Greens are still a minority


Dear HCN,

High Country News publisher Ed Marston reacted to Sacramento Bee reporter Tom Knudson's unflattering "Environment, Inc." series on the fancy finances of the professional Green movement (HCN, 6/4/01: Environmentalism meets a fierce friend) by declaring "environmentalists must be led by relatively well-paid leaders backed by professional staffs," just like their corporate PR enemies.

Marston felt obligated to defend Sierra Club against Knudson by noting that Sierra Club is "crammed into very modest offices in a seedy part of San Francisco." Also crammed in those offices is the Sierra Club Foundation (SCF), which exists only to support "charitable activity of the Sierra Club through grants on a project-by-project basis," a purpose for which it collected $23 million in 1999.

Where that money came from is known only to IRS inspectors, as are the reasons why SCF is allowed to forward tax-free funds to Sierra, which lost its tax-exempt, nonprofit status way back in the '60s. Where the money went is public record - $13.4 million in grants to Sierra Club and its chapters, including $2.8 million in unspecified "various grants." That's nearly a quarter of "Sierra, Inc.'s" total budget of $58 million.

SCF's 1999 executive director, John DeCock, drew $104,029 in annual salary for a whopping 35-hour week. Don't think DeCock, or his tiny, $119,000-a-year staff (aside from the four officers, paid $257,000), slaved to raise money. That was left to professional fund raisers * who were paid $1.53 million.

What of the Nature Conservancy, which Knudson praised and Marston criticized for having "high-ceilinged, high-rent quarters in a much better part of town?"

In 1998, the last year for which I have their "nonprofit" Form 990 tax return, TNC scraped down $744 million in "revenue, gains and other support," including gains of $130 million on securities (significantly, not land) transactions that totaled $1.36 billion, as well as $153 million in government contracts. TNC's expenses were $362 million for that same year.

Is an outfit that enjoys revenues double expenses really "nonprofit?" That might be a question for the more than 480 TNC employees with salaries over $50,000 in 1998.

Ed is right about one thing ... Greens are "no longer a puny movement struggling to get the attention of the American public." Now they are an elite cadre of professionals, with, as Knudson reported, $3.5 billion per year of mainly tax-free funding available. Seems to me that with that much tax-free, "charitable" loot, we should have been swilling our free-range tofu and soy milk at Ralph Nader's coronation.

But we didn't. Maybe there are still things that money can't buy. Marston provides part of the reason why not when he states: "We in the environmental movement still see ourselves as a beleaguered minority fighting against all odds to change the American West."

Like Ed, I can't understand how access to $3.5 billion a year could leave anyone "beleaguered." Unlike Ed, I do understand this: Greens remain a political minority in an American West, and in an America that doesn't want to be changed, and won't be bought.

Dave Skinner
Whitefish, Montana
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