Herb Sandler, a banker and philanthropist who with his wife, Marion, provided the initial financing for ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative-reporting organization that seeks to be an alternative model for sustaining vigorous journalism, died on Wednesday at his home in San Francisco. He was 87.
His family announced the death. The cause was not given.
Sandler and his wife, who died in 2012, made their fortune by building a small bank in Oakland, California, into Golden West Financial, a multibillion-dollar lender. They had long supported progressive causes when, in 2007, their Sandler Foundation provided almost all of ProPublica’s initial funding.
ProPublica, which often collaborates with traditional news organizations, including The New York Times, has since won five Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards.
Sandler was its board chairman from its beginning until 2016. In the last several decades, with print advertising evaporating, many newspapers have closed or cut staff, a worrisome development to Sandler.
“We all know the potential for corruption in city, state and federal government, as well as in major corporations,” he told the Bridgespan Group, which advises nonprofit organizations, in a 2013 interview. “And somebody’s got to be watching. That’s the muckraker tradition.”
ProPublica, which is based in New York and now employs about 75 journalists, is being widely watched in the news business as a possible model for journalism in the future. In a tribute to Sandler posted on its website, ProPublica said that he had a simple explanation for why he supported such work: “I hate it when the bad guys win.”
The Sandler Foundation, which the Sandler family said has given away almost $1 billion, has also supported social justice organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Faith in Action. It helped start All Voting Is Local, which watches for voter suppression. And its support gave rise to a number of health-related programs at the University of California, San Francisco, including the Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center.
The Learning Policy Institute, which is devoted to education issues and has offices in Washington and Palo Alto, is another group that has benefited.
“Herb Sandler was deeply committed to social justice, which guided much of his philanthropy,” the institute’s president and chief executive, Linda Darling-Hammond, said by email. “He was outraged by inequality in all forms and sought approaches to confront it.”
Herbert Martin Sandler was born on Nov. 16, 1931, in New York City to William and Hilda (Schatten) Sandler. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan at 15 and from City College of New York in 1951. He earned a law degree at Columbia University in 1954, then spent almost two years in the Army, after which he began practicing law in Manhattan.
In 1960 he met Marion Osher, a banking and finance analyst on Wall Street. They married in 1961 and two years later bought the bank that they renamed Golden West Financial.
An extensive oral history project on the Sandlers at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that the bank made a point of offering mortgages in communities often denied services because of their racial or economic profile.
“The Sandlers played a role in opening up the dream of homeownership to more Americans,” a summary of the oral history says. “In the offices too, Herb and Marion made a point of opening positions to women, such as branch manager and loan officer, previously held only by men.”