Though the Hawaii anti-GMO movement is adopting an “anti-corporate” theme as it converges on the state Capitol today, nearly all of its funding is derived from corporate profits.
A review of the newest batch of foundation and nonprofit tax returns shows that anti-GMO groups like Center for Food Safety (CFS), Hawaii SEED and Gary Hooser's HAPA receive nearly all their money from corporate sources, including manufacturing, oil and multinational pharmaceuticals.
The corporate funding is especially ironic in light of the groups' recent Food Justice Summit, where speakers railed against Western corporations while ignoring both their own benefactors and the expanding, often devastating, actions of Chinese corporations in the developing world.
The sharp disconnect between rhetoric and actual funding underscores the deep hypocrisy of the groups. But the money that's being donated points to another, much bigger concern. As these anti-GMO groups actively lobby politicians and field candidates, they are helping a few wealthy mainlanders exert undue influence on Island politics and policies, with virtually no public scrutiny, awareness or accountability.
The primary benefactors of the Hawaii anti-GMO/anti-ag groups are the Ceres Trust and Ceres Foundation, which were founded by Judith Kern using profits from the sale of her father's Midwestern generator manufacturing company, and the Marisla Foundation, started by oil heiress and occasional North Shore Kauai resident Anne Getty Earhart. Marisla is endowed with a wide range of corporate stocks.
Though HAPA's mission statement directs the group to “catalyze community empowerment and systemic change towards valuing ʻaina (environment) and people ahead of corporate profit,” it nonetheless runs on corporate profits . The group reported income of $121,446 in 2014. Though HAPA claims to be grassroots, in 2014 it received $50,000 from Ceres Trust, a grant of an undisclosed sum from the Hawaii People's Fund and a grant from CFS to make a video. In 2015, it received $50,000 from Marisla and $10,000 from the Herb Block Foundation. Though it's still unknown what additional grants it got in 2014 and 2015, due to the long lag in tax return filings, it's clear that its funding is more foundation-based than “grassroots.”
Marisla also gave CFS $75,000 in 2014 and $125,000 to the Center for Media and Democracy, a source of slanted reporting against GMOs. It gave another $445,000 to the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) for grants funded under the "Marisla Fund," but the HCF website does not reference that fund, and its own tax return is not yet available.
But the bigger money comes from Ceres, which in 2014 gave CFS $20,789 for "Hawaii Strategy Meeting Expenses," $600,000 for "General Operating Support," $10,000 for a speaking tour co-hosted with Hawaii Seed and the Pesticide Action Network (a group that also spent money advocating for GMO/pesticide regulatory Bill 2491 on Kauai), for a total of $630,789.
The Hawaii anti-GMO groups frequently work in tandem, and though they maintain a facade of independence, they're frequently populated with the same activists using money from the same source. In 2014, for example, the Ceres Trust gave Hawaii SEED $76,396 to fund an Oahu outreach coordinator and $84,885 for seed workshops. It also gave the Kohala Center, which is linked to Nancy Redfeather of Hawaii SEED, $84,885 for general operating support.
As an aside, Kern and her husband, Kent Whealy, previously contributed to the campaign of Walter Ritte, secretary of Hawaii SEED, when he made a failed bid for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Meanwhile, the Ceres Foundation, Kern's other Milwaukee-based charity, separately gave $500,000 to the Center for Food Safety in 2014. An already filed 2015 return for the Ceres Foundation shows that it has dissolved and transferred the balance of its funds to the Ceres Trust.
The Ceres Trust also provides nearly all the funding for E Kupaku Ka Aina (Hawaiian Land Restoration Institute), a group that has worked against GMO taro. In 2014, it received $328,735 from Ceres for a "Taro Project" and another $50,000 for a kalo production video documentary. As an indication of the impact wielded by the Ceres money, consider that E Kupaku's budget was $11,638 in 2010 and just $50 in 2009.
What's more, the Ceres money allows E Kupuku to engage in largesse, such as awarding 2013 subgrants to the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Kona ($23,741), which has been active in anti-GMO efforts, and Maui Nui Botanical Gardens ($47,294). This trickle-down approach allows anti-GMO groups to endear themselves to a wider constituency.
Ceres and Marisla also funded the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai and Marisla donated to Moanalua Gardens on Oahu as well, allowing them to broadly carry the torch for indigenous ag (taro), organic ag and popularization of seed saving. This strategy is likely building a broader, networked support constituency in Hawaii than they'd be able to focusing on their anti-GMO message alone.
This outsider funding of local anti-GMO movements is repeated in Vermont and California, where Ceres has been a major player in the labeling fight.
The overall objective is influencing the national legal and regulatory framework via select county ordinances and state laws, with the hope that the rest of the nation follows suit. They know they can't win everywhere, which is why the Hawaii GMO court cases are so important.
Meanwhile, the local anti-GMO groups — eager for cash, and not too astute — are allowing themselves to be used as political pawns by the 1%. No doubt most of their followers are unaware, which is why they don't even realize they're biting the hand that feeds them as they take their anti-corporate message to the Capitol today.