Fighting Over A Dynasty’s Soul
June 22, 2017
David Rockefeller, the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, was laid to rest during the first week of April in Westchester, N.Y., after a private funeral. He was 101. His obituaries extolled his banking career, his global accomplishments and, of course, his wealth. Most likely the last high-profile member of one of America’s most fabled families, the former chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan bank exerted influence in the corridors of power around the world.
But David Rockefeller’s lasting legacy may well be more about philanthropy than his business and geopolitical exploits. He gave $1.8 billion to charity, according to Seitel, more than any of his brothers—John, Nelson, Winthrop or Laurance.
Some of that philanthropy, however, has fomented a family insurrection and led to a fierce and very public battle with ExxonMobil, the direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. At the center of this skirmish are two family charities: the Rockefeller Family Fund, created in 1967 by David and his siblings to encourage their grandchildren to become involved in philanthropy, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, created in 1940 by David and his four brothers. The research and reporting financed by these two funds led to groundbreaking reports in 2015 that ExxonMobil knew decades ago, from its own research, of the causal connection between the consumption of fossil fuels and climate change.
In 2012, Gov. Chris Christie was on top of the world. NJ loved his tough, no-nonsense style and his presidential ambitions were promising. NJ ranked No. 1 in the nation, with a grade of B+, in the first State Integrity investigation conducted by Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity.
Now, in their second report, NJ dropped more than any other state, earning a D, No. 19 in the nation. Much of this fall from grace can be traced directly to the office of Gov. Christie.
- Ian Shearn’s story for the Center for Public Integrity: A long fall from the top
And the media reaction:
- Star-Ledger editorial: The grades are in: Christie runs a moral dead zone
- Asbury Park Press editorial: NJ come up short on integrity
- Star-Ledger Op-Ed: Under Christie’s thumb, NJ’s strident ethic laws blunted
- NJTV news: Report gives NJ Government a ‘D’ in integrity
- NJ Spotlight: NJ squeaks by with a grade of ‘D’ on 2015 good government report
- NJ 101.5: NJ gets a ‘D’ for Integrity, and Christie’s office blamed
- The Record: Advocacy group’s ranking of N.J. on access, integrity falls sharply
How a US government loan enabled an environmentally destructive project plagued by lethal landslide, police repression and civil unrest.
This report appeared in The Nation in April 2014. It was produced in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute with additional support from the H.D. Lloyd Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
By Ian T. Shearn
,January 23, 2012, was a routine day for 15-year-old Jackson Piwago. Like every other weekday, his father met him after school, and the two walked hand in hand back to their home in Tumbi, a small village in the remote, mountainous Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. There, at the foot of the Gigira Mountain Range, Jackson went about his chores: looking after the family’s pigs, collecting firewood, fetching water and cooking sweet potatoes. He chatted with some of his father’s nine wives, as well as his many brothers and cousins. As on most evenings, dinner was boisterous and joyful.
Then, just as he did every night, Jackson fell asleep alongside his father, using his dad’s arm as a pillow. Jokoya Piwago, a prominent Ware tribal chief, recalled that night vividly in a recent conversation. He remembered his son imploring him, “Please, Daddy, buy me the bicycle that I need to go to school and come back…. Buy me a bicycle tomorrow.”
Jokoya paused and said, “That’s the last word that he spoke to me.”
Mother Jones: Did ExxonMobil Pay Torturers?
The oil giant has long said it has no responsibility for atrocities committed by the government soldiers it hired to protect its plant in Indonesia. Now the issue could be headed to the Supreme Court.
By Ian T. Shearn and Laird Townsend
EVEN IN THE DRY LEGALESE OF a court complaint, the account of John Doe III is not for the faint of heart:
In the summer of 2000, soldiers detained him while he was visiting a refugee camp. They shot him “in three places on his leg,” then “tortured him for several hours.” The soldiers “broke his kneecap, smashed his skull, and burned him with cigarettes.” After he was taken to a hospital to treat his wounds, he was returned to this captors, who held him for roughly a month and “tortured him regularly.”
This was the Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia, at the height of a bloody civil war. Such accounts were commonplace. But in this case, according to the complaint, the man’s captors were not just any soldiers. They were “ExxonMobil security personnel.” And now, more than a decade later, ExxonMobil has been ordered to stand trial in a human rights lawsuit.
The answer — Big Ag. Just ask the family farmers who dared to protest an industrial hog farm in Missouri.
By Ian T. Shearn
The American Farm Bureau, with its 6 million “member families” and carefully cultivated grassroots image, talks a good game. In the pitched battle over US farm policy—with agribusiness giants on one side, and small family farmers, organic and local food advocates and environmentalists on the other—the Farm Bureau positions itself as the voice of the farmer.
“If you know agriculture in this country, it is dominated by family farms, and those are the people who come to our meetings, those are the people who set our policies,” claims Mark Maslyn, executive director of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s public policy department, a team of twenty-two registered federal lobbyists that spend more than $2 million annually on a variety of agriculture issues.
But Rolf Christen, a cattle farmer in Missouri who was at one time an enthusiastic member of his local farm bureau’s board, tells a different story.
By Ian T. Shearn
The verdict in the State of New Jersey v. Dharun Ravi has been rendered. Beholden to America’s short attention span, often preferring the presumption of guilt, reporters and advocates now sprint to the next story, the next cause, the next simplistic scandal.
But each story leaves a legacy, always more complex than we initially imagined, and now we must ask in the case of Dharun Ravi and Tyler Clementi how and if justice was served. . . .
. . . This particular path to justice began in 2001, when New Jersey lawmakers amended the state’s hate crimes statute to, among other things, include sexual preference.
And here we find the chain’s weakest link.
More Tyler Clementi trial analysis by Shearn:
By Ian T. Shearn
If charity does indeed begin at home, in the case of Richard Berman, it starts in a $3 million, 8,800-square-foot mansion he shares with his second wife in McLean, Va. One of his first decisions in a day of many is whether to drive the Bentley or the Ferrari to work. On this particular spring morning, he goes with the Bentley.
Capable of zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds, the commute to his Washington D.C. office is no doubt enjoyable, even if the car’s 500-plus horsepower is bridled in congestion. He glides into his parking garage in the K Street corridor, gently backs the Bentley into a reserved spot and exits the car, clutching a bundle of newspapers under his arm.
He walks with a quick, determined gait to the elevator that takes him to his office, Berman and Co., a public relations/lobbying firm that consumes the entire eighth floor. According to one visitor, the bustling office has all the appearances of a political boiler-room operation, a roomful of 25 to 30 young adults fervently attending to their computers and phones. The walls are covered with ornate, mill-worked wood, and there is a constant stream of visitors.
But this is no ordinary PR operation. This is where white-knuckle lobbying and media buys merge with a handful of public charities Berman has created to spin and cajole public perception on a variety of issues. But for the most part, he attacks and intimidates those with contrary views, and under the banner of the public good serves the agendas of corporate America.