STUMP » Articles » Public Pensions Watch: More on Public Employee Union Enemy John Arnold » 15 April 2014, 22:36

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Public Pensions Watch: More on Public Employee Union Enemy John Arnold  


15 April 2014, 22:36

Of course they don’t give up. In my last post on the targeting of John Arnold, I mentioned the public employee unions (specifically, the big-spending teachers unions — more on that in the future) had it out for this hedge fund manager.

Looks like there’s some followup today from the Wall Street Journal: Nonprofits Caught in Pension Crossfire Between Foundation, Unions

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, created by a Texas billionaire and his wife, has made a name for itself since 2011 by funding research on the fiscal health of public pensions.

Now, irate public-employee unions are pressing nonprofits such as public television, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Brookings Institution to stop taking money from the Houston-based organization. The unions argue that the Arnold Foundation is trying to sway public opinion to support replacing public pensions—which give workers including police, firefighters and teachers guaranteed benefits at retirement—with defined-contribution accounts similar to 401(k)s, or hybrid approaches.

In an interview, Mr. Arnold, 40 years old, a former Enron Corp. trader who later created an energy hedge fund, called the union allegations “an organized smear campaign” against him and his foundation to avoid discussing solutions to pension-funding problems.

Mr. Arnold said that he doesn’t want to end public retirement plans but stabilize them, and that he doesn’t favor any one solution to pension problems. A paper by a vice president at the foundation posted on its website calls for replacing current pensions with something similar to a 401(k), or creating plans that are a hybrid.

Recent fireworks began in February, when David Sirota, a liberal commentator, published an article headlined “The Wolf of Sesame Street” on the tech news site PandoDaily that criticized PBS and New York affiliate WNET for accepting $3.5 million from the Arnold Foundation to help produce a series called “The Pension Peril.”

PBS said in a statement in February that it stood by WNET’s reporting but that “to eliminate any perception…that the Foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity,” it was returning the foundation’s money.

Union groups also are calling on the Washington-based Brookings Institution—which has taken more than $500,000 from the Arnold Foundation from 2012 through this year to produce research on pensions—to cut ties. Spokesman David Nassar said the think tank wouldn’t return the grant money and said donors are forbidden from influencing any research.

The Pew Charitable Trusts also came under fire for accepting $4.85 million from the foundation for a report on underfunded public pensions. Meredith Williams, executive director of the National Council on Teacher Retirement, an association of teacher pension systems, accused Philadelphia-based Pew of “abandoning its objectivity” by accepting the money, and he called on the group to return it. A Pew spokesman declined to comment, but its website states that it works with the foundation because “we share the goal to help states design and adopt retirement systems that are fair, affordable and fiscally sustainable.”

Well, let us think, guys. What kind of leverage do you have if you’re not sending any money to Pew or Brookings yourself?

Since 2005, Mr. Arnold and his wife have given nearly $241 million to a range of causes, from criminal-justice overhauls to obesity research. Mr. Arnold said he became interested in the pension issue after reading about troubled retirement systems.
The organization began to make grants to groups looking into pensions in 2011. The grants have ranged in size and purpose, including $693,600 given to the George Mason University Foundation Inc. in 2013-14 to sponsor pension symposia at the Virginia school, and more than $1 million from 2013 through 2015 to the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based libertarian research group, to analyze pension changes.

That’s quite a nice chunk of change, don’t you think?

I decided to look at the Pew Charitable Trusts specifically — they’ve got their 2012 tax forms on their website. Their total revenue for each of 2011 and 2012 were about 300 million dollars, of which about 280 million was donations/grants to Pew.

Starting on page 20, you see all donations/grants to Pew in sizes 5K and over (though I note the contributors are not named, just listed by number). They have only a few multimillion dollar donors. It wasn’t clear to me when Arnold’s donations were made, but it’s very possible that he’s one of the donors being listed. Now, if the teachers unions would like to go after those big dollar supporters, such as whatever body gave Pew $165 million in 2012, and say they’d yank if Arnold’s money is taken, then they’d actually have some leverage.

I have a feeling, though, that that huge chunk of money came from the Pew family’s own foundations

Pew Research Center’s parent organization, The Pew Charitable Trusts, is an independent nonprofit organization – 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.
Current and past partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Neubauer Family Foundation; major news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Journal and The Economist; and individuals.

So those are the possible targets, teachers unions. I hope the unions fail in this intimidation campaign. Publicly and miserably.

They have lots of money to throw around (that will be a later post), amounts of money that dwarfs what Arnold gave to Pew.

Fund your own pro-public pensions studies, teachers (and yes, they do) and shut up that other people are funding their own.

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