When youre watching the news and theres 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.
THE TURNER CONNECTION
In 1997 the Ruckus Society received $50,000 from the Turner Foundation,
up from Turners $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 Turners 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 youve 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 foundations 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, Turners 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
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 Turnerand knowing that mining interests
were bound and gaggedthe Montana Environmental Information Center
pounced. A second anti-mining ballot measure was proposed, and
passed, eviscerating the states 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
Anti-mining groups werent 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 lastin 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 Denvers 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
Earthlaws 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 Turners 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.
SAVE THE SALMON, OUST THE COWS
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 Salmons 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 nations 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 Mexicos Gila National
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
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 CouncilFor
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 onlyor even the principalfunder
of environmental activist groups. Turners donations pale in comparison
to those made by the Pew Charitable Trust, the W. Alton Jones
Foundation, the various Rockefeller philanthropies and others.
But Turners 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 whos
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 neighbors ranch, the
largest registered Angus operation in North America. He can be
reached at P.O. Box 3, Spokane, WA 99210.