discussed on the first screen of content presented to the reader. But after Allison’s work-over of the Wikipedia article, the reader has to jump down to the third full screen of content before they’ll learn about the controversy.
It leads one to wonder whether the Stanton Foundation learned anything from that embarrassing episode less than four years ago.
And, in usual Wikipedia fashion, when the whistle-blower called attention to this financially conflicted editing, the text of the notice was quickly removed from public view, unanswered by Jimmy Wales. It’s no wonder — over the years, the Stanton Foundation has donated several million dollars to Mr. Wales’ Wikimedia Foundation charity. His snivelling cronies don’t want him to have to weigh the ethical balance between all that cash from a favorite donor, and actually holding that donor’s manipulative editing to account.