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Organization Confusion

By KARI BURNS
    On my way to research an article, I stumbled on a fascinating website, sourcewatch.org, that piqued my interest. The names of the organizations listed on this site seemed to speak to me. What could be more American than joining a group—supported by like-minded persons dedicated to fostering understanding between people wanting to make the world a better place?
    Well, I’ll share my surprise. It turns out that the website also listed some of the financial supporters of these organizations and front groups. And I must admit, the stories behind some of these not-for-profit groups left me bewildered. 
   
You might share my confusion:

•   The Center for Food Integrity was formed in March of 2007, coincidently at the same time of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation based on his book of the same name. The Legal Director for the bona-fide consumer group Center for Food Safety, Joseph Mendelson, told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the name of the Center for Food Integrity was chosen to confuse consumers. The PR firm CMA Consulting also registered the domain name for Best Food Nation. The “green wash” group is funded by National Pork Board, the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among others.

•  Foundation for Lung Cancer. Founded by Dr. Claudia Henschke around 2000 and underwritten “almost entirely” by $3.6 million in grants from the Vector Group, parent company of Liggett, the cigarette maker donated funds to this foundation, so reported the New York Times. The paper reported that between 2004 and 2007, Dr. Henschke was given more than $100,000 in grants from the American Cancer Society, but said it wouldn’t have awarded the grant money if it had known the Foundation had accepted funding from the tobacco company. Henschke said that “80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.” Could it be that Liggett may have provided funding to show that “lung cancer is not as bad as many have long believed since such a high proportion of people who get lung cancer—a disease closely associated with cigarette smoke exposure—can be saved by screening?” 

•  The Princeton Dental Resource Center. Oh, it’s too late to receive the newsletter published by this center, which was founded in 1987 and had no affiliation with Princeton University. The group was funded “almost entirely by the M&M/Mars candy company.” (Barry
Meier, “Dubious Theory: Chocolate a Cavity Fighter,” New York Times, April 15, 1992, p. A1)

•  The National Wetlands Coalition was founded in 1989. Time Magazine reported that it was “a big-biz coalition against wetlands,” an astroturf organization consisting of major industrial companies such as Exxon, Texaco and Kerr-McGee.

•  Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. (CALAs) These so-called “grassroots” groups are actually created by businesses and industries to give the appearance that there is a groundswell of “public desire” to make the system more difficult to bring lawsuits for injuries and illnesses caused by hazardous products. One of the largest supporters of these “tort reform” organizations is Philip Morris, which spent more than $16 million in 1995 alone to initiate tort reform, hiring an international PR firm, APCO & Associates, behind the scenes. (Covington and Burling Tort Reform Project Budget, October 3, 1995. 9 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2047648299/8307)

•  Citizens for Fire Safety (CFFS) has a web site that describes itself as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety.” However, the group is reported to be a lobbying front for the chemical industry, which opposes legislation to ban a type of decabrominated diphenyl ether that has been used for decades a a fire retardant in furniture. Critics claim that the chemical breaks down into a toxin, and is suspected of being harmful to the environment. (James Pitkin, “Defying a Chemical Lobby, Oregon House Passes Fire-Retardant Ban,” Willammette Week, (blog) June 18, 2009).

•  Public Interest Watch (PTW) is a front group funded heavily by ExxonMobil. In September 2003 it complained to the IRS that Greenpeace USA tax returns were inaccurate. Its website says that PIW was created “in response to the growing misuse of charitable funds by nonprofit organizations and the lack of effort by government agencies to deal with the problem.” In 2006 Greenpeace was informed that it retained its tax exempt status. (Steve Stecklow, “Did a Group Financed by Exxon Prompt IRS to Audit Greenpeace?,” Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2006; Page A1.)

•  RestoreTheGulf.com—which is not to be confused with the government’s RestoreTheGulf.gov—Oh, I’m confused. And so were Sandra Bullock, Lenny Kravitz and other celebrities who wanted to star in public service announcements. But when they discovered that major oil companies like BP, Shell and the American Petroleum Institute supported the confusion, the movie stars pulled their support. (Huffington Post)

•  Animal Welfare Council represents rodeos, the horse slaughter industry, the Premarin industry and circuses. “Now that animal rights groups and ban supporters have been successful in legislative efforts to shut down almost all of the U.S. horse processing plants and legally hobble the last remaining one, we have them to thank for the current sad state of welfare for U.S. horses.” (Cindy Schonholtz, Animal Rights Win, Horses Lose!, NAIA Newsletter: October 12, 2007). The AWC tracks isolated incidents of “abuse, neglect and abandonment” in order to push a horse slaughter agenda. Yet, the USDA says that over 92 percent of horses that are sent to slaughter are not in danger of abandonment or neglect. The remaining 7 to 8 percent may require rescue or have to be placed into one of over 400 horse rescues and sanctuaries in the U.S. or humanely euthanized. (Humane Society of the United States)

•  Non-Smoker Protection Committee supported a 2006 ballot initiative that sounds positively healthy. “The Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act creates a balanced, reasonable, consistent, statewide non-smoking law, protecting minors and preserving private property rights.” The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company contributed $10,000 to this front group, which would have permitted smoking in all bars, overturned smoking bans, restricted and prohibited cities from adopting future strict smoking bans. (Mary Jo Pitzl, “Liquor group pushes measure to limit smoking: Wants ban on ballot in November,” The Arizona Republic, May. 26, 2006). (J. Craig Anderson, “Bid for smoking ban faces opposition,” East Valley Tribune, June 2, 2006.) Now I feel safe.



Published: October 10, 2010
Issue: November 2010 Arts and Politics Issue