When you hear the phrase ‘Cayman Islands hedge fund,’ what comes to mind? Billionaires, financiers and venture capitalists, right? Now you can add (alleged) ‘animal activist group.’

One of the most irritating aspects of wading through the river of rhetoric that flows like the tides form the activist community dedicated to demonizing animal agriculture is the holier-then-thou tone that permeates their messaging.

Not only is the cause of animal rights or vegan lifestyles so much more than important than other priorities — affordable food, farm-sector security, rural development, among other issues — but the goals of most groups are cloaked in a moral superiority that justifies whatever tactics these groups decide to use.

Name-calling, mud-slinging, even property destruction and vandalism — it all gets whitewashed because no matter how far extremists go beyond what’s reasonable and appropriate, it’s okay — it’s for “the cause.”

Honestly, you’d have to spend a weekend at an animal rights convention to fully appreciate the parallel universe in which most true believer/veggie activists exist. And unlike religious evangelist types, they’re not interested in converting someone who isn’t onboard with their worldview. Instead, they react with laser-like loathing and criticism. If you support animal agriculture and meat-eating, then everything about your lifestyle and your personal values is corrupt.

But let’s turn that blanket condemnation around. If activists are engaged in something untoward, does that taint the entire organizational mission?

Here’s Exhibit A, and — surprise! — it involves the Humane Society of the United States, a group of professional charlatans who continue to suck up donations from unsuspecting supporters who mistakenly believe their money is helping to support local Humane Society pet rescue operations.

Parking its funding offshore

It turns out that the holier-than-thou HSUS is right there in bed with vulture capitalists and assorted “high net worth” financiers who stash their money offshore (wink, wink) as “investment vehicles.”

According to an investigation by Washington, D.C.-based Humane Watch, HSUS’s 2012 tax return shows a total of $25.7 million in various funds in the “Central American and the Caribbean” region.

“Where exactly is this $26 million invested?” the report stated. “It turns out HSUS funneled mega-bucks to several funds located in the Cayman Islands. You know — the secretive place where secretive people stuff their secretive money. Bond villain-type stuff.”

According to HSUS’s 990-T and supplemental tax forms, the funds are invested as follows:

  • $500,000 to Ascend Partners Fund I, L.P., a Cayman hedge fund
  • $253,000 to BKM Holdings Ltd. (Caymans)
  • $8 million to Fore Multi Strategy Offshore Fund, Ltd. (Caymans)
  • $5 million to Hayman Capital Offshore Partners, L.P. (Bermuda)
  • $6.7 million invested in Fir Tree International Value Fund (Caymans)

In its report, Humane Watch asked the obvious question: “Why would a U.S. charity be putting $26 million in the Caribbean?”

Allow me to answer that question. Ostensibly, HSUS is a non-profit that never tires of touting its track record in advocating for animal welfare. That’s what they say their mission is all about.

But like any other multi-million dollar organization these days, HSUS understands that parking money offshore provides valuable investment and tax benefits. Like spending the money the group raises through fund-raising on even more fund-raising, its “Caymans strategy” is justified because it’s in service to the noble cause of animal welfare.

But the bottom line for HSUS is clearly the bottom line. More money means more leverage. A bigger bank account funds high-level anti-industry campaigns. And the investment returns on a multi-million portfolio support “competitive” salaries for HSUS executives, plus extra cash to use in lobbying efforts.

Despite what their marketing materials claim, the group is not in the business of funneling cash to struggling local pet shelters and rescue operations, it’s priority is investing money in hedge funds to make as big a profit as possible.

As Humane Watch noted, “It’s hard to save animals when you’ve parked $25 million offshore.”

All those well-meaning donors who truly care about homeless and abandoned pets ought to simply write a check directly to their local shelter, rather than forking over cash to an organization that takes that donation and sticks it into an offshore bank account.

Hard to square that “strategy” with the crying need to support the local organizations doing the actual work of saving animals.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.