"Dishonest" strategy sees US charity pouring thousands into BC leadership campaigns

Post by Mike Klassen in


Guess what a US-based charity with links to Microsoft is trying to stop in BC?

This morning's National Post newspaper features another breaking investigation by North Vancouver researcher and writer Vivian Krause (follow @FairQuestions). With only nine days left in the BC Liberal leadership (#leadbcl) Krause reveals the details of a well-financed campaign to influence the outcomes of current leadership contests which will determine who British Columbia's next Premier will be.

The campaign is being paid for by an American donor – a charity – based in Washington state.

Krause's story titled "U.S. environmentalists are meddling in B.C.’s election" details the financing and the strategy of Organizing for Change (OC), a consortium of environmental groups all dedicated to choking off oil exports off the B.C. coast. They are connected to a better known lobby organization called Conservation Voters of BC. It should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog that the money used for this campaign in our country has been funneled through Tides Canada, whose logo is prominently displayed on OC's website.

According to records revealed by Krause, Organizing for Change is funded by the Wilburforce Foundation.

Wilburforce is funded by James Letwin and his wife, Rosanna, friends of Bill Gates, and part of the original group that gave rise to Microsoft. Since 1999, the Letwins have given $80-million to Wilburforce. Rosanna Letwin has been the chair since 1999.

James Gordon Letwin was one of the first 11 employees of Microsoft, starting back in 1978.

If having a charity based in the United States funding a campaign to the tune of $329,000, which counsels environmentalists to sign up as member in constituencies with low membership in order to help decide who the next Premier of British Columbia sounds a little dodgy to you, you're not alone.

Murray Dobbin is one of the west coast's most well-known authors and critics from the left. He's often published in the Georgia Straight, Rabble.ca and TheTyee.ca. On Dobbin's blog he discusses what he describes as a "dishonest" campaign by these environmental groups to meddle with both the BC Liberal and BC NDP leadership campaigns.

Dobbin writes:

I thought it might be a joke but reading the whole piece it was clear this group was serious. It is one of the most ill-considered and dishonest appeals I have ever received from normally progressive organizations. It represents incredibly bad judgement on the part of five respected organizations...

...this is a profoundly dishonest action. It is essentially political fraud... That progressive groups would do this is truly disgusting as it sets a precedent for any group to do the same thing.

...What on earth were these groups thinking?

Where Dobbin appears to underestimate the capabilities of the left-wing environmental movement is when he says:

Right wing organizations have much greater resources and therefore much greater ability to organize such actions.

It would appear that when it comes to financial resources, the playing field is balanced.

The question that comes to mind is basic. If a Canadian charity – the David Suzuki Foundation, for example – was paying US groups to counsel Americans to buy memberships in the Republican or Democratic party in order to knock off the current governor or a congressman, what do you think the reaction would be stateside?

Would Americans shrug at a blatent attempt to override its sovereignty? Probably not.

Krause argues convincingly that the goal of those who are funding environmental groups is simply about the long-range needs for energy in the USA. Blocking shipments of oil to a competitor – i.e. China or other Pacific Rim manufacturing economies – meets the needs of the US interests above all.

While it might be a shock to Liberal MP Joyce Murray (who has a private members bill seeking to block oil exports from B.C.'s coast), NDP MP Nathan Cullen (who also has pushed Parliament to end oil exports), and the sundry staff and volunteers of environmental organizations devoted to blocking tankers from our coast, but it would appear they are doing the bidding of US national interests at the expense of Canadian sovereignty.

Krause provides important background to this project:

[Organizing for Change] is a project of Tides Canada, a U.S.-funded charitable foundation. In practice, OC explicitly aims to influence the leadership picks of both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP. The campaign is directly funded by the Wilburforce Foundation, based in Seattle, through the U.S. Tides Foundation (“Tides USA”), based in San Francisco. Since 2003, Wilburforce has paid Tides USA a total of $329,000, specifically designated to support Tides Canada’s Operation for Change project, or its predecessor, the Environmental Resource Centre. In 2005, Wilburforce granted funds specifically for a “youth voting initiative” that would “give B.C. environmental groups access to a segment of the population that they are otherwise not usually exposed to,” according to the organization.

