New York Times: Patagonia’s Profits Are Funding Conservation — and Politics
A little more than $3 million to block a proposed mine in Alaska. Another $3 million to conserve land in Chile and Argentina. And $1 million to help elect Democrats around the country, including $200,000 to a super PAC this month.
Patagonia, the outdoor apparel brand, is funneling its profits to an array of groups working on everything from dam removal to voter registration.
In total, a network of nonprofit organizations linked to the company has distributed more than $71 million since September 2022, according to publicly available tax filings and internal documents reviewed by The Times.
The gusher of philanthropic money is the product of an unconventional corporate restructuring in 2022, when Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his family relinquished ownership of the company and declared that all its future profits would be used to protect the environment and combat climate change.
Patagonia and the Chouinards set up a series of trusts, limited liability corporations and charitable groups designed to protect the independence of the clothing company while distributing all of its profits through an entity known as the Holdfast Collective.
Patagonia paid an initial $50 million dividend to Holdfast in 2022. It made another payment to Holdfast last year. That figure is not available in tax filings or the internal documents, and the company would not disclose it. Each year going forward, Patagonia will transfer all the profits it does not reinvest in the company to Holdfast.
Holdfast Collective created and manages five nonprofit groups — Holdfast Trust, Chalten Trust, Sojourner Trust, Wilder Trust and Tail Wind Trust. They are registered under a section of the tax code, 501(c)(4), that allows them to make unlimited political donations, provided their primary purpose is social welfare. The nonprofit groups, which pay management fees to Holdfast Collective, hold 98 percent of Patagonia’s nonvoting shares. The shares are valued at $1.7 billion but will not be sold.
The group still has no website, and there is no formal process through which organizations can apply for grants. There is also just one full-time employee: Greg Curtis.
And there was a slew of political contributions last cycle, including $100,000 each to Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, which work to elect Democrats to Congress, as well as smaller gifts to groups such as the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Georgia Investor Action Fund.
Political donations constitute just a fraction of the Holdfast Collective’s overall spending. To date, its donations are barely a drip in the tsunami of outside spending expected around the 2024 election, which already exceeded $300 million earlier this month, according to an analysis by OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance.
But Holdfast’s early donations hint at the prospect of a new pool of cash for the advocacy groups and political action committees that support Democratic candidates and causes.
Caitlin Sutherland, the executive director of the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust, called Holdfast “a $1.7 billion political organization in waiting.”
Her group flagged public filings by the nonprofit organizations funded by Holdfast, which listed a range of causes, including combating disinformation and advocating for reproductive health care and prison reform.
“I personally fail to see the connection between spending money on abortion and climate change,” she said, adding that her group planned to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission for incorrectly reporting donations as having come from the Holdfast Collective, rather than the nonprofit groups it administers.
But so far, the group’s political giving has hewed closely to causes that could help Democrats. Shortly after it was founded, Holdfast made a flurry of contributions to groups working to get out the vote in Georgia ahead of the 2022 midterm election.