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Vivian Krause: Suzuki’s funding

Re-Printed Without Permission

His foundation got $13-million from U.S. groups

More than any other initiative in the 2012 federal budget, the one that struck a chord with Canadians is $8-million for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to require greater transparency from non-profits with regard to their political activity and foreign funding. An Angus Reid poll found that 80% of Canadians support this move.

Environmentalists, however, feel that they’re being picked on.

David Suzuki has dismissed the focus on U.S. funding as “twisted logic” and “a conspiracy theory.” Further, in an open letter sent last week, Mr. Suzuki, Canada’s foremost environmentalist, suggested that his foundation

is being “bullied.” He also announced that he has stepped off the board of his foundation. “I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political,” he wrote. [np-related]

It stands to reason that David Suzuki would defend his funding. After all, he built his foundation with millions of U.S. dollars. Back in 2000, more than half of the Suzuki foundation’s budget was covered by U.S. foundations. The U.S. share has dropped dramatically since, from 52% in 2000 to 5% in 2010. Still, according to my calculations, over the past decade U.S. foundations accounted for at least 17% of the revenue of the David Suzuki Foundation. In correspondence for this article, the foundation did not dispute these numbers.

Of the $81-million that the Suzuki Foundation took in from 2000 to 2010, $44-million was from tax-receipted donations, $9-million was from other charities and $25-million (31%) was from unspecified gifts and other revenue. Tax returns also show that $3-million came from investment and rental income, sales of goods and services, and so on.

Between 2000 and 2010, total annual revenues doubled at the Suzuki foundation from $5-million to $10.6-million.

The foundation consistently generated a surplus such that total assets increased to $10.8-million as of 2010, up from $1.3-million in 2000.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. tax returns show that American foundations have made at least 30 grants to the David Suzuki Foundation, each for a value of US$100,000 or more.

The average value of these 30 U.S. grants (made in 34 disbursements) is US$267,000. The total value of the top 30 U.S. grants alone is US$9-million, equivalent to $13-million. This included US$1.8-million from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation (“Hewlett”), US$1.5-million from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation (“Packard”), US$1.7-million from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (“Moore”), US$1-million from the Wilburforce Foundation, US$955,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, US$930,000 from the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation and at least US$181,000 from the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts.

As far as I can tell, Suzuki’s connections with U.S. foundations go back to 1992. In the minutes of a retreat of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, held at Rosario Resort in Washington State in 1992, Suzuki is on record as saying, “I must say that I’ve been absolutely electrified to come here last night because the groups that I hang out with, of course, have very little money, just a lot of enthusiasm and commitment.

“And it’s nice to realize that there is some money available in the fight.”

The problem with Suzuki’s American funding is that for many years it was underreported or not reported at all. In annual reports for 2001, 2002 and 2003, Suzuki’s foundation mentions vaguely that it received grants from “throughout North America,” but names of donor foundations weren’t given. In those three years alone, the Suzuki foundation took in US$3.6-million from U.S. foundations ($5.5-million).

In 2004, the Suzuki foundation listed its largest donors, including U.S. foundations, as having contributed “more than $10,000,” when in fact Hewlett granted $750,000 over three years, Packard granted $340,000 and the Lannan Foundation gave $375,000. In 2006, Suzuki’s foundation listed the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation as having contributed “more than $5,000.” For that same year, Moore paid Suzuki’s foundation $570,868, tax returns show.

On top of the U.S. funding that the David Suzuki Foundation has received directly from U.S. foundations, the foundation has also received U.S. money indirectly through Tides Canada.

For example, in 2008 Tides Canada granted $377,586 to Suzuki’s foundation. That money originated from the Moore foundation, which has granted at least $92-million to BC. environmental organizations, including $32-million to Tides Canada.

When one looks at how the Suzuki Foundation spends money, the numbers are somewhat surprising. Between 2007 and 2010, revenue was $35.8-million. Of that, 53% went to charitable programs, 13% was management and administration, 15% was fundraising, 17% ($6-million over four years) went into assets, and 1% was for political activity, according to CRA filings.

When contacted for this article, the foundation objected to the use of information from its tax returns. “CRA financial filings data are not necessarily appropriate to assess financial performance,” the foundation wrote. Online, the foundation says that in 2010-11 it spent 71% of its operating budget on environmental programs and campaigns, 6% on administration and 23% on fundraising. The operating budget was $8.6-million, while total revenue for 2010 was $10.6 million, tax returns say.

By far, the foundation’s biggest expense is staff. Payroll (staff compensation plus professional and consulting fees) was $5-million in 2010, up from $500,000 in 2004. Neither David Suzuki nor his wife, the long-time president of the foundation, nor any member of the Suzuki family is paid by the foundation, it says.

As far as I can tell, Suzuki’s largest Canadian donor is the Claudine & Stephen Bronfman Foundation, which has granted at least $6-million (2000-10). Since 2008, Power Corp., the Lefebvre Foundation and the Trottier Family Foundation have given annual donations of at least $1-million.

Anonymous donors are also reported for $1-million or more. For 2010, the Sitka Foundation, run by Ross Beaty and his family, gave $407,000 and the Jim Pattison Foundation gave $200,000.

Since 2009, the CRA requires non-profits to report the total amount of funding that they receive from foreign sources. For 2009 and 2010, the Suzuki foundation reported roughly half a million per year from abroad ($514,096 and $553,560, respectively). That accounted for 5% or 6% of total revenue.

Of the 30 U.S. grants that Suzuki’s foundation received for a total of US$9-million, 29 are earmarked for British Columbia. Forget the rest of Canada, the only place that U.S. foundations have heavily funded Suzuki’s work is on the strategic, north coast of B.C., right smack where oil tankers export bound for Asia would need to travel.

For a total of US$2.8-million, 11 U.S. grants to the Suzuki foundation were tagged for projects specifically with First Nations on the north coast of B.C. Canadian tax returns show that between 2000 and 2003, the Suzuki Foundation disbursed $2-million to B.C. First Nations.

Some U.S. grants are telling.

For example, in 2004 the Rockefeller Brothers Fund paid the Suzuki Foundation $20,000 toward two projects. One was to predict the impact of global warming on fish. The other was “a campaign to support a continuing moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration,” tax returns say.

Peter Robinson, president of the Suzuki Foundation, said the foundation sets its own funding objectives. “Our priorities are set by our board of directors not donors. When we find a grant maker — Canadian, U.S. or other — who shares our conservation mission, we apply for a grant and hope to be successful. This has enabled excellent science, policy and public education on some of the most pressing environmental issues facing Canada.”

The largest project of the Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and their U.S. funders, has been the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest, a 21 million hectare “no trade zone” on the north coast of B.C. It’s the size of Switzerland. Now, in the name of protecting the kermode bear, the so-called Great Spirit Bear, environmentalists say that oil tanker traffic must be banned on the entire north coast of B.C. No tankers means no oil exports to Asia and that the U.S. gets to keep its virtual monopoly on Canadian oil. Whether this was the intention all along or not, the Great Bear Rainforest has become The Great Trade Barrier, thanks in large part to David Suzuki, Tides Canada and their American backers.

Financial Post Vivian Krause is a Vancouver researcher and writer. Her blog is On Twitter, she’s @FairQuestions

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