Tinseltown’s A-list is racing to see who can write the biggest checks to the food-scare artists at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, Laurie David, NRDC trustee and wife of Seinfeld creator Larry David, has become the group’s go-to-gal for celebrity cash. This spring David co-chaired the NRDC’s charity gala, “Earth to LA! — The Greatest Show on the Earth.” The event attracted luminaries such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ray Romano, Tom Hanks, and Michelle Pfeiffer and raised $3 million for the NRDC.
For most of David’s movie star pals, NRDC is just another cause celebre to fill the time between pool parties. But the group can count on a core of true believers to hit its annual fundraising targets. In the late 1990s, The Atlantic Monthly notes, director Rob Reiner and Alan Horn of Warner Brothers spent three days with NRDC founder John Adams shilling for support at every movie studio in town. Their efforts have paid off: At “Earth to L.A.!,” the NRDC received $100,000 from both HBO and Village Roadshow Productions, $50,000 from MTV Networks, and $25,000 from both Fox Group and the William Morris Agency. Reiner also convinced man-about-town film producer Steve Bing to donate $1.7 million so NRDC could finish its new Santa Monica headquarters.
NRDC is probably best remembered for the Alar hysteria it engineered in 1989. Along with Washington PR firm Fenton Communications, NRDC bellowed that Alar, a ripening agent used on apples, “was the most potent-cancer causing agent in our food supply” and caused “as many as 5,300” cases of cancer in children. After the Alar story was revealed as a fraud, co-conspirator David Fenton conceded, “we designed [the Alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back into the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public.” NRDC made $700,000 through its lies. Honest apple farmers lost $250 million.
After the apple scare became unprofitable, NRDC decided to cast its nets on the fishing industry. NRDC launched its “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign in 1998 with help from SeaWeb and Fenton Communications. The campaign declared that America’s taste for swordfish “threaten[ed] the livelihood of the species.” But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condemned the NRDC campaign as “flawed to the core,” while the National Marine Fisheries Institute declared that swordfish were never in any danger of extinction.