Skip to comments.Groups caught in political crossfire
Posted on 04/05/2004 7:16:59 AM PDT by madgeb32
A liberal San Francisco foundation is finding itself caught in the crossfire of presidential politics.
The Tides Center processes grant money for philanthropic organizations overseen by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of unofficial Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry. But in an effort to label Heinz Kerry as a supporter of the radical left, conservative groups are accusing Tides of ``laundering'' donors' money to extremist groups.
The fray is another example of how foundations, particularly those that tackle controversial issues, can come under fire -- from the right or the left. And some foundations can be vulnerable to such accusations, with or without merit, because they depend on public support, and smudges on their image could make it harder to raise money.
Most foundations also just don't expect the political spotlight to shine so harshly on them.
``We know our projects are experimenting with new ideas,'' said Drummond Pike, president of the Tides Foundation. ``Sometimes they are risky. They can be criticized. But I would have never imagined we would come under this kind of scrutiny in my worst dreams. We are active in the charitable sector, not the political sector.''
Heinz Kerry, widow of Sen. John Heinz, plays an active role in the $1.3 billion Heinz Endowments. During a six-year period, the Heinz Endowments used the Tides Center -- an affiliate of the Tides Foundation -- to administer about $4 million in grants to environmental and youth programs in southwestern Pennsylvania.
A report by the Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C., group that analyzes ``organizations that promote the growth of the welfare state,'' was the spark.
It accused Tides of ``laundering'' donors' money to extremist groups -- those that promote ``exclusion of humans from public and private wild lands,'' ``anti-war'' messages and ``gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy.'' It indirectly links the Heinz Endowments with such activity.
John Carlisle, an editor of the Capital Research Center, said his organization is not charging the Heinz Endowments of supporting radical groups. But the organization's report has led right-wing groups to make that connection.
`Bag lady for the left'
For instance, an article titled ``Teresa Heinz Kerry: Bag Lady for the Radical Left'' on Frontpagemag.com, reports: ``The former Mrs. John Heinz is also in bed -- financially -- with the radical left.'' Frontpagemag.com is an online publication of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, co-founded by David Horowitz.
The allegations are ``a fantasy,'' said Maxwell King, president of the Heinz Endowments. ``They did it to make Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Kerry look bad. A lot of foundations use the Tides Center to give money to a grantee. The federal government uses it.''
The Heinz Endowments expected such political flak -- unlike Tides. Caught by surprise, Pike issued an e-mail to donors denying the accusations. His foundation also posted a rebuttal on its Web site.
Pike said his group has strict funding rules and yearly audits.
``Politics is a very, very tough game,'' Pike said. ``People start these very heavily spun, innuendo-filled stories on these very marginal places.''
The Tides Foundation administers donor-advised funds for individuals, who then designate which charities they wish to support. It distributes as much as $80 million in grants a year. The Tides Center provides administrative, or ``back-shop,'' support to small non-profits that are receiving donations.
Such accusations can be unnerving to non-profits, observed James Ferris, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.
``If you venture into contentious areas, it might affect your ability to raise money,'' he said. ``If you get a lot of bad press, does it mean people will shy away from you with their giving?''
King of Heinz Endowments said he welcomes scrutiny of the foundation world, which has grown dramatically in the past 10 years in number of institutions and assets. But King is angry when groups and publications don't give him a chance to respond, as was the case with conservative opinion pages of a few newspapers, he said.
Carlisle, the editor of Capital Research, said Heinz Kerry, and anything she is involved with, is fair game. Any group the Heinz Endowments supports could ``try to influence a future Kerry administration,'' he said.
The Heinz Endowments, based in Pittsburgh, comprise the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment. Heinz Kerry is chairwoman of the Howard Heinz Endowment and a board member of the Vira I. Heinz Endowment.
Ferris is not surprised that the foundations sometimes end up taking heat.
``We think of philanthropy as being the venture capital for social change,'' he said. ``So people across the political spectrum are likely to invest in programs that might be contentious. It's important they know what their values are so when the criticism comes, they can withstand it.''
Contact John Boudreau at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 278-3496.
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