Who’s Pulling the Strings? Outside Foundations Lead the Way

Ballot Measure 1 may have seemed like a relatively narrow measure when it was first introduced to Alaskans. But in the months since the Yes for Salmon campaign first began to circulate ballot language, it has become increasingly clear that Ballot Measure 1 is anything but narrow. If enacted, it would devastate Alaska’s economy and upset the balance between conservation and growth. And there’s been no evidence presented that it would improve the state’s permitting process.

One of most telling things about Ballot Measure 1 is that the decision makers pulling the strings on the Yes for Salmon campaign aren’t from Alaska. In fact, they’re about as far from Alaskan as it gets – both geographically and ideologically.

The story of the Outside money behind Ballot Measure 1 starts with Outside foundations.

Many of the groups that have attached their names to Yes for Salmon have Alaskan mailing addresses and names that call to mind our state – organizations like the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, the Wild Salmon Center, Salmon State and Trustees for Alaska. But convenient window dressing aside, the true root of both the funding and motivation behind Ballot Measure 1 lies elsewhere – outside of our great state and far from our way of life.

At the heart of the funding question lies a pair of little-known but highly influential organizations called the New Venture Fund and the Hewlett Foundation.

The New Venture Fund: A Shadowy Pass-Through Designed to Influence Policy from Afar

Let’s start with the Washington, DC-based New Venture Fund – an organization that exists almost exclusively to provide a way for large foundations and billionaires to shape state and local policy by funding and directing local groups to do their bidding. The organization is worth more than $350 million, according to public filings. The New Venture Fund’s recent track record includes campaigns in opposition to resource development around the nation, not just here in Alaska but in places like Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York as well.

In each of these instances, the New Venture Fund invested in local groups as a means of funding – in a surreptitious manner – opposition to energy development projects. And they’re doing the same thing now, directing money to groups with familiar-sounding names as a way to exert influence and advance their agenda from afar.

Some of Yes for Salmon’s largest supporters – Salmon State, Trustees for Alaska, and the Alaska Center – are funded in large measure by these foundations. And if history is a guide, their motivation for investing in the effort is again driven much more by climate and resource activism – including opposition to the development of ANWR – than it is for devotion to our state’s salmon.

The New Venture Fund has contributed more than $400,000 directly to efforts tied to Ballot Measure 1 thus far – some in funding and some in staff time and other non-monetary forms. It has also served as the conduit for sending more than $560,000 to establish Salmon State. And according to APOC disclosures, New Venture Fund is also listed as the employer for Ryan Schryver, who is directly tied to the Yes for Salmon campaign through the Alaska Center.

The network of relationships and governance of the New Venture Fund also points to their commitment to climate and anti-resource activism. New Venture Fund Board Chairman Eric Kessler, a former Clinton administration employee, is also the chairman of the SixteenThirty Fund – which also made a $43,500 contribution in early February to the Alaska Center. In addition to sharing the same board chair, the SixteenThirty fund is located in the same Washington, DC building as the New Venture Fund, according to the addresses given in public filings. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same entity.

The list goes on. The New Venture Fund is closely tied to Food & Water Watch – one of the nation’s pre-eminent climate activist organizations. At the Environmental Grantmakers Association 2017 retreat, an event that was sponsored in part by the New Venture Fund and the Alaska Conservation Foundation, Food & Water Watch gave a presentation about the methods of protecting fish. The organization is also an opponent of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development. The New Venture Fund also contributed $250,000 to the Bold Alliance in recent years. The Bold Alliance, formed in Nebraska to resist the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline, is also staunchly opposed to the development of ANWR.

The New Venture Fund, in sum, serves as an effective, discrete way for wealthy environmental activists to flood state and local debates with money to advance their agenda. And they are plying their trade effectively in our state as we speak. But the story of Outside foundations in Alaska goes even deeper than that, and we’ll continue to bring you more of the story here.