Following the Money Difficult in Ecuador Lawsuit
Ask any investigative reporter how best to get to the heart of any controversial issue, and he’ll say, “Follow the money.” Doing that has been difficult, however, when it comes to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the nonprofit organization behind a pending $27 billion environmental lawsuit against Chevron Corporation in Ecuador.
For more than a month now, I’ve attempted to “follow the money” by asking questions about the ADC’s status as a nonprofit group. My efforts began with an April 26 e-mail to Karen Hinton, ADC’s hired-gun public relations person, in which I asked for a copy of the ADC’s IRS Form 990. In response to that request, Hinton said, “The nonprofit is based in Ecuador. There is no form,” and added later, “You are the first person to ask.”
How did I know to ask for a copy of the group’s 990? While serving for several years as the top communications executive for a U.S. nonprofit that operated in 22 states at one point, I was responsible for compiling much of the information submitted by my organization each year to the federal government via the 990.
In the world of 501(c)3 organizations, the 990 serves as a sort of report card upon which many individuals and corporations base their philanthropic decisions. Among other things, it reveals income and expense figures, information about key employees and board members, and information about top donors.
The fact that ADC was formed outside of the United States raises serious concerns in my mind: Could it be that, by forming their nonprofit in Ecuador, ADC officials were hoping to shield themselves from much of the public and media scrutiny under which they would have found themselves and their organization had they formed the nonprofit in the United States?
My quest continued May 4 when I raised the subject of ADC’s accountability once again in an e-mail to Hinton:
“You were going to find out if ADC is accountable to any government agency or NGO in Ecuador and you were going to find out if ADC produces any kind of annual document comparable to the IRS Form 990 in terms of listing the organization’s income sources (i.e., donations received, grant money received, gifts in kind, etc.), expenditures (i.e., payroll, lobbyists, legal, public relations, etc.), etc? When might I expect this information?”
Hinton replied the same day:
“Bob, I am working on the ADC questions. We have been so busy with the ‘60 Minutes’ piece and other issues that I have not bothered people on this, but I will.” She added, “The entire lawsuit and its cost is funded by the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn & Swift.”
A group of trial lawyers in Philadelphia is behind the lawsuit, not a group of 30,000 indigenous Ecuadoran people as claimed in Hinton’s non-stop “spin” efforts? Interesting to say the least.
On May 6, Hinton forwarded more background information about ADC, known in Ecuador as Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía. In response, I repeated my original request:
Can you get me a copy of the most-recent documents the 501(c)3-like organization, Frente, has filed with whatever governmental or nongovernmental body exists in Ecuador to monitor such organizations? That’s what I really want.
Finally, on May 11, Hinton sent me the first three of 14 pages — 1, 2 and 3 — which she claims represent the Ecuadoran equivalent of a 501(c)3. In Spanish. Three days later, she sent some additional pages — 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 – of the documents. Sadly, pages 4, 5, 6, 7, 13 and 14 remain a mystery (i.e., I did not receive them). “Why?” I wonder.
This morning, I made yet another request to Hinton for the missing pages. In addition, I filed a similar request with the Ecuadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C. Why? Because Americans deserve to know more about the people behind the lawsuit, how they’ve raised money (if any) and how they’ve spent money to advance the lawsuit.
As soon as I receive more information, I will share appropriate portions of it in this space.
Meanwhile, if you read Spanish and are so inclined, I would appreciate you translating the documents I have received to date. Please forward the translated documents to me at BobMcCartyWrites (at) gmail (dot) com.
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See also: To learn more about the ADC’s spurious lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador, read the Bob McCarty Writes posts found here.