Monday, October 08, 2007

"Projects" Out in the Open

EF! works very hard to convince the public that its activities are not governed by any formal institution. "Earth First! is not an organization, but a movement" is the constant refrain. "There are no members of Earth First!, only Earth First!ers."

There are practical as well as romantic reasons to downplay any organizational structure. According to the Earth First! Journal: "To avoid co-option, we feel it is necessary to avoid the corporate organizational structure so readily embraced by many environmental groups." Of course, most green groups engage in legal activities -- and therefore don't fear "co-option."

While there is no primary EF! office, there are numerous incorporated Earth First! organizations, each with its own specific function. These include Daily Planet Publishing (which publishes the Earth First! Journal), the Fund for Wild Nature (formerly the Earth First! Foundation), the Trees Foundation, and the Earth First! Direct Action Fund.

For the benefit of anyone who doubts that these are genuine, legal "organizations," consider that the website of the Fund for Wild Nature once read: "The Fund relies on invididual [sic] contributors like yourself, and your friends. We accept donations of cash, stock or other financial assets." Here is a tax-exempt foundation making a plea for corporate securities, on behalf of a group that claims to exist without any structure.
Source: on Earth First!
Recnt coverage of the Miller/Shunka/Trees Foundation suit makes the idea of an umbrealla groups sound so benign... (Shunka had) told her (Miller) to make it (the donation) through the Trees Foundation, which handled the NCEF! Media office’s finances through an arrangement that had been established years ago. (The Trees Foundation is an umbrella organization formed in 1991 to assist smaller environmental groups. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, it can accept large, tax-deductible donations on behalf of affiliates, and provide professional resources. And it can lead large campaigns, like the one to save the Headwaters Forest back in the ’90s.) The Journal - Money On Trees

It is anything but benign. For example, activist cash describes the reality... in this case they are discussing the Tides Foundation, the the 800-pound gorilla of radical activist funding: ...The Tides Foundation and its recent offshoot, the Tides Center, creating a new model for grantmaking -- one that strains the boundaries of U.S. tax law in the pursuit of its leftist, activist goals.

Set up in 1976 by California activist Drummond Pike, Tides does two things better than any other foundation or charity in the U.S. today: it routinely obscures the sources of its tax-exempt millions, and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to discern how the funds are actually being used.

In practice, “Tides” behaves less like a philanthropy than a money-laundering enterprise (apologies to Procter & Gamble), taking money from other foundations and spending it as the donor requires. Called donor-advised giving, this pass-through funding vehicle provides public-relations insulation for the money’s original donors. By using Tides to funnel its capital, a large public charity can indirectly fund a project with which it would prefer not to be directly identified in public. Drummond Pike has reinforced this view, telling The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Anonymity is very important to most of the people we work with.”

In order to get an idea of the massive scale on which the Tides Foundation plays its shell game, consider that Tides has collected over $200 million since 1997, most of it from other foundations. The list of grantees who eventually received these funds includes many of the most notorious anti-consumer groups in U.S. history: Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Media Services, Environmental Working Group, and even fringe groups like the now-defunct Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet (which used actress Meryl Streep to “front” the 1989 Alar-on-apples health scare fraud for NRDC).

For corporations and other organizations that eventually find themselves in these grantees’ crosshairs, there is practically no way to find out where their money originated. For the general public, the money trail ends at Tides’ front door. In many cases, even the eventual recipient of the funding has no idea how Tides got it in the first place...

...Remarkably, all of this appears to be perfectly legal. The IRS has traditionally been friendly toward this “donor-advised” giving model, because in theory it allows people who don’t have millions of dollars to use an existing philanthropy as a “fiscal sponsor.” This allows them to distribute their money to worthwhile charities, while avoiding the overhead expenses of setting up a whole new foundation.

In practice, though, the Tides Foundation has turned this well-meaning idea on its head. When traditional foundations give millions of dollars to Tides, they’re not required to tell the IRS anything about the grants’ eventual purposes. Some document it anyway; most do not. When Tides files its annual tax return, of course, it has to document where its donations went -- but not where they came from...

...Many environmental groups that now operate on their own got their start as a “project” of the Tides Center. These include the Environmental Working Group, Environmental Media Services, and the Natural Resources Defense Council -- which was itself founded with a sizable Tides “grant.” The Tides Center began with a seemingly innocent transfer of $9 million from the Tides Foundation. The Center immediately took over the operations of nearly all of the Tides “projects,” and undertook the task of “incubating” dozens more. There are currently over 350 such projects, and the number grows each year....
Source: on Tides Foundation and Tides Center

"Scott" from the Trees Foundation has been talking about the Miller/Shunka case - and he talks openly about the "projects" - groups that exist under the Trees umbrella. So who are they? And how does "the Trees Foundation" compare to this description?


  1. From Eric's post on Miller/Shunka/Trees suit:
    slam said...
    to 6:48:

    trees does act as an umbrella for other groups. if your organization is too small to manage your own non-profit, we can adopt you as one of our projects.

    for instance julia butterfly's campaign was one of our projects and we sponsor her until her organization became larger than ours and she got her own 501(c)3.

    north coast earth first! used to be one of those projects, however they disbanded and withdrew from fiscally-sponsored project status.

    but you DON'T have to be a 501(c)3 to accept donations. you only have to be one to get tax-deductible donations. but you can't use a 501(c)3 to make a tax-deductible donation and then pay that money to an individual.

  2. Katherine got screwed,that's all I have to say.

  3. I'm sure you have both examined the evidence with the same level of scrutiny as the jury.

  4. Was not the jury's decision unanimous in favor of the Trees Foundation? And how often did Rose and the other naysayer attend the trial?

  5. It was not unanimous, and I was actually approached by one of the jurors, after the trial, who expressed her sorrow that it didn't go our way. Earth First! was robbed by the Trees Foundation, for $185,000, plain and simple. I saw the whole thing, from beginning to end, and know what happened. The Trees Foundation should be ashamed of themselves, yet their greed has overtaken their principles, and has turned them into a pack of vicious liars.


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