News Digest

Undue Influence by Ron Arnold



Vol. 6, Issue 9

February 29, 2000

Congressional Committee Looks Into Foundation Support of Environmental Programs

A U.S. House Subcommittee held a hearing on February 15 to investigate the influence of private foundations and other nonprofit organizations on America's environmental policies.

According to Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, many environmental projects and policies funded by wealthy private foundations lack broad support from the general public. "Foundations have no voters, no customers, no investors," said Chenoweth. "The people who run big foundations are...typically located hundreds or even thousands of miles from the communities affected by the polices they advocate. They receive little or no feedback from those affected by their decisions, nor are they accountable to anyone for promoting policies which adversely affect the well-being of rural people and local economies."

The House panel cited the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts' funding of the Heritage Forests Campaign as an example of undue influence on the part of private foundations. Pew gave nearly $3.5 million to help finance the campaign, which has pushed for permanent administrative protection of up to 50 million acres of roadless federal forests. The project, announced last October by President Clinton, is strongly opposed by many conservatives, who view it as special-interest ploy designed to sidestep Congress.

Joshua Reichert, director of the environment program at Pew, said he was bewildered by the committee's hearing. According to Reichert, Pew's role is to educate the public about the debate. "Congress has given us and other foundations in the country the right to do what we do on issues that we care about - and we care about wilderness," he added.

FCnote: The Pew Charitable Trusts (PA) had assets of $4,734,121,560 and made grants totaling $161,411,658 in the year ending 12/31/98.

"GOP Criticizes Groups Funding Activist Campaigns; Wealthy Foundations Unfairly Influence Policy, Critics Say." Spokane.net 2/27/20000.

"Wealthy Foundations & Environmental Groups Often Succeed in Pushing Policies Opposed by the Public, Experts Tell Congressional Panel." U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources Press Release 2/15/2000.


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