Global Warming Deniers/Liars Exposed
Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks – businessmen as usual
Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science
Climate sceptic groups are mobilising against Obama’s efforts to act on climate change in his second term.
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.
The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.
Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.
The funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise," she said in an interview.
By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. "It won't be going to liberals."
Ball won't divulge names, but she said the stable of donors represents a wide range of opinion on the American right. Increasingly over the years, those conservative donors have been pushing funds towards organisations working to discredit climate science or block climate action.
Donors exhibit sharp differences of opinion on many issues, Ball said. They run the spectrum of conservative opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians. But in opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they found common ground.
"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," she went on. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."
By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.
The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.
The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.
Graphic: climate denial funding
Those same groups are now mobilising against Obama's efforts to act on climate change in his second term. A top recipient of the secret funds on Wednesday put out a point-by-point critique of the climate content in the president's state of the union address.
And it was all done with a guarantee of complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden.
"The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It's also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records.
"These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There is no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them," Davies said.
The trusts were established for the express purpose of managing donations to a host of conservative causes.
Such vehicles, called donor-advised funds, are not uncommon in America. They offer a number of advantages to wealthy donors. They are convenient, cheaper to run than a private foundation, offer tax breaks and are lawful.
That opposition hardened over the years, especially from the mid-2000s where the Greenpeace record shows a sharp spike in funds to the anti-climate cause.
In effect, the Donors Trust was bankrolling a movement, said Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist who has extensively researched the networks of ultra-conservative donors.
"This is what I call the counter-movement, a large-scale effort that is an organised effort and that is part and parcel of the conservative movement in the United States " Brulle said. "We don't know where a lot of the money is coming from, but we do know that Donors Trust is just one example of the dark money flowing into this effort."
In his view, Brulle said: "Donors Trust is just the tip of a very big iceberg."
The rise of that movement is evident in the funding stream. In 2002, the two trusts raised less than $900,000 for the anti-climate cause. That was a fraction of what Exxon Mobil or the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers donated to climate sceptic groups that year.
By 2010, the two Donor Trusts between them were channelling just under $30m to a host of conservative organisations opposing climate action or science. That accounted to 46% of all their grants to conservative causes, according to the Greenpeace analysis.
The funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, the records show. When it came to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs was outspending the Koch brothers by a factor of six to one.
"There is plenty of money coming from elsewhere," said John Mashey, a retired computer executive who has researched funding for climate contrarians. "Focusing on the Kochs gets things confused. You can not ignore the Kochs. They have their fingers in too many things, but they are not the only ones."
It is also possible the Kochs continued to fund their favourite projects using the anonymity offered by Donor Trust.
But the records suggest many other wealthy conservatives opened up their wallets to the anti-climate cause – an impression Ball wishes to stick.
She argued the media had overblown the Kochs support for conservative causes like climate contrarianism over the years. "It's so funny that on the right we think George Soros funds everything, and on the left you guys think it is the evil Koch brothers who are behind everything. It's just not true. If the Koch brothers didn't exist we would still have a very healthy organisation," Ball said.
Secret funding of climate sceptics is not restricted to the US
In the UK, wealthy rightwing donors also finance campaigns against policies to reduce greenhouse gases
The main lobby group for such sceptics in the UK is the Global Warming Policy Foundation, established by Lord Lawson.
Photograph: Micha Theiner/Rex Features
The main lobby group for such sceptics in the UK is the Global Warming Policy Foundation, established by Lord Lawson, a Conservative peer. The foundation was officially launched with an article by Lawson in the Times on 22 November 2009, just three days after emails that had been hacked from the University of East Anglia were posted on the web in a bid to scupper the United Nations climate change negotiations in Copenhagen that December.
Lawson used the article to accuse climate scientists of "manipulating" records of global temperature and of refusing external scrutiny of their raw data, while also calling for a "an open and reasoned debate" about domestic and international climate change policies.
But despite his apparent enthusiasm for greater transparency by climate researchers, Lawson has been less than forthcoming about how the foundation is funded. According to its latest annual accounts, the foundation received £12,161 from membership fees in the year ending 31 July 2012.
As the annual membership fee is "at least £100", it appears that the foundation has 120 members at most.
The identity of the donors is shrouded in secrecy. The foundation's website states that it is "funded overwhelmingly by voluntary donations from a number of private individuals and charitable trusts", and that it "does not accept gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company".
Lord Lawson has consistently refused to disclose the name of the donors. When interviewed by BBC Radio 4 last October, he said that he relied on his friends who "tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person".
However, membership fees are only a minor source of revenue for the foundation. Accounts show that it has received more than £1m in donations over the past three years.
The Guardian managed to uncover evidence last March that one of the foundation's secret donors is Michael Hintze, a wealthy businessman who also gives large sums to the Conservative party.
