SPECIAL REPORT: Prop 23 foes look to Bently Reserve for cash flood

In the race to pass Proposition 23 — the effort to roll back California’s landmark and sweeping global warming regulations this November — some of the biggest decisions in the race are being made in a place called the Bently Reserve.

Located in San Francisco’s Financial District, Bently Reserve’s stately three-story columns support a variety of meetings, conferences and social events. The fifth floor holds the headquarters of three environmental nonprofits with the financial weight to match, or even exceed, money moving into the race from Big Oil.

Given the most recent statements, the pro-Prop 23 group — the California Jobs Initiative Committee — is ahead in fundraising, though not by much. So far, that committee has raked in about $2.15 million, while No on 23 has so far collected $2.10 million.

For the Yes on Prop 23 camp, the vast majority of those contributions have come from two oil companies, Valero and Tesoro.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ll be outspent by the deep pockets of the oil companies,” said Steven Maviglio, spokesman for the anti-Prop 23 campaign. “Seventy-eight percent [of contributions to the California Jobs Initiative Committee] is directly from oil companies.”

Maviglio’s apparent certainty at being outspent is not necessarily true, especially given the opaque nature of much of the money that’s going into No on 23. No contribution better exemplifies this than the $500,000 check Green Tech Action Fund gave to No on 23 on March 31.

“Our goal is to spur big new markets for clean energy technologies — especially energy efficiency and renewable energy,” says Green Tech’s homepage. “These technologies deliver jobs and economic development, enhanced energy security, and big pollution reduction benefits.”

Eric Heitz, Green Tech’s president, said California’s global warming law was “important policy” and keeping it alive was “instrumental to making California a leader in the green technology space.”

Green Tech, headquartered on Bently Reserve’s fifth floor, is a 501(c)(4) — meaning its tax status allows it to carry out political actions. The organization’s 2008 tax form says it took in $2,375,000 in contributions and grants, which it then distributed to two other organizations: $1,675,000 to the League of Conservation Voters and $700,000 to the Sierra Club.

All of Green Tech’s $2.375 million in contributions came from a single benefactor, the  nonprofit 501(c)(3) Energy Foundation, also on Bently Reserve’s fifth floor. The Energy Foundation’s 2008 tax return states that it gave Green Tech the money “for the purpose of attempting to influence legislation aimed at reducing global greenhouse gases and promoting clean energy technologies and energy efficiency.”

The Energy Foundation’s 2008 tax returns list 17 donor foundations, each giving between $214,386 and $31 million. Some are well-known, like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif., ($26.8 million), Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia ($1 million) and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York ($312,257).

Others are less well-known, like Sea Change Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that donated $12 million and is on the fifth floor of Bently Reserve. “The Foundation’s initial focus is addressing the serious threats posed by global climate change,” according to its Web site.

Sea Change’s 2008 tax records show it’s funded by the Simons family — $2 million from Renaissance Technologies hedge fund founder James Simons in New York and $49 million from various Delaware trusts in the name of Nathaniel Simons, James’ son, who is also listed as the foundation’s unpaid president.

Then there’s the ClimateWorks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that donated $31.1 million to the Energy Foundation and has headquarters just a third of a mile away from Bently. Compared with the Bently Reserve tenants, ClimateWorks is a monster — $490 million in grants and contributions, according to its 2008 tax records.

All that $490 million came from three other nonprofit foundations: William and Flora Hewlett, David and Lucile Packard, and the McKnight Foundation. Among them, these three foundations also donated about $34 million to the Energy Foundation.

When asked if Green Tech planned to put more money into the race — and draw a bit more from the foundation coffers outlined above — Heitz paused.

“At this time, we do not,” he said.

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