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Senate poised to vote on huge land grab

By Tom DeWeese
web posted March 24, 2003

Choosing a time when the attention of all Americans is on our conflict with Iraq, the Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would unleash a major attack on private property rights. It would empower environmental groups and government agencies to use taxpayer funds to purchase land.

The bill, S. 476, called the "Faith-based Initiative" (S.476), has two insidious sections, 106 and 107, that call for a 25 per cent tax cut on capital gains of land sales, but only if the land is sold to an "environmental group" or a government agency.

This legislation is a classic Trojan Horse. No other "faith-based" groups would benefit, but all Americans would suffer the economic losses as more and more land is taken off the tax rolls and all access and use of that land would be restricted. The proposed legislation would create a huge potential for government-funded land grabs.

The legislation is a roadmap to economic disaster. It is a sneak attack by environmentalists to line their pockets and grab more land from private property owners. Only this time they will have access to taxpayers dollars to undermine the ability to extract natural energy and mining resources, expand our agricultural base, harvest timber, or use such lands for any form of recreation.

The Nature Conservancy would be the largest beneficiary. It is the richest, most powerful environmental colossus in the nation. It claims more than 700,000 individual members and 405 corporate members operating out of eight regional offices and fifty chapter offices across the nation. The Nature Conservancy has assets of over $2.6 Billion, with an annual income of $785 million, and an annual operating budget of over $400 million. TNC has 274 employees who are paid more than $50,000 per year.

THE SCAM: Real Estate. THE HOOK is "conservation through private action." According to the party line, The Nature Conservancy simply buys land with private money and sets up nature reserves, thereby helping the environment without infringing on anybody. It sounds like a wonderful, charitable idea, if only it was true.

In truth, The Nature Conservancy buys private land from owners (usually at drastically reduced, land-grab prices) who think it will remain in private hands and then sells it to the government! In fact, TNC has sold more than 9 million acres to the government at a nice profit.

THE VICTIMS are unsuspecting property owners, often elderly. THE METHODS utilized include hiding behind phony corporations; serving as a shill for government agencies; and working behind the scenes with more visible environmental groups to intimidate property owners into selling. THE GOAL is money and power.

The Nature Conservancy frequently uses phony front companies to get land from owners who wouldn't knowingly sell to an environmental group. It used this tactic to purchase most of the islands off the coast of Virginia, containing 40,000 acres and sixty miles of coastline. In doing so, The Nature Conservancy was able to stop all private development and control the use of the land, damaging the tax base, killing thousands of jobs, and severely curbing the locals from hunting, fishing, camping and joy riding on the islands.

Don't think the purpose was to preserve these beautiful, pristine islands for nature. The Nature Conservancy did bar others from developing the land, but not itself. Far from it. At a huge profit, the Conservancy developed upscale homes for the rich.

The problem is that The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization with tax-exempt status and they maintain that status because of their tightly protected image as benevolent conservationists. This is far from the truth.

For example, property owners on the islands wanted to invest in development and thought they were selling their land to developers. They were aware of and frightened by the Nature Conservancy and would never have sold to the group. That's why The Conservancy hid behind a phony land company, grabbed power, foiled the development, and made a huge profit on tax-exempt money. Today much of the coast of Virginia is off-limits to tourists and other development.

Other times, The Nature Conservancy acts as a shill to a government agency to acquire land cheaply and sell it to the government at a huge profit. One of its favorite scams goes something like this. Your grandmother owns land close to a historic site or a wilderness area. The government wants the land to expand a park, but grandmother won't sell.

One day a representative of the Nature Conservancy shows up, well dressed, smiling, but concerned. He tells your grandmother that he's just learned that the government intends to take her land after she passes away. She won't be able to sell it or give it to her children. However, he can offer a solution. If Grandmother will sell her land to The Nature Conservancy he can assure her that the land will stay in private hands and not be taken by the government. Well, a relieved grandmother is much happier and she agrees to sell. However, because the government has threatened to take the land, its value is now only about half its reported market value. That's all he'll be able to pay her. Well, thinks grandmother, half is better than nothing, so she sells.

The next day our friend from The Nature Conservancy makes a call to the Department of the Interior (or some other appropriate federal agency) informing them that their plan has worked. The whole thing had been pre-arranged between them before anyone ever knocked on Grandmother's door. As arranged, The Nature Conservancy then sells the land to the Interior Department for full market value, plus overhead, financing, and handling charges.

The truth is The Nature Conservancy is little more than a massive, ruthless real estate machine using its tax-exempt status and ties to the government to create wealth for itself.

The entire concept of the Faith-based Initiative is ill conceived. Its virtually hidden exemptions will benefit The Nature Conservancy and land-hungry government agencies. Americans must contact their Senators today to insure that the hidden sections of S.476 are removed. It may come up for a vote at any time

Tom DeWeese is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report, a monthly newsletter, and president of the American Policy Center, a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in Warrenton, VA. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org. © Tom DeWeese, 2003

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