Vermont nonprofit founded by ice cream magnate Ben Cohen opposes U.S. support for Ukraine

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen is the “primary donor” to the Eisenhower Media Network, which enlists U.S. military veterans to speak out against U.S. involvement in Ukraine. VTDigger file photo

A Vermont-based nonprofit led by Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen is behind a media campaign opposing U.S. support for Ukraine’s self-defense, the Daily Beast reported Monday

The campaign, orchestrated by the Eisenhower Media Network, has enlisted U.S. military veterans to argue in the news media that the U.S. is investing too much in Ukraine’s efforts to fend off Russia’s yearlong invasion. According to the Daily Beast, the network’s experts “have been echoing Kremlin propaganda lines” by arguing that NATO’s desire for expansion helped cause the war and that U.S. involvement has exacerbated it.

The Eisenhower Media Network is a project of the Burlington-based People Power Initiatives. Cohen, who lives in Williston, founded the People Power Initiatives in 2013, according to a filing with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, and he has served as its president ever since. The group is also behind the Stamp Stampede, a campaign finance reform initiative led by Cohen. 

The Ben & Jerry’s cofounder has contributed more than $1 million to People Power Initiatives, according to the Daily Beast. 

Dennis Fritz, director of the Eisenhower Media Network, confirmed to VTDigger that Cohen has helped bankroll the campaign. 

“He’s our primary donor,” Fritz said. 

In a brief interview with VTDigger Monday morning, Cohen said he had not read the Daily Beast story but supported the goals of the Eisenhower Media Network and echoed some of its talking points.

“There were provocations for that war mostly on the part of the U.S. that are not commonly understood,” Cohen said. 

“The U.S. could use its power to advocate for a negotiated settlement, but instead it’s using its power to prolong the war — prolong and prolong and increase the death and destruction,” he said. 

Though Cohen did not dispute his association with the Eisenhower Media Network, he provided his own explanation for the money he had contributed. 

“What I did was I established a journalism award to honor and memorialize a guy named Pierre Sprey, who was a Pentagon analyst and incredibly intelligent and critical thinker with regard to Pentagon activities, mostly the Pentagon’s habit of creating absurdly expensive programs that are designed to kill thousands of people and destroy villages and mostly don’t work as advertised,” Cohen told VTDigger. 

The award is for journalists who report on the Pentagon and national security issues, Cohen said. 

According to Fritz, Cohen did fund the award, but he said Cohen’s contributions are unrestricted and that the Eisenhower Media Network can spend the funds as needed. Fritz said the money mainly goes to stipends for the network’s fellows or for paid op-eds. Asked how much Cohen has contributed, Fritz said he did not have that information immediately available.

Cohen did not respond to subsequent voicemails and text messages seeking additional information about his support for the organization. But in an interview later Monday, Cohen’s spokesperson, Ed Erickson, said his boss had been confused and that Cohen’s contribution to the journalism award was separate from his support for the Eisenhower Media Network.

The Eisenhower Media Network includes among its senior fellows Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, U.S. Army (ret.)  former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever, the British multinational conglomerate, but the Vermont-based ice cream company maintains some autonomy — particularly around political issues. 

Anuradha Mittal, chair of Ben & Jerry’s independent board, said she was not aware of the Eisenhower Media Network or of Cohen’s contributions to the organization.

“In this instance, Ben is acting in his personal capacity as a private citizen, not as a representative of Ben & Jerry’s,” said Sean Greenwood, a spokesperson for Ben & Jerry’s. “Ben & Jerry’s stands firmly against military action of any kind to alter national borders, which is why we remain opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

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Fred Thys

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and the economy for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. He is the recipient of the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association's Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and for Enterprise Reporting. Fred has worked at The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.


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