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.