So what does Lord Lawson do with all this money? Although the foundation is registered as an educational charity, its primary purpose seems to be to campaign against policies to tackle climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
After the UK general election in May 2010, the foundation started to lobby the new Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government to stop subsidies for alternatives to fossil fuels and to abandon the UK's emissions reductions targets.
The foundation has also paid for the publication and dissemination of pamphlets by prominent climate change sceptics. For instance, it has distributed a leaflet extolling the virtues of shale gas by Matt Ridley, the former chairman of Northern Rock who earlier this month was voted into the House of Lords by 24 Conservative hereditary peers. And last October, the foundation issued a pamphlet by Conservative MP Peter Lilley which attacked the 2006 review of the economics of climate change carried out by Prof Lord Stern, currently chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The foundation's lobbying activities are also assisted by the services of Bell Pottinger, headed by Margaret Thatcher's favourite advertising expert, Tim Bell. A register maintained by the Public Relations Consultants Association shows that the foundation was a client of Bell Pottinger between December 2010 and February 2011.
The public relations company has attracted controversy because of its claims of influence over senior members of the government. In December 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered evidence that senior executives of Bell Pottinger boast of their contacts with the prime minister and the chancellor.
George Osborne reportedly has a strong relationship with the chair of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and even hosted a 80th birthday party for Lord Lawson at Downing Street last March.
So the question is whether it is merely a coincidence that the chancellor wants to cut subsidies for renewable energy, introduce tax cuts for the exploration of shale gas, and weaken the UK's targets for reducing emissions, or a sign of the success of a US-style lobbying campaign by the Global Warming Policy Foundation on behalf of its wealthy rightwing donors?
Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives
Secretive funding network channelled millions to stop state governments moving towards renewable energy
The trusts, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, served as the bankers of the conservative movement over the past decade, have funded a campaign against windfarms.
Photograph: Alex Garcia/Getty Images
Conservatives used a pair of secretive trusts to fund a media campaign against windfarms and solar projects, and to block state agencies from planning for future sea-level rise, the Guardian has learned.
The trusts, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, served as the bankers of the conservative movement over the past decade. Promising anonymity to their conservative billionaire patrons, the trusts between them channelled nearly $120m to contrarian thinktanks and activists, wrecking the chances of getting Congress to act on climate change.
Now the Guardian can reveal the latest project of the secretive funding network: a campaign to stop state governments moving towards renewable energy.
The campaign against wind and solar power was led by a relatively new entity, the Franklin Centre for Government and Public Integrity. The Franklin Centre did not exist before 2009, but it has quickly become a protege of Donors Trust.
The Franklin Centre, headquarters barely one-tenth of a mile away from the nondescript Alexandria, Virginia town home of its funders, received $6.3m from the two funds in 2011. It was the second largest disbursement to any entity by the Donors that year, according to tax records.
The largesse to the Franklin Centre signals a shift in priorities for the conservative billionaires who are funding the anti-climate cause towards local and state-level organising.
The backers of the anti-climate cause have eased off in their support of DC-centric thinktanks, said Whitney Ball, the chief executive and president of Donors Trust. "They are not as prominent any more."
Instead, it appears the donors are banking on an aggressive anti-climate media strategy, led by the Franklin Centre, to push back against climate action.
In 2011, Donors Trust helped the Franklin Centre expand its media operations to Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, the Centre for Public Integrity reported in an investigation on conservative funding networks.
The Franklin Centre purports to be a hub for a network of "citizen journalists" and "watchdog" groups reporting from state capitals. It claims on its website to provide 10% of all daily reporting from state capitals across the country. It says it is on a mission to uphold a media culture of "transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility at the grassroots level".
But the Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in Journalism has ranked Franklin's watchdog.org affiliates as "highly ideological". Many of the media organisations listed on Franklin's website as affiliates are ultra-conservative groups.
Among them are several that have been active in the past year or two to stop the expansion of solar power and windfarms.
In North Carolina, the two Franklin affiliates, the John Locke Foundation and the John W Pope Civitas Institute, also led effort for a ban on the term "sea-level rise". The state legislature eventually voted in June last year to bar state agencies from taking into account future sea-level rise in development planning.
The groups have also led opposition to offshore wind development in North Carolina, organising workshops against windfarms.
Another Franklin affiliate, the New Jersey Watchdog, pushed for the state to drop out of a regional emissions cutting programme.
Other Watchdog affiliates have cast doubt on the link between extreme weather and climate change.
CPI found multiple ties between the Franklin Centre and groups such as Americans for Prosperity, which has been funded by Donors Trust as well as the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers. Some of the Franklin Centre's blogs have received funds from AFP. There was also cross-over of board members in the two groups.
From The Guardian @ http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network and http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/secret-funding-climate-sceptics-not-restricted-us and http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/15/media-campaign-windfarms-conservatives
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