COVID Contrarians and the Influence of Funding in Medicine

Taylor Nichols, MD
5 min readAug 29, 2022

Conservative billionaire and GOP mega-donor William Oberndorf has donated over $25 million to UC San Francisco (UCSF) and is a Lifetime Director on their Foundation.

In 2010, Business Insider named Oberndorf one of the top ten university endowment managers. He was also the biggest donor to the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco super PAC, which spent just over $1.8 million on pushing the recall of SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin, of which over $900,000 came directly from Oberndorf.

Additionally, the same political action committee also spent $458,000 — more than any other group — on the San Francisco’s school board recall election in February 2022. He’s also donated to efforts to reform public school teacher’s unions. Hmmm, curious.

Why might that be?

Well, he’s no fan of public education and a strong supporters of “school choice” — the libertarian dog whistle which has roots in racism and re-segregation.

You can read more about “school choice” as a libertarian ideology and the roots in racism and segregation from In The Public Interest, The Cato Institute, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and an exceptional piece by Diane Ravitch in The New York Review of Books.

Notably, he is a big proponent of and donor to the KIPP schools in the Bay Area.

Do you know who else is a big supporter of “school choice” and charter schools, particularly including KIPP? John Arnold.

Who is John Arnold?

Well, John Arnold is a billionaire who initially made his money at Enron, including an $8 million bonus as Enron declared bankruptcy. He and his wife, also a former oil executive, started The Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2008, and subsequently the for-profit philanthropy Arnold Ventures, LLC in 2019.

Their foundation is reportedly focused on evidence-based giving in a wide range of categories including: criminal justice, education, health care, and public finance. Some of their goals are admirable. But as with all things, the ideology of the founders guides the direction.

As with so many problems and misguided endeavors, all seems to come back to libertarianism. For example…

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Taylor Nichols, MD

Humanist. Emergency Medicine and AddictiEmergency + Addiction Medicine | Health policy and advocacy | Health tech and innovation