- Assets: $729,263,381 (2009)
- Grants Received: $1,237,264 (2009)
- Grants Awarded: $31,188,924 (2009)
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) was incorporated in New York in 1940 as a vehicle through which the five sons (John D. 3rd, Winthrop, Laurance, David, and Nelson) and one daughter (Abby) of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. could combine their philanthropic efforts for greater effect. RBF's endowment came mostly from a substantial gift by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1951, and from a large bequest from his estate in 1960. On July 1, 1999, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation of Stamford, Connecticut merged with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, increasing RBF's assets to about $670 million at the time.
The current Chairman of RBF is Steven C. Rockefeller, who drafted the Earth Charter for the Earth Charter Commission and Earth Council. Blaming capitalism for many of the world's environmental, social, and economic ills, this document laments that "the dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species.” "The benefits of development are not shared equitably," adds the Charter, "and the gap between rich and poor is widening."
The President of RBF is Stephen B. Heintz, who is also the former Chief of Staff to Senator Joseph Lieberman. Other current and recent Trustees are third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation family members -- David Rockefeller, Jr., Richard Rockefeller, Valerie B. Rockefeller, Laurence S. Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, and Catharine O'Broderick.
RBF presently concentrates its “cross-programmatic grantmaking attention” on four “pivotal places” whose “future will have disproportionate significance for the future of a surrounding region, an ecosystem, or, indeed, the globe.” These locations are New York City, South Africa, Serbia/Montenegro, and southern China.
RBF's grant-making is divided into four major categories:
(a) Peace and Security Program: Seeking to foster "greater understanding between Muslim and Western Societies," this program states: "The tensions that currently characterize this relationship [between Islam and the West] seem to be rooted, at least in part, in profound misunderstanding and lack of communication." RBF places responsibility for this disharmony largely on the United States: "At the start of the 21st century and in the wake of September 11, 2001, there exists a pressing need to examine the content, style, and tone of U.S. global engagement and to ensure that they reflect an understanding of the reality and implications of increasing global interdependence. ... U.S. missteps or inaction can hinder, halt, or reverse international progress on numerous threats to security and well-being.” According to RBF, America must increase its “efforts to ensure that [its] policies and behaviors reflect an understanding of the complexity and diversity of Muslim societies and contribute to mutually respectful, productive relations with those societies.”
No mention is made of Muslim nations' responsibility to reciprocate in kind; nor is there any reference to the radical Islamic movements that have declared open war against the West.
(b) Human Advancement Program (HAP): Reasoning from the premise that America is a nation in need of dramatic reform, this program is committed to fostering “systemic social change” that will "enhance the lives and promote the well-being of individuals and ... conserve ecosystems.” Through its Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color, HAP "assists outstanding students of color ... to pursue graduate studies and begin teaching in public schools." HAP also seeks to eradicate infectious diseases from its target areas, most notably the AIDS/HIV pandemic in South Africa.
(c) Sustainable Development Program: Alleging that human industrial activity causes global warming, the depletion of essential resources, the loss of biodiversity, and the "degradation of Earth's life support systems," this program supports "environmental stewardship that is ecologically based, economically sound, socially just, culturally appropriate, and consistent with intergenerational equity." Its funding is directed toward a host of environmentalist organizations that view capitalism as inherently harmful to the natural world, and that seek to curtail or cripple such industries as logging, mining, fishing, and farming.
(d) Democratic Practice Program: According to this program, the United States is plagued by "a decline in many forms of traditional civic engagement, including youth civic engagement; reduced participation in the formal institutions of democracy, including but not limited to voting; and declining trust in all institutions, especially institutions of government." Moreover, says the program, "American society is becoming increasingly polarized. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and residential patterns reinforce separation along economic lines. … [T]he negative impacts of these democratic deficits and social divisions are particularly acute among young people, especially low-income youth and youth of color."
RBF Pushes to Derail the Keystone Pipeline Project:
In February 2012, the Canadian news channel Sun News uncovered a 2008 PowerPoint presentation by RBF that laid bare its strategy of funding a host of environmental groups to thwart the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- a project for which President Obama had recently denied a permit -- as well as other development initiatives that the Fund considered to be “globally significant threat[s].” According to investigative reporter Lachlan Markay, the 2008 presentation “describes the allocation of $7 million to environmental non-profits for tactics that include the use of the legislative and legal systems to delay or derail energy production in the United States and Canada, and to ‘raise the costs’ of energy in both nations.” The Daily Caller reported that RBF program officer Michael Northrop had also pushed for thwarting the Keystone project, as had the representatives of several environmental groups, among them Corporate Ethics International, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pembina Institute (a Canadian activist group). Together, these groups would emerge at the forefront of an alarmist scare-campaign that ultimately led to Keystone’s cancellation.
