Millions of dollars are being secretly funneled to the climate change “counter movement” by groups connected to the Koch family, UK newspaper the Independent reported on Friday.
The Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, both based in Virginia, are donor-advised funds that have channeled money from the Kochs, owners of the sprawling conglomerate Koch Industries and outspoken supporters of conservative causes, to groups that deny the link between fossil fuels and global warming, the paper says.
A donor-advised fund is an alternative to directly giving to charities or creating private foundations. The individual account is held within a public charity, which allows donors to receive the maximum tax deduction on their gifts. Because the fund is technically independent, donors also have greater anonymity than they would through other means of giving.
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Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle and retired software engineer John Mashey found the connection between Donors Trust and the Koch family by looking through official tax records. According to Brulle, Donors Trust and Donors Capital are key players in the climate “counter movement,” contributing significant amounts to groups such as the Heartland Institute, which has attacked climate scientists for perpetrating a grand “hoax.”
"The Kochs decided it was better to go underground and foster all these think tanks,” Mashey told the Independent. “Charles Koch has often said publicly that anyone should be able to give money to anyone without having to make it public. The point of all this is that Koch wants to anonymize his giving as much as possible."
An organization called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, which counts Charles Koch and his spouse as directors, gave at least $4.5 million to Donors Trust since 2007. The fund does not seem to have given money to any other organization and is not mentioned on the websites of the Charles Koch Foundation or Koch Industries, according to the Independent.
“We don't disclose our list of donors, any more than other donor-advised funds,” Donors Trust CEO Whitney Ball told the Independent. “We are not legally required to do so. We have been referred to as a black box, but this is a misleading and unfair characterization. We are no different from any other donor-advised fund.”
One of the organizations funded by Donors Trust is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that is openly skeptical of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change and which opposes legislation aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
CEI is currently being sued for defamation by Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann over blog posts the think tank made on Mann's research. One post on CEI's blog, written at the time when the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal was unfurling in the national media, accused Mann of “molesting data” on climate change.
“The irony couldn't be more thick here,” Mann said in an email. “While the Kochs cleverly hide their massive funding of climate change denial and their smear campaigns, they are actually funding the very front groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute who ... are implicated in harassing climate scientists with frivolous and vexatious lawsuits, FOIA demands, etc.”
In an October press release on Mashey's work, environmentalist group Greenpeace claims that many conservative groups are getting large chunks of their budgets through Donors Trust. The Americans For Prosperity Foundation, a powerful advocacy group chaired by David Koch, got 43 percent of its funding through Donors groups in 2010. Thirty-six percent of the 2010 budget of the State Policy Network, a network of state-level think tanks and organizations that has promoted climate change positions from the Heartland Institute, came from Donors groups, according to Greenpeace.
“You simply couldn't invent villains like this if you tried,” Mann said.
Representatives for Koch Industries did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.