A study released by an environmental sociologist from Drexel University, Robert Brulle, says that the most consistent and largest money going to climate change denial groups come from conservative foundations. These foundations are very well funded and built with “dark money,” meaning the source of funding remains anonymous and untraceable.
This study makes Brulle the first academic expert to probe into investigating where funding dollars for the denial groups are coming from. What Brulle found was that money came from third-party and pass-through foundations like Donors Capital and Donors Trust. When money passes through these foundations it becomes untraceable while the funding from them has risen most dramatically in the last 5 years.
From the year 2003 up until 2010, $558 million was split by almost 100 climate denial organizations. Those donations came through 140 different foundations.
Another interesting observation was made that some donors with traceable funds even dropped off the donor’s list from past years. ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are two such companies that are no longer listed as large donors to climate change denial groups. ExxonMobil was very largely involved with their open funding of climate change denial until 2007. Now ExxonMobil has not made a traceable donation since 2008. Koch Industries funding declined dramatically since then too. This has some people speculating that they have started to contribute to the denial groups through some of the “dark money” foundations.
The countermovement to climate change has had negative impact on political and ecological efforts for people to act fast on global warming. Brulle compared the countermovement to a Broadway play, with spotlight stars being prominent contrarian scientists and conservative politicians, but behind them are the producers, script writers and directors. In order to really understand what is behind the denial movement, Brulle has had to look behind the scenes.
Brulle started by compiling a list of 118 influential organizations in the U.S. that deny climate change is occurring. He then cross-referenced this with philanthropic funding for each organization and Internal Revenue Service records. What he found was the largest and most consistent funding organizations where conservative groups that promote ultra-free market ideas. Among them were, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Howard Charitable Foundation, John Williams Pope Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust.
When traceable donations began to decline, there was a big surge in the amount of funding coming from Donor’s Trust. They have now been responsible for up to 25 percent of untraceable donations going to climate change denial groups. Only a small piece of the 100’s of millions of dollars are found to contain any traceable donations. Donor’s Trust and the other groups have up to 75 percent of their funding coming from unidentifiable sources.
Brulle thinks that the untraceable dollars being sent to climate change denial groups undermines democracy. Democratic politics and governments cannot be accountable if these funding sources are to remain invisible. Big money offers a big advantage and Brulle compared it to “giving them a megaphone in a public square.”
As long as the “dark money” continues to fund the climate change denial groups, the waters will be muddied by doubts of the root causes of climate change and their remedies. Brulle thinks at least the American public should be made aware of who actually is behind the funding of these anonymous donor and denial groups.
By Brent Matsalla