The people who run billion-dollar foundations like to talk about their grants. They pump out press releases, produce slick videos, post on social media, publish annual reports and compile searchable databases, all calling attention to the ways they give away money.
But how do they invest their money? Many won’t say. Fewer than half of 15 of the biggest U.S. foundations, which together own tens of billions of dollars of assets, report on their investments. They decline even to disclose the stocks and bonds they own.
The upshot: It’s all but impossible to know to what degree foundations invest in companies that extract and produce fossil fuels, manufacture assault weapons or operate private prisons — companies, that is, whose operations may well undermine their missions.
This is a problem. It’s makes no sense, for example, for foundations like Hewlett, Packard or Bloomberg — all of which fund organizations seeking to curb climate change — to invest their endowments in companies that seek to increase the supply of fossil fuels.
“What are they hiding?” asks Timothy Wirth, the former U.S. senator from Colorado who has been advocating for fossil-fuel divestment publicly at Harvard, his alma mater, and quietly in the world of philanthropy. “What reason do they have not to disclose, unless they are embarrassed?”