Among the key environmental groups that Heinz Kerry supports is the Clean Air Task Force, a low-profile Boston group that gets 10% of its funding from her. It has half a dozen scientists on staff capable of "going toe-to-toe" with utility industry experts in emission disputes, according to executive director Armond Cohen.
The task force targets Midwestern utility emissions, some of which eventually blow over Pittsburgh and contribute to dirty air and acid rain. Among its many activities, the group recently sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to identify counties that are not meeting federal smog standards.
Cohen said that Heinz Kerry's support was "nonpartisan."
Already a Target
Still, bankrolling lawsuits against the federal government would be an unusual role for a first lady. Such activity by Heinz Kerry has already become a target for conservative groups such as Capital Research Center, a Washington-based organization that examines the spending of nonprofit foundations.
The group has tried to link Heinz Kerry to fringe environmental causes. It points to her contributions to the Tides Center, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that has provided bookkeeping and other back-office support for smaller groups that she supports. Separately, Tides also runs its own foundation that supports anti-globalization causes; the Heinz groups do not support such agendas.
The allegations that tie Heinz Kerry to anti-globalization protests miss the mark, said King, the endowments chief.
"These little-minded and uninformed people keep attacking us," he said.
But a member of the Heinz board takes a more cautious approach, saying in an interview on condition of anonymity that the association with Tides will be reconsidered. "We have to make sure there aren't any appearance issues," the board member said.
Heinz Kerry's support of other groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, also rankles her critics. The league is the political nexus of the environmental movement, with a board of directors that reaches deep into the nation's famous or wealthy elite. The directors include such names as Theodore Roosevelt IV, Rampa Hormel and Marie Ridder.
Many of them are Kerry supporters, as is league President Deb Callahan. Between 1993 and 2003, the Heinz Family Foundation contributed $55,000 to the organization, Callahan said in an interview. It was not because of that support, but because of Kerry's record on environmental legislation, that the league gave Kerry an early endorsement in January.
"He had the strongest environmental record in the field of candidates," Callahan said.
But Ron Arnold, a critic of the environmental movement who has written several books on abuses of power under the green cause, has said the endorsement reflected Heinz Kerry's financial support of the league and demonstrated the way she would use her money to pull strings outside official channels.
"This is very Machiavellian," Arnold said.
The tempest involving Heinz Kerry's support of environmental causes illustrates, experts say, the very problem that her philanthropic work could cause Kerry if he reaches the White House.
"She may recognize that it is wiser to turn it over to some other group or to her children," said Hess, the political analyst.