The Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) is a powerful far-left consortium of agenda-making foundations that control a significant number of domestic and international left-wing, anti-industry green activist organizations. EGA acts as a strategic command center whose members set the environmental agenda and fund proven non-profit activist organizations to accomplish their ends. It has also cultivated employees of the federal government who have foundation experience and who have offered access to influence over policy and regulation, making EGA one of the free market’s most dangerous unrecognized adversaries.
The EGA is virtually unknown outside the philanthropy industry, although many famous and variously left-leaning institutions are active members, such as the National Geographic Society, the United Nations Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the “genius grant” MacArthur Foundation and the nation’s first giant philanthropy (1913), the Rockefeller Foundation. The smaller, unknown EGA members with obscure names, such as the Quixote Foundation and Enlyst Fund, gain access to the expertise and power of its leading members, multiplying EGA’s cumulative clout against individual liberties and free-market economies.
The EGA itself does not give grants, but acts as a network hub and professional service center for member foundations that give the grants. “Over the years, EGA has organized small and large events across the country to help its members learn, share, network, and collaborate,” according to its website. Members include “more than 200 foundations, giving programs, and major individual donors. Our membership spans those large and small, in terms of giving level and staff size, and includes public, community, family, and corporate foundations.” EGA’s collective structure concentrates the planning and grantmaking power of members, which gave more than $1 billion to highly targeted environmental issues in 2012, representing 38 percent of the entire U.S. environmental philanthropic expenditure.
The EGA is a formidable force running below the radar of libertarian and conservative free-market advocates. A professional staff supplies EGA’s strategic member services, including news, publications, social media, event facilities, and venues for members to meet, discuss and determine issues and funding approaches. The member services are thorough: the EGA Annual Fall Retreat, EGA Policy Briefings, EGA Webinars, Tracking the Field (insider tips with searchable database of 68,504 grants and Interactive heatmap to help find trends in environmental grantmaking), Briefing Materials (issue analysis) and Priority Themes: Global Engagement and Constituency Building. EGA keeps daily touch with supporters and the public through its Twitter account, @EGAConnects.
According to the book Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism is Wrecking America, the EGA got its start quite casually in 1985 according to Pam Maurath, an early EGA staff member. Five big-money foundation leaders interested in environmental issues happened to be talking one day to Donald Ross, executive director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, and found they were all going to be in Washington, D.C. the following week. They all stayed the week at the same hotel and spent Saturday talking about environmental grantmaking. At the end of their session, they said, this was so great we ought to do it at least once a year and plan on it. They exchanged grants lists and prepared a directory of foundation program interests.
The next year, 1986, they had about 20 people from a dozen foundations and thought about formalizing the group and giving it a name: the Environmental Grantmakers Association. In 1987, the members realized they needed a secretariat and Pew Charitable Trusts associate Jon M. Jensen volunteered to take on the job at his new Pew Scholars Program in Conservation and the Environment at the School of Natural Resources of the University of Michigan. There they could umbrella under the university’s tax exemption, and legitimize their yet unincorporated organization by registering with the Council on Foundations as a member of its Affinity Group Network.
Jensen quickly found himself overwhelmed by the work load, and Donald Ross volunteered to handle it out of his Rockefeller Family Fund offices in New York City. He set up a nine-member managing committee with rotating chairmanships and terms of office, which spread the workload.
EGA was a substantial network by 1988 and its annual meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, came with a surprise: Waste Management, Inc.’s public affairs director, Dr. William Y. Brown, was invited to attend the private sessions. Hia firm soon joined EGA over the objections of some of its foundation members, who wanted nothing to do with a donor they considered a polluter. WMI had more than $30 million in fines between 1982 and 1987 and a criminal conviction for price-fixing. Brown frankly stated WMI’s motivation for joining, saying “stricter legislation is environmentally good and it also helps our business.”
By 1989, EGA had developed into the recognized power center of the environmental movement. The meeting format changed: Funders held frank, detailed discussions about the activists they were considering for support grants, and funders listened to the plans and tactics of environmental groups.
The movement’s whole program began to be laid out at each EGA meeting, which became known when Chevron Corporation was admitted to EGA at the annual meeting in San Francisco. EGA managing committee member Betsy Taylor of the Ottinger Foundation in New York opposed the oil company’s membership and went public. She told a Mother Jones reporter for the story titled Oiling the Works, “There’s a lot of discomfort here. Some of us feel troubled to be supporting a group fighting Chevron and sitting next to Chevron, talking strategy.” Greenpeace USA picketed the meeting with placard carriers warning EGA not to compromise with polluters such as Waste Management, Inc., and Chevron and to throw them out of the organization. Mother Jones turned it into another story in their April-May 1990 issue titled, Buying in: how corporations keep an eye on environmental groups that oppose them. The answer: by giving big wads of money, according to blueblood-turned-eco-radical, Eve Pell.
