Funding used to pay salary of Palm Beach Post reporter linked to environmental activists

by | Aug 4, 2021


A grant used to pay a year’s salary to Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan in exchange for a hard-hitting story blasting sugar farming practices was provided by a non-profit foundation with a history of funding politically active environmental groups in South Florida. According to publicly accessible documents and other information obtained by The Capitolist, the grant was used to compensate Ramadan for what amounted to “pre-paid investigative journalism” in which she pitched a specific story angle to ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, before the findings of her investigation would have been known.

The payments, which flowed through ProPublica but did not originate there, allowed the Post to save approximately $75,000 in salary payments. But the Post falsely implied in early July that they had spent “a great deal” of [their] resources” on the controversial reporting effort. The Post’s executive editor, Rick Christie, later admitted during a phone call with The Capitolist that the tab for Ramadan’s entire annual salary was paid through ProPublica, effectively acknowledging that the Post didn’t actually expend resources, but saved money because of the arrangement.

The Post benefited from the dark money payments in the form of pass-through funding that originated from the non-profit Knight Foundation, which in turn funneled the cash to ProPublica, but where those dollars originated prior to that remains unknown. Both Ramadan and the Post have refused requests to provide details about the shady funding arrangement, and have also refused to disclose the original grant application that sought the funding in exchange for a story attacking sugar farmers in South Florida.

Despite the refusal to disclose details about the controversial reporting arrangement, records show the Knight Foundation has also previously provided significant funding to the progressive Everglades Foundation, one of the most outspoken critics of sugar farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The Everglades Foundation listed the Knight Foundation as a $10,000-$25,000 level sponsor as recently as 2017. The Knight Foundation was also the sponsor of the Everglades Foundation’s “Barley Water Prize” that same year.

The financial ties from Knight to the Everglades Foundation raises serious questions about the objectivity of both Ramadan and the Palm Beach Post in “Black Snow,” the title of the Post’s report on cane burning practices that was a year in the making. The arrangement with the Knight Foundation and ProPublica appears to be a $75,000 quid pro quo payment in exchange for a hard-hitting story from Ramadan, on loan from the Post.

But the controversial links to the Everglades Foundation and its allies don’t end there. During the year-long reporting project, Ramadan and other Post colleagues were also provided with access to a proprietary contact management tool offered by a company with deep financial ties to Paul Tudor Jones, the billionaire founder of the Everglades Foundation.

During the course of her year-long effort to discredit the common practice of sugar cane burning immediately prior to harvest, Ramadan and her colleagues at the Post relied extensively on the contact management tool, called CityBase Screendoor, which bills itself as a way to “publish intuitive online forms” and provides the user with a dashboard to manage contacts, rate them and label them. Documents obtained by The Capitolist revealed that Ramadan specifically sought out people who were already “worried about air quality,” including people with existing breathing problems, to highlight them in her story, and she used the database management tool as a way to manage responses to a large scale, targeted outreach effort, including text messages sent to specific residents in communities surrounding some of the state’s largest sugar cane fields.

But while the tool may have been helpful to Ramadan and her Post colleagues, their use of it exposed the deeper ties to Jones and his activist organizations that have long opposed sugar farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Financial records show that CityBase is owned by a holding group named GTY Technology Holdings (GTYH). Tudor Investment Corp, owned by Jones, is one of three institutional investors that holds a substantial financial stake in the CityBase parent company. Based on SEC disclosures, the Tudor Investment Corp currently holds 33,332 call options in GTYH warrants.

IRS records also show that the Jones-founded and Jones-funded Everglades Foundation has invested heavily in the Sierra Club, which has been one of the most outspoken activist organizations against the practice of pre-harvest sugarcane burning. Since 2012, Jones’ foundation has contributed $785,000, and the Sierra Club is also a member of the “Everglades Coalition,” which includes other Everglades Foundation-funded groups like the Everglades Trust, Captains for Clean Water, Audubon, and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Neither the Palm Beach Post nor ProPublica has disclosed knowledge of the links to the anti-sugar activist groups uncovered in IRS reports prior to, or after publishing “Black Snow” and its related content.

14 Comments

  1. H. Fremont Bragg

    Someone has to keep the money grubbing republicans at bay or they’d pave over the entire state thanks to graft from developers.

    Reply
    • Newton Cook

      You do realize the plumbing we struggle with today was designed and constructed by Democrat administrations?

