Colcom Foundation and Bike Pgh
Background: I posted in the another thread that it’s been a (not-so-widely) known fact for many years that the Colcom Foundation, which is a vehicle for one of the Scaife heirs to distribute family/foundation money, gives a large amount of money to anti-immigration groups, including several run by known neo-Nazis. These groups are basically white wash hate groups (pun intended) — they look like reasonable “think tanks” but really push neo-Nazi agendas against non-white immigrants.
Bike Pittsburgh, as well as many other environmental and quality of life groups in the region, has been also taking Colcom money for years.
The issue came to a head when protesters forced Colcom to take their name off of the Santa display in Market Square a few weeks ago and articles appeared in City Paper and other outlets exposing the connection between Colcom and hate.
I wrote Scott Bricker about this last week. I decided after several days of no response from Scott or anyone else at Bike Pgh that I was done with Bike Pgh until this was remedied.
Scott did finally respond this week, and he told me that as of 2018 Bike Pgh is not taking Colcom money (they’re letting the 2017 grants die out without renewing them or seeking new funding), and he hinted that it was quite a large amount of money that Bike Pgh is giving up. He stressed that Bike Pgh’s mission and values are fundamentally in opposition to the values that Colcom touts.
I emailed him back immediately suggested to him that he go on the message board and release a statement and/or display one on the Bike Pgh home page discussing the Colcom monies, but it has been several days with no response from him. I can only think that a) he’s super busy and rarely if ever checks his email, b) he’s consulting with the rest of the Bike Pgh staff and board as to what to do, or c) has just let the issue drop hoping that it dies so Bike Pgh dosen’t get negative publicity.
I decided that Bike Pgh not taking Colcom money anymore was good enough for me to come back. I’m glad they did the right thing. Although he didn’t say it, my guess is that they made the decision under the radar when they found out about the connection between Colcom and neo-Nazi groups. While it would have been better, in my opinion, for them to take a public stand against hatred, I’m happy they aren’t taking tainted money anymore.
Here is one of the Pittsburgh City Paper articles about Colcom Foundation:
In Colcom’s last publicly available IRS 990 form (covering july 2015 to June 2016), Colcom donated $75,000 to Bike Pittsburgh for Open Streets. My guess is that Colcom provided a huge chunk to Bike Pittsburgh for Open Streets for the last several years and although we don’t know the most current Colcom donation, yet, I’m sure it’s a decent chunk of change.
Also from what I could tell from Bike Pittsburgh’s available 990 form (2017) the majority of their revenues (in excess of $1m) is from grants. So while no Colcom money isn’t a budget buster, it really does hurt Bike pgh and I’m assuming it puts a big hole in the Open Streets budget.
Good move by Scott and crew. Gotta walk the walk.
Hopefully they release a statement to confirm your dialogue; I’ll be happy to pitch in to try and recover the lost revenue.
I really appreciate you being level headed about this. this story has really thrown the whole pgh non-profit community for a loop. please understand that we are taking this very seriously, and are being very thoughtful about navigating this, and do have to consult with our board for every decision, action and step of the way, which frankly, takes time. We really can’t respond as quickly or in real time as the “instant facebook world” would want.
level-headed, wise, and consultative decision making is always in order.
However, complete radio silence from official channels may not be the wisest decision by Bike Pittsburgh. It lets people then fill in the gaps as to what the motive is for no response.
I’d suggest to Bike Pgh that they consider putting out a statement, even if it’s very general, so at least people know what’s going on more than, say, the one email I received from Scott last week. From a PR perspective, it’s always better to be out ahead of the issue and proactive than to be reactive. Just a thought…
by the way, if you want to look at the financial statements, try the links below–
Bike pittsburgh —
These are publically available IRS Form 990s. The vast majority of non-profits need to file these with the IRS on a yearly basis. The Colcom ones show who they donate to and in what amounts.
For instance — $75,000 to Bike Pittsburgh, and $7.5 million to a hate group run by a Neo-Nazi…
To be fair, @erok getting on here and talking about it is fairly forward. It may not be press-release level of officialness, but he is staff and this is a public forum. So, thank you @erok for providing some level of transparency and honesty.
Membership renewed for another year — and I added my cyclist son, too, for good measure.
Stu- nothing was said by bike pgh until I brought it up, and then it’s just been “this has been hard. Thanks for understanding.” Which is basically a non statement.
