I began researching NFWF in a 1995 report on Big Green's federally funded trial lawyers,
"Feeding at the Trough" ( www.undueinfluence.com/feeding-at-the-trough.pdf ).
NFWF's origins are bizarre: Congress created it as a nonprofit corporation in 1984, specifying that it "is not an agency or establishment of the United States Government." President Reagan denounced that double talk when he reluctantly signed the bill, writing, "Entities which are neither clearly governmental nor clearly private should not be created."
The intent for NFWF was to develop private sector support for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a government agency. This perverse purpose allows a well-connected private elite - originally including timber heiress Nancy Weyerhaeuser, oil billionaire Caroline Getty, and now hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones - to carve out government funds, solicit limitless private funds, and funnel the cash to whom they please, including $25,000 to Nancy Weyerhaeuser's son Rick for an anti-logging project he ran in Montana - and $23,500 to a Planned Parenthood-type group in Rajasthan, India, for population control near Ranthambhore National Park.
As it grew, NFWF created one horror story after another. It gave $89,748 to the Grand Canyon Trust, which filed suit and shut down the coal-fired Mojave Power Plant in Laughlin, Nev., and cost 200 Navajo miners their high-paying jobs at the Black Mesa coal mine that supplied the plant.
NFWF gave nearly $442,000 to the National Wildlife Federation and in return got a lawsuit to divert water from generating electricity in Pacific Northwest power dams - and spill it for migrating salmon. The suit now threatens to remove four vital hydroelectric dams on the Snake River. Another NFWF recipient, American Rivers ($296,700), is also a party to the suit, which is still in court.
The list goes on and on, lawsuits against fisheries, agriculture, energy, construction, manufacturing, the whole economy. NFWF claims that grantee lawsuits do not use federal money. After examining the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 reports of major litigious NFWF recipients, I found no separate segregated accounts for lawsuits - you can't tell federal money from private - making NFWF's claims appear disingenuous at best.
NFWF's original $100,000 "one-time seed money" appropriation has bloated to $53 million in 2009, exactly what Reagan feared when he famously muttered, "The definition of immortality is a government program."
Even though NFWF's wealthy directors should be ideal fundraisers, two-thirds of its income is routinely taxpayer money, and now the Obama administration wants to give it more millions of federal dollars that we don't have.
House appropriators tried to cut NFWF's taxpayer umbilical in 1996. Immediately, a Byzantine cabal of Big Green leaders and hired lobbyists materialized, somehow convincing the appropriators to lay off. Reagan should have added, "Environmental funding is forever."
Last week, a gutsy congressman tried again. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee's Power and Water Subcommittee, introduced an amendment to the House's $1.2 trillion continuing resolution bill to permanently defund NFWF.
Once again, Big Green sent out its minions, and McClintock's amendment failed on a voice vote.
That shouldn't be the end of it. We need congressional hearings to stop feeding taxpayer money into NFWF's funnel. And we need elected officials with the fortitude to instruct the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's insatiable billionaires to stop feeding at the trough.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.