Who is the Environmental Working Group (EWG)?
EWG is an environmental organization that specializes in environmental research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.
EWG is a non-profit organization (501(c)(3)) whose mission, according to their website, is “to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.” Their funding is from “private foundations, individuals and select corporations.”
EWG was founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles and is headquartered in Washington DC in the United States. They have not filed a tax return on the 501 c 3 since 2008, according to the 990 database Exempt World, which is a subscription service to track 990’s. Even though EWG is categorized as a charitable organization, it is still required to file a return under IRS codes and submit their “list of activities” to the IRS on an annual basis, even if they file an extension.
It is my personal opinion, based on our research here in D.C., that EWG is not just a humble “nonprofit research outfit,” as it is being described by the mainstream press. It is a savvy political animal funded by deep-pocketed foundations with a “big-government agenda”. And it is engaged in aggressive eco-lobbying that belies its image as an innocuous public charity dedicated to “educating” citizens. I am always suspicious of any organization whose major sources of funding are derived from special interest organizations in the form of grants. A consumer has to be very careful when evaluating the sources he or she uses to determine the efficacy of a product or a service. If an organization becomes too heavily vested in it’s grants to survive, it is also my opinion, misused as a vehicle to advance a perpetual message of gloom and doom in an effort to keep the grants rolling in rather than truly aiding the consumer.
For a comprehensive Report on EWG’s Political Activity, which was hand delivered to the IRS, please see this link at Undue Influence
EWG is formerly a project of the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center, operating with donor advised funds, which may be anonymous to hide the identity of the actual donor. EWG’s 1999 Form 990 Part IV shows a continuing relationship with the Tides Center as a “supported organization.” EWG uses huge foundation grants to spread anti-industry messages in an attempt to shape public opinion against corporations and capitalism. In 1992, EWG formed the Clearinghouse for Environmental Research and Advocacy to smear and destroy the wise use movement.
History: Although Ken Cook told the New York Times that EWG was started in 1993 (“Web Site Helped Change Farm Policy,” February 24, 2002, by Elizabeth Becker), in fact it began receiving foundation grants in 1989. At that time EWG was not incorporated and received grants through the IRS tax exemption of the Island Press, a small Washington, DC-based environmental book publisher created in 1979 by Mellon heiress Catherine Conover. In 1984, Island Press was reorganized as the Center for Resource Economics / Island Press.
From 1989 to 1993, Ken Cook was vice president for policy of the Center for Resource Economics, and operated EWG with $5 million in grants from 17 foundations variously directed to EWG, EWG/Island Press, and Tides Foundation/EWG. From 1991 to 1993, Richard Wiles was executive director of Environmental Exchange, a small ($350,000 annual budget) Washington, DC organization.
In 1993 EWG went under the umbrella of the Tides Foundation. Tides founder Drummond Pike was and remains a member of the Center for Resource Economics’ board of directors (treasurer), as well as a board member of EWG. Catherine Conover was and remains a director of the Center for Resource Economics and one of the largest donors to Pike’s Tides organizations. EWG was transferred to the newly-created Tides Center during a 1990s reorganization.
EWG emerged from the Tides umbrella in 1999 and incorporated in Washington, DC. They have received 93 Major Grants since 1989 totaling more than $20 million.
NOTE: The Environmental Working Group website and publications do not reveal their funding source amounts, nor do their IRS Form 990 annual reports. The data below were obtained from private subscription-only databases of the Foundation Center. THIS INFORMATION WAS NOT PROVIDED BY ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP.
As per federally filed lobbyist reports, EWG hires itself as its own lobbyist and has paid itself $309,514.00 in lobby fees since 2007. On the reports, Jason Rano, Bobbie Manning and Sandra Schubert are listed as the lobbyists per se, but we cannot locate any of these individuals as federally registered lobbyists in D.C. You are required to register by law if you lobby in D.C. for any organization. Of note is named EWG lobbyist Carolyn Brickey. She is only listed as serving as an uncompensated lobbyist for The Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent nonprofit, which is the sole beneficiary of seven individual charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.
Board of Directors for EWG:
- David Baker: Founder and executive director of Community Against Pollution (CAP). David is also a member of the NAACP and the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists.
- Rev. Sally Bingham: Environmental Minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. She is the founder and executive director of The Regeneration Project, a nonprofit ministry deepening the connection between faith and the environment.
- Sandy Buchanan: Executive director of Ohio Citizen Action
- Ken Cook: Co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group.
- Steven Damato: H as been involved in the organic agriculture and food industry for the past thirty years. He is an active partner in Changing Seas, LLC, a seafood company dedicated to sustainable and organic seafood.