The member organizations of OC are paid well over $1-million per year from five U.S. foundations: Wilburforce, Brainerd, Bullitt, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. All five foundations fund projects that would block Canadian oil exports to Asia and give the U.S. a virtual monopoly on Canadian oil exports.

Krause urges Elections BC to become involved. At this late stage in the BC Liberal leadership contest I think this is unlikely. But what British Columbians might do is sit up and take notice of these groups, how they're funded, and question what the real goals are. Who wins? Who loses?

Finally, how come our mainstream media are not reporting this front page news?

We'll have more funny business to report involving Tides Canada in the days ahead, and how they're using Vancouver City Hall to add credibility to political movements they fund.

- post by Mike


What is up with all this Tides focus? What is the major PR campaign behind this sudden awareness of Tides? Now the salmon farmers are also jumping on the "Tides is evil" bandwagon.

It's like there is some kind of universal strategy to create a mystery money bogeyman on the environmental side of things. Create the bogeyman, suggest it is all about hurting us economically, and change valuable discussions to distracting ones.

Very strange.

It would appear that when it comes to financial resources, the playing field is balanced.

I would be interested in the basis for this comment. You don't provide any $$$ to compare, but even with "rich U.S. foundations" backing [whomever]...the resources of corporations are exponentially larger.

I concur with the idea the less money in politics is better for democracy, and am rather fond of the idea that all election campaigns run off a stipend from Elections BC (ie. no private donations at all).

@JH. It's not surprising to me that most of us do not know much about the money behind the activism and political lobbying in support of environmental causes here in B.C. We've tried to shed some light on this very concerning use of charitable tax privileges to challenge Canada's economic sovereignty.

I welcome a thoughtful debate on the pros and cons of aquaculture, or piping bitumen for markets in Asia. But fear campaigns cloaked in green goals paid for by US corporate titans can't really benefit any of us.

To me it's not 'strange' at all. We're keeping these guys accountable, as they have no interest in that principle themselves.

While I give James/spartikus some credit for his standing on guard for his political pals (he's a quick draw when it comes to any post involving questions about US money entering our political sphere) - see tweet from yesterday http://twitter.com/#!/jamesgemmill/status/37954899668897792 - he typically uses spurious arguments against Krause. The amount of money devoted to these public relations campaigns in Canada – documented by Vivian – track over $150 million spent to tell us farmed fish are bad, oil sands are bad, and that our friends down south know what's best for us.

That's why they are pouring tens of millions into First Nations bands between the bottom of the Alaska panhandle, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and nowhere else.

Since you seem to know how much US corporate dosh is being spent to counter these campaigns, James, feel free to share those records.

This is what CSIS's Richard Fadden was alluding to when he warned the country last year about the influence over local officials by foreign interests.

The media shouted 'China!', not Fadden.

Donations from foreign countries should be prohibited in our elections. They have very real potential to create perception of foreign agendas dominating local government

In light of CSIS concerns that Michael notes, we should call on all leadership candidates and civic parties to ban all foreign donations immediately.

Meanwhile, there are billions of dollars of foreign money flowing into Canada to fund for tar sands and pipeline expansion. Wonder how much of that is making it into political campaigns? How about asking some "Fair Questions" regarding that money?


Gemmill has a whole 111 followers....he's talking to himself...who cares...

Spartikus...typical of a union sheep to believe tax dollars should pay for elections....just like his dues pay for ????

My tax dollars aren't union dues thank you very much and I'm all for the federal government eliminating those stipends federally.

People should be allowed to support the causes they believe in, to a limit of $500, and no more. The present $1000 limit is still too high.

