Blair's charity hopes to strike gold in California

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The Independent US

Tony Blair's post-Downing Street empire is to lay foundations in California, after the former prime minister's charitable foundation won official backing to raise money on the Golden State's lucrative "charity circuit".

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, set up in 2008 to forge links between major faiths and fight religious extremism, is already represented in California by celebrity pastor Rick Warren, the influential evangelical who gave the invocation at President Obama's inauguration ceremony and has courted controversy by speaking out against abortion and same-sex marriage.

Warren is a member of the foundation's Religious Advisory Council. Larry Ross, a spokesman for the pastor, said he was a "good friend" of Mr Blair's. "He has been in conversation with him about the Foundation since its establishment two years ago," he added. Warren faced protests at his California church three years ago after he called for the state's constitution to be changed to ban gay marriage. He also takes an ultra-conservative stance on abortion and stem-cell research, describing the Christian opposition to such issues "non-negotiable".

Blair's Faith Foundation has had charitable status in the US since it was established, but many states require individual registration for bodies hoping to solicit public donations.

"We're going through the process of advance solicitation registration in every state that requires it," a spokesman from Tony Blair's office, which oversees his several political and charitable projects, told The Independent. "Because we've got some public events coming up over the next year in the USA, this makes sense."

Warren's office could not confirm whether or not the controversial pastor would be attending fundraising events in the state.

He has already made a number of public appearances with Mr Blair, most recently at a joint lecture at his church in March.

Mr Blair's foundation, which is run by his former Downing Street aide Ruth Turner, has raised £1.4m in the US in its first two years and is aiming to increase revenues with its ventures in California and elsewhere. Mr Blair's office said the foundation was "expanding globally".

The foundation supports educational and philanthropic projects and runs scholarships for "future world leaders" of different faiths.

Its interests are managed by a network of volunteers across the globe with the majority in the US. In California it has 10 registered volunteers as well as links to a Catholic school near to the town of Lake Forest – home to Warren's church.

Since standing down as prime minister, Mr Blair has founded two other charitable organisations: the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative and the Tony Blair Sports Foundation. He also acts as an envoy to the Middle East for the US, UN, Russia and the EU.

Mr Blair has amassed an estimated £60m fortune, partly from a series of lucrative lecture tours, the latest of which will take him to Australia and New Zealand at the end of this month. A single ticket to his Sydney and Melbourne lectures, entitled "Lessons in Leadership, Negotiation and Innovation", costs £665.