Sea Change Foundation

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The Sea Change Foundation is a San Francisco, California-based 501(c)(3) private foundation established in 2006 with the single purpose of fighting climate change, giving grants of $45 million and $55 million annually to some of the most far-left groups working on the issue. Frequent beneficiaries include the Energy Foundation, a bundler to an array of climate groups, plus the Center for American Progress, the Sierra Club Foundation and the Partnership Project.

Money

  • Sea Change Foundation financial assets were $167.9 million in 2013.
  • Sea Change Foundation’s income in 2013 was $61.2 million from the Simons’ personal account, three trusts, and investment dividends.
  • Sea Change Foundation paid grants totaling $44.2 million in 2013.
  • Cumulative grant history since 2006. 346 grants paid to 72 recipients totaling $261,502,103.

Sources of Wealth

Renaissance Technologies Corp. is a hedge fund management company with $43.8 billion (2015) in assets under management across its Renaissance Institutional Futures Fund, Renaissance Institutional Equities Fund, Diversified Alpha Fund and Medallion Fund. It was formed in New York City, NY in 1982 by James Henry Simons. His son Nathaniel Simons is a Principal, Vice Chairman, and Director, compensation not published.

Meritage Group LP is a privately owned hedge fund offshoot of Renaissance, primarily providing services to pooled investment vehicles. It invests in public equity and fixed income markets across the globe. Nat Simons formed the Group in November 2006 in San Francisco, CA and is its CEO. Nat’s wife Laura Baxter-Simons has worked at Meritage and Renaissance as general counsel. Compensation of the Simonses not published.

Elan Management LLC, is a privately held venture capital company incorporated by Nat Simons December 24, 2014 in San Francisco, CA.

Prelude Ventures LLC, is a privately held cleantech venture capital platform owned by Elan and incorporated in Delaware, MD on January 6, 2012 by Managing Director Gabriel Kra and registered for doing business in California on September 8, 2014.

Offshore Funds

Meritage Holdings Ltd, is a privately held foreign hedge fund owned by Meritage Group LP and incorporated by Nat Simons on January 3, 1999 in Bermuda. CEO is Nat Simons in San Francisco, CA; Bermuda director is Roderick Forrest of Wakefield Quin law firm in Hamilton, Bermuda; U.S. executive officer is Alex Margaro in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Medallion International Ltd., is a privately held foreign hedge fund owned by Renaissance Technologies Corp and incorporated by an agent, MQ Services Ltd, in Bermuda. Bermuda director is Roderick Forrest of Wakefield Quin law firm. Medallion International has no CEO; its board of directors is controlled by four New York City directors of Renaissance Technologies. Nat Simons is not listed as a director of Medallion, but Sea Change Foundation was a major investor in 2010 and 2011, and cashed out in 2012, earning the foundation more than $67 million in net capital gains.

Network Interactions

Top Ten Sea Change Foundation Grant Recipients

Recipient Number of Grants Total Amount
ENERGY FOUNDATION 63 $64,818,332
PARTNERSHIP PROJECT 14 $21,402,401
SIERRA CLUB FOUNDATION 15 $18,045,000
LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS EDUCATION FUND 14 $16,574,800
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL 23 $15,644,000
WORLD WILDLIFE FUND 7 $10,000,000
ALASKA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION 7 $9,250,000
EUROPEAN CLIMATE FOUNDATION 5 $8,250,000
TIDES FOUNDATION 4 $8,000,000
AMERICAN COUNCIL FOR AN ENERGY EFFICIENT ECONOMY 10 $6,085,000

Source: Foundation Search

 Background & History

Organization: Sea Change has only ten key employees, including one of the top executive directors in the foundation world, the highly networked hands-on founder and former operator of an ocean-related environmental group, Stephen Colwell (compensation $460,000/year).

Colwell studied public policy as an undergrad at Princeton and has three professional degrees: A Masters in education, a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Masters in management from Stanford. Colwell has custody of the foundation’s books, and makes most of the grantee selections with the assistance of a hired expert selection contractor. Colwell also writes the foundation’s checks to a wide swath of environmental and energy organizations including the Energy Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Center for American Progress, the Sierra Club Foundation, Tides Foundation and the Partnership Project. The Sea Change Foundation is completely prescriptive – it does not accept unsolicited proposals. Grants are arranged by invitation only.

Sea Change is supported by hedge fund millionaire Nathanial “Nat” Simons, who is most widely know for his commute to work across San Francisco Bay aboard his 50-foot yacht Elan. Simons runs Meritage Group LP, a venture capital firm that invests in companies that benefit from clean energy policy activism paid for by grants from his foundation. Simons, along with his wife Laura Baxter-Simons, are the foundation’s major donors and only trustees. Nat is president of Sea Change; Laura is secretary. Inside Philanthropy commented that “Simons may have the deepest pockets of any living donor in the environmental world, after Intel co-founder and philanthropist Gordon Moore.” The Simonses are large scale donors to the Democratic Party and have been called “the most powerful philanthropic couple working on climate change today.”

