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Undue Outside Influence

Tax returns are making it clear that mainland-based nonprofit groups and foundations heavily — and improperly — influenced efforts to adopt anti-GMO legislation in Hawaii, especially Kauai.

The Oakland, Calif.-based Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) spent $1.7 million on “joint campaigns achieving bans and restrictions on highly hazard (sic) pesticides” in Hawaii and Minnesota in 2013. According to its federal tax Form 990:

PANNA on Kauai

In 2013-14, our successes included: 1) helping the community of Kauai, Hawaii, win and defend a policy requiring public pesticide use reporting and notices, particularly for experimental planting of genetically engineered crops.
PANNA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which has strict limits on lobbying. The IRS guidelines state:

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation. Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying.

PANNA, which funded and hosted the “stop poisoning paradise”website and sent at least one agent to testify before the Kauai County Council, among other activities, clearly engaged in lobbying.

What’s more, in its tax return, PANNA deceptively tries to pass off Bill 2491 — Kauai’s GMO-pesticide regulatory bill — as a “policy.” However, it is most certainly legislation, as defined by the IRS:

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items…

But PANNA doesn’t play fast and loose only with the IRS. The Hews Media Group-Community News reported that PANNA violated California tax law by failing to list expenses for each program, and one of its former directors, Martha Guzman-Aceves, “intentionally filed false documents with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and omitted third-party relationships [including her affiliation with PANNA] that directly conflict with her position as a California Deputy Legislative Secretary.”

Although their own activities are far from transparent, these are the folks who scream loudly for full disclosure by others. While PANNA’s 2013 Form 990 does not give us a truly accurate picture of the full extent of their Kauai expenditures, it is illuminating.

And then there’s the Center for Food Safety, another nonprofit that helped to draft and promote Bill 2491 and is now engaged in defending the legislation, which was overturned by a federal judge, through the appeals process.

CFS will not disclose its donors. But a search of foundation tax returns led to this partial list of CFS donors, who in 2013 contributed $2,487,537:

Ceres Trust (Judith Kern & Kent Whealy) $565,000
Ceres Foundation (Judith Kern & Kent Whealy) $500,000
Schmidt Family Foundation (Wendy/Eric Schmidt, Google) $250,000
William Zimmerman Foundation (Fairfield, Iowa) $160,000
Cornerstone Campaign (Mary & Abby Rockefeller) $150,000
Schwab Charitable Fund (San Francisco, CA) $135,250
David B. Gold Foundation (San Francisco, CA) $125,000
Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund $100,000   
Tides Foundation (3 grants to CFS/Navdanya Trust) $85,000
CS Fund (Maryanne Mott; General Motors heiress) $80,000
TomKat Charitable Trust (Tom Steyer, San Francisco) $75,000
Marisla Foundation (Anne Getty Earhart; oil heiress) $60,000
Organic Valley FAFO $25,000
Firedoll Foundation $25,000
Boston Foundation $20,000
New World Foundation (in support of Navdanya) $20,000
GAIA Fund (San Francisco, CA) $20,000
Conservation & Preservation Charities of America $15,787
San Francisco Foundation $15,000
California Healthcare Foundation $10,000
Gardner Grout Foundation (Los Angeles, CA) $10,000
Rockefeller Foundation (matching grant) $7,500
Roy A. Hunt Foundation (Pittsburgh, PA) $7,500
Silicon Valley Community Foundation $7,000
Community Foundation of Western North Carolina $5,000
Patagonia.org (Los Angeles, CA) $5,000
Neda Nobari Foundation (Wilmington, DE) $5,000
Benjamin J. Rosenthal Foundation (Deerfield, IL) $3,000
RSF Social Finance (San Francisco, CA) $1,500

Based on this list, several things are clear: The Hawaii anti-GMO effort was never a “grassroots movement,” but instead is financed almost entirely by outsiders; corporate America is well represented, underscoring the lie that the anti-GMO movement is anti-corporate or a David vs Goliath fight; and a handful of philanthropists are exerting undue influence over public policy related to GMOs and pesticides in the U.S. and Hawaii.

Without recurring funding from Ceres, the Zimmerman Foundation (connected with the Maharishi folks in Iowa), the Rockefeller gals, Maryanne Mott and Anne Getty Earhart, who also donated to Councilman Gary Hooser’s campaign, CFS would be very hard up.  Though CFS claims to represent tens of thousands of people, it gets virtually no money from the general public.

To sum it up: An elite group of maverick ideologues have declared war on biotechnology. We know who they are. We know they manage their private philanthropies unilaterally; they aren’t accountable to governing boards. And we know that none of them represent a credible, science-based constituency.

Yet folks like Rep. Kaniela Ing of Maui remain oblivious to this influence.

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In a recent email, Ing noted that one year ago, Maui County voters passed a GMO moratorium. He went on to complain that the Maui County Council “had the legal duty to enforce the law once the public had spoken.”

How can it possibly be the Council’s legal duty to enforce a law that was struck down by a federal judge?

Ing, who is drumming up donations to “continue fighting big biotech interests,” promises to introduce a “Homerule bill that will clearly delegate power to regulate agriculture to the Counties.” He then concludes, fully missing the irony, with this:

Today’s discussion on the future of agriculture should not be decided by three companies.  No, the future of our islands should be controlled by the people who live on it, who live from it.

So if you actually believe your own rhetoric, Rep. Ing, why aren’t you also fighting the influence exerted by the elites who fund the mainland advocacy groups that are desperately striving to control agriculture in the Islands?

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