$125 Million in 'Dark Money' Helped Fund Climate Change Skeptics

Conservative donors anonymously directed more than $125 million over three years to groups that deny climate science and are working to undermine the Obama administration's climate change bill, the Guardian reports.

Based on an analysis of tax filings made by the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, organizations that enable donors to give anonymously to conservative causes, the Guardian found that in 2011 the groups funneled some $35.7 million, or 42 percent of total funding, to ninety-two think tanks and advocacy groups that promote climate denial and/or oppose regulations on carbon emissions. Those numbers jumped to more than $49 million (51 percent) in 2012 and just over $41 million (46 percent) in 2013. According to The Guardian, the funds have helped build a network of organizations that have worked to defeat climate bills in Congress and that are mobilizing against Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Most of the groups also work on issues other than climate change, however, and it is unclear what percentage of the funds were used to support their climate-related activities.

Of the climate-skeptic organizations funded through the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund between 2011 and 2013, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity received the most, some $22 million over  three years, followed by the Federalist Society ($8.7 million) and the State Policy Network ($8.2 million). Think tanks allied with the latter have worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business lobby that has threatened legal action against two nonprofits that accuse it of denying climate change.

Franklin Center president Erik Telford told the Guardian there was no conflict between the organization’s watchdog mission and its failure to disclose its funders. "As is the case with almost any news outlet in America, we have an editorial perspective, with a mission to expose government misdeeds, advance liberty, and look out for the taxpayers' interest," he said. "We welcome the support of citizens who believe in our mission, and afford them the right to privacy as established in the Supreme Court's 1958 NAACP v Alabama decision."

That decision protects the right of association members "to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so," an important consideration for companies and individuals not wishing to be called out for rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. "All these corporations that were getting bad press realized they can still fund conservative think tanks," said Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who studies environmental politics. "Exxon or BP can still fund one of these things while doing all these great things on climate change to reduce emissions, etc."

Suzanne Goldenberg, Helena Bengtsson. "Secretive Donors Gave US Climate Denial Groups $125M Over Three Years ." 06/09/2015.