As El Paso Politics has reported previously, the El Paso narrative is primarily written by the Anglo minority of the community. Individuals like the former owners of Cinco Puntos – the Byrds and Bob Moore of El Paso Matters and formerly of the El Paso Times along with freelancer Debbie Nathan sets the tone for how El Paso is viewed inwardly and outwardly. From this narrative arises the narrative of the Glass Beach Study that denigrates the Mexican-American majority of the city.
However, a narrative alone does not mold the city. It requires money to build the public policy agenda of the community. The current El Paso public policy agenda is the displacement of the Mexican-American majority by the Anglo minority. It is a culture war over whose culture rules the community. It has existed from the time El Paso became part of the United States.
The El Paso Economy
To understand who speaks for El Paso the reader needs to understand how money flows in the community. For this topic – setting the public policy agenda, or in other words, who decides how taxpayer funds are spent, we need to focus on three specific issues. They are how the economy works, who funds the politicians and who reports on the community issues. Regarding whom reports on the community issues, we have demonstrated that the news reporting is generally governed by the Anglo minority by who owns the reporting vehicles. For example, the El Paso Inc. is owned by the Fenton family. It is the primary reporter of the city’s business activities. However, secondarily, it serves to bolster the economic activity of entertainment business venues through its sister publications.
Additionally, individuals like Bob Moore and Debbie Nathan help mold the public policy agenda by their selective reporting on community issues. For example, the public policy agenda requires an El Paso Children’s Hospital. Although the local children’s hospital is mired in controversy, Moore, Nathan and the other news outlets have made the decision to ignore the problems because exposing them goes against the acceptable public policy agenda as dictated by who funds philanthropy in El Paso.
Without money the news outlets would not selectively make the decisions on what to report and what to ignore. As such, it becomes important to understand how the money flows in the community.
El Paso’s population is 84% Hispanic.  Minorities comprise 86.63% of the county’s population.  Although “minorities comprise the largest percentage of business owners” in the metroplex, Cd. Juarez, El Paso and Las Cruces, they “lag behind in several key business factors,” and “lack access” to funds, according to a recent City of El Paso report. 
A City of El Paso survey from 2018 shows that 61% of the survey respondents were Hispanic business owners and another 24% were white. 
The report shows that almost 42% of El Paso employees work in the services industry, which includes business, health and personal services. A little under 20% work in retail establishments like food services and stores. Those two industries account for 53.1% of the businesses in El Paso.  The wages generated by these business enterprises are on the lower end of the wage scale. Thus, El Paso’ wages tend to be lower, as documented by national and regional reports. Another 28.5% of the city’ wage earners work for construction, transportation and manufacturing, among other smaller industries. 
This leaves almost 30% of El Paso’s wage earners working for governmental agencies that are tax funded.
Two recent studies into entrepreneurship have shown that the although the city’s Hispanics own businesses almost proportional to the ethnic makeup of the community, they tend to fail within five years, employ little to no wage earners and have trouble growing their businesses.
As will be seen in our next special report on the economy of the city, it is who is creating the solutions to minority business ownership in El Paso that is troubling. For now, however, it is important to understand how philanthropy plays an important part in the city’s economy and politics.
City leaders like Woody Hunt and Paul Foster are known for their philanthropy. As the book, Who Rules El Paso?, argues, they have also been accused of running the city’s public policy agenda by their campaign contributions. Bob Moore’s publication, El Paso Matters, depends on the philanthropy of Woody Hunt through the Community Foundation. Debbie Nathan accused Hunt of shutting down her investigation by having her fired.
Non-profits like the El Paso Children’s Hospital depend on government funds and philanthropy primarily driven by individuals like Hunt and Foster.
The Hidden Dangers Of Philanthropy In El Paso
A 2019 study argues that charitable tax deductions are designed to primarily benefit the rich. Simply put, under the tax code, lower income individuals simply do not benefit from making donations because they do not make enough to benefit from taking advantage of itemized deductions, instead applying the standard deduction that provides no benefit for philanthropy. 
Wealthy donors control how their contributions are used by applying restrictions or requirements on their donations. More important is that the leaders of the philanthropy organizations are not diversified to represent America’s racial makeup. Understanding how undiversified the leadership is, is difficult because there is no standard centralized data set of the leadership makeup of non-profits. A sampling of 2014 data collected by the Council on Foundations from 964 voluntary foundation responses suggest that non-profit leadership leans heavily towards White leaders. In the 2014 sampling, they represented almost 92% of the leadership of the non-profits sampled. Latinos, at 2.3% were third on the list, right behind African-Americans at 3.4%. In El Paso, it can be argued that White leaders overwhelmingly represent the money flows to nonprofits by their donations. As a matter of fact, Woody Hunt is arguably the largest supporter of El Paso’s philanthropy along with one of the largest political contributors in the city.
