Kauai 1  large  large

Garden Isle greenbacks

A look at the money being spent in Kauaʻi County’s legal battle to preserve Ordinance 960.

Manjari Fergusson

Last November, Kauaʻi County passed Ordinance 960, requiring companies to disclose their use of pesticides and setting up buffer zones near schools and hospitals where pesticide use is restricted. In response, four biotechnology giants (Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics Inc., of Dow AgroSciences, and BASF Plant Sciences LP) filed a lawsuit against the county. A federal judge ruled against Kauaʻi County on Aug. 26, ruling that state laws contradicting the county ordinance do, in fact, preempt the county law.

But not all parties in this lawsuit are equal. Kauaiʻs entire operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year was $179 million.

By comparison, DuPont Co., the parent company of DuPont Pioneer, had $32.2 billion operating expenses in 2013. Syngenta, another party in the lawsuit, reported $4.6 billion in operating expenses, while the parent company of Agrigenetics, The Dow Chemical Company, reported $50.2 billion in operating expenses. BASF reported operating expenses of of €66.7 billion ($87.9 billion).

Last month, the attorney for Kauaʻi County, David Minkin, asked the county council for more money in order to pay private attorney’s fees in the ongoing legal battle. The council had already authorized $75,000 back in February, and the new request sought $50,000 more. In all, the legal bill for the Honolulu law firm McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP topped off at $175,000.

Other organizations got involved in the lawsuit in a bid to help defend the county law. Earthjustice (whose tagline is “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) represented three other organizations: Ka Makani Ho‘opono, Pesticide Action Network of North America and the Surfrider Foundation.

Earthjustice and the CFS would not tell the Independent how much time and money they spent to fight the lawsuit. However, reviewing the 2012 tax filings, the most recent year available, showed that the CFS had $7.2 million in revenue (up from $2.8 million in 2011) that year, along with $3.8 million in grants and contributions, which helped pay the organizations operating expenses which were listed as $5.3 million. Legal fees were $1.3 million and salaries $1.5 million.

The founder of the CFS is environmental attorney Andrew Kimbrell, who was involved with the Kauai lawsuit. His salary in 2012 was $222,540 as the organization’s executive director, and was also compensated $25,194 from related organizations.

Kimbrell is also director of the Cornerstone Campaign. Its website says the nonprofit organization was founded in 2002 “to address issues associated with the use of biotechnology in agriculture.” It goes on to explain that the organization is an “outgrowth” of “The Genetically Engineered Food Collaboration” which was previously housed at the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc., the Rockefeller’s philanthropic organization.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors gave $465,000 to CFS in 2003, and the Cornerstone Campaign is also a donor.

According to 2012 tax filings,  Kimbrell received $31,000 in compensation for his work at the Cornerstone Campaign; Abby Rockefeller and Mary Rockefeller Morgan are the other two officers listed. Cornerstone Campaign had total revenue of just over $500,000 that year.

Other notable donors to CFS include the John Merck Fund, which gave $1.3 million in 2005, and the Ceres Trust, which have given CFS nearly $2 million between 2010 and 2012, according to tax filings.

As for Earthjustice, its 2012 tax filing shows its total revenue as $38 million, with $34 million in operating expenses. Earthjustice received over $32 million in grants in 2012, up from $25 million in 2008 and has gotten over $141 million between 2008 and 2012.

Paul Achitoff, the lead attorney for Earthjustice for the Kauaʻi lawsuit, was compensated nearly $179,000 in 2012 according to tax filings. 

While it’s clear that the corporations who sued the county are operating on budgets much heftier than Kauai County’s, a spokesperson for the county said the budget “is very complex, and… to compare it to that of a private company would have to involve a very detailed and complex analysis.”

Ultimately, Earthjustice and the CFS don’t believe that resources had anything to do with the lawsuit’s outcome.

Achitoff told the Independent that the organization donates its time and legal services to its clients. “I don’t think the outcome was determined by funding,” Achitoff said. “I think the lawyers on both sides did a good job. If the county had had an unlimited budget, the outcome wouldn’t have been different.”