Rockefellers behind ‘scruffy little outfit’
(Originally published in the Financial Post)
Anti-Keystone protests get millions in funding
Nothing influences President Barack Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline quite like the protests against it, led by Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist, and his organization, called 350.org. On Wednesday, 350.org and the Sierra Club participated in an anti-Keystone protest at the White House and this Sunday they are holding another one on Capital Hill. They expect 20,000 people from across the United States.
350.org has the look and feel of an amateur, grassroots operation, but in reality, it is a multi-million dollar campaign run by staff earning six-digit salaries.
By my analysis of information from the U.S. Foundation Center and the tax filings of American charitable foundations, McKibben’s campaigns have received more than 100 grants since 2005 for a total of US$10-million from 50 charitable foundations. Six of those grants were for roughly US$1-million each.
In the interest of fairness and transparency, McKibben should fully disclose 350.org’s funding and the Rockefellers and other charitable foundations that have been bankrolling the anti-Keystone campaign should come out from the shadows.
Since 2006, McKibben has led three campaigns: Step it Up, 1Sky and 350.org. Each campaign built on the previous one. In the summer of 2006, Step it Up organized a protest walk across Vermont to push for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants and other federal actions. Created in 2007, 1Sky began a national movement to jump-start a clean energy economy. 350.org built on 1Sky and in April of 2011, the two campaigns officially merged.
More than half of the US$10-million came from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, where McKibben, a trustee, was paid US$25,000 per year (2001-09). Since 2007, the Rockefellers have paid US$4-million towards 1Sky and 350.org, tax returns say. The Schumann Center provided US$1.5-million to McKibben’s three campaigns as well as US$2.7-million to fund the Environmental Journalism Program at Middlebury College, in Vermont, where McKibben is on staff.
The founders of the Schumann Center were John J. Schumann Jr. and Florence Ford, a former president of General Motors Acceptance Corp. and the daughter of one of the founders of IBM, respectively.
Last spring, I emailed McKibben to ask about his campaign funding. He replied twice, but did not mention the Rockefellers or the Schumann Center, where he had been a trustee for 10 years. Last week, I again asked McKibben about his funding. He said that Step It Up, 1Sky or 350.org reimburse him for travel expenses, but do not pay him a fee for his services. To its credit, 350.org now provides an online list of the 30 foundations that funded the campaign in 2011. Until this week, the Schumann Center was not on the list and yet tax returns show that in 2011, Schumann paid US$311,300 to 350.org and 1Sky. 350.org admitted this week that the Schumann Center had been omitted from the list. It has since been added.
What 350.org’s list of donors fails to convey is that some foundations provide only US$5,000 or US$10,000, while two unidentified donors provide half of 350.org’s budget for 2011, according to its financial statements. Four grants accounted for two-thirds of 350.org’s budget. 350.org declined to identify the donors of those grants.
Back in 2007, the 1Sky Education Fund had starting revenues of US$1.6-million. Of that, US$1.3-million was from the Rockefeller Family Fund. In 2008, 1Sky received a further US$920,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as well as US$900,000 from the Schumann Center, tax returns show. What this means is that from the get-go, McKibben’s campaign was bankrolled by the Rockefellers and the Schuman Center.
Bill McKibben has been a director of 1Sky since it began, so one would think that he was aware of the organization’s finances. And yet, to hear McKibben tell the story, he started the climate movement and the protests against Keystone XL with nothing more than a few students and “almost no money.”
In a 2010 article by McKibben, posted on at least 10 websites, he writes, “Last year, with almost no money, our scruffy little outfit, 350.org, managed to organize what Foreign Policy called the ‘largest ever co-ordinated global rally of any kind’ on any issue.” In another article that McKibben penned for Tikkun magazine, he says that he built the climate movement with seven graduate students at Middlebury College and “no money or organization.” During the fall of 2012, in interviews with Jed Lipinski and Grand Valley University, McKibben again told the story of starting 350.org with seven students and “almost no money.” But that’s not what tax returns indicate.
1Sky began in 2008. In its first year, 1Sky reported expenditures of US$2.6-million, tax returns show. Of that, US$2.2-million was payroll, including US$1.2-million for consultants. In 2009, 1Sky’s campaign director, Gillian Caldwell, a lawyer by training, was paid US$203,620 through the Rockefeller Family Fund. A salary of more than US$200,000 is hardly typical of a “scruffy little outfit.”
During 2011, the most recent year for which tax returns are publicly available, 350.org again had a US$2-million payroll, including US$622,000 for consultants. 350.org spent US$1.2-million on grassroots fieldwork, partnership with other organizations and media coverage, and US$356,000 to recruit participants through emails, blogs and social networking.
The next time McKibben pens an article or gives a speech, he should acknowledge the US$10-million that his campaigns have received from the Rockefellers, the Schumann Center and other sources.