Whether the mission is preserving swampland, attacking farmers, advocating for rivers or protecting birds, the near-term objectives of Florida’s environmental activists have converged around a single, unified catch-phrase: “buy the land.”
The savvy slogan, cooked up as the centerpiece of a polished and professionally-developed public relations campaign, boils the divergent charters of half a dozen activist groups into a single, cohesive message. Stripped of their individuality, long-time activist groups like the Tropical Audubon Society find themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with brash newcomers like BullSugar.org. And these groups are not alone. In fact, there’s an entire “ecosystem” of Florida environmental activist groups which are largely dependent on large cash infusions from a single source: Paul Tudor Jones II.
As has been chronicled in previous stories published by The Capitolist, Jones is the Co-Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of the Tudor Group of companies. And though Jones and his wife reside in Greenwich, Connecticut, they own a $71 million estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Jones became a co-founder of the Everglades Foundation back in 1993, with the original mission of restoring one of his favorite fishing spots, Florida Bay.
But Jones’ mission, and that of the Everglades Foundation, has evolved over the last two-and-a-half decades. From an in-depth examination of tax-exempt filings and business records, Jones and his Everglades Foundation are at the center of a political network that controls the messaging of a flock of other activist groups, even to the point that their individual missions have become compromised.
Case in point: earlier this year, the Tropical Audubon Society published an opinion piece advocating Jones’ “buy the land” mantra even as the group admitted that flooding the farm land would destroy the habitat of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. The group even took up advocating for a wholly different kind of species, instead of the finicky bird:
For example, the critically endangered Snail Kite urgently needs the restoration of natural flows to survive, as opposed to the “just right” habitat needs of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.
The controversial position did not go unnoticed. Shannon Estenoz, Director of Everglades Restoration for the United States Department of the Interior, fired back publicly that the Tropical Audubon Society’s position was “surprising and concerning” and so filled with “factual errors” that she felt compelled to make her statement public.
What would cause the Tropical Audubon Society to abandon its core mission to protect the habitats of birds, and sing from the same songsheet as other environmental groups?
Look no further than the Everglades Foundation’s financial reports. Every year, the Everglades Foundation is the largest recipient of Jones’ philanthropy. In exchange for his financial contribution, he holds sway over the strategic direciton of the foundation as a member of the board. Once the Everglades Foundation deposits the money from Jones, the trickle-down effect begins: other activist groups, each with a specific role to play, take their cut of Jones money and begin to implement his agenda.
As one observer puts it, “It’s plainly obvious just through observing the actions of all these different groups and their lobbying, their statements to reporters, and through the lawsuits they file, that they’re all marching to the beat of the same drummer: Paul Tudor Jones.”
According to the Everglades Foundation’s annual reports, Paul Tudor Jones II is the largest contributor and the only donor to give more than $1 million annually. From 2011 through 2014 (the only annual reports available at press time), Jones is listed as the sole “Millennium Society Member,” a status reserved for those contributing between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000. A 2014 IRS form 990 shows that Jones contributed $1.64 million to the Everglades Foundation in 2014.
Through examining the groups Form 990’s, The Capitolist determined that the non-profit group is the single largest contributor to some of Florida’s most vocal environmental activists. Audubon Florida, for example, collected an average of $418,000 every year just from the Everglades Foundation, while the Sierra Club took an average of $117,000 between 2012 and 2014.
It is unclear if the Everglades Foundation is also behind newer front groups like BullSugar.org and Captains for Clean Water because the Everglades Foundation has still not filed its 2015 Form 990. Calls to the Everglades Foundation seeking an explanation behind the late filings and 2015 contributions to other groups were not immediately returned.
Even without the 2015 disclosures, however, it is clear the Everglades Foundation and their dependent non-profit groups, including Sierra Club, The Everglades Law Center, and Audubon Florida rely heavily on contributions from wealthy benefactors like Paul Tudor Jones in order to accomplish their objectives. But judging from the Tropical Audubon Society’s betrayal of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, and what additional evidence can be found, it is clear that Jones is using the Everglades Foundation as a financial clearing house to force Florida activists to toe the line on his personal agenda, even if it compromises their core mission.
Without a doubt, Jones is not the ideal environmental donor. But when it comes to financial support, these groups will take all they can get, without questioning the source or the motivation behind it. And that’s what makes Jones’ tainted money so damaging to their credibility. Because for all of his supposed concern for the environment, Jones’ deeds have often conflicted with his words. From a misdemeanor conviction for negligence in a wetlands pollution case, in which he paid $2 million in fines and restitution, to his fleet of luxury jets and his $71 million South Florida mansion, Jones record is in dire need of absolution from tried-and-true environmental activists.
But that’s the sort of thing money can’t buy. Especially when the “tried-and-true” activists depend on his money for their very survival.