Know Your Donor: Drummond Pike

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Drummond PikeName: Drummond Pike
Donation to Gregor Robertson nomination campaign: $2000

An odd footnote of 2008's US political diary was the subject of ACORN, the international voter registration group caught in a pair of scandals. First, the group was found to have submitted many bogus names in voter drives, which gained headlines and stirred cries of fraud from John McCain's campaign. The corruption was dismissed as the work of a few bad apples and the story died.

The second ACORN controversy concerned the organization itself. A whistleblower revealed last summer that the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke had embezzled nearly $1 million in 2001, and instead of making the crime public the Rathke family decided to try and pay the organization back in exchange for confidentiality. At $30,000 per year it was going to take a long time to pay back the debt with interest. When the scandal surfaced in the media, ACORN (who now have a Canadian chapter) reported that a "supporter" would be paying off the rest of the debt, approximately $750,000 US.

Despite attempts to keep it confidential, it was revealed that the person who paid off the debt was longtime Rathke friend Drummond Pike. How the people involved in this "footnote" of the US presidential election ties back to Vancouver politics we'll explore in this post.

We'll also explain why Drummond Pike, a licensed Grand Canyon river guide and founder of the Tides Foundation, has arguably become the most influential change agent in modern Canadian politics. You may not have heard of Drummond Pike before, but from the Obama campaign on down to the Vancouver election his work has changed many outcomes.

When we kicked off our Know Your Donor series with Mayor Robertson's Chief of Staff Mike Magee, we pointed out that Magee's company Convergence Communications Inc. succeeded in donating about $39,000 to Vision Vancouver. It's a donation that is comparable to that of real estate tycoon Bob Rennie, who provided $35,000 worth of newspaper ads as an in-kind donation to the NPA campaign.

Whereas Magee's company provides facilitation, training and coaching, Rennie sells lots and lots of expensive condos. While Convergence's donation is indeed magnanimous, it's not unusual for groups and individuals who are "deeply committed to social change" to hand out lots of cash. Giving is a part of the DNA of the so-called "social change revolutionaries" of which Drummond Pike is seen as an imperial leader.

Pike started his Tides Foundation in the mid-1970s. Tides takes its name from an independent bookstore in California's Bay Area where writers and activists hung out. As they describe themselves, "We put resources and people together—strengthening community-based nonprofit organizations and the progressive movement through innovative grantmaking."

It's that "innovative grantmaking" that has not only made them among the largest contributors to left wing social causes in history, it has earned them a lot of uninvited attention from political opponents. Tides has also perfected the marriage between very wealthy people and, in many cases, fringe concerns that otherwise wouldn't interest those writing the cheques.

Pike's modest $2000 donation to candidate Gregor Robertson pales in comparison with the three quarters of a million US dollars he forked over to his friend Rathke. However, it would be impossible to put a value on what the support of Pike and his acolytes means to Vancouver's mayor. The amount of money they appear to be able to raise, and are willing to spend on political contests, is practically limitless.

In response to the success of social advocates stateside, a Washington, DC lobby group titled the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) was set up. They are the other side of the air war on food, waste, ecology and a host of issues such as whether french fries will kill you. Like Tides they spend other peoples' money, and they make a pretty good attempt at full disclosure here.

CCF started another website,, dedicated to figuring out the money trail for left wing and anti-consumer advocates. Whether you agree with their rhetoric or not, they have found some very telling information about groups like Tides and founder Drummond Pike.

Describing the Tides Foundation, they pull no punches:

When is a foundation not a foundation? When it gives away other foundations’ money.

Most of America’s big-money philanthropies trace their largesse back to one or two wealthy contributors. The Pew Charitable Trusts was funded by Joseph Pew’s Sun Oil Company earnings, the David & Lucille Packard Foundation got its endowment from the Hewlett-Packard fortune, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation grew out of General Motors profits, and so on. In most cases, the donors’ descendants manage and invest these huge piles of money, distributing a portion each year to nonprofit groups of all kinds (the IRS insists that at least 5 percent is given away each year). This is the way philanthropic grantmaking has worked for over a century: whether a given endowment’s bottom line occupies six digits or twelve, the basic idea has remained the same.

Now comes the Tides Foundation and its recent offshoot, the Tides Center, creating a new model for grantmaking -- one that strains the boundaries of U.S. tax law in the pursuit of its leftist, activist goals.

Set up in 1976 by California activist Drummond Pike, Tides does two things better than any other foundation or charity in the U.S. today: it routinely obscures the sources of its tax-exempt millions, and makes it difficult (if not impossible) to discern how the funds are actually being used.

In practice, “Tides” behaves less like a philanthropy than a money-laundering enterprise (apologies to Procter & Gamble), taking money from other foundations and spending it as the donor requires. Called donor-advised giving, this pass-through funding vehicle provides public-relations insulation for the money’s original donors. By using Tides to funnel its capital, a large public charity can indirectly fund a project with which it would prefer not to be directly identified in public. Drummond Pike has reinforced this view, telling The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Anonymity is very important to most of the people we work with.”

A case in point, Tides has received and distributed funds from Seattle's Bullitt Foundation (founders of King TV) to Canadian causes over the past three years. If you are concerned about offshore oil tanker traffic or coalbed gas exploration in BC, you can thank Tides and the support of a rich American donor. The Bullitt Foundation is also listed among Convergence Communications clients.

Tides has not only flourished in its native USA, it now has a very successful Canadian operation, the Tides Canada Foundation (a Canadian registered charity), of which Drummond Pike is a board member. Mayor Gregor Robertson was once a member of the Tides Canada board, stepping down when he became an MLA, as Pike mentions in his blog.

gregor_robertsonTides Canada is practically bursting at the seems it is so successful. It now consists of several separate societies, including the Tides Canada Centre Society, the Tides Canada Foundation, the Tides Canada Initiatives Society and the Tides Canada Ventures Society. They have offices in Toronto and in Vancouver at the Tides Renewal Centre.

The scale of what Drummond Pike began in a bookstore in the 1970s is today almost too large and complex to comprehend. What is clear is that new powerful mechanisms exist in Canada for bringing in immense financial resources, in some cases from outside the country, and distributing it to multiple causes including political ones.

The successful Vision Vancouver 2008 campaign may be the new paradigm when it comes to political campaign fundraising, unless new funding and disclosure rules are put in place.

As for ACORN's Wade Rathke, whose brother nicked all that money? He also loves our new Mayor. Wade gave a small $150 donation to Gregor's nomination campaign, and worked for Vision on Election Day last November, and turned up for the Victory party at the Hotel Vancouver to celebrate.

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