Ben & Jerry raise cool ‘Occupy’ cash, get activists’ cold shoulder

David Martosko Executive Editor
Font Size:

The iconic duo behind “chunky monkey,” “whirled peas” and other memorable Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors have turned their attention to raising money for Occupy Wall Street. But the occupiers themselves gave big-businessmen Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield a cold reception during a meeting Sunday in New York City.

Working with with two former record executives, a Philadelphia organic-only restaurateur and a liberal business entrepreneur, Ben & Jerry have already raised $300,000 for the Movement Resource Group, out of a proposed $1.745 million budget for 2012. That budget was described on a Web page in development, which TheDC identified on an unprotected Web server last week. The entire draft website disappeared Wednesday afternoon.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that the Sunday meeting included some financial disclosures by the liberal activists responsible for most of the donations to date.

But when Greenfield explained to the occupiers assembled in the sanctuary of the West Park Presbyterian Church how little control they would have over the funds his group was raising, their mood quickly turned from supportive to hostile.

Responding to an activist who asked how to submit a proposal for financial support, Greenfield responded, “We are not Occupy Wall Street. We are working in a way that’s different, and we want to integrate values and ideals to the degree that we can, but we are not committed to consensus decisionmaking.”

That slap to the sensibilities of the Occupy movement, known for its leaderless and sometimes interminable committee meetings, made several activists visibly angry. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Occupy protests)

“I think it’s absolutely essential that your donors have zero say in where the money goes,” said Linnea Palmer Paton, an audience member. “Right now we have a system where the wealthy design, create, build and have control over what happens. And I think it’s very important that the wealthy do not have that power.”

Paton told Greenfield he should ensure that expenditures are “absolutely decided by the committee, which maybe has mostly occupiers … it needs to be decided by them. Decision-making should not be amongst the wealthy about which projects get funded, otherwise we’re just creating the wealthy world again.”

Another female occupier stormed out after addressing the funding group.

“I have worked in the arts, and this looks exactly like any sort of board or commission or committee that you have to submit to to get a project or an art piece done,” she exclaimed. “And I fundamentally cannot support this. … You created a board. We don’t need a board. We dont want a board at all. Because that is not helpful, it’s destructive.”

“Who helped you incubate this idea?” a third woman asked. “Because it was not incubated with all of us.”

Only one man in the audience, an activist who identified himself only as “Charles,” spoke favorably about breaking with the Occupy Wall Street movement’s General Assembly (GA) and embracing a smoke-filled-room approach to financing the Occupy revolution.

“If you continue to give your money on your own judgment, behind the scenes, non-transparently, as much as you want to whoever you want, you might actually get a lot more done more easily than in what you’ve tried to do today,” he said to a chorus of groans and yells.

“And I, for one, would probably trust your judgment over anything that the GA [general assembly] is likely to do.”

The dollar amounts discussed Sunday were far above the small cash donations the Occupy activists are accustomed to collecting in New York City’s Zuccotti Park.

“Out of the $300,000 that we’ve raised, $100,000 has come from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation,” Greenfield said, while a slideshow flashed six- and seven-figure numbers overhead.

“I think $140,000 has come from the MRG [Movement Resource Group] steering committee. And we have raised a total of $60,000 from our network. So there’s a little flavor of what it’s like.”

That $60,000, TheDC has learned, came from donors including the Lear Family Foundation, endowed by People for the American Way founder Norman Lear; the Whispering Bells Foundation, whose wealth comes from the Workman Publishing Company; Terri Gardner, a former CEO of the Soft Sheen ethnic hair care products company; and Stephen and Patricia Blessman, a Chicago investor and psychologist who Federal Election Commission records show bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 in donations to Barack Obama’s 2008 president campaign.

The advent of funding from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation might eventually present a stark crisis of conscience for Occupy purists devoted to castigating society’s wealthiest “1 percent.” Despite the foundation’s focus on supporting progressive causes, it has been funded by the Dutch consumer-products giant Unilever since 2001, when the company bought Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc.

Unilever reported this month that its net profit for 2011 was more than $5.7 billion.

“When Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s, as part of the agreement, they guaranteed funding to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (a separate entity from the company) for a period of 10 years,” foundation managing director Lisa Pendolino told The Daily Caller.

“During that time, Unilever made a commitment to continue funding the Foundation five additional years.”

Cohen and Greenfield were joined Sunday by Richard Foos, the founder of Rhino Records; Danny Goldberg, a rock band manager who was CEO of the defunct liberal Air America radio network in 2005 and 2006; Dal LaMagna, an inventor whose website says he served as a “peace activist trying to negotiate a cease-fire between Iraqi insurgents and the coalition forces”; and Judy Wicks, whose organic-only White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia endows a liberal activist foundation.

Emails obtained by TheDC show that with the exception of Wicks, the group has been funding and steering the Movement Resource Group’s predecessor for the past three months. That organization was the Business Affinity Group (BAG) — a subset of Occupy Money Group. Both have now been reinvented as MRG.

“Some resources have already being placed to OWS by BAG,” organizer Shen Tong wrote in a group email on November 28, 2011, “such as the emergency storage space for SIS [Shipping, Inventory and Storage], matching resources for Screen Printing Guild with space and logistical center, bill board [sic] donations for OWS messaging, pledged hotel rooms for occupiers, and emergency space for Spokes Council, etc.”

The Movement Resource Group’s draft website until recently included a sample of a proposal for activists hoping to win financial support. Google cached the proposal, which described “a bus tour that will go from occupy to occupy” presenting skits “on how corporations abuse their power.”

“[W]hat it will mean to the general population is that OWS has a positive agenda that people can get on board with,” the sample proposal explained, and “that its not just dirty hippies living in a park fighting with the police.”

According to the same draft website, no longer available online, the Movement Resource Group is “a project of Social Ventures, Inc, a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation, and all contributions are tax-exempt.”

According to Internal Revenue Service records, the Movement Resource Group’s Burlington, Vt. address has also been used by other Ben Cohen-led charities. Those include Hot Fudge Social Ventures Inc., which closed in 2011; Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities; and Priorities Action Fund, which merged with the Washington, D.C.-based ActionUSA in 2007.

In Iowa, a branch of Priorities Action Fund, called “Caucus For Priorities,” endorsed former Sen. John Edwards in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.

One activist asked during Sunday’s meeting how the group would handle contributions from anonymous donors.

“I would be willing to take a donation if the person wants to be listed anonymously, and listed anonymously on our website,” Cohen replied, “but the IRS regulations require us to report the name of whoever donates.”

“There won’t be any of that,” LaMagna quickly added.

Follow David on Twitter