Legal Update June 2021

Update about aggressive tactics by The Mountaineers to take over our name, Mountaineers Foundation

Last June, we shared a short update about a legal dispute between Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation since it was founded in 1968, and the similarly-named alpine club known as The Mountaineers.

Our organizations, though separate and independent of one another, have collaborated on numerous educational and conservation efforts over the past decades. We even have people who participate actively in both organizations.

We all share an intense desire to find a mutually-agreeable resolution, but The Mountaineers’ CEO is engaging in aggressive public relations tactics based on false claims that make it harder, not easier, to avoid a drawn-out legal battle. We feel compelled to correct some of the blatant falsehoods we’ve consistently seen in public communications about the matter.

At issue is the right to our legal name, Mountaineers Foundation, registered with both the Internal Revenue Service and Washington Secretary of State. Since our founding in 1968, that name has generated tremendous goodwill and meaning among our donors and supporters, including our many Legacy Donors who have bequeathed funds in support of our conservation work. Even as we added Keta Legacy Foundation in 2018, our legal and public identity as Mountaineers Foundation remains. We have used our Mountaineers Foundation name since we were formed as a nonprofit charitable organization with the Washington Secretary of State on June 24, 1968. Our name is also trademarked by the State of Washington.

Unfortunately and surprisingly, The Mountaineers has started aggressively and illegally using the Mountaineers Foundation name. In 2018, they started using the Mountaineers Foundation name for their own fundraising purposes, going so far as creating a false “Mountaineers Foundation” section on their website and posting that any “bequests intended for The Mountaineers Foundation be directed to The Mountaineers at [The Mountaineers’] Seattle address.” They have also filed trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office claiming it has continuously and exclusively used The Mountaineers Foundation trademark since 1907.

To protect our independent identity and the intent of our donors, the Foundation has sought to stop The Mountaineers from unlawfully using our name and creating confusion and misdirection of donations.

We have sought to resolve this issue amicably, hoping to avoid lengthy litigation. But The Mountaineers’ CEO has regularly engaged in unseemly tactics that compromise the basis for any good-faith negotiations. This includes repeating false claims about our organization and regularly posting misleading information on The Mountaineers’ website.

The most egregious claim we need to correct is about the independence of our organizations.

The Mountaineers continually claims Mountaineers Foundation was created in 1968 as its “nonprofit fundraising arm.” Their website currently states Mountaineers Foundation operated as a “separate licensee” for fundraising and grant-making on their behalf.

This is unequivocally false. The Foundation was not created to serve The Mountaineers and no license exists. We are co-equal organizations that have always been independent of one another. (Notably, it’s actually illegal to lose your tax-exempt status like The Mountaineers did in 1972 and set up another non-profit organization from which to funnel tax-deductible donations for its sole benefit.)

In an effort to protect our donors and correct these misleading statements, we have filed a consumer complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. That office is empowered to act on behalf of the public to prosecute and sanction those who engage in deceptive and dishonest practices when soliciting funds for or in the name of charity.

This is not simply about a similar name. It is about The Mountaineers falsely asserting a right to the Mountaineers Foundation name and using our name to direct our donors to contribute to their organization. And, increasingly, it’s about The Mountaineers’ CEO’s public posturing in ways that undermine any good-faith legal process. Despite repeated public postings about sensitive legal discussions, we have continued to engage respectfully in this process, and we will continue to do so.

We’re certain there’s a constructive and positive path forward, but the fastest way to find it is to engage respectfully with us, not through misleading blog posts. We’re looking forward to a resolution that allows both organizations to continue fulfilling our missions and promoting a love for our outdoor spaces, both as recreationalists and conservationists.

Throughout all of this, our focus continues to be our important preservation and education work. Thank you for your continued support of the Foundation that allows us to promote actions and foster understanding to inspire conservation from the Rhododendron Preserve to the Salish Sea region.