No union, business, or special groups should be allowed to donate - period. But don't you dare suggest my tax dollars should go to yet another political welfare scheme.

'What's good for the goose is good for the gander' is the popular thematic response of those 'progressives' who have moved towards the techniques we are currently seeing.

Ms. Krause Mike Klassen et al challenge it, and Sean Bickerton's response seems the only logical first step out there. I found an interesting take on the subject (with respect to media in this instance) on line. As it eminates from the 'left' of the spectrum, I find the comments very relevant to the discussion and attach some of the portions:

"Who Funds the Progressive Media?"
Michael Barker - July 24, 2008 (michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com/)

"The first step towards short-circuiting philanthropic colonization of independent media systems, and civil society more generally, is for progressive groups to collectively act to delegitimize 'charitable’ manipulations.... Furthermore, a broad coalition of progressive groups need to work to problematize the current structure of civil society, and encourage the creation of civil society groups that embody and promote democratic principles rather than those that adopt corporate organizational structures ....Contrary to some progressive commentators’ advice it is important to remember that the non-profit sector does not have to be run like the business sector..... Currently, unaccountable and elite-run foundations distribute the public’s money to a select group of organizations who .... fit the funder’s philosophy and who put their personnel on their boards. "
Mr. Barker's website appears to contain very intriguing criticisms of the manipulations we are seeing here today.

"Spartikus...typical of a union sheep to believe tax dollars should pay for elections....just like his dues pay for ????"

G, Spartikus's comment is not pro union or anti business, it's pro democracy. He's suggesting that the only people that should be paying for, and thereby affecting the outcome of, an election is the electorate. We don't want unions nor do we want business contributing. We want the politicians competing for our votes, not for corporate or union dollars.

You take the tax payer out of the equation and then you have unions and corporations funding the elections, and thereby paying for "political favors" down the road that don't benefit the electorate.

All you need to do is look south of the border to see how completely screwed up a political system can get when the "electorate" is factored out of the equation.

@ Sean, your:

"In light of CSIS concerns that Michael notes, we should call on all leadership candidates and civic parties to ban all foreign donations immediately."

call is a good one.

Let me be the first to do so. I, as an NPA Council Candidate, will not accept financial or in kind contributions from any foreign sources directly or indirectly. I will also identify the nation of origin of all funds as well as the donors in my election financial disclosure.

It is essential, in my view, that all political, economic and policy decisions at all levels of Canadian governance be made by Canadians in the best interests of Canadians. To do so those elected politicians must be free from actual or potential influence of foreign interests. Not being financially obligated to those foreign interests is, therefore, key.

I call on all City of Vancouver incumbents and candidates of all parties as well as independents, present and future, to also declare they will not accept financial or in kind contributions from any foreign sources directly or indirectly, and that they will also identify the direct and indirect nation of origin of all funds as well as the donors in their election financial disclosures.

And just WHO is behind the Tula Foundation on Quadra Island to be giving so much to an environmental law program at University of Victoria?

Quadra Island foundation gives $2.75 million to UVic for sustainability research

@Richard, your example is really quite a different issue. Foreign money is flowing into the oil sands to invest in a commodity that is for sale on the world market. Is some of that money paid to Canadians, then paid by Canadians to fund political activities? Yes. But that is not the same as the direct funding by foreign interests of political candidates that is referred to here.

There needs to be an annual public review process to look at complaints about these bogus charities.

The Tides foundation actually causes measurable harm to canadian families and many individuals.

What kind of charity is that?

