Teresa Heinz Kerry, the Heinz ketchup heiress and Pittsburgh 's most generous left-wing philanthropist, is very hands-on when it comes to deciding who gets a slice of the $140 million in charity that three Heinz Endowments dispense every year.
In his new booklet, "Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts," Ben Johnson documents how the wife of Sen. John Kerry (and the late Sen. John Heinz) shares the Heinz family's wealth with a collection of left-wing groups and morally challenged cultural organizations that many Americans would find outrageous or appalling.
Johnson is the managing editor of FrontPageMag.com and author of "57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving." That 2004 work, a prequel to his forthcoming one, did what the mainstream media did not do when Teresa Heinz Kerry and her husband were trying to win the White House. It documented the highly politicized, partisan and often self-serving tax-exempt giving of Teresa Heinz Kerry. I talked to Johnson by telephone on Tuesday:
Q: What do the Heinz Endowments say they are?
A: The Heinz Endowments say that they are charitable organizations based in Western Pennsylvania with the intention to aid the citizens of the entire area. So they are purely charitable organizations motivated by their love of mankind.
Q: What do you contend they really are, based on your research?
A: Over the course of two books, there is no denying that many of their grants do in fact benefit Pennsylvania in general, and I wouldn't dispute that that's the case. However, many of their grants are overtly partisan or go to groups of a decidedly radical nature. For instance, to give what seems to be the most egregious example, in 2004 Teresa Heinz Kerry gave $250,000 to help fund the Democratic National Convention that nominated her husband.
Q: And endowments are not supposed to be giving money to the Communist Party, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party -- any party, right?
A: That's right. By the way, they didn't give the money directly to a political party; they gave it to a group called Boston 2004. The Federal Elections Commission had made a loophole, which Teresa Heinz Kerry exploited, which said that organizations that fund political conventions are not motivated by politics, they are motivated by a love of the city that is hosting the convention. So this was merely a huge act of civic pride on her part to engage in this. She gave $250,000 -- which went to pamper Democratic National Convention attendees -- that bestowed coffee, trinkets, tickets for stage shows, tickets to exclusive events that only high-dollar donors were invited to.
And of course, it helped launch her husband in the national consciousness and herself, because you'll remember she gave that rambling speech in prime time in 2004 that was not well received at the national convention.
Q: How much control does Teresa Heinz Kerry have over the way Heinz Endowments' money is dispensed?
A: We can assume she has absolute control. She is the chair of the foundations. Some of her children are also on the board. So as a trustee, and as in some cases a chair, she is entrusted with overseeing the way that the wealth is distributed.
I think it is indisputable that the Heinz family, with its long ties to the Republican Party, would not be in favor of supporting Democratic constituencies -- certainly not in supporting organizations that, for example, say that the United States has quote "a slave and empire form of governance" or that the history of the United States is quote "the history of racism codified in law."
Q: How much money do the Heinz Endowments give out?
A: Overall, it's $140 million in grants every single year -- total. Now, again, not all of that is political. Some of it is for praiseworthy causes like the YWCA or the Imani Christian Academy . But a large portion of that money, in fact, goes to political causes, radical groups that are absolutely indefensible and, in the most recent cases, pro-pedophilia and gay porn films.
Q: Does the general tilt of the politics of the endowments -- and where the money goes and to whom -- reflect Teresa Heinz Kerry's politics very closely?
A: Oh, certainly. There is no diversity in the funding. That is to say, conservatives and liberals don't get an equal share of the funds. Those grants that are political are 100 percent on the left-hand side of the spectrum, whether it's environmentalist groups -- which is her pet passion and certainly the largest recipient of money -- or whether it's supporting affirmative action, abortion, union involvement in elections or what I would refer to as the "Hate America Left." All of these things are exclusively left wing and they reflect Teresa Heinz Kerry very well.
If you look at her public statements throughout the 2004 campaign and beyond, you'll find that many of these are groups that support her agenda. In fact, one of them, the Democracy Cell Project, is a group that was founded by people who met her and wrote a blog containing positive information about their meeting with her. So in some cases, she has actually a personal involvement with the people she funds.
Q: Are endowments like this permitted to give money to partisan organizations and openly activist political groups?
A: There's nothing illegal about what she is doing. I want to make that clear. Everything she does is 100 percent legal, provided that the organizations you're giving money to qualify for tax-exempt status, which means that only a specific percentage of their overall activity can be directed to overtly partisan or political lobbying efforts. What she does is legal; it's simply not really charity. It's political activism and it should be labeled for what it really is.
Q: So you'd argue that she is violating the spirit of the endowment law, not the letter of the law?
A: Precisely. What she's involved in is trying to radicalize the state of Pennsylvania and change the entire tenor of national discourse. In the period that this most-recent book looks at (2004-2007), she's also involved in trying to turn out Democratic voter constituency groups at the polls -- increased voter registration, increased voter turnout -- and all of this is happening when her husband John Kerry was considering running for president a second time. Not only is she violating the spirit of using money for political discourse but, in fact, she has a personal stake involved in trying to benefit her husband. I think that's the more egregious of two violations of the spirit of the law.
Q: What would you point to as examples of her "substantial abuse of funds entrusted to her care"?
A: The most outstanding example of this would be the money that she has given to organizations that are involved in specifically trying to get out the vote. For example, she gave $25,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which is a constituency that voted for John Kerry in 2004 by 77 percent.
