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Thursday, September 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Heinz Kerry a major funder of environmental groups, causes

By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter

Teresa Heinz Kerry heads several foundations.
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If John Kerry wins in November, a prominent financial supporter of environmental groups — Teresa Heinz Kerry — will become the first lady.

Heinz Kerry began her philanthropic work long before she married Kerry, and an aide says she would continue her work from the White House.

"Her role will be just as it is today — very active," said Jeffrey Lewis, Heinz Kerry's campaign chief of staff. "She works 20 hours a day, 6-1/2 days a week, and has unbelievable abilities."

The result would be an unprecedented role for a first lady. In addition to her White House duties, she would also be a leader of foundations awarding grants to environmental groups that often seek to influence policies by lobbying Congress and government agencies.

"It certainly would be uncharted waters," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog organization. "From a strictly legal point of view, this would not be a conflict of interest. But because of the poisonous atmosphere in Washington these days, it could become controversial."

Kerry said he would support his wife's foundation work.

"I am proud of my wife's work and her lifelong commitment to the environment," Kerry said in a written response to The Seattle Times. "She has balanced her work with politics in the past and I have every confidence that she would be able to do so should she become first lady."

Heinz Kerry's foundation work began during her marriage to the late Republican Sen. John Heinz, an heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune who died in a 1991 plane crash. She is now chairwoman of two foundations and sits on the board of a third. The foundations collectively have more than $1.4 billion in assets and award more than $60 million in grants annually, according to The Foundation Center of New York.

The money funds economic, social, educational and health programs. A significant portion also funds environmental work.

Grants from the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, Howard Heinz Endowment and Heinz Family Philanthropies have helped finance efforts to clean up air and water, conserve land and control population, according to The Foundation Center.

Some of the money has gone to national environmental groups, including The Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Nature Conservancy. Heinz Kerry has forged some of her closest ties to Environmental Defense, providing more than $1.7 million to the group since 1996 and until last fall serving as its vice chairwoman.
 
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Environmental Defense, with a budget of more than $40 million annually, tackles issues ranging from pollution to fisheries.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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