The Edge Foundation runs what has been called the “world’s smartest website” and held annual “billionaires’ dinners.” It was also financed by Jeffrey Epstein and gave him access to elite circles in science and tech.
As BuzzFeed News and others have investigated Jeffrey Epstein’s
connections to leaders in science and technology in the wake of his July
arrest on sex trafficking charges, one name has stood out as Epstein’s intellectual enabler: John Brockman, the New York literary agent who ran Edge, billed as an elite salon of thinkers “redefining who and what we are.”
Yet Brockman’s connections to Epstein ran deeper than have been previously disclosed. In fact, according to a BuzzFeed News review of Edge’s IRS filings, the nonprofit’s full range of exclusive events would not have been possible without Epstein’s largesse. Indeed, after Epstein made his final recorded donation to Edge in 2015, the group stopped hosting the annual “billionaires’ dinner” that was once the highlight of its calendar.
Epstein, who killed himself in federal custody in August, wasn’t merely associated with Edge. He was by far its largest financial donor, and his association with Edge gave him access to leading scientists and figures in the tech industry.
While he was bankrolling Edge, Epstein attended its events. So, too, in the early 2000s did Sarah Kellen, who is alleged to have helped arrange Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls. In photos that have been recently removed from the Edge website, Kellen was pictured at the 2002 billionaires’ dinner with Brockman, and at a 2003 event with Brockman’s son, Max.
Brockman did not respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Brockman emerged from the New York art scene of the 1960s, promoting underground cinema and rubbing shoulders with heavyweights like Andy Warhol. Later, he became the leading agent for authors writing books on science and technology, with a reputation for negotiating big advances for his clients. But Brockman’s particular cachet came from his role, played through his nonprofit, Edge, as a self-styled “cultural impresario.”
Until 2018, Brockman asked an annual question of Edge contributors, a group comprising authors he represented and other luminaries in science and technology. Their responses to questions such as “What is your dangerous idea?” and “What will change everything?” were published on what the Guardian dubbed “the world’s smartest website” and packaged into books. Brockman relished his role as facilitator, sending emails with a sign-off quote: “John Brockman is the shadowy figure at the top of the cyberfashion food chain.”
Edge was also largely a boys club — 80% of the more than 900 people currently listed on its website as contributors are male.
BuzzFeed News analyzed the Edge Foundation’s IRS filings from 2001 to 2017, published at ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. As reported by one of Brockman’s former clients, Evgeny Morozov, who writes about the political and social implications of technology, foundations associated with Epstein provided $638,000 out of a total of almost $857,000 received by Edge over this period.
These donations weren’t Edge’s only source of income: An entry marked “book contract,” which appears from 2005 onward, accounts for a total of about $1.48 million in earnings. Income from publishing Edge books would have covered the foundation’s basic running costs; operating the website, professional fees, depreciation, and other expenses totaled about $1.27 million from 2001 to 2017. But it could not cover the additional $706,000 that Edge spent over that period on “travel, conferences, and meetings.”
Epstein was a regular attendee at Edge events. He was shown at the 1999 and 2000 billionaires’ dinners, in photographs on pages that have recently been deleted from the Edge website, and was also mentioned in a write-up of the 2004 dinner. Epstein was also present at Edge events in 2011, after his 2008 conviction for sex crimes, BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month.