A major left-wing foundation has received tens of millions of dollars from a shadowy Bermudan company with ties to wealthy American hedge fund managers and distributed those funds to prominent liberal nonprofit groups.
A sizable portion of the Sea Change Foundation’s revenue since 2011 has come from a single company, incorporated in Bermuda, called Klein Ltd. The company’s only officers are employees of a Bermuda law firm, and neither provided information on what Klein actually does.
Documents filed with the Bermudan government suggest that the company exists only on paper.
The money Klein has donated to Sea Change has been passed on to some of the largest liberal and environmentalist groups in the United States, including the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Center for American Progress (CAP).
CAP, which attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010 for supposedly using foreign money for political purposes, has also received funds from the Bermuda-based Atlantic Philanthropies, as has its 501(c)(4) arm, the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Speaking at a 2009 event held by the Action Fund, Nathaniel Simons, a foundation manager at and major donor to Sea Change, emphasized the importance of foundations in building a "low-carbon economy" but said that they needed to disburse more money to be effective.
"There does need to be more capital to move in from philanthropy," Simons said. "There need to be more funders, and I think that foundations are starting to understand that."
Since Simons made those remarks, Klein Ltd. has donated $23 million to the Sea Change Foundation, according to its 990 filings. The donations comprised more than 40 percent of total contributions to the group during fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
According to company documentation provided by the Bermudan government’s registrar of companies, Klein was incorporated in Hamilton, Bermuda, on March 18, 2011.
Its exclusive purpose, according to the company’s articles of incorporation, is to give money to nonprofit groups and foundations.
"The company will require all of its assets that would otherwise be available to its members generally to be transferred, on its winding up, to another body with objects similar to its own," those articles state.
A number of left-wing foundations have chosen Bermuda and other offshore destinations to mask the origins of contributions, according to Ron Arnold, author of Undue Influence: Wealthy Foundations, Grant-Driven Green Groups, and Zealous Bureaucrats That Control Your Future.
"A number of Big Green donors have chosen offshore foundations for government-guaranteed anonymity," Arnold said in an email. "Several countries have become favorites in the no-disclosure-required industry, notably Bermuda, Panama, and Liechtenstein."
"Bermuda boasts an entire building devoted to plagues of lawyers handling secret trusts that funnel personal wealth into foundations which fund non-profit operations in the United States," he noted.
The documents provided by the Bermudan government list two registered business agents, Nicholas Hoskins and Marlies Smith, both of whom work at the Bermuda-based corporate law firm Wakefield Quin.
Hoskins did not respond to requests for comment. Smith confirmed that Klein is a Wakefield client. She would not say exactly what Klein does or from where it derives its revenue.
The only other donors to the foundation during the two years in which it received contributions from Klein were Nathaniel Simons, a trust bearing his name, and his wife, Laura Baxter-Simons, also a foundation manager at Sea Change.
While the connections between the Simons’ and Klein are not clear, they both have ties to Wakefield Quin through a pair of hedge funds.
Rod Forrest, senior counsel at Wakefield Quin, is listed as a director of Medallion International Ltd. and Meritage Holdings Ltd., two hedge funds incorporated in Bermuda with ties to the Simons family.
Sea Change had $63.9 million invested in Medallion and $16.3 million invested in Meritage in 2011, according to its latest 990 filing. It had sold stakes in both by July 2012, earning the foundation more than $67 million in net capital gains.
Medallion is a fund run by Renaissance Technologies, which was founded by Simons’ father Jim.
Simons was identified as a principal at Renaissance in his 2009 CAP speech on the need for additional foundation funding. A spokesperson at the firm’s New York office said he does not currently work there.
Baxter-Simons was Renaissance’s associate counsel until 2011. She is currently the general counsel and chief compliance officer at Meritage Group L.P., which owns the Meritage Holdings fund.
According to a March 8 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Simons is the chief executive of Meritage Holdings.
Voice mails left at that number and comment requests made through Meritage were not returned.