Tracing the big money behind Cali’s questionable marine protection program

  • Published on February 21st, 2011

California's SeacoastIn a groundbreaking investigative piece in the Laguna Beach Independent on February 11, Ted Reckas exposed the private money that is behind the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, a widely-contested program to create a network of “marine protected areas” on the California coast.

“Five non-profits, including one based in Laguna Beach, donated a total of $20 million to see the drafting process to completion since the state legislature never budgeted adequate funding for the marine-protection law, which was enacted in 1999,” according to Reckas in his article, “Marine Hearings Buoyed by Nonprofits.”

The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a shadowy organization that North Coast environmental leader John Lewallen describes as a “money laundering operation” for corporate money, received the funds from these foundations to implement the unpopular MLPA process.

MLPA critics, including fishermen, environmentalists and Indian Tribal members, have charged the initiative with corruption, conflicts of interest and institutional racism since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger privatized the initiative in 2004 by directing the Department of Fish and Game to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that implement the law are dominated by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served as chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast and on the task forces for the North Central Coast and North Coast.

Follow the money

The David and Lucillle Packard Foundation contributed $8.2 million to fund MLPA hearings, according to Reckas. The Packard Foundation is not only the biggest funder of the MLPA, but also funded studies to build the peripheral canal, including the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report in July 2008 calling for the construction of a canal. The peripheral canal is opposed by a coalition of fishermen, environmentalists, Indian Tribes, family farmers and Delta residents.

Julie E. Packard, the executive director and founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the foundation. Carol S. Larson is the President and Chief Executive Officer, while Susan Packard Orr serves as Chairman.

The Laguna Beach-based Marisla Foundation, founded by Getty Oil heiress Anne Getty Earhart, gave another $3 million over several years, according to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. “The most recent tax records show Marisla donated $12 million in 2008 to 50 causes, including $1.1 million towards the MLPA. A foundation spokeswoman declined comment,” noted Reckas.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation donated $7.4 million. Gordon and Betty Moore are the founders of the Foundation, and Gordon also serves as chairman of the board.
Gordon Moore is co-founder of Intel Corporation and Chairman Emeritus of the Corporation’s Board of Directors. Prior to Intel, Gordon co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957.

The Keith Campbell Foundation’s contributed $1.2 million. D. Keith Campbell founded Campbell and Company in 1972, and currently serves as Chairman of its Board of Directors.

“Campbell and Company is now one of the largest derivative investment managers in the world. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, it employs more than 130 skilled professionals, and manages approximately thirteen billion dollars. Its worldwide client base includes institutions, corporation, and individuals,” according to the foundation’s website.

Finally, the Annenberg Foundation contributed $200,000. The Annenberg Foundation is a private foundation established in 1989. It is the successor corporation to the Annenberg School at Radnor, Pennsylvania founded in 1958 by Walter H. Annenberg.

Who benefits?

Fishermen, seaweed harvesters and grassroots environmentalists contend that the MLPA process was rigged from the start and that funding a public process with private funding is a huge conflict of interest.

MLPA opponents also slam the MLPA process for setting up marine protected areas that fail to protect the ocean from water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

Until June 2010, the initiative made no provisions whatsoever to protect Tribal gathering rights. No Tribal representatives were appointed to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force until 2010 and no Tribal scientists have ever been appointed to the MLPA Science Advisory Team, in spite of the fact that the Yurok and other Tribes have large natural resources departments that employ numerous scientists.

MLPA officials contend that the private funding of a public process is “good public policy.”

“They wanted the law implemented and were willing to put up $20 million to ensure that we had a public process and everyone was heard. That’s good public policy,” Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative, told Reckas.

Breaking the law

However, Wiseman’s claim that private funding of the MLPA is “good public policy” is countered by the documentation of numerous violations of state law now being exposed through a landmark lawsuit by United Anglers of Southern California, the Coastside Fishing Club, Bob Fletcher and the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO).

George Osborn, PSO spokesman, on February 2 presented the California Fish and Game Commission with a 25-page report containing numerous emails and correspondence documenting illegal private, non-public meetings of Marine Life Protection Act Initiative officials.

“After reviewing the documents turned over to us, which previously the BRTF had improperly withheld from the public, we now have evidence, indicating that the public meetings of the BRTF have been an elaborately staged Kabuki performance, choreographed and rehearsed down to the last detail, even to the crafting of motions, in scheduled private meetings held before the so-called public meetings of the BRTF,” said Osborn. “Clearly, this has not been the most open and transparent process, as it has so often been described.”

To see the entire set of BRTF private meeting documents, go to the San Diego Freedivers website.

More on MLPA and California’s water wars:

Dan Bacher is the Editor of the Fish Sniffer online and print magazine. He blogs at Sacramento for DemocracyAlternet and DailyKos.

(California coast image AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by stuartmoulder)

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.