In April, 1990, an EGA committee set up to screen out unacceptable members ousted Waste Management, Inc., citing “a pattern of abusive corporate conduct” and “endangering and degrading the environment.” Chevron was considered for expulsion, too, but it had no criminal record. Nevertheless, it was excluded within a few more years.
The October 1992 Fall Retreat at Rosario Resort on Orcas Island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands proved that EGA’s closed meetings had become beyond question the power focus of the mainstream environmental movement. Attendees included executives of member foundations and corporations, executives of environmental organizations and celebrity environmentalists, including the keynote speaker, Canada’s radical environmental extremist David Suzuki. The program included plenary sessions in the island resort’s shoreline convention center and breakout sessions held in separate rooms, some in private accommodations in the resort’s main quarters.
The plenary sessions were open to all registrants, but the breakout sessions were closed door meetings between specific donors and their grant recipients. Here the environmental groups not only presented proposals for future funding to their foundation mentors, but also gave their report cards on what they did with donor money last year. This relationship was so close that each environmentalist wore a name tag with two identities printed on it – the name of the environmental group they worked for, such as the National Audubon Society, and the name of a dedicated philanthropic foundation they were getting money from, such as the Victoria Foundation.
The three-day 1992 retreat centered around 24 in-depth closed sessions with foundation executives as the head table’s authoritative panel and an audience comprised of invited foundation and environmental group operatives. The sessions covered the entire near-term agenda of the environmental movement, all recorded by a professional producer. A copy of all session recordings was purchased from the producer by the website, undueinfluence.com, and transcribed eight key sessions verbatim for public information, indicated by the links below. The titles are instructive:
The Environmental Grantmakers Association had become the powerful far-left consortium of agenda-making foundations that today controls a significant number of domestic and international left-wing, anti-industry green activist organizations.
The Environmental Grantmakers Association was formally incorporated as a separate nonprofit corporation on March 29, 2007 and registered with the New York State Department of State at a Madison Avenue address in New York City which housed the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The EGA subsequently moved to stand-alone New York City quarters at 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 960, near the Columbia University campus.
Today’s EGA is seldom in the headlines, but the programs and policies it designs, funds and promotes appear almost daily – without credit.
EGA members give grant money to fulfill their own agenda, not the recipient’s agenda. This is called “grant driven” or “prescriptive grantmaking.” It has turned philanthropy on its head by diluting and even eradicating the independence and free rein of many environmental non-profit organizations.
EGA members developed this funders’ tactic in response to failures by non-profit group campaigns in the early 1990s. It was first discussed at an Annual Retreat in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The sessions were recorded and offered for sale by the professional firm that provided the service, and a free enterprise group purchased a set of the 24-session recordings. This is a selection of excerpts from the key discussion of prescriptive grantmaking and the reasons why funders resorted to taking control of the environmental agenda:
Chuck Clusen (American Conservation Association): it’s extremely difficult to get the national groups to really mobilize and put all their resources on the front line to accomplish something… I guess, coming out of the advocacy world, and having spent most of my career doing it, I look at it as, if they’re not going to do it on their own, thank God funders are forcing them to start doing it. Now that’s not to say that everything funders demand is in my opinion the right thing. But I think the fact that some foundations and donors are forcing these issues is good….
Anne Fitzgerald (Switzer Foundation): Do you detect, though, a resistance in the larger organizations to becoming grant driven?
Donald Ross (Rockefeller Family Fund, New York City): Yeah. I think a lot of them resist.
Hooper Brooks (Surdna Foundation, New York City): I think that basically the problem is most of these are not only bureaucracies, but they spend most of their time hitting their members for more money and sending them newsletters instead of getting out to the public. And I don’t think you can neglect thinking about that. I do think we do have to get prescriptive and maybe this is…
Donald Ross: I think that there are things that could be done. I think funders have a major role to play. And I know there are resentments in the community towards funders doing that. And, too bad. We’re players, they’re players.
