Reporter blows lid off of green fundraising


Well-Known Member
"They Damaged Themselves"

Tom Knudson, Two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner Commenting on His 16-Month
Sacramento Bee Investigation of Environmental Organizations

Interview By Jim Petersen, Evergreen

SACRAMENTO, CA - Tom Knudson is not the first journalist to do an about
face where the environmental industry is concerned, but he has
certainly created the biggest ruckus in quite some time.

Knudson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, blew the lid off
contemporary environmentalism in a five-part Sacramento Bee series that
began April 22 - ironically, Earth Day. "Environment, Inc." might well
win Mr. Knudson his third Pulitzer. Short of that his penetrating
series has already prompted calls for a congressional investigation of
the fund raising practices of several non-for-profit organizations that
he concedes seem more interested in promoting conflict than in
resolving publicly contentious environmental issues.

Simple curiosity prompted Mr. Knudson to begin his 16-month
investigation in late 1999. What he found is only partly revealed in
his series. Some insiders he interviewed would talk only on condition
of anonymity. But he was nonetheless able to unearth a Byzantine
funding structure that has transformed old-fashioned concern for the
planet earth into a multi-billion dollar industry that is increasingly
disconnected from the public interests it purports to serve.

"I got curious about what goes on inside these groups," Mr. Knudson
said yesterday in a lengthy telephone interview. "Journalists have a
responsibility to scrutinize all institutions of power, including
government, industry and now environmentalism, which seems to have
become an industry. They've accumulated a lot of power over the last
few years. There are more groups and they are more boisterous. I wanted
to learn what I could about their fundraising practices."

What unfolds is a story that could easily be made into a television
mini-series, complete with Washington insiders willing to privately
concede that their organizations are out of touch. Even the titles
chosen for the five-part series speak volumes of Mr. Knudson's
discoveries: "Price of Power, Cause or commerce? Strongest suit,
Apocalypse now and Hope not hype" trace environmentalism's
transformation from neighborhood activist to global powerhouse.

"I heard some very powerful stories," he said of an investigation that
he estimates cost the Sacramento Bee at least $100,000. "A lot of the
material I gathered was never used because I was given to me in
confidence. But it did serve its purpose by reinforcing the conclusions
we drew in the series."

Mr. Knudson's remarkable series is made even more remarkable by the
fact that his second Pulitzer - won in 1992 - was for a hard-hitting
series that, among other things, took the timber industry to task for
harvesting practices then in use in California's Sierra Nevada range.
Though some readers felt the series was overly critical of harvesting
practices, Mr. Knudson defends the old series, noting his perception
that the timber industry was "in denial" in much the same way he says
environmentalists are now.

"Times were different then," he said. "Some logging was pretty
reckless. But there have been dramatic changes. State and federal
regulations seem to have curbed the old abuses, but environmentalists
either don't recognize the progress that has been made or they don't
want to admit that it has occurred. The same old find-a-new-enemy
find-a-new-crisis rhetoric continues, apparently for its own sake."

Since his series was published, Mr. Knudson has received more than 900
e-mail notes from readers. Most who write are complimentary, but a few
accuse him of betrayal, suggesting that he has done irreparable harm to
environmental causes.

"They damaged themselves," he says, "by conducting their affairs in
very unappealing ways, by being very ungracious in victory and by
failing to recognize that industries can be a good environmental
stewards too."

Of all of Mr. Knudson's discoveries none surprised him more than the
ability of some environmental groups to "cover their fund raising
trails." He said close scrutiny of their federal tax returns reveals
some groups are spending two and three times as much money on fund
raising as they report to donors. Some groups, he said, don't meet
voluntary financial standards set by independent charity watchdog

Equally troubling for Mr. Knudson was his discovery that
environmentalists can sometimes litigate against companies and
individuals that are working to help the environment, forcing them to
spend large sums of money defending their actions. Some, he says, have
turned litigation into a blood sport, collecting large sums of money in
attorney's fees and court costs. "I've heard the term 'conflict
industry' used to describe what is happening today. I can see why."

And according to Mr. Knudson, many insiders are worried about what he
describes as "the non-stop stream of crisis making" embodied in direct
mail appeals to well meaning contributors "There is now a fear that the
public is jaded and will not respond in a time of real environmental
crisis - like the boy who cried wolf one too many times," he explained.

Mr. Knudson concedes he is deeply troubled by what he has witnessed in
the rural West in recent years, by the economic collapse of entire
timber and farming communities that have found themselves in the
crosshairs of environmental lawyers and lobbyists.

"Conservation that excludes people cannot survive in the long run," he
observes. "It must recognize and work with those who provide resources.
I think rural people have often been treated horribly and arrogantly.
It is no wonder so many are so angry."

But Mr. Knudson's often frustrating story is not without a happy ending
- or at least the makings of one. He thinks he may have found
environmentalism's new frontier, and he likes what he sees.

"The creativity and energy that I found in very small, usually rural
groups that no one ever heard of was very refreshing," he says. "Given
the opportunity, people with very different points of view are able to
solve complex and often controversial environmental problems. They're
doing great work. Clearly, conservation is at a crossroads. The only
question is will the doers and problem solvers take over or will those
with vested interests in stirring up new conflicts maintain control."

<font color=yellow>Paige<font color=yellow>


Well-Known Member
Great post....I am seeing the tide turn slightly away from the enviromentalists. There is absolutley no doubt this is an industry now,
cause has very little to do with what they are doing. Did you guys know that under the ESA, when a group such as the CBD sues the
federal government over an ESA violation, THE GOVERNMENT PAYS ALL THE LEGAL FEES. Thats right, we are paying for the lawyers
to close our deserts. We need the ESA re-evaluated and re-written. Hopefully, the enviros will continue to be attacked by the main stream

Winning IS everything