Western Greenwich School Children.
I Am Angry that algae blooms fouled my backyard Florida fishing grounds.
At the ritzy Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, the governor hobnobbed with gossip-page lovebirds Chris Evert and Greg Norman, celebrity magnate Donald Trump and the not-so-famous but even richer Paul Tudor Jones II, a Wall Street wizard and avid tarpon angler who chairs the nonprofit foundation.
Behind the glitter was a more telling measure of the foundation's clout: Crist's office put his hosts in the loop on the secret sugar talks well before the February shindig - and before many of his own top administrators.
Audubon, Sierra and many other brand-name environmental groups have sparred with the sugar industry. But the low-profile Everglades Foundation has played the biggest role, and spent the biggest bucks, trying to cut Big Sugar down to size. Led by Jones, prominent activists Mary Barley and Nathaniel Reed and a small group of directors and staff members, the Palmetto Bay-based foundation has never been more influential.
A former director sits as vice chair of the agency in charge of Everglades restoration. The governor fishes with its billionaire chairman. Its galas and grants provide millions of dollars that support a network of other groups' advocates, attorneys and lobbyists.
And when Crist unveiled the $1.75 billion proposal in June, the foundation supplied the glossy press kits hailing the buyout of its longtime foe as the "missing link" to Everglades restoration.
"They're wealthy people. They're philanthropists. They pick their causes, but they like to win, too," said Frank Jackalone, director of the Sierra Club's Florida office.
The foundation isn't one of those trendy new "green" groups. For its leaders, trying to save what's left of the Glades goes back decades.
Barley, named a "Hero of the Planet" by Time in 1999 for her Everglades efforts, said the foundation's most important role has been to keep activists' eyes on the prize.
"We have only one issue," said Barley, a vice chair who lives in Islamorada. "We are where we are because we brought together everybody who is working on the Everglades."
Having deep pockets hasn't hurt, either.
Jones, whose net worth is estimated at $3.3 billion, ranked No. 105 on Forbes' 2007 list of richest Americans. Other directors, including Jack Nicklaus and Jimmy Buffett, also qualify as well-heeled, well-connected or both. Forget scruffy stereotypes - these are enviro-elites.
Foundation and tax records don't detail individual giving, but its chairman also is its largest donor. Jones, a hedge-fund manager who lives in Greenwich, Conn., and owns an Islamorada vacation home, has easily poured $20 million-plus into the foundation himself - $11 million alone on a bruising but losing 1996 drive to pass a penny-a-pound pollution tax on sugar growers.
Three weeks before Crist's election, Jones gave $400,000 to the Florida Republican Party - the largest individual donation in at least a decade. If it didn't quite match Big Sugar - U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals gave more than $690,000 - it signaled the foundation's intent to be a major player when Crist waded into Everglades politics.
Jones, traveling in Africa, declined to respond to e-mail questions. But foundation leaders and Crist aides said the men built a relationship through calls and fishing trips.
Before leaving on a European tour, Crist praised Jones to reporters: "This is a guy who cares very deeply about the Everglades and has put his money where his mouth is."
Foundation leaders downplay their role in the U.S. Sugar deal. But if they didn't exactly plant the seed, they plowed the field.
Crist spoke freely and frequently on Glades issues with several board members and listened along with aides as foundation scientist Thomas Van Lent detailed the water storage and pollution problems that hamper restoration, said Reed, a vice chair from Hobe Sound.
"He became engaged very early on, during the campaign and after," Reed said.
A few months into office, Crist boarded Jones' skiff for a fishing trip.
The destination, troubled Florida Bay, was the place the foundation was created to protect in 1993. Originally called Save the Everglades Foundation, the group was born out of anger that Jones and the late George Barley, neighbors in the Keys, felt when algae blooms fouled their backyard fishing grounds.
"George and Paul liked to fish for tarpon in the Everglades, and that's how all this got started," said Karl Wickstrom, the publisher of Florida Sportsman magazine, who joined as a director. "They thought Florida Bay was being trashed by sugar. I agreed."
Barley, an Orlando developer and state marine commissioner, became chief architect of the penny-a-pound proposal and a fierce critic of the sugar industry - a role his wife, Mary, assumed after his death in a 1995 plane crash. Jones became its chief financier. At Barley's graveside, his widow and his friend made emotional pledges to continue his fight.
Crist acknowledged the trip with Jones influenced him - but only to appoint another foundation director, veteran environmentalist Shannon Estenoz, to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency overseeing Everglades projects.
"I think she's a great appointment," Crist said.
Estenoz's appointment and three others by Crist changed the balance of power in an agency previously protective of agricultural interests. Last August, Crist's appointees blocked the sugar-backed practice of replenishing Lake Okeechobee with polluted runoff.
That milestone defeat was high among concerns that led U.S. Sugar to call a meeting last year in which Crist said he seized on an unexpected "opportunity" and pitched the buyout proposal.
Kirk Fordham, a longtime Capitol Hill aide who is the foundation's chief executive, scoffed at speculation that Jones helped broker the complex deal. He said Jones was too busy with businesses and other charities to act as "some Wizard of Oz pulling the strings."
Downsizing Big Sugar isn't a new idea, Barley said. Environmental groups had urged it for decades, and Crist, as lawmaker, had backed the failed sugar tax.
Whatever its influence, the foundation's importance to the state's environmental interests is huge.
In the past three years alone, the foundation gave more than $4 million to 16 groups, including Audubon, Sierra and many of the state's big green groups. Each grant comes with one requirement: Spend it on Everglades issues.