The emergence of foundations as “players” in the environmental movement caused a major change among the executive directors of many non-profit environmental activist groups. During much of the 1990s a tragicomic joke circulated among former self-directed green group leaders: “Our project programming is now based on one thing: If the money is interested in Alaska, we’re interested in Alaska. If the money likes bulldozing little towns for a new park, we like bulldozing little towns for a new park.”
Prescriptive grantmaking makes a travesty of the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s lofty mission statement: “What unites EGA members is a commitment to a world with healthy, equitable, and sustainable ecosystems, communities, and economies.”
And a preference for obedient grantees.
The history of the Environmental Grantmakers Association can be condensed in two factual statements by the National Center on Education and the Economy: The locus of agenda-making shifted from the grantees to the foundation. Grantees became the agents of the foundations and their agendas.
President Barack Obama nominated experienced and savvy mid-level federal official Rhea Sun Suh to head the huge bureaucracy that runs the national parks and fish and wildlife service in the Department of the Interior. During a bruising confirmation process, press revelations wounded her reputation because her history caught up with her: for four years, Suh had been a program manager for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($7.4 billion assets), directing millions of dollars to green groups nationwide for projects to stop oil and gas production.
Suh was interviewed by the Hewlett Foundation newsletter in 2007 and said: “natural gas development is easily the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West.”
A large placard with that quote was held up during Suh’s December 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso said to Suh, “I would like to read from an op-ed by the Washington Examiner on your nomination, by Ron Arnold, titled, ‘Another Big Green power player moved up in Obama’s Washington.’”
Deep research into foundation influence uncovered the details of Suh’s anti-energy career and her loyal membership in the Environmental Grantmakers Association – catalyst for the 200 Big Green foundations dedicated to stopping development of America’s abundant natural resources.
“If confirmed,” Barrasso continued, “it will allow you to essentially stop natural gas production. And even after you joined the Interior Department, you stated to the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s 25th anniversary, ‘I look forward to working with you, my colleagues, mentors and friends, to utilize the skills and talents of the EGA community to advance a more resilient world and a resilient movement.’ So I question whether this is really the right position for you, given your deeply held views.”
The blatant invitation for her EGA colleagues to walk into her future Interior office so she could do the EGA’s bidding soured her hearing and the Senate put her nomination on indefinite hold. Suh was subsequently offered and accepted the job of president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
July 30, 2014, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works released its 82-page report, The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA. It has become known as “The Billionaires Club” report. It cited the Environmental Grantmakers Association throughout. Its introduction on Page 5, states:
“Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) is a place where wealthy donors meet and coordinate the distribution of grants to advance the environmental movement. EGA encourages the use of prescriptive grantmaking.”
On page 10, the report expands: “The Billionaire’s Club has formed exclusive networks and alliances – in and out of the federal government – to maximize the effectiveness of its “investment.” One such outfit is the Environmental Grantmakers Association – command central of the environmental movement. It is also very secretive, refusing to disclose their membership list to Congress. The wealthy liberal elite have also formed public charities, including the Energy Foundation, the ClimateWorks Foundation, the Sustainable Markets Foundation, and the Tides Center, to coordinate and leverage their expenditures. Moreover, efforts like the recently exposed Democracy Alliance and the Divest/Invest Movement have pooled hundreds of millions of dollars in collective resources to funnel funds towards chosen activists.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, and other environmental activist organizations serve as the face of the movement and provide cover for where the secretive foundations direct their resources.”
“Members of the Billionaire’s Club put a premium on access to the complex environmental infrastructure that has evolved to leverage substantial assets towards achieving defined policy outcomes. The Billionaire’s Club needs this infrastructure to execute a centralized political strategy, and obtain a return on their investment. As a result, several models have developed to respond to this specific demand. One of the central planners of environmental strategy is the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), but they are not the only force out there. The Democracy Alliance executes a complimentary but larger-scaled effort to funnel foundation funds into far-left political outcomes, which encompasses the same desired environmental policies as EGA. Finally, the Divest/Invest movement employs moral sentiments to pressure like-minded foundations to divest from fossil fuels, and invest in charity or renewable projects. Each of these groups has directed foundation dollars towards a specific and coordinated political agenda, which is then executed by environmental activists and so-called grassroots organizers.”
EGA is first in this constellation of billionaires. It is a key to anti-industry activism on a global scale.
ENVIRONMENTAL GRANTMAKERS ASSOCIATION
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 960
New York, NY 10115
Information from 990s forms, 2010-2014
Top 20 grants received 1998-2014
Grant Total: $5,610,069 # Grants: 316 # Foundations : 98
Source: Foundation Search