Subscriptions click here for 20% off! E-Mail:

Git Home!




Daddy Greenbucks is buying
a roadless future.

By Eric Williams.
Illustration by John Bardwell.

Ted’s Excellent Adventure ©John Bardwell

When you’re watching the news and there’s a story about, say, the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, do you ever stop to wonder, “Where do those guys get their money?”

After all, they had to get to the Emerald City somehow, and they probably ate, drank and were merry. We all know you can be merry on the cheap, but it does cost something, and somebody has to pay the bill.

Consider the Ruckus Society, which along with the Rainforest Action Network, were the folks in charge of staging the “non-violent, direct action” portion of the Globalize This! protests at the WTO gathering in Seattle last December.


In 1997 the Ruckus Society received $50,000 from the Turner Foundation, up from Turner’s $15,000 donation the year before. Rainforest Action Network, meanwhile, received $35,000 in Turner largesse in 1996, another $60,000 in 1997, and a whopping $120,000 in 1998.

Ted Turner’s philanthropic streak is best known for his intended $1 billion donation to the United Nations, but his money is having a profound effect right here at home, in the rural West. Of course, when you’ve got more than $19 million to give away (over and above the U.N. contribution), as the Turner Foundation did in 1998, you can have a profound effect on just about anything you want.

Few places have felt the foundation’s benevolence more than Montana, where Ted Turner sits on the board of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Each year, Turner contributes well over a half-million dollars to environmental activist and land-purchase groups in the state, home of approximately 140,000 acres of the 1.4 million acres he owns in the U.S. In 1996, Turner’s foundation doled out more than $600,000 to Montana environmental organizations.

That figure does not include donations to perhaps more traditional charities such as the Museum of the Rockies and Montana State University. On the other hand, it also does not count substantial contributions to organizations such as the Mineral Policy Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the National Wildlife Federation, all of which have an active presence in Montana but are headquartered elsewhere.

Of the $600,000-plus Turner pumped into Montana groups in 1996, more than $200,000 went into the coffers of organizations that were involved in an anti-mining ballot initiative. At the same time, Turner was supporting those promoting a companion ballot measure aimed at excluding for-profit companies and associations such as the Montana Stockgrowers and the Montana Chamber of Commerce from participating in future ballot initiative elections. That gag rule initiative was carefully crafted so that most of the recipients of Turner grants could still participate in future elections.

So in 1998 the stage was set. Mining companies and the Montana Mining Association were banned by law from spending their money to fight a second anti-mining ballot measure. Conveniently armed with a $60,000 grant from Turner–and knowing that mining interests were bound and gagged–the Montana Environmental Information Center pounced. A second anti-mining ballot measure was proposed, and passed, eviscerating the state’s hardrock mining industry. One company alone had a $70 million investment washed down the drain. Actually, a federal judge declared unconstitutional the law that banned mining companies from spending money to protect themselves, but only days before the election and too late to mount a credible campaign.

Anti-mining groups weren’t the only Montana entities to get Turner cash in 1998. Three land trusts, the Predator Project, the Wilderness Association and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies all received healthy sums. All told, the Turner Foundation contributed one dollar for every man, woman and child in Montana that year. Coincidentally, 1998 was the first time Montana ranked 50th– dead last–in per capita annual income.

Can other states expect this sort of special attention?

In 1998 the foundation made a $50,000 grant to Earthlaw, which runs the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic. The grant was described this way:

“For support of the Southwest Biodiversity Campaign, to provide legal support for grassroots efforts, including ballot initiatives and legislative proposals, and to protect biodiversity in the Southwest.”

Earthlaw’s motto is, “We sue bad guys that are hurting the environment. (And we do it for free).” A figurative interpretation would lead one to believe that the South Dakota Farm Bureau is one of the Bad Guys, because the Farm Bureau is now on the opposite side of Earthlaw in the legal wrangling over a 1998 ballot measure that, under the false premise of protecting the family farmer, bans corporations from owning farms and ranches.

Where does Turner’s money, that is funneled to Earthlaw so it can fight Big Bad Corporations, come from? Turner sells stock in Coca-Cola, Nations Bank, IBM and Intel, and then doles out the cash to its grant recipients.


The lifeblood of much of southeastern Washington and southern Idaho is the Snake River and its dams that provide irrigation, cost-effective transportation for agricultural commodities and other products, and recreation for all. The bloodsport in this region for the “Stop Doing That” crowd is promotion of dam breaching.
In 1998, Save Our Wild Salmon’s “Natural River Campaign” received a grant of an undetermined amount “For support to transform the public discussion about endangered salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers around the issue of dam removal.”

While Ted Turner is one of the nation’s largest buffalo ranchers, several of the Turner Foundation recipients detest cows. Forest Guardians and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity (newly renamed the Center for Biological Diversity) are working together to run the ranchers off public lands in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.
From 1996-98, the Southwest Center received $185,000 in Turner assistance for campaigns like “Oust the Cows,” and “Return the Wolf,” while Forest Guardians had to settle for $125,000 from the foundation.

In the perfect world, then, cows are gone, wolves are ubiquitous, dams are damned, and the forest is roadless. Another 1998 grant was described like this: “Oregon Natural Resources Council–For support of the Roadless Area Protection project, specifically interim forest protection efforts to shape pending national forest transportation policy so that the final legislation offers strong protection for roadless forested areas throughout the nation.”

By no means is the Turner Foundation the only–or even the principal–funder of environmental activist groups. Turner’s donations pale in comparison to those made by the Pew Charitable Trust, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the various Rockefeller philanthropies and others. But Turner’s money has been allocated with surgical precision, particularly in the West and the South. Further, many of the contributions mentioned here are small potatoes compared to the $1.2 million Turner gave to National Environmental Trust and the $400,000 to the Southern Environmental Law Center in 1998.

So the next time you see protesters on the news, or read a story about lawyers suing businesses for free, you might wonder who’s paying the bills. Unfortunately, that information is almost never included in the story.

By the way. From 1996-1998 the Society of Environmental Journalists received $60,000 in grants from the Turner Foundation.

A former journalist, Eric Williams of Spokane is a partner in Environomics, an issues management, governmental affairs, and research firm. He grew up working on his neighbor’s ranch, the largest registered Angus operation in North America. He can be reached at P.O. Box 3, Spokane, WA 99210.


Table of Contents | Git Home!

To Subscribe: Please click here for subscription or call 1-800-RANGE-4-U for a special web price

Copyright © 1998-2005 RANGE magazine
For problems or questions regarding this site, please contact Dolphin Enterprises.

last page update: 04.03.05