Protection money

Culture | Some liberal advocacy groups are using extortion as a fundraising technique

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, and the Undertaker are getting beat up and robbed by a bunch of environmentalists.

The international environmentalist group formerly known as the World Wildlife Federation is suing the group formerly known as the World Wrestling Foundation over the acronym "WWF." Apparently the environmentalists think the public would confuse a group devoted to saving pachyderms with a group devoted to smashing chairs over people's heads. The wildlife organization is asking for damages of $360 million. But it is generously offering to settle the case for a mere $90 million.

Increasingly, liberal advocacy groups-which generally demonize corporations as the evil face of capitalism-are using what amounts to extortion as a method of fundraising.

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Sometimes this is overt. In his investigative reporting for the New York Post, Rod Dreher has shown how Jesse Jackson has generated millions for his organization and for himself by raising spurious civil-rights complaints at big businesses, threatening protests and bad publicity unless they cough up "contributions" to demonstrate their commitment to racial justice.

Sometimes the payoff is not in money but in concessions to the group's policy demands, as with the homosexual-rights groups threatening companies with protests unless they become "gay friendly," for example, giving marriage benefits to homosexual couples. Company after company has caved in the face of these demands, simply to avoid embarrassment.

Although extortion-as with the gangsters who demand "protection money"-is illegal, the major vehicle for extortion has become, ironically, the legal system. It is so expensive and time-consuming to contest a lawsuit-and the outcome, given the subjectivity of many of today's judges and juries, so uncertain-that many targets of frivolous cases, to avoid a trial, just settle.

This has been the unscrupulous tactic of ambulance chasers for a long time, but today it has become a tool of advocacy groups. The mere threat of a lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group of aggressive atheists, is enough to make cities take down their Christmas trees, take any crosses off of their signs, and cancel time off for city employees to go to church on Good Friday. City councilmen always decry having to do this, but they say that they must, rather than use taxpayer money to contest a lawsuit that they might lose.

This is the tactic as well of anti-smoking organizations and now the new groups mobilizing to combat fast food. The goal is not so much to win their cases-finding an industry liable for the health problems of people who choose to eat too much is quite a stretch-but they do not have to, if they can bully the businesses into settling out of court.

The World Wildlife Fund, though-whose new name is the World Wide Fund for Nature-has to be the Don Corleone of fundraising. In an article in Foundation Watch, a publication of the Capital Research Center, John Carlisle details how this WWF outdoes the other in fakery and dirty moves.

Mr. Carlisle recounts how the environmentalist organization staged a campaign against the Swedish-Swiss multinational corporation ABB, which was building a dam and power plant in Malaysia. Later, ABB made a $500,000 donation to the WWF. Strange that the company would become so persuaded of the values of the organization that was tormenting it as to fork over such a generous gift for the cause. Stranger still that the WWF dropped its protest.

The World Wide Fund for Nature started bothering the wrestling promoters 10 years ago. As the wrestling WWF became more and more successful and more and more wealthy, the tree-huggers' moves became more and more aggressive.

In response, the wrestling group changed its name. Today it is World Wrestling Entertainment. It also changed its logo. Now it just goes by WW. It gave up its old website, the wildlife fund contended could be confusing to donors-and made other concessions. But the environmentalists just will not leave them alone. The old WWF initials can still be found in merchandising and magazines.

And since the environmentalists have their headquarters in Switzerland and wrestling products can be found around the world, under one of the benefits of globalism, the WWF controversy has emerged in European courts, where it is being taken seriously.

The wrestling promoters, though, are drawing the line at handing over the $90 million demanded by the environmentalists. One does not have to approve of pro wrestling to root for them for upholding a classic American principle: millions for defense but not one penny for tribute.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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