Ted Turner’s philanthropic group has closed its wallet for at least one year to new funding for environmental groups because of financial problems.
The Turner Foundation has given away more than $222 million since its first year in 1991, but will not award new grants this year and is looking to limit future grants. At least two-thirds of the staff also has been laid off.
“People are understanding of the situation but they are disappointed, and that’s how we felt,” said Devon Finley, program officer for the Turner Foundation. “We will get back to grant-making, but it will be much smaller and by invitation only.”
The foundation will honor multiyear grants already awarded, totaling $13 million for this year and $6 million for 2004.
“Given the current state of the stock market and the resulting decline in the foundation’s asset base, the board has determined it to be in the best interest of the foundation’s long-term sustainability to forgo any funding requests in 2003,” read a message posted on the foundation’s Web site.
“Founder Ted Turner and the board of trustees, including his five adult children and Jane Fonda, have firmly stated their commitment to the foundation and their interest to remain a strong and innovative force in the philanthropic community for years to come.”
Last year, the foundation awarded more than 500 new grants and paid out $28 million to special-interest groups. That was down from 675 new grants in 2001 with $69 million paid out.
The foundation’s trustees decided in September to eschew new commitments, Miss Finley said.
“It’s meant a lot to us. This is a terrible loss for the environmental community,” said Chris Pabon, director of foundation relations for Friends of the Earth, which received $100,000 in two grants.
CNN reported in January that Mr. Turner would step down as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, to which he sold the network in 1996, to spend more time on philanthropic endeavors.
Fortune Magazine reported May 26 that Mr. Turner was so distressed about shrinking funds in his foundation that he broke down in front of his children, who serve as trustees.
“I cannot believe my foundation, and all I want to do and can’t,” he tearfully told his children late last year, according to Fortune. “It’s all my fault.”
Mr. Turner also still owes more than $600 million of the $1 billion pledge he made to the United Nations. The money will be paid through a separate foundation he established, but it will take longer than the original 10-year pledge. An additional pledge of $250 million to the Nuclear Threat Initiative also will take longer than the estimated five years.
Those and other commitments put him “down to his last billion,” Fortune said.
“I think that’s great,” said Alan Gottlieb, president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and a critic of the foundation. “Crazy environmental extremist groups that like to shut businesses down, and other groups that ally with them to control people’s lives won’t be getting funding.”
The foundation has been criticized for giving large sums to extreme environmental groups such as Greenpeace, which has collected more than $1 million, and the Ruckus Society, which Rolling Stone magazine described as “a cadre of direct-action veterans who consider themselves the training arm of the radical left.” Ruckus was given more than $100,000.
The foundation also contributed nearly $5 million in 2001 to zero-population groups, including Population Action International.
The decline of the foundation is sure to create a financial burden for these and hundreds of other environmental groups that rely on funding.
“Turner was a consistent funder of environmental groups, so it’s really like losing one of your strongest allies — the stone on which the environmental community was built. And when the pillar moves, the foundation shifts,” Mr. Pabon said.
Some groups will have to fold while others probably will consolidate their assets.
“These groups will have a hole in their budget, and they will have to fill the gap somewhere,” Mr. Pabon said.
The impact of lost dollars will be most acutely felt among the more radical environmental groups, including Earthfirst Affiliates, the Rainforest Action Network and Union of Concerned Scientists, said David Martosko, director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom.
“These are groups that use scare tactics and junk science, and perhaps next year, there will be a little less of both,” Mr. Martosko said.
Top Grantees of the Turner Foundation Inc. through 2001
$3,795,167 — Natural Resources Defense Council
$1,840,308 — Tides Foundation and Tides Center
$1,390,000 — Greenpeace
$523,000 — Union of Concerned Scientists
$300,000 — Waterkeeper Alliance
$255,000 — Northern Plains Resource Council
$225,000 — Environmental Working Group
$204,000 — Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
$160,000 — Environmental Media Services
$115,000 — Ruckus Society