The Park Foundation is a left-of-center funding group for several of America’s most prominent environmentalist organizations. Led by liberal megadonor and heiress of the Duncan Hines foods and Park Communications media fortunes Adelaide Park Gomer, the foundation leads the movement to prohibit exploration for America’s natural gas resources. Gomer has said that her Park Foundation “helped to fuel an army” of environmentalists to secure bans on certain forms of gas drilling in coastal states, most prominently New York. The foundation is a major funder of the environmentalist movement, vegan interest and animal liberation causes, and progressive media.
The Park Foundation is notable for funding academic research on natural gas extraction and propaganda opposing the practice, most notably the controversial film Gasland. (The movie’s writer/director Josh Fox became flustered when confronted on National Public Radio with accusations of falsehoods in the film. An industry group issued an 11-page statement documenting errors in the film.) Park Foundation-backed groups are a major source of advocacy against natural gas development in the mainstream media, leading pro-exploration critics to allege that the foundation is funding an anti-drilling “echo chamber.”
The foundation was created by Roy H. Park, Sr., an advertising and public relations magnate who worked rural outreach for Republican Thomas Dewey in the 1948 Presidential Election. After creating and selling the Duncan Hines branded line of packaged foods, Park started Park Communications, which operated newspapers and radio stations. After Park’s death in 1993, the company was sold in October 1994 for just more than $711 million. After his death, he gave more than 70 percent of his wealth to the Park Foundation.
Split over Political Differences
Dorothy Park, Park Sr.’s widow, split the foundation in two in 2001 amid acrimony in the family. The Triad Foundation’s political giving is small compared to its community service giving and generally center-right, in contrast to the larger and more ideological Park Foundation.
Anti-Natural Gas Initiatives
Adelaide Park Gomer took the remnant Park Foundation in a far-left direction, with a focus on opposition to natural gas exploration by hydraulic fracturing. From 2009 to 2014, the Park Foundation under Park Gomer contributed at least $6 million explicitly to natural gas exploration opposition.
Park Foundation’s anti-fracking efforts focus on a handful of areas: funding progressive media, researchers opposed to gas exploration, and advocacy groups that push the anti-fracking message. Park funds numerous environmentalist-aligned progressive media outlets, including the Center for Public Integrity, the Foundation for National Progress (publisher of Mother Jones), and Grist Magazine.
The Park Foundation supports the advocacy efforts of the broader environmentalist movement, with an emphasis on organizations constituting the green radical fringe. Greenpeace reportedly received $60,000 from Park for “opposition research.” The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, characterized by a federal judge as “pirates” for their lawless activity on the high seas, received $50,000 from Park in 2014. Earthworks, an environmentalist group which spread a claim that natural gas exploration was analogous to rape, also received Park funding.
The Park Foundation was the linchpin in funding the effort to prohibit expanded gas exploration in the state of New York. Through the Sustainable Markets Foundation, recipient of at least $637,000 in Park Foundation contributions, the group provided support to anti-fracking activists and legislators in the state.
The Park Foundation funds researchers at Cornell University who have attacked gas drilling in their research and writing. The foundation also provided financial support to projects associated with Ithaca College professor Sandra Steingraber, who also cofounded the activist group New Yorkers Against Fracking. Energy industry sources noted that Park-funded liberal partisan press and researchers served as principal sources for New York Times reporting on the natural gas industry.
The Park Foundation funds progressive organizations and efforts outside of the natural gas debate as well. Common Cause, a liberal-aligned campaign finance group, has received funding from Park and gave Adelaide Park Gomer an award in 2011. A nonprofit associated with progressive documentary production company Brave New Films received a grant from Park for an anti-Afghanistan War project. Brave New Films also received Park funding for a gun control-related effort.
In 2013, Park donated to Free Speech for People, a left-of-center political outfit determined to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which ruled certain restrictions on political speech unconstitutional.
Park additionally gave $500,000 to support Moyers and Company, the media production outlet for progressive journalist Bill Moyers, formerly President Lyndon Johnson’s White House Press Secretary.
The foundation funds scholarship programs at North Carolina State University and Ithaca College. Park spends about $6.5 million on scholarships annually.
Jon M. Jensen serves as the executive director for the Park Foundation. Prior to leading Park, Jensen served at a few left-leaning groups, including the Pew Conservation Scholars Program, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Wildlife Preservation Trust International.
Adelaide Park Gomer, the daughter of Roy H. Park, Sr., also plays an instrumental role in the Park Foundation. She serves as the foundation’s president and is an ardent opponent of natural gas drilling through hydraulic fracturing. In 2013, the Albany-based Democrat & Chronicle reported that Gomer “boasted of funding an ‘army of courageous individuals and (non-governmental organizations)’ to fight fracking in New York.” Park Gomer reportedly heated her home with natural gas at least as recently as 2012, after the Park Foundation began its anti-fracking campaigns.
Gomer regularly donates to left-wing and liberal politicians. In recent years, she has given funds to former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who sits as an Independent. In 2015, she donated $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In 2016 and 2015, Gomer gave $1,000 in each year to End Citizens United. Park Gomer also backed far-left Democrat Zephyr Teachout in the 2014 New York gubernatorial primary.