Last summer, while I was trying to figure out who is funding the environmental movement, I happened to notice a curious name: "Interdependent Investments Ltd." Days later, I noticed the same name in the Vancouver Sun's database for municipal election campaign finance. In 2008, Interdependent Investments Ltd. had made a modest contribution ($5,000) to Vision Vancouver, the municipal political party of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. That's what got me started.
Over the past year, I've looked into the campaign finance of Mayor Robertson and his political party, Vision Vancouver, and I've written a series of letters to Mayor Robertson to try to inquire about campaign funding from a several "investment firms" and P.R. companies that are affiliated in various ways with two registered charities: the Endswell Foundation and Tides Canada.
Mayor Gregor Robertson is no stranger to Tides Canada. In fact, he was a Tides Canada director from 2002 until 2004 when he entered politics with the NDP. The treasurer of Vision Vancouver, Martha Burton, also has a long history as a senior advisor to Tides Canada. Mike Magee, the Chief of Staff at Vancouver City Hall, was also a senior advisor to Tides Canada (2002 to 2007).
In all, I have questions about a total of $411,703 in campaign finance that Gregor Robertson has received from various Tides-affiliated sources on his path to power with the NDP and most recently, with Vision Vancouver.
When Vision Vancouver came to power, 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 is also an investor behind Happy Planet, Robertson's fruit juice company which he 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. In fact, Renewal Partners and Endswell are so intimate, they share a web-site and staff. 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. What has never been publicly said, to the best of my knowledge, is whether the $60 million that Newell's "placed" is from her personal wealth or whether she "placed" that money on behalf others, and if so, who?
Endswell, like Tides Canada, is federally registered in both Canada and the U.S., and files tax returns in both countries. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service requires greater disclosure than the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) so, ironically, the way to learn about these Canadian charities is through their U.S. tax returns.
Who Is Joel Solomon?
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?
Incidentally, a person by the name of Carol Newell was paid $49,921 as secretary.
Joel Solomon personally contributed a reported $9,040 to Mayor Gregor's 2008 campaign and was one of Robertson's biggest financial backers. But it wasn't always that way. Back in 2005 when Robertson ran as M.L.A. with the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP), Solomon didn't contribute a single penny, not according to Gregor Robertson's NDP Financing Report. Renewal Partners contributed a mere $680. So, how did Joel Solomon and Renewal Partners manage to dramatically scale up their contributions as Gregor Robertson went from the NDP to Vision Vancouver?
One of the things about Endswell that seems most peculiar to me is that Endswell has had what appears to me to be unusually high overhead. In fact, over the past ten years, Endswell appears to me to have spent about $100,000 more on overhead than on grants.
Over the same years (2003-2009) that Endswell granted $8.7 million to Tides Canada, Endswell reported $11.4 million in overhead expenses (office expenses, staff and consultants and "other expenses," whatever that means). Why did Endswell need to spend $11.4 million in order to grant $8.7 million to Tides Canada? This is what I have referred to as the $11.4 million dollar question.
From 2003 to 2008, Endswell's annual office expenses increased four-fold from about $172,000 to $765,000. Why did Endswell even need an office during all those years when its grant-making consisted solely of transferring money to Tides Canada?
On a yearly basis, Endswell's staff costs increased sharply from about $174,000 to $606,000. When the staff at Endswell, a grant-making foundation, weren't making any grants except to Tides Canada, what were the staff doing? Were they working at Renewal Partners?
Between 1999 and 2008, Endswell paid about $200,000 annually for grantee support and education, and program support, whatever that is. Then, suddenly, Endswell's payments for program support jumped from $32,973 in 2008 to $903,840, tax returns show. What is the program that Endswell supported at a cost of $903,840 in 2009 - the year before Endswell shut down?
Since 2000, Endswell's assets have plummeted from $26 million to a mere $197,000. Over the same period, the assets of Tides Canada have gone from $2 million to $39 million. This leads me to wonder whether the money that Endswell granted to Tides Canada was actually re-granted to other organizations, or was it added Tides Canada's nest egg of assets?
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.
Beyond Renewal Partners, I also have questions about the $6,000 that Vision Vancouver received from Interdependent Investments Ltd. (II Ltd.), another "investment firm" where Joel Solomon and Martha Burton, the treasurer of Vision Vancouver, have been the only two directors, according to company records. The only source of revenue that I can find for II Ltd. is Endswell which paid II Ltd. $1.3 million since 2004, tax returns show.
In an exchange of letters earlier this year, Tides Canada's lawyer stated, "No funds or support whatsoever have been given by Tides Canada to any political party or candidate for public office." That's no surprise to me, that would be too obvious. My question is whether Vision Vancouver has been funded indirectly through a series of intermediaries. And if so, what's in it for them?
If Mayor Robertson is confident that none of his campaign finance originated from a registered charity, surely he could say so. He hasn't. In response to a series of letters sent over the past year, the mayor replied, merely, "Your letter is asking several questions about business matters of third parties." The campaign finance of the political party of which Mayor Robertson is the leader is hardly what I would call a business matter of a third party to the mayor.
As the leader of Vision Vancouver, if Mayor Robertson has any doubts that some of Visioin's campaign finance that has been attributed to Renewal Partners, Interdependent Investments Ltd. or other sources may, in fact, have originated indirectly from the Endswell Foundation, a registered charity, then he should investigate. Or, the Canadian Revenue Agency should.
See also: Why this matters
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