Conservatives target the Tides Foundation

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The Center for Consumer Freedom, a front group funded by the tobacco, alcohol and restaurant industries, has attacked the Tides Foundation, calling it a "money-laundering enterprise ... taking money from other foundations and spending it as the donor requires" while making it difficult to track the source donor.[1] (Ironically, the Center for Consumer Freedom itself refuses to identify its own donors.)

The conservative Capital Research Center - which sees attacking foundations that support 'liberal groups' as one strand of the campaign to defund the left - has also criticised the Tides Foundation in a series of articles in Foundation Watch. The authors have spanned the Wise Use Movement leader Ron Arnold, Patrick Reilly and Gretchen Randall and Tom Randall.

Over the last six years the conservative Capital Research Center has devoted three special editions of its monthly Foundation Watch newsletter to raking over the work of the Tides Foundation and its affiliated spin-off, the Tides Center.

Underlying the seemingly excessive attention devoted by CRC to Tides - especially since much of the content of their tree features travels over the same ground - is its success. In the eyes of the CRC the Tides is because of its unique role in fostering the development of new projects, some of which later spin-off and establish themselves as independent organisations, such as the Rainforest Action Network.

In January 1998, Foundation Watch editor, Patrick Reilly railed against Tides role in establishing the Thoreau Center for Sustainability when the former military base that housed the Letterman Hospital was declared surplus. The Tides Foundation won the bidding process to take over the lease on the site, a fact which rankled with Reilly. Tides, he complained, had "appropriated national park facilities" and that "valuable federal property has been turned over to environmentalists".

"Without a comparable conservative effort, one can only guess at the effect such a liberal network may have on American government and society," he wrote. The CRC also take aim at the foundations that make grants to Tides for projects and the organistions role in successfully fostering projects such as the Institute of Gobal Communications which was an early internet service provider for con-government organisations.

"Clearly Tides and its grantees and affiliates should not be supported by charitable foundations established by America's great business leaders and philanthropists. But the foundations that pass grants through Tides already have a history of funding left-leaning nonprofits," Reilly complained.

A little over two year later and Wise Use Movement leader Ron Arnold and Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise was back to work Tides over again. "Tides", he wrote, "has nurtured literally hundreds of new groups to plague the resource class and rural communities".

Arnold, at least conceded that Tides had won the bidding process for the former military base but darkly suggested that some anonymous people "thought Drummond Pike's funder pull with the Clinton administration had something to do with it".

At the heart of the CRC's concern is that Tides projects operate under the tax-exempt status of the Center who for a set fee do all the administrative work for the project leaving the individual or group to work on the advocacy program. Arnold speculates, without proposing a single example, that "it's probable that some of the more than 250 Tides "projects" would not qualify for tax-exempt status for one reason or another".

Arnold complains that the IRS returns filed by Tides "are remarkable unrevealing" because disclose "exactly how each project is spending its money, is not disclosed". (If that really was a great concern for Arnold and the CRC one would have thought that their own IRS returns would provide a project by project breakdown, but they don't).

In the absence of hard evidence, Arnold once more resorted to speculation. "It's not clear whether all this is perfectly legal", he intoned.

In December 2003 CRC returned to Tides with a 7-page feature from Gretchen Randall and Tom Randall the founders of the Chicago-based PR company Winningreen. Once more they trawled through Tides grants and returns but come up empty-handed, lamely asking in conclusion "are all these activities and those of its mega-buck funders within the law?"

As with previous CRC writers on the topic, the Randall's blamed the IRS disclosure provisions for their failure to find any fault other than disagreeing politically with Tides projects."It is impossible to know how much money is moving from point 'A' (foundations, corporate donors) through the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center to dozens of points 'C' … some points 'A" may not care to be linked publicly to some points 'C'. Through the genius of Drummond Pike and the intricacies of nonprofit disclosure law, they are not".

While the Randall's argue for greater transparency for Tides, they are not exactly forthcoming about who their own clients are. According their company website their clients "are legislators, appointed officials in agencies, which deal with the environment, their aides and few other selected individuals." [2]

For clients Winningreen releases "issue briefs" with background information and quotes that can be attributed to the officials and politicians they work for. Some briefs have been supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildife Refuge, dismissing calls for increased water releases into the Klamath River and warning consumers against hybrid petrol/electric cars such as the Toyota Prius.

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