Joseph Edelman, chief executive officer of Perceptive Advisors LLC, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York on Feb. 25, 2016.
Hedge fund CEO and billionaire biotech investor Joseph Edelman and his wife provided a $1 million donation to help launch Do No Harm, a new conservative advocacy group pushing anti-trans legislation in statehouses across the country, HuffPost has found.
Do No Harm bills itself as a group of doctors who are concerned about ideology influencing the medical profession. The organization has not disclosed its donors or fundraising, but tax filings for the Edelman Family Foundation, which Edelman founded and chairs with his wife Susan Lebovitz-Edelman, show that the foundation approved a $1 million donation to Do No Harm in 2022, the same year the activist group was founded.
In the year since, Do No Harm has hired lobbyists or sent advocates to half a dozen statehouses and provided the model language for at least two bills restricting gender-affirming care that have become law. The group has also filed a handful of lawsuits against efforts to promote diversity in medicine.
Edelman is founder and CEO of Perceptive Advisors, a New York-based biotech hedge fund with more than $8 billion in assets under management. His home is an oceanside Orange County mansion he purchased for a record-shattering $70 million after trading in his 10,000 square-foot Park Avenue penthouse. Forbes estimates his net worth to be $2.5 billion.
The contribution to Do No Harm is one of the Edelmans’ single largest donations. It is also roughly the same amount of money that Do No Harm projected as revenue for 2022, suggesting the Edelmans were the group’s primary funders in its initial year. In a note describing the donation on its tax filings, the foundation said it was “to provide support to protect healthcare from a radical, divisive and discriminatory ideology.”
Edelman is not a high-profile political donor closely associated with conservative causes. The only major electoral donations attached to his name are a handful of contributions of $50,000 or less to Democrats and Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 2017.
The Edelman Family Foundation, by contrast, which he founded in 2017, has showered six-figure grants on conservative organizations such as the Cato Institute; Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression; the anti-critical race theory Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism; Prager University, which markets right-wing videos as teaching material; and UATX, Bari Weiss’ unaccredited anti-cancel culture university.
The foundation previously gave large donations to one liberal organization, the pro-abortion rights Center for Reproductive Rights, but those gifts stopped after 2021. “The Edelman Family Foundation no longer supports the Center for Reproductive Rights because of their adoption of gender ideology,” a spokesman for the foundation told HuffPost. The Edelmans declined to answer any other questions.
All of these bills combined has really made the environment most hostile for queer kids here.Darcy Saffer, the mother of two trans children and a resident of Montana, where Do No Harm helped pass a ban on trans care for youth
Do No Harm has used its small slice of the Edelmans’ wealth to launch a successful campaign against health care services for trans Americans. (The group also won a $250,000 award last December at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council.) The group provided model legislative language for SB 99, Montana’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors, an Associated Press investigation found, and an Arkansas law that exposes medical providers to lawsuits if they provide gender-affirming care, a clear effort to create a chilling effect on doctors.
“All of these bills combined has really made the environment most hostile for queer kids here,” said Darcy Saffer, who lives near Bozeman, Montana, and has two trans nonbinary children. “It just made the worst of the worst people here more bold in their bigotry, and that trickles down to our kids.”
Parents and their trans children have sued the state, and a state court has blocked SB 99 from going into effect until the trial.
But Zooey Zephyr, a state representative from Missoula and the state’s first transgender legislator, said the damage is already done.
“The harm comes before a bill like this bans any particular medication for trans people,” she said. “The harm comes when trans people in Montana see our lives debated.”
During debate over SB 99 and other anti-trans laws, she said, an ER doctor who had treated a suicidal trans youth sent a letter about the experience to state lawmakers. “The trans youth kept saying, ‘My state doesn’t want me.’” Republican lawmakers censured Zephyr and prevented her from speaking on the statehouse floor after she said supporters of the law had “blood on your hands.”
Transgender rights activists march through the University of Montana campus on May 3 in Missoula. Dozens were protesting the censure of transgender Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who was blocked from speaking after she said state legislators would have "blood on your hands" if a transgender youth care ban was passed.
In addition to funding anti-trans rights advocacy through Do No Harm, the Edelman Family Foundation has donated $400,000 to the Manhattan Institute to support, in the foundation’s words, a “gender identity initiative.” While there are no public descriptions of the initiative on the Manhattan Institute’s website, the right-leaning think tank has increasingly published briefs and podcasts critical of trans rights. The Manhattan Institute did not respond to a request for comment.
Parents Defending Education, an advocacy group which describes itself as a grassroots network but has close ties to the Koch network of right-wing political donors, received a $200,000 donation from the Edelmans in 2021, the year of its founding. The group opposes affirmative action and the discussion of racism or gender identity in schools.
Do No Harm’s Growing Impact
Do No Harm also has lobbyists working in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida. In Florida, records show, its lobbyists fought for a bill that gives parents opposed to their child’s transition an upper hand in divorce proceedings and criminalizes health care practitioners who provide gender-affirming care. The bill was incorporated into a law Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in May.
Do No Harm has also assembled a network of physicians it can tap for written testimony, letter-writing campaigns and media hits. The group claims more than 5,000 doctors as members.
At least some members are compensated for their advocacy. One, an endocrinologist named Dr. Daniel Weiss, said in a deposition that Do No Harm paid him about $8,000, at $325 an hour, for submitting written testimony in states like Indiana, Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming in support of bans on gender-affirming care for minors.
The exposure led Weiss to a lucrative gig as an expert witness in the legal challenge against Indiana’s ban on providing gender-affirming care to people under 18, the case in which he was deposed.The Indiana Attorney General’s office paid Weiss $49,691 for four weeks of consulting, according to records obtained by HuffPost. Do No Harm and Weiss did not respond to a request for comment.
Do No Harm’s founder is Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a retired kidney doctor and former University of Pennsylvania medical school professor who has written and spoken derisively about gender-affirming care and diversity initiatives in medical education.
“We’re going to look for people who are just OK to make sure we have the right mixture of ethnic groups in our medical schools,” he griped to the New York Post last year.
Kristina Rasmussen, Do No Harm’s executive director, was previously an anti-tax advocate and chief of staff to former Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The group initially concentrated on fighting diversity efforts in medicine, bringing lawsuits against a health journal for offering an unpaid mentorship to people of color and challenging California’s implicit bias training for physicians.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis poses for a photo after signing a host of new laws targeting transgender children and drag shows on May 17.
In addition to propping up medical experts, Do No Harm has paid for activist Chloe Cole’s travel when she testifies before state legislatures in support of bans on gender-affirming care for minors, Cole has said. (Cole, reached through her lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment.) Cole, 19, has testified before several legislatures about detransitioning after taking puberty blockers and hormones and having a double mastectomy. Conservatives often point to her story as justification for banning trans care.
Cole didn’t make an appearance in Montana. But Weiss joined the debate when Do No Harm paid him to submit written testimony.
“We saw many people coming from out of state to say they felt this was important for Montana,” said Dr. Lauren Wilson, the president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which fought against SB 99. “This isn’t something that Montanans ever identified as an issue.”
Although the law is blocked, Saffer, the mother of two trans children, and her husband are still thinking of leaving the state. Her kids are being bullied in school. And in the event the law survives a legal challenge, the nearest out-of-state gender clinic is a five-hour drive.
“This is our home,” she said. “But if they’re going to push laws that harm our family and make it impossible to just live as a normal family, what are we doing here?”
This story has been amended to clarify that Bruce Rauner is a former governor of Illinois.