When Vision Vancouver came to power in 2008, the biggest campaign finance donors were Renewal Partners and Strategic Communications, a public relations firm that has called itself a "partner" of Renewal Partners. Together, they contributed $188,062, even more than given by Vancouver's biggest real estate developers. That's a lot of cash.
Renewal Partners says that it has invested in "over 75 companies." Of those, I could only find information about 24 of them. I have asked Joel Solomon to provide information about the other 50 companies but have received no reply.
One of the showcase companies in which Renewal Partners says that it invested, is Happy Planet, the fruit juice company which Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson ran before his extraordinary career transition from Cortes Island and organic farming to politics.
Renewal Partners calls itself "an independent investment company operating under the Renewal group," and is intertwined somehow with the Endswell Foundation ("Endswell") a registered charity that says that it also operates under the Renewal group, whatever that is.
According to Endswell, it was the largest B.C.-based donor to environmental causes during the 1990s.
The president of Renewal Partners is Joel Solomon, a central figure in a well-funded, tightly knit web of green groups funded by the U.S. Tides Foundation ("Tides USA") and its counter-part, Tides Canada. Solomon is a long-time director and former chair of Tides USA. He is also the vice-chair of Tides Canada and the current treasurer of Endswell.
Solomon says that he co-founded Endswell with Carol Newell, a friend and heiress to the Rubbermaid fortune, shown to the right in a cover story of Shared Vision magazine. In 2007, Newell was awarded the Order of Canada for having "placed" $60 million towards various unspecified environmental and social causes. Tides Canada says that Newell was its founder.
Joel Solomon has been described by Vancouver media as "a millionaire philanthropist" and "a modest version of the later generations of the Kennedy/Rothschild/Rockefeller class." But U.S. tax returns tell a somewhat different story.
Since 1997, Endswell reports $1.2 million in contributions from Carol Newell - a far cry from $60 million - but not one cent from Mr. Solomon, according to U.S. tax returns. In fact, Joel Solomon has been on Endswell's payroll over a span of 14 years during which time has been paid the handsome sum of $979,527, tax returns say. Of that, nearly $600,000 was paid between 2006 and 2009. In my opinion, this raises a fair question: What kind of "millionaire philanthropist" pays himself a million bucks out of a charity that supposedly he co-founded?
Solomon isn't the only person who has been on Endswell's payroll for years. In fact, all of the senior staff at Renewal Partners were paid by Endswell - to the tune of $2.3 million (2004 - 2009), tax returns show. What kind of "investment firm" has its staff salaries paid for by a charity?
In 2009, a person by the name of Carol Newell was paid $49,921 as secretary.
In several cases, the salaries paid by Endswell increased sharply. For example:
- Between 2006 and 2008, Joel Solomon's compensation seems to have increased from $50,203 to $186,189 in 2008. According to my calculations, Joel Solomon was paid $979,527 by Endswell, including amounts paid to "JSCO."
- In one year, from 2007 to 2008, Martha Burton's salary doubled from $72,036 to $135,325.
All of this raises questions about Endswell and also about Vision Vancouver's biggest funder when it came to power in 2008. Is Renewal Partners a charity-subsidized "investment firm?" Or part and parcel of Endswell?
Charities are not allowed to support political parties. That's against the rules.
ENDSWELL NOW CLOSED
Interestingly enough, Endswell's doors are now closed. "Endswell’s grant-making era is now complete," the foundation says at its web-site. Total expenditures in 2010 were only $12,710 and didn't include any salaries.
I would have thought that Renewal Partners, an "investment firm," would pay its own staff directly. If so, then why are they paid by the Endswell Foundation? Is this in addition to the salaries that they receive at Renewal Partners? Or are these the only salaries that these individuals receive for their work at both the investment firm and the charity? Joel Solomon and Martha Burton have been asked these questions in a series of letters sent since early July of 2010. So far, no reply.
Note: Archives for the web-site of Renewal Partners indicate that Martha Burton has been listed as staff of Renewal Partners since 23 December 2003, or perhaps earlier. Paul Richardson is listed on staff since at least 29 December 2004. Pam Chalout is listed as staff at Renewal Partners from 23 December 2007 onwards. Ms. Chalout is a former employee of the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation.
Updated Nov. 12, 2011
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Below, here are the excerpts of U.S. tax returns on which the calculations presented here, are based.