Bob, you do not think that a very large portion of that money that comes from American energy interests does not flow in some manner to help prop up campaigns, or prop up the media message, or prop up public opinion?
They devote a lot of money and resources to getting that message out there and securing strategic political positioning - And lets be realists; it is not the people that have the ear of government, no it is those high paid lobbyists. Wealth buys you a voice.
I see Tides as a response to this corporate corruption, just as Union contributions to political campaigns was a response to corporate donations to their respective campaigns.
But I for one agree. ONLY individuals should be able to donate to political campaigns (with strict fiscal limits). Unions should not and corporations should not contribute (do you agree with that Mike?)
See my problem with this outcry over Tides is that such actions have been taking place for decades on the part big business, but now Tides is the issue? I don't think I've seen one mention of the BC Rail deal on this blog? I think we need to spend a lot more time examining were the corporate money is coming from.

The RCMP should be investigating these criminals. Subversion of democracy is series business.

Can you imagine the screaming from the Leftoid sphere if rich American interests were funding a pro-hunting campaign.

There would be marches, protests etc blah, blah, blah.

When American influence supports Lefties, they just shut up, accept the money and subvert democracy.

"Can you imagine the screaming from the Leftoid sphere if rich American interests were funding a pro-hunting campaign."

Global BC runs a pro-hunting program every Sunday morning that is sponsored by a number of corporations including Dodge, Yamaha, Berreta, Federal Premium Ammunition, Elite Archery, The Finnish rifle maker Sako, etc.

It is an analogous example IMO.

Also, the Canadian Wildlife Federation took in $12m in donations in 2010. While it doesn't break out the numbers, its financial statement does mention how it handles transactions in US dollars, so barring any indication they don't take money from out of country (I couldn't find any such mention on their website) it's not beyond the pale to suggest there may be wealthy American hunters helping the CWF with its mandate, which its critics describe as decidely pro-hunting.

(I'm not anti-hunting btw, but just wanted to address Fred's comments).

"Can you imagine the screaming from the Leftoid sphere if rich American interests were funding a pro-hunting campaign."

The reality is that our culture was co-oped by the U.S. a long time ago. Our media, our TV, our advertising, etc. is all driven by U.S. groups and corporations. We might not like it, but it's the reality...while many scream about Canadian $$'s going to CBC TV/Radio, they are at least promoting a Canadian perspective (even if they often do a crappy job)

The difference with this issue is that we're not talking about general culture, but rather direct influence of our politicians. We may "choose" (consciously or sub consciously) to be like the U.S., but that doesn't mean that we should have their direct influence (through the all mighty dollar) into our election campaigns. We should have very strong legislation to combat this, with severe penalties for politicians that have proven to have received funds directly or indirectly from U.S. (or other foreign) interests.

As far as environmental groups go, I am the first to admit that the money that is coming from U.S corporations far exceeds money being funneled into Canada through environmental groups. The difference is, and I believe this is a big difference, that we expect a far higher standard (rightly or wrongly) from our environmental groups. We expect them to be acting altruistically, and even if we don't necessarily agree with what they are fighting for, expect that the underlying rational for the fight to be just (and based on science, not money). We don't expect David Suzuki to take money from a U.S. group, and have the money be the sole motivator for his latest environmental campaign. We expect a far higher standard, and we expect these groups to be fighting for the common good, not for a particular interest group that happens to have deep pockets.

This may be naive, it may be asking too much, but it's a belief many of us carry. Vivian is pulling back the curtain and making us question whether our trust in this environmental groups is truly warranted.

I might be a capitalist at heart (with some socialist leanings!), but I want to believe that there are still social groups/organizations out there that are fighting for the common good, and not simply selling themselves to the highest bidder.

JH, I work at my dining room table, using Google, on my own nickel. I am not part of any campaign.

JH, I tell you what's strange. Whenever someone in your camp of Jackos is hit close to home, and that is...in your shadow accounts, you start screaming like pigs inside a slaughter house. Maybe you'll live to see another day. Or, maybe not. Foreign financing used to peddle influence in Canada should be a matter addressed by CSIS. Pronto.

Here's another grotesque example documented by the National Post and Vivian Krause of these US charities underhanded tactics to impugn the reputation of Canada.