America is the most philanthropic nation in the world. But instead of donations going towards the poor, America’s philanthropy “goes to the arts, sports teams and other cultural pursuits, and half goes to education and healthcare,” according to a 2020 Guardian article. “A lot of elite philanthropy is about elite causes,” the article adds. 
Almost three-quarters of the world’s philanthropy organizations have been established in the last 20 years.  According to the Guardian, some “philanthropists are more willfully interventionists.” As examples, the Guardian points out that Charles Koch and George Soros use philanthropy to alter public policy. 
Conservative philanthropists strive to change public policy by opposing public agendas that are against their worldview and “by setting up ‘enterprise institutions’ inside universities, which allows them, not the universities, to select the academics” taught to the students.  Universities often generate reports that drives public policy. In an upcoming report we will show who funds the “enterprise institutions” in El Paso. For now, let us look at one constructive example.
The Latinos and Society Program
The Latinos and Society Program received its initial funding from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation and the Ricardo Salinas Foundation in 2015, according to the organization’s website (last accessed on June 30, 2021). Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego is the founder of the Mexican conglomerate, Grupo Salinas. The program is also part of the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit organization founded in 1949.
In 2006, Salinas settled a civil fraud allegation brought by the U.S. Securities Commission for his financing of the TV Azteca station which was then traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Salinas paid $7.5 million to settle and was prohibited from serving as an executive in an American company for five years. 
The SEC accused Ricardo Salinas with profiting $109 million with “self-dealing” transactions not disclosed to the investors. 
In April 2012, Grupo Elektra, a subsidiary of Grupo Salinas announced it had purchased Advance America, the largest payday lender in America.  There are several Advance America stores in El Paso. To better understand Salinas’ business model we need to look at what he did in Mexico before taking control of Advance America.
Banco Azteca was added to the Elektra stores around October 2002 by Salinas. The bank branches offered the poor credit to purchase appliances or personal loans to pay for medical services. Each loan costs the consumer 50 to 60% interest. 
The average Banco Azteca loan is $257. 
Ricardo Salinas told Bloomberg in 2007 that his grandfather had told him that if you “want to become rich, sell to the poor.” 
Banco Azteca is not the only retail-based company offering micro-loans to consumers in México for purchasing products. In November 2007, Walmart began offering loans to consumers with annual percentage rates (APR) of 86% at some of its store in Mexico City.  In the United States, Walmart uses Affirm for store credit. Affirm’s loan rates can be as high as 30%.
Although the United States has strong laws governing the amount of interest on loans, loopholes such as short-term loans like the ones made by Advance America often exceed the fees and interest set by federal laws. Advance America is the largest payday lender in the U.S.
The Latinos and Society Program, created by Hunt and Salinas, is an example of how business accelerators in universities are used to decide how minority business owners will operate in a city like El Paso by the “mentorship” and analysis they provide to the community. Our upcoming report will detail who the accelerators are and who funds them. Both Latinos and Society Program and the Aspen Group figure directly into who drives the economic narrative of El Paso by their reports. We will explore this further in an upcoming article.
For now, the reader should note how philanthropy is used to set the public policy. How it is used to set the narrative, like in the example of Bob Moore’s El Paso Matters and why local news outlets are loath to expose problems at a nonprofit like El Paso Children’s Hospital. Readers should also note that in addition to Foster and Hunt there are other players like Salinas that are involved in setting a regional public policy to benefit a specific social-economic status to the detriment of the city’s Latino majority.
The important take away is that money determines who makes the public policy of the city. Money, in the form of who controls it. To fully understand this reality, one must ask the question, where does a Mexican-American entrepreneur need to go to for a business loan and who makes the political contributions that elect the Mexican-Americans ruling the city?
As the answer becomes clear to these questions then it becomes clear who rules El Paso by setting the public policy agenda. The question again is, who speaks for Latinos in El Paso?
Stay tuned for our upcoming article on academic literature funded by agenda-driven philanthropy that is used to keep the Latino majority in check.
- Erin Carlyle, “Mexican Billionaire Buys Advance America, Largest Payday Lender In U.S.,” April 23, 2012, Forbes.
- Keith Epstein and Geri Smith, “The Ugly Side of Microlending,” Bloomberg Businessweek, December 13, 2007.
- “SEC Charges TV Azteca And Its Chairman, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, with Fraudulent Scheme to Conceal Salinas’ $109 Million Windfall Through Related Party Transactions,” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Press Release, January 4, 2005.
- OpenSecrets.org Database, Center For Responsive Politics, accessed on June 30, 2021.
- Paul Vallely, “How philanthropy benefits the super-rich,” The Guardian, September 8, 2020.
- Duquette, Nicolas J., “Founders’ Fortunes and Philanthropy: A History of the U.S. Charitable-Contribution Deduction,” Business History Review 93 (3), Cambridge University Press, 2019.
- Denisse Olivas, Project Director and et al, “Moving Small Businesses Forward, Accelerate/EP, Final Report,” Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship, The University of Texas at El Paso and the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, The University of Texas at El Paso, in collaboration with the City of El Paso, 2020.