Funding for the Hawaii anti-GMO movement continues to grow, with nearly all of it coming from wealthy mainland philanthropists, according to the latest tax returns.
Indeed, grantmaking foundations supply virtually all the operating money that fuels the national and local anti-biotech movement, even though its leaders love to claim they're leading a grassroots, citizens' initiative.
Still, many details about funding sources and expenditures remain murky, even as these groups demand transparency from others.
Meanwhile, even as these groups actively work to influence the current Hawaii legislative session, we are only now seeing their financials from 2014, leaving the public and policy-makers in the dark about their full role in Island politics.
Let's start with the Center for Food Safety (CFS). This Washington, D.C.-based group serves as a funding source for smaller groups, like Babes Against Biotech and Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, and has a satellite office with fulltime staff in Hawaii.
|Hawaii CFS presents a distorted view of Island ag.|
In 2014, CFS took in $5.231 million — nearly $1.3 million more than 2013. With these resources, CFS was able to:
• Increase its total number of employees from 40 to 52
• Establish and staff a Hawaii field office with an operating budget of $738,569
• Help win a Maui County (Hawaii) referendum election calling for a GM crop moratorium
• Distribute $238,500 overseas to anti-biotech organizations in Southeast Asia and Africa
• Wage a GMO labeling ballot proposition campaign in Washington State
• Campaign to block passage of the so-called “Dark Act” in Congress
• Expend $313,035 in lobbying expenditures, almost all of it to influence legislation.
Research conducted by Rory Flynn, who contributed heavily to this post, shows that foundations provided over 90 percent of all “grants and contributions” received annually by CFS for the period 2002-2011. That remained true in 2014, with some 39 foundations identified as contributors that year. Furthermore, the tally of foundation grants received by CFS — and other anti-biotech NGOs — is growing year by year. CFS received more than $16 million during 2010-2014, compared to $7.3 million during 2005-2009, which represents quite a growth spurt.
Yes, anti-activism is a booming business — though classified as a "charitable" activity by the IRS, and thus subsidized by taxpayers — with the flow of philanthropic dollars essentially untouched by the recent recession.
So which foundations gave CFS $2,881 million in 2014?
Ceres Trust — $630,789 Ceres Foundation — $500,000 Schmidt Family Foundation — $250,000 William Zimmerman Foundation — $160,000 Schwab Charitable Fund (per 2013 990 ending 6/30/2014) — $135,250 David B. Gold Foundation — $125,000 Cornerstone Campaign — $115,000 TomKat Charitable Trust —$100,000 Sacharuna Foundation — $100,000 CS Fund (2013 990 ending 10/30/2014) — $100,000 Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund — $100,000 Marisla Foundation — $75,000 V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation — $50,000 The Bellweather Foundation II — $ 30,000 Atherton Family Foundation — $29,000 Appleton Foundation — $25,000 Bill Healy Foundation — $25,000 Organic Valley (Farmers Advocating For Organics) — $25,000 Threshold Foundation — $25,000 Flora Family Foundation — $25,000 Firedoll Foundation — $25,000 Silicon Association Valley Community — $25,000 Gaia Fund — $20,000 Cornell Douglas Foundation Inc. — $20,000 Park Foundation, Inc. — $20,000 Boston Foundation — $20,000 New World Foundation — $15,000 Colad Charitable Trust — $15,000 Conservation and Preservation Charities of America — $15,787 Community Foundation of Western North Carolina — $12,000 Rudolf Steiner Foundation (RSF) Social Finance — $11,000 Frost Family Foundation (Maui) — $10,000 Gardner Grout Foundation — $10,000 Roy A. Hunt Foundation — $7,500 The Leonora Foundation Inc. — $ 5,000 Benjamin J. Rosenthal Foundation — $ 5,000 Robert P. Rotella Foundation — $ 5,000 E&H Humbly Bumbly Foundation — $2,476 The Aufmuth Family Foundation — $200
More opaque funding came from other sources — Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and two organic companies, Nutiva and Sky Island Organics — which disclosed they donated, but not how much. The Johnson foundation gave to both the national and Hawaii CFS offices, while Nutiva contributed to both CFS and Hawaii SEED. And it got $11,629 from the "combined federal campaign" (federal workers).
CFS also received a $1.358 million windfall in 2014 from a 2013 class action lawsuit brought in California against a manufacturer of hair and skin care products. Plaintiffs claimed they were misled by the packaging and advertising of purportedly “wholly organic” hair and skin care products that failed to meet the requirements of California’s organic standards law, which resulted in a class-action settlement of $6.5 million. Attorneys’ fees and administration costs reduced that to $4.866 million. Claims were capped at a maximum of $28 per person, and people had six months to file. Apparently, few did, as $2.716 million was left in the pot when claim period ended. By court order, it was split evenly between the Consumers Union — the publisher of Consumer Reports, which claims to be non-partisan, but is actively anti-GMO — and CFS. These two groups, and the lawyers who filed the suit, made out like bandits in a case that was much ado about nothing.
There’s a growing argument that cy pres (“as near as”) awards to NGOs are predatory and unconstitutional. Basically, CFS received the cy pres funds because it works to uphold the National Organic Standards Act. In other words, its “underlying mission” was sufficient to make it a beneficiary of the settlement, though CFS did not initiate the lawsuit nor provide legal counsel to plaintiffs. In a more just world, the court might have directed such funds to a worthy cause — say, a food bank. But that’s not how the cy pres doctrine works.
Flush with cash, CFS opened a field office in Honolulu in 2014 and hired Ashley Lukens, a political science PhD, to run it. According to its tax return, the Center for Food Safety expended $738,569 to open and operate its new Hawaii field office in 2014.
A CFS press release said the office was staffed by Lukens, program director, and Kasho Ho, a community outreach coordinator. How did the fledgling, two-person office manage to expend $738,569? The tax form provides no details. We know, however, that CFS assisted in the 2014 GMO moratorium ballot measure campaign on Maui that year. But the tax form supplies no details about this political campaign activity and related expenditures.
In 2014, CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell claimed that he received $217,441 from CFS, with an additional $17,400 shown as estimated “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” In fact, he received nearly twice that amount, or $32,500, in 2014 from the Cornerstone Campaign, which is led by two Rockefeller heiresses:
CFS drags its feet in filing tax returns, which is why we're only now seeing its 2014 return. What's more, the return for its political action fund, which has been used to influence Hawaii politics, is not available on Guidestar, leaving citizens in the dark.
Nevertheless, a look at the returns filed by various foundations gives us a glimpse of CFS' income sources for 2015:
Other foundations that previously funded CFS have not yet reported on Guidestar. They include: Hawaii Community Foundation; Marisla Foundation (Anne Getty Earhart); William Zimmerman Foundation; David B. Gold Foundation; V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation; Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation; Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc.; RSF Social Finance; Appleton Foundation; Bill Healy Foundation; Flora Family Foundation; San Francisco Foundation; New World Foundation; Conservation and Preservation Charities of America; Community Foundation of Western North Carolina; Hawaii People’s Fund; Nutiva; Sky Island Organics; Organic Valley; and the Combined Federal Campaign.
Unfortunately, many foundations are now failing to attach a roster of grants made to their 990-PF form. This is a disturbing trend that further shields grant-making from public scrutiny.
So how is CFS using its money, aside from running a propaganda campaign in Hawaii? Though its own return offers few details, the 2015 returns filed by its funders shed more light. I'll delve into that in the next installment.
Again, many thanks to Rory Flynn for his painstaking research.