- Laura Turner Seydel: A national environmental activist and eco-living expert.
- Drummond Pike: (Chair) is the founder and chief executive officer of Tides Network.
- Perry Wallace: Is a tenured Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law of the American University, where he teaches corporate, environmental and international law.
- Pete Myers: Is CEO and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences.
- Meredith Wingate: Is a Program Officer in the Power Utilities Program at the Energy Foundation since 2008. She co-manages the Foundation’s grants portfolio in the areas of utility energy efficiency and opposition to new unabated coal fired power plants.
- Alicia Wittink: Is a trustee with the Park Foundation based in Ithaca, NY. She is a co-founder of DC EcoWomen’s Hour.
EWG Management Team
- Ken Cook – President
- Chris Campbell – VP for Information Technology
- Craig Cox – Senior VP for Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Alex Formuzis – VP for Media Relations
- Jane Houlihan – Senior VP for Research
- Jocelyn Lyle – Director of Development
- Scott Mallan – VP, Finance & Chief Operating Officer
- Renee Sharp – Director, CA Office & Senior Scientist
- Heather White – Chief of Staff and General Counsel
- Richard Wiles – Senior VP for Policy and Communications
- Chuq Yang – Director of Technology
- Bill Allayaud – California Director of Governmental Affairs
- Dave Andrews, Ph.D. – Senior Scientist
- Claudia Arango – Development Associate
- Leeann Brown – Press Associate
- Nils Bruzelius – Executive Editor
- Don Peterson Carr – Senior Communications and Policy Advisor
- Dean Clark – Web Designer/Developer
- David Degennaro – Legislative and Policy Analyst
- Lisa Frack – Social Media Manager
- Sean Gray, M.S. – Senior Analyst
- Kari Hamerschlag – Senior Analyst
- Dusty Horwitt, J.D. – Senior Counsel
- Andrew Hug – Analyst
- Colleen Hutchings – Email Marketing Manager
- Anila Jacob, M.D. – Senior Scientist
- Nneka Leiba, M.Phil., MPH – Environmental Health Researcher
- Brett Lorenzen – Mississippi River Project Coordinator
- Sonya Lunder – Senior Analyst
- Bobbie Manning – Environmental Health Outreach Coordinator
- Morgan Maurer – Administrative Assistant
- Olga Naidenko, Ph. D. – Senior Scientist
- Jason Rano – Legislative Analyst
- Amy Rosenthal – Individual Donor Fundraising & Outreach Manager
- Elaine Shannon – Editor-in-chief
- Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. – Senior Scientist
- Lindsay Talley – Administrative Assistant & Secretary
- Tolga Yalniz – Web Designer/Developer
- Susanne Fleek (in-house)
- Anne Keys, (in-house), former Clinton Administration Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Carolyn Brickley (consultant)
ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP
1436 U ST NW STE 100
WASHINGTON, DC 20009-3987
- Asset Amount: $5,413,190
- Income Amount: $8,652,806
- Form 990 Revenue Amount: $6,242,570
- Employer Identification Number: 52-2148600 (nine digit number assigned by the IRS to identify a company)
- Ruling Date: 06/1999 (the month and year of a ruling or determination letter recognizing the organization’s exempt status)
- In Care Of Name: N/R (the officer, director, etc. to whose attention any correspondence should be directed)
- Classification: Charitable Organization (category under which an organization may be tax exempt)
- Filing Requirement: Form 990 – (all other) or 990EZ return (the primary return(s) the organization is required to file)
- Taxonomy: Energy Resources Conservation and Development (classifies an exempt Internal Revenue Code 501 (c)(3) organization)
- Secondary Name: N/R (another name under which this nonprofit organization does business. Also used for trade names, chapter names, or local numbers for subordinate organizations of group rulings)
- Affiliation: (defines the organizational grouping). This organization is an independent organization or an independent auxiliary (i.e., not affiliated with a National, Regional, or Geographic grouping of organizations).
- Deductibility Status: Contributions are deductible
- Principal Activity 1 n/r
- Principal Activity 2 n/r
- Principal Activity 3 n/r
- Foundation Type: Organization which receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or the general public
- Tax Period: 12/2008 (the date of the latest return filed)
A sister organization, the EWG Action Fund, is the lobbying arm (501(c)(4)) of the organization and was founded in 2002.
Issue areas and projects:
EWG works on three main policy or issue areas: toxic chemicals and human health; farming and agricultural subsidies; and public lands and natural resources. EWG’s largest focus is reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). When the act passed it declared safe some 62,000 chemicals already on the market, even though there were little or no data to support this policy. Since that time another 20,000 chemicals have been put into commerce in the United States, also with little or no data to support their safety. EWG is working to pass the Kid-Safe Chemical Act which would requires that industrial chemicals be safe for infants, kids and other vulnerable groups. 52% of EWG’s resources go to toxic chemicals and human health.
