Earlier this month, Drexel University’s Robert Brulle published a paper: Institutionalizing Delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. The paper examines how a huge portion of the funding of “climate change counter-movement organizations” has moved from publicly-reported donations to “dark money” – money that is given through secondary organizations, which has the effect of making who donated the money a secret.
The media and blogs have more-or-less followed Brelle’s framing. For example: "Dark Money" Funds Climate Change Denial Effort (Scientific American); Millions in Dark Money Funding Climate Change Denial (Common Dreams); and The Dark Money Funding Climate Change Denial (Daily Kos).
Blogger John Baez wrote an excellent nutshelling of the study:
• The biggest known funders of organizations downplaying the importance of man-made climate change are foundations such as the Searle Freedom Trust, the John William Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
• Koch and ExxonMobil have pulled back from publicly visible funding. From 2003 to 2007, the Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were heavily involved in funding the climate change countermovement. But since 2008, they are no longer making publicly traceable contributions.
• Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. As traceable funding drops, the amount of funding given to the countermovement by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25% of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of human-caused climate change.
• Most funding for denial efforts is untraceable. Despite extensive digging, only a small part of the hundreds of millions in contributions to climate change denying organizations can be found out from public records. A group of 91 climate change denial organizations has a total income of $900 million per year—but only $64 million in identifiable foundation support!
But although this is very interesting, I just don’t see how it’s about funding of “climate change denial organizations,” as opposed to Conservative orgs in general. From the paper, here’s a chart showing the “CCCOs” studied, and how much money they received:
These are virtually all general-interest Conservative orgs, who only put a portion of their budgets towards climate change denial. The Independent Woman’s Forum publishes some climate change denial editorials, for instance, but their primary purpose is to be an antifeminist organization.
That isn’t something that Brulle or the articles about Brulle’s study have hidden, exactly. It’s all there, in Brulle’s paper and the articles about it, if you read the details, instead of just reading the abstract or the headline. But I think it’s an important enough that it should have been featured much more prominently.
Brulle, quoted in Scientific American, said:
“Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible,” he said. “Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square.” [...]
“At the very least, American voters deserve to know who is behind these efforts.”
That’s an important point – and it’s just as important if we’re talking about conservative foundations in general, rather than just funding of climate change denialism.
I’d also like to know if this is something distinctive about funding for conservative groups in particular, or if US political funding in general has been moving into shadows. As far as I can tell (and I’m lazy and didn’t read every word of Brulle’s study, so maybe I missed something), we can’t tell that from what’s in Brulle’s paper. But whether it’s just the Conservative movement or American politics in general, the move to “dark money” is disturbing and prevents accountability.