Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A look behind the curtain - the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation


1:45 a.m. Tuesday, Nevada City [when this post was published]:
Egads, I've been scooped - prepared to hit Publish only to find that George Rebane had posted a disclosure section at the bottom of the SESF website's About page, likely within the last hour or so*.

Will comment on his disclosure tomorrow.*
late Thurs. eve - commented on the SESF's "scoop" disclosure in the following post (which comes before, on the webpage).
Sat: fixed 'Board Members' assertion in the report below, to make it accurate

NCFocus report:

The enigmatic Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (blog) is not your run-of-the-mill Nevada County nonprofit.

Local conservative blogger Russ Steele announced its launch in April:
"The Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (SESF), a Nevada County non-profit organization, has been activated by local citizen volunteers to help bring clarity and reason to the discussion of issues facing our county and its communities. SESF's goal is to do research and produce information products that promote sane and productive community debates, and support government leaders in crafting effective solutions based upon reliable information, verifiable data, and non-partisan analysis.
To promote discussion and debate, SESF has created a blog ..."

SESF's About page states: "Reasoned thinking should be based on good analysis not constrained by ideology."

A week ago, in a blog-comments exchange with Russ (who is also SESF's Director of Information), I asked him how the SESF is funded. Since then I've asked George Rebane ( SESF Executive Director, Director of Research, and blogger) as well. I've asked them via blog comment - (at NCFocus, at the SESF blog, at Russ's blog), I've asked them in a blog post, and I've asked/reminded them via email*. Last Friday afternoon I was told* that disclosures would be forthcoming, but they have still not appeared.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."*

A prominent online registry of charities reports that the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation is a 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit with NTEE Code C99, signifying Environmental Quality, Protection, and Beautification ("Choosing a good, representative NTEE code will help your organization be more easily found by users searching our database.").

Similarly, the local.sacramento.com yellow page listings show it as an Environmental, Conservation & Ecological Organization, literally on the same page as SYRCL (the South Yuba River Citizens League), the The Nevada County Land Trust, the Placer Nature Center, Defenders of Wildlife, the Mountain Lion Foundation and others.

And AllPages.com reports it as an Environmental Group as well:
Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation
293 Lower Grass Valley Road
Nevada City, CA (California) 95959-3101

The listed address (293 Lower Grass Valley Rd, Nevada City; it doesn't appear on the SESF website*) - is also the address of Robinson Enterprises (known locally as Robinson Timber) and of the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, aka CABPRO, a high-profile Nevada County property-rights group.

Historically, CABPRO has not exactly favored environmental protection ("What we people with commonsense are up against is neigh to incredible. A gaggle of radical leftists are trying to redefine reality for the rest of us peons and no better example is available than Wild and Scenic Rivers..."*); for background, see Mark Sabath's "The Perils Of The Property Rights Initiative: Taking Stock Of Nevada County’s Measure D", in the Harvard Environmental Law Review (PDF, as html).

The SESF website provides a one-page bio for each of its three board members - Executive Director and Director of Research George Rebane, Director of Information Russ Steele, and Director of Public Relations Michael McDaniel. These bios contain much background information, but neglect to mention that George Rebane and Michael McDaniel are bothhave both been* CABPRO Board members*, or that Russ headed Citizens for Fair and Balanced Land Use, which was CABPRO's political action committee formed in 2002 to advocate for Measure D, the narrowly defeated Nevada County property rights initiative.(pdf)

To my knowledge neither "CABPRO" nor "California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners" appears anywhere on either the SESF website or weblog.

"non-partisan", "environmental", "clarity", "reliable information", "not constrained by ideology", "discussion and debate" ...there appears to be plenty of open space between SESF's rhetoric and reality.

CABPRO's December 2001 newsletter (pdf) promotes the SESF's nonprofit status:
"Looking for a Tax Deduction AND a Good Cause?
Then make your fully deductible donation to the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Nevada County. SESF engages in research and educational activities to increase public support for balancing human needs with environmental concerns (i.e. putting people back into the picture)
SESF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Federal ID# 77-0408400. Your donation is tax deductible as a charitable contribution for federal and state tax purposes."

I didn't find the SESF in the IRS's online Search for Charities, but absence there isn't conclusive ("Some entities eligible to receive tax deductible charitable contributions may not be listed in Publication 78..."*). So yesterday I checked with the IRS (877-829-5500*); the representative informed me that SESF (77-0408400, and she had me verify the name) was not an exempt organization, and "that's all we can tell the general public".

So, Russ Steele, George Rebane and/or Michael McDaniel - I think we need you to bring clarity here.

"If you don’t explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you."


Russ Steele said...


For the record, the disclosure was posted by 8:30 in the evening on the 26th.


Anna said...

For clarity - Russ is saying the info was posted several hours earlier last night than I'd thought. Although I haven't verified this (the "last modified" header is missing from that file and one other on the site-likely php-related) it's certainly possible that I overlooked it while editing the post - the new information was 'below the fold' on a formerly one-screen webpage, it wasn't (and isn't) mentioned in "What's New" on the SESF website's home page, and - to my knowledge - there was no email notification nor blog post/comment on it)

Anna said...

p.s. need to reduce the sleep deficit before responding to George's(?) disclosure; for now let me just note one inaccuracy in my post: according to George, the SESF Board members who were CABPRO's board members last summer resigned their CABPRO positions.

Russ Steele said...

Anna is right, I forgot to update he news page.

Russ Steele said...


We responded and posted our disclosure. Your response? Are you draging your feet?

Anna said...

Russ, the word is "procrastinating".

well, one of the words.

Just to freeze it in time, here's the disclosure from the SESF's About page:


The activation and funding (2006):

SESF is a legacy foundation which was established several years ago in conjunction with CABPRO as an educational resource to the community. By its charter SESF is non-partisan in that it cannot endorse specific candidates for office. The foundation received various contributions from local residents but was never "activated" in the sense that it conducted research, held seminars, published reports, or any other activity usually associated with a 501(c)3 organization - in essence it lay fallow until the end of 2005.

During 2005 I was invited to become a director of CABPRO and joined its Board with the declared objective of helping that conservative organization gain a better voice in the community by expanding the issues it would address and report through a reasoned, non-partisan approach. This goal was shared by several other members of the Board. However, all Directors felt that CABPRO should not relinquish its charter to support the conservative approach to property rights held by its membership and endorse sympathetic candidates running for office. The availability of SESF presented a happy solution to achieve both aims.

At the beginning of this year (2006) SESF was activated with a Board of Directors consisting of CABPRO directors Dr. Simi Lyss, Mr. Mike McDaniel, and me. Mr. McDaniel and I resigned from the CABPRO Board. Russ Steele LtCol (Air Force retired) was invited to joint the SESF Board. The first order of business was to refine SESF's charter to reflect its chosen role as a non-partisan information resource on community issues. In order to assure that there remains no conflict of interest between the two organizations, last month Dr. Lyss resigned from the SESF Board.

At the end of November 2005 SESF's total assets consisted of $1,201.81 in a checking account at a local bank. This sum was made up of small contributions to the foundation over the last several years by local citizens. Since the beginning of this year the directors of SESF have contributed a total of $3,647.50 and a further $300 was received in contributions from other local donors. Minus operating expenses and a scholarship awarded this spring, as of this writing the SESF net account stands at $4,160.13.

Anna said...

Response (Thurs. eve) in this new post.