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Organic Consumers Association

The Decline of Big Green: Shaky Foundations - Toxic Sources, Tainted Money

Back at the start of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller remarked that "not even God himself can keep me from giving my money to the University of Chicago." The old bandit's investments duly paid off, with platoons of Chicago economists and jurists all hymning the free market and invoking the inexorable laws requiring that some be rich and many be poor.

Philanthropy and its purposes haven't changed much since Rockefeller millions were dispensed to winch the family name out of the mud, particularly after the Ludlow massacre when Rockefeller minions broke a strike by spraying with oil and then igniting tents filled with women and children.

Even before Ludlow, Rockefeller money was ladled out to the wildcatters in central Pennsylvania  to absorb them into the many-tentacled Standard Oil Trust, with satisfactory results.

Nearly a century later, the environmental movement, supposedly big oil's implacable foe, found itself on the receiving end of about $50 million a year from three oil conglomerates, operating through front groups politely described as private foundations. According to an analysis of financial reports from the Clinton years, the top givers were were the Sun Oil Company (Sunoco) and Oryx Energy, which controlled vast holdings of natural gas in Arkansas and across the oil patch. The Pew family once entirely controlled both Sunoco and Oryx, maintained large holdings in both, and was, in fact, sued for insider trading by Oryx shareholders.

In 1948 the family set up the Pew Charitable Trust, based in Philadelphia, with an endowment totaling nearly $4 billion in the year 2000. In its early days the foundation (a collection of seven separate trusts) was vociferously rightwing, with money going to the John Birch Society, to Billy Graham and to population control, always a preoccupation of the rich.

The utility of buying the loyalty of liberals impressed itself on the impressed itself on the family rather late, in the 1980s. But since then they have more than made up for lost time. By the beginning of the second Clinton term, the Pew Charitable Trusts represented one of the largest donors to the environmental movement, with about $250 million a year invested.

During Clintontime, the Pew environmental sector was headed by Joshua Reichert. Reichert and his subordinates, Tom Wathen and John Gilroy, not only allocated money to individual Pew projects, such as the Endangered Species Coalition, but they also helped direct the donations of other foundations mustered in the Environmental Grantmakers' Association.


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