It's so frustrating, and it's all being done by the money people behind Vision. Shame.

So many people are missing the point again.....
This is not about corporations or who they are donating to. I don't even think it's about sovereignty....personally.

Toowoozy questions that money is flowing from American oil companies into campaigns. I have little doubt that there is.

The issue with Tides is not that they are directing money to campaigns.

The issue is that people are making tax deductible donations to Tides, and Tides is then donating it to campaigns.

Municipal campaign donations are not tax deductible.

I believe that Tides is a partner of Vision. They help Vision supporters get a tax deductable contribution for what eventually becomes a donation to a municipal political campaign.

There is not a tax donation receipt for donating money to Enbridge.

Tides - Washer
Renewal Partners- Dryer
Vision - puts the shirt on.

That's the issue.

Mike, you're dodging the question. You state the playing field is level, and I would like to know the basis for that statement. Philanthropic Foundations have financial resources, yes.

Corporations have more.

see tweet from yesterday

What was that tweet actually in response too, Mike? Ah yes, this tweet: http://twitter.com/#!/MikeKlassen/status/37947596458819584

Itself in response to this one: http://twitter.com/#!/VanObserver/status/37938320319193088

"Spurious" actually means "Not being what it purports to be; false or fake"

The term you're searching for is "poisoning the well". ActivistCash.com was started by a notorious conservative public relations figure - Rick Berman. Now, that doesn't mean he can't publish solid information per se, and my tweet could be construed as a attempt to discredit your cite by bringing up the sources notoriety rather than address any arguments advance. However, there is literally argument advanced and certainly no evidence provided for the ActivistCash.com entry on Drummond Pike. It's just basically name-calling.

The term for your tweet made in response to the Vancouver Observer is "red herring"

The amount of money devoted to these public relations campaigns in Canada – documented by Vivian – track over $150 million

I have issues with how Krause calculates that. She seems to count all donations as monies donated intended for specific campaigns. But for the sake of argument $150 million is a lot of money. Even over the 15 year time frame she calculates it from. Let's return to the theme of my original question: how much is and has been spent the other way? For example, those pro-fish farm ads on the TeeVee must cost a pretty penny, eh?

spent to tell us farmed fish are bad, oil sands are bad, and that our friends down south know what's best for us.

Yes on 1, yes on 2. Funny, I haven't seen any ads about 3. Funny too, it's corporations, and not environmental groups, that favour closer political and economic ties to the United States.

But I'll ask you a direct question: Do you believe those U.S. philanthropic orgs mentioned by Krause are acting as agents for the U.S. Government?

111 followers....he's talking to himself...who cares...

You're far too kind - it's actually only 37 followers.

typical of a union sheep to believe tax dollars should pay for elections

Er, tax dollars do pay for elections.

There seems to be a concern about money influencing election campaigns, no matter the source (Vivian Krause has told me herself she's concerned about corporate money too) Removing "who has the biggest pile of cash" would solve the problem, no?

It's just an idea, one that's employed in other countries.


The issue is that people are making tax deductible donations to Tides, and Tides is then donating it to campaigns.

That's not the argument being put forth in the pages of the Sun, though.

The media shouted 'China!', not Fadden.

Actually Fadden did insinuate China was the country in question in his interview.

In the Curious Case of the Greens and the Grits at the end of the day this is what it is:

An email written by Canadians was sent to Canadians urging them to join a Canadian political party.

Maybe the computer used to write it one was purchased via a donation from Wilburforce. I dunno.

No one was paid to join the BC Liberals. No one was coerced. At least, not in this particular case.

It was a stunt. Murray Dobin and Bill Tieleman both make arguments why it was hare-brained. I find them persuasive.

And it was pretty ineffective. In the comments on Tieleman's blog, Dogwood Initiative's Ken Hardie claims only 1000 took up the offer. That's 1000 of the approximately 60,000 who recently joined the BC Libs.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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