Tax records examined by the Daily Caller show that between 2007 and 2010, RBF gave $1.25 million to Portland, Oregon-based Corporate Ethics International, an environmental group whose declared mission is to bring corporations “under the control of the citizenry.” A description of the grant by RBF says that the money was intended “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands-derived fuels in the United States,” a reference to the Keystone pipeline, which would have transported oil from the tar sands near Alberta, Canada, to the U.S Gulf Coast. To prevent that from happening, in July 2010 Corporate Ethics International began a campaign urging American and British visitors to steer clear of Alberta during their travels as long as tar sands exploration was in progress. Given that Alberta’s tourism industry generates $5 billion in annual revenues, the anti-Keystone campaign targeted the lifeblood of the province.
The campaign was backed by another RBF grantee, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which used its immense financial clout to cast the Keystone project as a disaster in waiting. For instance, a March 2011 NRDC issue paper claimed that “the proposed pipeline presents serious environmental and health risks” and warned that it would be a threat to freshwater supplies in the American heartland. By November of 2011, President Obama was reciting the NRDC’s claims virtually verbatim. In so doing, he was contradicting the findings of his own State Department, which after an exhaustive review of the Keystone project had concluded in August of 2011 that the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on land and water sources on its route. In the event, NRDC proved more influential than the State Department.
While the NRDC ratcheted up the rhetoric of environmental calamity in the U.S., RBF funds helped other environmental groups make the same apocalyptic appeal in Canada. Thus one recipient of those funds was the Vancouver, British Columbia-based environmental non-profit known as the Pembina Institute. The goal of the RBF funds was to “prevent the development of a pipeline and tanker port that endangers the Great Bear Rainforest protected area.” Accordingly, Pembina warned of “disastrous health and safety impacts of unfettered, weakly regulated, and weakly monitored oilsands development.” The Pembina Institute also partnered with NRDC to release a report claiming that bitumen from the oilsands is more corrosive and heavier than conventional oil, thus making a pipeline failure or tanker leak more likely.
As with much of the environmental opposition to Keystone, this claim drew significant press attention. Yet it was scientifically dubious. A November 2011 review of the existing research on bitumen corrosiveness by Alberta Innovates, an Alberta governmental agency, found that in fact bitumen oil’s characteristics “are not unique and are comparable to conventional crude oils during pipeline flow.” Moreover, the report found, the historic data showed that the internal corrosion and failure rate of a pipeline transferring bitumen oil was “statistically comparable” to conventional oil.
If these facts failed to register on the media’s radar, RBF-funded groups were a major reason why. Yet another group fueled by the RBF cash was the so-called Sustainable Markets Foundation (SMF). In 2010, RBF gave SMF a $100,000 grant for its 350.org program, whose purpose was to put pressure on the Obama administration to oppose the Keystone pipeline. In a direct appeal to the President, the group claimed that the “sands represent a catastrophic threat to our communities, our climate, and our planet” and demanded that Obama reject the permit. When Obama ultimately did reject it, 350.org claimed victory, declaring on its website: “After relentless campaigning, the Keystone XL pipeline has been effectively killed!”
Other RBF Funding Priorities and Affiliations:
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is heavily involved in financing anti-globalization efforts to eliminate free trade and subvert the free-market, private enterprise system. “The global spread of multinational corporations," says RBF, "further challenges the ability of nations to protect their common wealth and their citizens from the negative consequences of irresponsible corporate behavior."
RBF is a member organization of the Peace and Security Funders Group, an unincorporated association of foundations that support anti-war and environmentalist causes
Among the organizations funded by RBF are: Alliance for Justice; Amnesty International; the Aspen Institute; the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN); the Brennan Center for Justice; the Brookings Institution; the Center for Economic and Policy Research; the Council on Foundations; the David Suzuki Foundation; the Earth Day Network; the Earth Island Institute; Earth Share; the Environmental Defense Fund; the Environmental Media Services; the Environmental Working Group; Friends of the Earth; Global Justice, Inc.; Greenpeace; Human Rights Watch; the Institute for Policy Studies; the Izaak Walton League of America; the League of Conservation Voters; the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; National Public Radio; the National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Defense Council; the Nature Conservancy; the New America Foundation; Oxfam America; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Planned Parenthood; the Ploughshares Fund; Public Broadcasting Service; Public Citizen; the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Rainforest Action Network; the Rainforest Alliance; the Rockefeller Family Fund; the Sentencing Project; the Sierra Club; TechRocks; the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center; the Union of Concerned Scientists; the United Nations Foundation; the Urban Institute; the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund; the Waterkeeper Alliance; the Wilderness Society; the World Resources Institute; the World Social Forum; and the World Wildlife Fund.
To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, click here.
 The section dealing with RBF's role in derailing the Keystone pipeline project is adapted from "How the Rockefeller Fund Killed Keystone," by Jacob Laksin (February 22, 2012).
(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)