She's given $140,000 to an organization that trains Pittsburgh school children to advocate on behalf of environmental groups, partnering them with local environmental organizations for quote "policy advocacy." She gave more than $100,000 to a group that had 8,000 children protest in favor of socialized medicine .. These are things where people are directly involved in the political process. In terms of the radical side of where she's giving, she's given several hundred thousand dollars to Pittsburgh-based radical organizations. The two most outstanding would be the Three Rivers Community Foundation and the Thomas Merton Center .
Q: What's wrong with those organizations?
A: The two are themselves umbrella groups of far-left radicals -- not simply liberals or liberal Democrats, but, in fact, many of them are socialists or explicitly communist anti-Americans. The Three Rivers Community Fund was given $100,000 in 2004, the year that her husband did run for president, to "support the work of grass-roots organizations." Among those grass-roots organizations is ACORN, the voter-fraud organization.
The other groups that they're involved with, for example, are the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group that's trying to get detainees in Guantanamo Bay released into American courts with full civil-liberties protections, so that they will have lawyers protecting them with the same rights that Americans have. The Black Radical Congress is one of the organizations they work with. The Palestinian Solidarity Committee and others.
Perhaps the greatest service that the Thomas Merton Center rendered to Teresa Heinz Kerry was in 2004, when they actually protested against the Republican National Convention.
They tried to block delegates' buses from getting to the convention center. They interrupted several speeches on national television. They harassed the delegates and some of the speakers. They exposed themselves in public.
Not only did Teresa Heinz Kerry fund her own political convention but she also funded those who disrupted her husband's opponents' political convention.
Q: All of these leftist or liberal groups exist already, so is there anything that you can point to that would not exist if it were not for Teresa Heinz Kerry's own politically directed charity?
A: Two of them. One of them would be the Tides Center of Western Pennsylvania. The Tides Center is a San Francisco-based funder of radical causes. For instance, the Tides Center helped provide the Internet to Cuba . They have ties to CAIR, the Center for American Islamic Relations, which is sort of a pro-terrorist, pseudo-civil rights organization that lobbies on behalf of Islamist concerns in the United States . She brought a wing of the Tides Center to Western Pennsylvania specifically to fund projects in the area, but they give 10 percent of their income to local radical organizations.
The second one, in this reporting period, is that she took $10 million to found the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment (based in Washington , D.C. ). Its purpose specifically is to attempt to lobby lawmakers on behalf of environmental causes by producing pseudo-scholarship promoting the green agenda.
Q: You say the Heinz Endowments have been responsible for a wide variety of radical or offensive "art." What's an example of that?
A: The most outrageous example of this would be the 2006 Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which screened not one but two films that glorified same-sex statutory rape. One was "Loving Annabelle," which is a film about a Catholic school teacher who has sexual intercourse with one of her underage students. The other one is called "Whole New Thing," which is about a 13-year-old who was formerly homeschooled, raised by hippies, who tries to seduce his gay teacher in Nova Scotia . Both of them present the sex as something the student is actively pursuing and in their own terms justifying and glorifying what's going on. I think that's well beyond the pale.
Q: If someone says, "OK, so Teresa Heinz spent $10,000 or whatever on this film festival. She's basically wasting her money, but is it really hurting anything -- and who cares?" What's your response to that?
A: I think anytime that we glorify pedophilia that feeds into the victimization of children. Anyone who does that should be ashamed of themselves. They are participating in the glorification of statutory rape. That is one of the most offensive things any human being can do. The fact that her money helped finance this and justify it to a subsection of your readers in Pittsburgh is absolutely indefensible and execrable.
Q: Teresa Heinz and John Kerry are left-liberal Democrats. You wouldn't expect them to give money to the GOP or the Moral Majority. What are they doing that is worse than what any other ideologically based endowment is doing?
A: What they do that I think is worse than what anyone can do, to begin with, is being involved directly in the political process in a way that personally benefited both of them.
Secondly, justifying pedophilia; screening films that are explicitly pornographic; aiding domestic radicals who are violent; and promoting films and performances which accuse our soldiers of systematic torture and rape around the world. One of those, the Fear Up Project, which is called "Fear Up: Stories From Baghdad and Guantanamo ," was praised in a personal letter written by John Kerry. These are two individuals who not only personally gained from positive press coverage from some of the outlets that they fund, who not only have attempted to increase their own power by projecting themselves into the highest office in the land with tax-exempt money from a Republican family, but have also violated the most basic standards of decency that hold as Americans -- the protection of innocent, defenseless children.
Q: What was your intent in writing this book?
A: Well, I wrote a book called "57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving" in 2004 because I thought it was worth exploring what the future first lady might be doing in the White House. Remember, she had vowed that if John Kerry had been elected in 2004 she was going to continue running her philanthropy as well as sitting on the board of the Brookings Institution and other causes. We had had a robust exploration of Hillary Clinton in 1992 and we were well aware of where she stood. But Teresa Heinz Kerry remained a mystery to us. So I thought it was worth exploring the most significant work she has done in her life. Then in 2008, the story had built enough that I thought it was worth a follow up. This is work that no one else is doing, that the media should have been doing throughout the 2004 campaign. We should have known, throughout, that Teresa Heinz Kerry had spent her money promoting radical organizations in a way that certainly violates the spirit if not the letter of the law -- and in a way that may have personally benefited her husband's candidacy.
It is to the everlasting shame of the media, and testimony to its bias, that we know none of this except through the work of an obscure right-wing blogger.
Q: By the name of .?
A: By the name of Ben Johnson (laughs).