Most of Sea Change’s funds come from the Simons’ personal fortune and donations from Nat’s billionaire father, James Simons, who founded Renaissance Technologies LLC, the wildly successful hedge fund where Nat spent years as a portfolio manager. Although Nat Simon’s net worth is not known but thought to be in the multi-millions, James Simons’ net worth is publicly estimated at $14 billion. James gave Sea Change Foundation $1 million in 2006 and again in 2007, $2,056,020 in 2008, and $2 million in 2009.

Simons’ Public Statements About Foundations: Nat Simons is on record speaking at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event carried by C-SPAN, along with Bill Clinton and Al Gore, in 2009:

To get it done, quickly, is going to take a Herculean effort from all sides. Because it’s not really a question of whether we move to a low carbon economy. I think it’s clear we’re moving there…the question is how quickly. The role of philanthropy is really to facilitate that process… It’s not going to be ramming something down the throats of certain people. We know that that’s not going to work. We’ve seen that, we’ve watched that movie before. We know it’s not going to happen. We can’t take this momentum and let it stall. So philanthropists, foundations, they have a huge responsibility.

 

Controversies

Dark Money Donations

Two dark money donations to Sea Change Foundation have been linked to Russian oil interests. The questionable donations came from a Bermuda-based company that appears to exist only on paper, Klein, Ltd, which gave Sea Change $13 million in 2011 and $10 million in 2012, according to the foundation’s IRS Form 990-PF annual reports and a comprehensive report by the Washington-based Environmental Policy Alliance.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee investigated Sea Change for its dark money links to two shadowy Bermuda-based entities, an associated shell corporation, Klein, Ltd, which donated $23 million to Sea Change, and the Hamilton, Bermuda law firm Wakefield Quin, “run by executives with deep ties to Russian oil interests and offshore money laundering schemes involving members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle,” according to a report by the Washington Free Beacon. Klein’s large donation went to anti-fracking groups such as the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, the League of Conservation Voters, and the U.S. Climate Action Network. “None of this foreign corporation’s funding is disclosed in any way,” the Senate Committee wrote of Klein in a 2014 report. “This is clearly a deceitful way to hide the source of millions of dollars that are active in our system, attempting to effect political change.”

The Kremlin Connection

In 2010 and 2011, Sea Change received tens of millions of dollars from a Bermudan company named Klein, Ltd. and distributed those funds to prominent U.S. liberal nonprofit groups. Klein, Ltd. was incorporated in Hamilton, Bermuda, on March 18, 2011. Its exclusive purpose, according to the company’s articles of incorporation, is to give money to nonprofit groups and foundations, similar to a U.S. 509(a)(3) Supporting Organization that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations. Records do not show where Klein Ltd. gets its funding and its only known contributions have gone to Sea Change and thence to U.S. liberal climate change nonprofit groups. While it is unclear who is funding Klein, the law firm controlling this offshore funder of the U.S. environmental movement is Wakefield Quin, a giant in the investment management world. Its self-description:

Wakefield Quin is one of Bermuda’s leading law firms dedicated to providing clients with timely, sophisticated and solution-driven legal advice in the areas of banking, corporate and commercial, real estate, restructuring and insolvency, trusts, private client and litigation. Wakefield Quin through its affiliates, also provides a full range of fund and trust administration, corporate secretarial, accounting and management services.

Wakefield Quin has ties to Russian money laundering, a friend and advisor of Vladimir Putin, Russian oil production, and more. Klein Ltd., according to its Articles of Incorporation, was formed by Nicholas Hoskins (a Klein director and WQ senior counsel) and Marlies Smith (a WQ senior counsel). They both have pasts that should be considered questionable at best. Both held directorship positions in a group, owned by Russian minister of telecommunications and longtime Putin friend Leonid Reiman, which was the subject of a 2008 money laundering case. The group was ultimately convicted in British Virgin Islands court.

WQ’s Russian involvement doesn’t stop there. Marcuard Spectrum, a Moscow-based investment firm, operates a hedge fund in Bermuda based out of WQ’s office. Both of the aforementioned WQ lawyers are listed in leadership positions. Further, one of the founders of Marcuard is also the chair of Russian, partly state owned, oil giant Rosneft, claimed to be the largest oil company in the world. There have been significant questions about whether foreign interests—particularly Russian—are funding attacks on U.S. natural gas because it would hurt the Kremlin. “Here we have Klein, Ltd., a major foreign funder of the U.S. environmental movement, tied through its Bermuda managing office to Russian money laundering and the Russian government,” according to the Environmental Policy Alliance.

Sea Change invested over $80 million dollars in 2011 into Simons-run hedge funds Medallion Investments and Meritage Investments, both also based out of the Wakefield Quin office and operated by WQ senior counsel Roderick Forrest.

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