      Reply
      • David S

        totally correct and totally irrelevant. let’s just say both florida politics and our view of the environment have evolved dramatically over the past 100-plus years to make comparisons meaningless. for what it’s worth, it would not have mattered one wit if napoleon broward, his predecessors and successors, had called themselves republicans, the results would have been the same.

        Reply
  2. Bruce S

    Doubling down on a weak story doesn’t change the fact that it is a weak story. Until you can show that the reporting was fraudulent or somehow filled with errors, you are showing us a big, delicious nothing-burger. You realize that you are somehow defending burning cane fields and that that legacy practice doesn’t cause real problems for residents of the area when there are less harmful alternatives used by other cane operations. Please, give it up.

    Reply
    • Nancy Butler Smith

      Did the original story’s author give farmers a chance to explain what might be wrong with the alternative to burning? Did it explain why, in the whole of 2019-20, state officials haven’t got a single recorded resident complaint of cane burning? This is a story of journalism breaking trust with its readers.

      Reply
    • Brian Burgess

      Do you say the same thing when these same journalists publish stories about Republicans who take money from special interest groups? Of course not.
      Happens constantly because money = influence. It’s a legit news story. So is this.

      Reply
  3. John

    This is a total non-story. There are few newspapers in this country that are financially secure. With resources so few, it’s understandable why the Post accepted financial help from ProPublica in hiring a reporter. There is nothing dark or nefarious about news organizations working together to flesh out a story by consolidating resources. Maybe Mr. Burgess should be writing about the real story which is the Sugar Industry’s dismal environmental record in Florida rather than those trying to expose it.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Watching the Capitolist get its ire raised about anything regarding ethics and the press is hilarious. This paid and bought PR hack posing as a “journalist” is hilarious. “other documents obtained” just means that someone handed it to Brian with a likely ‘drafted language’ for a story.

    When you know the game, it is so transparent.

    Reply
  5. Brian Burgess

    I love these anonymous comments by journalists and environmental activists (but I repeat myself) trying to shoot holes in The Capitolist’s business model, all because we asked for a little bit of transparency from the Palm Beach Post – which claims to be a champion of it.

    The fact remains that the Palm Beach Post has not disclosed the original language in the grant application that won them $75,000 in funding.

    Their readers and the general public deserve to know exactly what was promised in exchange for that cash. It’s not like the old days where they did the journalism and let the chips fall where they may, and made their money on advertisers who were willing to pay because their journalism had an audience.

    These days, investigative journalism is funded by wealthy donors with a political agenda making grant money available in exchange for storylines those funders actually like.

    And today, I pointed that out, and created a media firestorm with so-called objective journalists coming out of the woodwork to defend that broken model.

    Why? Because that’s where their bread is buttered, and they know it.

    Reply
    • Bruce S

      “These days, investigative journalism is funded by wealthy donors with a political agenda making grant money available in exchange for storylines those funders actually like.” When you do a piece on the production of one of the funding arms of, say, the many-tentacled Koch/Americans for Prosperity affiliates that fund conservative research, media outlets, think-tanks, etc., let me know. In the meantime, you have yet to explain how the PBPost/ProPublica reporting was inaccurate, or that burning cane fields is not health hazardous. Questioning the funding rather than the content is still a nothing-burger.

      Reply
      • Brian Burgess

        What a joke. There’s plenty of left-leaning legacy newspapers constantly churning out that stuff. And some of it is actually decent and relevant. We focus on exposing so-called “objective” media and how it is increasingly funded by left leaning political interests. When newspapers claim to be objective and then lie or hide the true source of funding or influence, that’s what needs to be exposed.

        And that’s exactly what this story is all about.

        Reply
  6. Anonymous

    This reporter was bought and paid, with permission from and full knowledge of the Palm Beach Post. So, if I pay them $75,000, they will print whatever I want, true or false, slanted or political? That is called Propaganda! It doesn’t matter what the story is, it is WRONG to do this. This is how Hitler convinced people to commit atrocities against other humans. It is how Venezuela swiftly went from being a prominent country to people eating out of garbage cans. How Cuba, overnight, had a Dictator. The people keep in line or they are “disappeared!” Once you lose your rights, you never get them back.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Bro you really don’t know anything but i applaud your enthusiasm. Please just read some more.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous

    And who paid for you to post this garbage?

    Reply

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