Actor Mark Ruffalo is working with eBay to raise funds for his foundation, Water Defense, which is fighting the controversial hydraulic fracturing method, commonly known as fracking, which extracts gas from shale using chemical fluids injected into the ground. Fracking critics have long contended that the chemicals can contaminate drinking water. (On Dec. 8, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report saying that the drilling method is likely polluting water supplies in central Wyoming.)
Water Defense is featured on the auction site’s new eBay Celebrity portal, which is part of a growing online trend of connecting fans directly with celebrities whose causes they support. (Other sites include Crowdrise, co-founded by actor Edward Norton, and the Hollywood Pledge.)
Water Defense's eBay page includes a spot where fans can click to contribute to the group via PayPal and the chance to bid on two tickets to the premiere of The Avengers in 2012 and a meet-and-greet with the actor. The auction went live today. "I want to meet anyone who's willing to put their money where their mouth is and help another fellow human being with something as precious as being able to turn on their tap and drink the water," says Ruffalo, who says he’s never auctioned himself off before. "I've been saving it for something that I thought was worthy."
The commercial hook? Ruffalo lists some of the things he likes to shop for – antiques, snowboarding equipment, solar equipment, old motorcycle parts, gardening tools -- which takes shoppers into eBay's relevant category areas. "We know that when consumers are shopping they are more inclined to give," says eBay communications manager Amanda Miller. Other stars who have taken part in the program include Brad Pitt (raising money for the Make it Right Foundation, which builds sustainable housing for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina), Colin Firth (Oxfam America) and Tony Bennett (who is selling his drawing of Lady Gaga to help public school art education funder Exploring the Arts).
Before launching eBay Celebrity on Nov. 7, the site hosted a series of one-off auctions during past years through its Giving Works program, selling a lunch with Warren Buffet for $2.63 million earlier this year (benefiting the Glide Foundation, which offers such things as healthcare and job training to the poor and homeless), raising about $5 million for the Michael J. Fox's Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and even selling locks of Justin Bieber's hair for $40,668 to support animal sanctuary The Gentle Barn. While they raise money for charity, auctions like Biebe'’s do support eBay's bottom line. "When we promoted that, we saw a 107 percent increase in consumer searches on eBay related to Justin Bieber-related merchandise and a 36 percent increase in sales related to him," says Miller. Over the years, says Miller, "We've raised nearly $300 million in total." 100 percent of proceeds go to the charities.
Ruffalo's auction runs through Dec. 22. The actor recently travelled to Dimock, Pennsylvania to deliver fresh water to families there who contend their wells are pollutled with heavy methane due to fracking. "Sadly, it's the ground zero for gas drilling and well contamination. You never think you'll hear the day when Americans can't drink the water that comes out of their taps and here it is, it's happening,” says Ruffalo. In November, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which claims drinking water in Dimock is safe, won permission from state regulators to stop making daily deliveries of fresh water to the families.
In addition to the release of The Avengers in 2012, Ruffalo will be shooting the Summit Entertainment bank-heist film Now You See Me beginning in January; the movie also stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Morgan Freeman. Two other movies are on the way: Red Light Winter, a movie about two friends (Ruffalo and Billy Crudup) who get involved with a prostitute (Kirsten Dunst) in Amsterdam. "We are still trying to work out the dates," says Ruffalo. "I have another film it looks like I’ll be doing for Ryan Murphy called The Normal Heart based on the Larry Kramer play."
"I'm sort of heading back to work. I took a couple years off to be with my family and to do this kind of activist work. Now it's time to go and make a paycheck and support my activism."