Grants are lifeblood for smaller groups such as Everglades Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, whose four attorneys represent environmental groups in lawsuits. The center has received more than $700,000 since 2005.
"We simply would not be able to do the work we do without the foundation's help," director Richard Grosso said.
Estenoz, who is married to Grosso, resigned from the foundation after Crist named her to the water board. She recuses herself on the firm's cases and dismisses any conflict.
"I don't take marching orders from anybody," she said. "The goal of all of us is to restore the Everglades. It's not to get rid of sugar."
That's a stark change in tone from the foundation's first nasty bout with Big Sugar. The industry defeated the sugar tax in 1996, countering with a $24 million campaign that portrayed penny-a-pound backers as environmental elitists and Jones as a sharpie scheming to make a killing on the sugar market.
By 2000, both sides had agreed to compromise enough to cajole politicians into supporting the $10.8 billion state-federal Everglades restoration plan. After the landmark deal, technical disputes became as crucial as political ones, and directors decided to overhaul the foundation.
"What we needed were engineers and hydrologists," Mary Barley said.
In the past three years, the foundation has begun building just such an in-house staff. They now occupy offices overlooking Biscayne Bay in the former Burger King headquarters.
Van Lent, a former hydrologist at Everglades National Park, was the first hire - "the best hire we have and ever will make," Barley said. His computer models helped make the case that acquiring a swath of sugar fields would fix a flawed plan to restore flow to the River of Grass.
The board also has hired politically plugged-in managers and ramped up fundraising. The centerpiece is an annual gala - hosted this year by tennis icon Evert and headlined by Diana Ross - that nets about $1.4 million.
In some ways, the new approach-in-house consultants, big political donations - mirrors tactics employed by developers and industries.
For environmentalists, turnabout is fair play. The foundation, Grosso said, "levels the playing field."
"It's about time somebody did it on the side of the environment," Grosso said. "If Paul Jones has the ear of the governor, I'm thrilled."
Please Read About One Solution To The Education Problem:
BY LEO HINDERY JR. AND BOB KERREY.
One of the bedrock principles of our free and open society is that all of us obey laws and follow rules as they are written. The more universally we as citizens voluntarily submit to the rule of law, the greater our security and the less costly the efforts to protect us from those who choose to ignore it.
One set of laws where voluntary compliance is critical involves the collection of taxes. Right now, we have the most efficient tax collection system in the world because most Americans scrupulously obey these laws. They do so even though:
Congress continues to pass laws that make taxes ever more complex while giving speeches about simplification.
An individual taxpayer's effective tax rate is often inversely proportional to his ability to hire tax lawyers.
An increasing number of Americans believe the tax laws are rigged against them.
Our political leaders, however, cannot expect such ready compliance to go on forever. And it is not an exaggeration to say that tax provisions that blatantly favor those with high incomes over the middle class now threaten to bring down the confidence needed to sustain our experiment of self-government.
One such provision that has garnered a lot of attention lately has to do with what is known as "carried interest." Highly paid tax lawyers discovered a provision in current law that allows the managers of special investment partnerships to pay a much lower rate of tax on the preponderance of their income than other type managers pay on all of theirs.
Much of the performance-based management income earned by these few thousand private equity and hedge fund managers -- which income is called "carried interest" -- is taxed as capital gains, when by form, substance and logic it should be taxed as ordinary in come, just like the management in come and bonuses of all other managers.
And because the 15 percent capital gains tax rate is less than half the 35 percent maximum ordinary income tax rate, the cost of this loophole to the Treasury is huge.
The annual loss of tax revenue from this unfair treatment of carried interest is about $12 billion a year, or $120 per American household per year. It really is as if Congress had decreed that each year $120 out of the income of every household is to be diverted to the bank accounts of some of the wealthiest Americans.
We believe this has to change, and we believe that it would be desirable to convert carried interest into public interest by redirecting this annual $12 billion tax break to people who actually need it, namely America's K-12 teachers.
That $12 billion is just about enough to waive all the income taxes on those who choose our most important profession, which is the teaching of our children.
And it would also allow us to give refundable tax credits to K-12 teachers based on their qualifications and teaching specialties, in order to increase the pool of teachers in critically important areas such as languages, math and sciences, and instructing students who are economically disadvantaged or have disabilities.
Our country has a long and successful record of using the tax code to reward what we as a society determine are desirable social actions. In the 1960s, for example, we gave income-tax relief to VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and Peace Corps volunteers be cause their work was deemed so important -- and today we give substantial relief to our courageous and patriotic active-duty military personnel.
But teachers are just as patriotic and important, their contributions to our nation's vibrancy and economic well-being are exceptional, and vis-à-vis all other municipal professions (police, fire, general services) they are far and away the most difficult public servants to recruit and retain.
All informed citizens, starting with teachers themselves, want high teaching standards and accountability. But when asked, they also want the needed fixes to our nation's education travails to start with easing the economic plight of our K-12 teachers. Federal income tax relief for teachers would be a powerful response to this demand, and a powerful step toward assur ing the long-term vibrancy of our society, the health of our national economy, and our global competitiveness.
So let's remove the huge tax break going to those who don't de serve it, and give it instead to those who need it. We promise that kids everywhere will be the beneficiaries.
Leo Hindery Jr., is the managing partner of InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm, and a director and former chairman of Teach for America. Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska and earlier its governor, is president of New School University in New York City.
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