A statement would be a real statement. “we stopped taking Colcom’s money because our values don’t mesh with theirs. There is no place for hate in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. Bike pgh strives to be inclusive (insert a few lines about reaching out to underprivileged groups, sexual minorities,etc). While this will be tough financially we know that members will step up so we can provide quality service to our community…”
Right now the bike pgh response looks like it has been crafted by a lawyer who is scared that Colcom will sue bike pgh.
Who knows, bike pgh may have a gag clause as part of taking money from colcom. That wouldn’t surprise me. Or they may just want to stay out of the poop storm and let it pass.
Howver this is nowhere near A+ crisis response- one late email from Scott to a concerned community member, both that email and message board responses being very vague, no official public statement… All this happening a month aftee the original story came out…
Again, I’m happy they’re not taking any more money from Colcom. I’m sad that they’re so relatively silent on the issue. Being ethical is defined both by what you do and what you don’t do.
I’m done railing on this issue. I’m just disappointed in bike pgh for not being vocal about opposing hate. Not that my donation makes a difference nor will it be missed, but I don’t think I can donate to them again until they produce a statement. As a Jew, the sq hill shooting is fresh in my mind. People and groups need to take a stand. Complacency or hiding and hoping it goes away just allows hate to breed and multiply.
Since I’ve been in Pittsburgh, I’ve been grateful to see that the Colcom Foundation has supported and made possible many things — from the purchase of Sycamore Island for the public to enjoy, the Fred Rogers Statue, efforts to revitalize and beautify downtown and make it more fun, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Western PA Conservancy, Riverlife’s efforts to redo Point State Park, Friends of the Riverfront’s work on trail creation and yes, Bike Pittsburgh.
All of what they support that I’ve seen creates things that are free to be enjoyed by EVERYONE – young and old, regardless of economic status, nationality, legal status, race or religion. That does not align at all with a world view that is racist.
In this day and age, it is so very easy to condemn, especially when “facts” are so difficult to determine. As the granddaughter of immigrants myself, like those on this forum and in the Bike Pittsburgh leadership, I feel deeply that we need to create an inclusive society and City. As world citizen, I think we all need to be concerned about over population and its impact on our environment and future generations. These are not mutually exclusive and these issues are not simple.
It’s so easy to be presented with only one side of the story and to only see what we want to see. And its so very easy to villainize – especially when ‘facts’ are difficult to determine. For example, I’ve always admired the SPLC, but came across this article which challenged my thinking about how and why they create these hate group lists… https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/philanthropy-magazine/article/spring-2017-briefly-noted
I hope that Bike PIttsburgh and others take the time to look at the actual policies that some of the groups that Colcom supports. To put it mildly, I am no fan of John Tanton, the founder of several of those charities. But from what I can tell from Wikipedia, around the time he was starting FAIR and CIS, he was moderate and reasonable, attracting people like Warren Buffet and Walter Cronkite. He appears to have veered terribly and disturbingly from this path – but that does not necessarily reflect those organizations now. Several of these groups testified before Congress fairly recently, so I would expect they are legitimate think tanks/policy groups. (Despite the tweets and bullying of our current President, I HOPE that our Congress is not now inviting neo nazis to the floor.)
In any case, I find it sad that we are so eager to villianize, to cling to “facts” that fit the narrative in our heads.
The fact I know 100% to be true is that Colcom contributes millions to organizations that improve our environment and the lives of every Pittsburgher. And I am grateful for them.
I didn’t read that entire supposed take-down of the SPLC you linked to. But it starts by insisting the Alliance Defending Freedom isn’t a hate group. I looked them up on the SPLC site to see why SPLC thought they were:
Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion…
That SPLC page backs up their claims with quotes from the Alliance Defending Freedom and the people who run it, and extensive documentation on their actions. Maybe the Alliance Defending Freedom is not as evil as the Klan, but they still advocate for some really evil stuff.
If the author of that attempt at an SPLC takedown (Karl Zinsmeister) were serious, he’d engage with the actual claims the SPLC makes about the organizations and people it puts on its list. He doesn’t. He talks about the SPLC’s finances, violence done to those on its list (as if the SPLC somehow encouraged that), and other matters irrelevant to his claim that the SPLC list is invalid. Perhaps there are some legitimate complaints about the SPLC, but you’d never know it from that pathetic hit piece.
I agree with you that the issues with Colcom are a bit complicated. One worry I have: if the more ethical groups refuse to accept money from Colcom, will they just send even more of their money to the anti-immigrant and white nationalist organizations? We can hope that if Bike Pittsburgh and others refuse their money, Colcom will reform, but if they don’t, the ultimate beneficiaries may be the white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups.
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