The Billionaire Boys Club

A July 30, 2014 U.S. Senate report has a segment featuring my home town of Charlottesville, Virginia, although it might not be immediately evident. The U. S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued its Minority Staff Report: “The Chain of Environmental Command…How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” in which they name the Charlottesville, Virginia advocacy group, Virginia Organizing (VO), as one of their case-history examples.

In part, the Senate  report notes:

“Virginia Organizing claims to be a ‘statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect their lives’ yet money funneled into the organization comes from wealthy donors across the country and money disbursed by the organization extends well outside Virginia. Its Executive Director is Joe Szakos, a well-known community organizer with connections to the Obama Administration.  Before establishing Virginia Organizing in 1995, he was the coordinator of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and has written two books, “We Make Change” and “Lessons from the Field,” which is required reading for students in community organizing courses, along with Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”286 His wife, Kristin Szakos, is a local politician and prominent supporter of President Obama…”

It continues:

“Virginia Organizing is remarkable because the supposedly humble grassroots group receives millions in donations from major foundations – primarily the Marisla Foundation, which gave nearly $1.3 million from 2010 to 2012 and Sea Change, which donated $600,000 in 2010 and 2011.289 They have also received hefty funding from the Tides Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Park Foundation, as well as others. Additionally, they have established more than two dozen fiscal sponsorships, which they dub ‘partners’ on their website and filings. One of their sponsored charities is Environmental Health News (EHN), which claims to be an independent, nonprofit news organization founded in 2002. Nowhere on its website is the relationship with Virginia Organizing advertised, and it is only disclosed on the donation page, where they instruct potential donors to make checks payable to Virginia Organizing.”

EHN is also located in Charlottesville, VA.

The report notes:

“EHN has been generously supported by members of the EGA (Environmental Grantmakers Association), as it has received $675,000 from Marisla between 2010 and 2012 and also lists grants from the Heinz Endowments, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.291 Their support from the Billionaire’s Club might be linked to EHN’s founder, Pete Myers, who served as director at the W. Alton Jones Foundation and is a trustee for the Jennifer Altman Foundation, which is believed to be a member of EGA. He also serves as a board chair of the Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. Their support from the Billionaire’s Club might be linked to EHN’s founder, Pete Myers, who served as director at the W. Alton Jones Foundation and is a trustee for the Jennifer Altman Foundation...”

The report concludes: “Accordingly, a group that represents itself as a small community based organization is actually led by significant power brokers in the far-left environmental community and is heavily funded by the Billionaire’s Club.”

Who knew? Not the local politicians who saw fit to give $4,000 of taxpayer money (down from a requested $13,500) to VO in the FY13/14 budget.  Apparently VO’s multimillion dollar budget sustained by major donations was not enough to prevent it from reaching into the local taxpayers’ pockets for $13,500 more. Only when confronted by local grassroots push-back were the funds  later reallocated to the Community Action on Obesity Health Department, one of VO’s supported groups, and finally to the more neutral Thomas Jefferson  Health Department.

We here are apparently part of “The Billionaires Club,” whether we like it or not.  


Charles Battig, MD , Piedmont Chapter president, VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE). His website is