Green charities rewrite grant descriptions in wake of budget
One of the big American charitable funders of environmental campaigns in Canada and the U.S., the Oak Foundation, has rewritten the publicly stated purpose of several grants to Canadian environmental groups. Three days after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s March 29 budget announced a review of political activity by charities in Canada, Oak said in a website posting that it had “modified and added additional content to some grants to reflect progress, lessons learned and achievements.” But the changes mostly remove aspects of grant descriptions that might draw criticism and regulatory attention.
Oak didn’t say which grants it recently modified. However, a comparison of Oak’s grants before and after the federal budget shows that Oak rewrote grants for oil sands-related campaigns to Tides Canada, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, and the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation. The value of the rewritten grants, awarded within the last two years, is more than $1-million.
Oak has offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Europe. The foundation says that it was created by Alan Parker, one of the co-founders of Duty Free Stores. In 2011, Oak granted $158-million to 312 organizations in 41 countries.
Oak is one of the foundations that supports a U.S. strategy called “Design to Win,” in which voter and consumer campaigns are funded as a way to shift investment capital toward solar and wind energy and away from fossil fuels.
This isn’t the first time a U.S. charitable foundation has quietly tweaked multiple grants for a million-dollar campaign. Several years ago, the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation rewrote descriptions of four grants worth $3.6-million for a marketing campaign against farmed salmon. One $560,000 grant originally stated that the expected outcomes were “identification of anti-farming audience and issues, integration of aquaculture science messages into anti-farming campaign, standardization of anti-farming messaging tool-kit, creation of an earned-media campaign, and co-ordination of media for anti-farming ENGOs.” All that was deleted in the rewrite. Since 2003, Moore has granted a total of $93-million to organizations in BC. Of that, $30-million went to Tides Canada.
In all, at least 15 American foundations and environmental groups have rewritten or removed online information since I began tracking the U.S. funding of Canadian environmental campaigns.
The Oak Foundation’s recent rewrites are notable because of the timing — three days after Ottawa’s federal budget announcement — and because the changes significantly alter the stated objectives of the grants. For example, Oak rewrote its description of a grant for $97,131 to the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation. The rewritten grant omits a sentence which said, “The desired result [of the grant to West Coast Law] would be a permanent legislative tanker ban and cancellation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.”
Oak also rewrote a $299,879 grant to ForestEthics. The project started in August of 2010 — more than a year earlier — so it seems a bit late to be rewriting the grant.
ForestEthics is not and has never been a federally registered charity in Canada. Instead, until earlier this year, ForestEthics Canada was part of Tides Canada, the sister organization of the U.S. Tides Foundation. U.S. tax returns show that in 2009 alone, Tides Canada paid $783,603 to ForestEthics Canada “for capacity building support.”
Originally, Oak’s grant to ForestEthics was for “creating a perception of economic risk, whereby tar sands imports become less attractive to U.S. corporations and, the Canadian government questions its unbridled support for expanded and unregulated development.” The rewritten, toned-down version says that ForestEthics is funded for “creating awareness” of economic risks rather than “creating perception.” The part about getting the Canadian government to question the Alberta oil industry is gone.
Oak’s original grant description also said that ForestEthics was funded to get at least one Fortune 500 company “to exert influence within the U.S. government to support regulations that will disadvantage Tar Sands fuel.” Those words have been removed.