Toxic chemicals and human health
EWG has created a cosmetics safety database which indexes and scores products based on their ingredients. Their Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists 44 fruits and vegetables based on the number of pesticides they were found to contain according to USDA data. A series of studies testing for the presence of chemicals in people’s bodies is known as body burden. The organization has also constructed a national database of tap water testing results from public water utilities. Their work has extended to a variety of other chemicals, including bisphenol A, perchlorate, mercury, flame retardants, and arsenic in treated wood.
EWG publishes a database of agricultural subsidies and their recipients . The EWG Action Fund advocates for farm bill reform in the form of decreased disaster payments and subsidies for commodity crops, and increased funding for nutrition programs, conservation, specialty crops (i.e. fruits and vegetables), and organic agriculture.
The organization investigates and publishes information regarding oil and gas drilling and mining projects that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Cell Phone Radiation Report
EWG launched a cell phone radiation report in September that stated while the long term effects of cell phone radiation are still being studied, there is sufficient research that shows higher risk for brain and salivary gland tumors among heavy cell phone users. EWG encouraged consumers to look up their cell phone’s radiation level, and to wear a headset when talking on the phone to limit their exposure.
Skin Deep is a cosmetics safety database which pairs ingredients in over 41,000 products against 50 toxicity and regulatory databases. The database is intended as a resource for consumers, who can search by ingredient or product when choosing personal care products.
In June 2009, EWG updated Skin Deep with a report on chemicals in sunscreen, lip balm and SFP lotions. The report states that 3 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. The report identifies only 17% of the products on the market as both safe and effective, blocking both UVA and UVB radiation, remaining stable in sunlight, and containing few if any ingredients with significant known or suspected health hazards.
In its fourth annual “Sunscreen Guide”, issued in May 2010, Environmental Working Group gives generally low marks to currently available sunscreen products. EWG researchers recommend only 39 out of 500 sunscreens available at the time.
Industry representatives call these claims “highly inaccurate.” Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), Associate General Council, Farah Ahmed stated, “It is very clear to me that they have a very low level of understanding of the way sunscreens work and the way they are regulated by the FDA and tested by the industry.” She expressed further concern saying “I would hate to think that there are parents out there not using sunscreen on their kids because of a report like this that is not based on real science.” Representatives from Schering-Plough (Coppertone), Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena), and Banana Boat also reiterated their products’ safety and efficacy.
2007 Farm Bill
EWG operates the farm subsidy database, an online searchable database of recipients of taxpayer funded agriculture subsidy payments. The information is obtained directly from the United States Department of Agriculture via Freedom of Information Act requests.
In the 2007 Farm Bill, EWG is advocating for:
Cutting wasteful spending to profitable large farm operations, absentee landlords, ‘hobby’ farmers.
Increased support for organic agriculture, the fastest growing sector of the agriculture industry. In August 2007, EWG president Ken Cook delivered a petition of 30,000 names gathered online to Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI).
Increasing funding for nutrition.
Increasing funding for conservation.
During the fall 2007 debate over the farm bill EWG produced computer generated Google maps of cities across the country identifying the number of federal farm subsidy checks sent to that area. Acting-Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner used the maps during speeches and with the media as he advocated for fundamental reforms to the farm subsidy programs. 
For Fiscal Year Ending December 2006, EWG raised nearly $3.6 million and spent $3.2 million. Over 84 cents out of every dollar go towards EWG’s actual programs. EWG’s IRS Form 990 is available on GuideStar. As of March 2008, EWG reports 30 staff members with its president Ken Cook earning $192K per year in 2006.
Most (78%) of the funding comes from foundations, and a partial list of 25 major funders is available on the organization’s website. 18% of the budget comes from individuals, with the rest stemming from interest, small sales, and consulting for other organizations.
Challenge to 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status
On February 8, 2002, the Bellevue, WA based Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise filed a complaint with IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, claiming that the EWG’s “excessive lobbying and politicking” activities are “clearly illegal and should (at a minimum) result in revocation of the organization’s tax-exempt status.”
The complaint charges that the group hid its political-lobbying expenditures, failed to register as a lobbyist in California, submitted false or misleading reports with the IRS and acted as a political-action organization in violation of Section 501(c)(3) rules. Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, stated that “The Environmental Working Group is not what it seems. Its goal is not protecting the environment. Its goal is power–political power.”
Guest post provided by BA Carrington with Empowerment Enterprises, Ltd
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