The “Dark Funding” Is Behind The Entire Conservative Movement, Not Just Climate Change Deniers

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.

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9 Responses to The “Dark Funding” Is Behind The Entire Conservative Movement, Not Just Climate Change Deniers

  1. 1
    John Baez says:

    If you read Robert Brulle’s paper you’ll see his methodology for finding “climate change denial organizations”, which he more politely calls “the climate change countermovement”. But he never claims that most of the money spent by these organizations is devoted to climate change issues. If you read the comments on my blog article you’ll see that Andrew Revkin wrote:

    Robert Brulle pushes back on Guardian $1 billion/yr spin on his study of “climate change counter movement” funding:

    “You may have seen the Guardian article on my paper: I have written to the newspaper complaining about this headline. I believe it is misleading. I have been very clear all along that my research addresses the total funding that these organizations have, not what they spent on climate activities. There is a quote in my paper that speaks directly to this: “Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.” It is fair to say these organizations had a billion dollars at their disposal. But they do a lot of other things besides climate change activities, and so saying that they spent $1 billion on climate change issues is just not true. I did not attempt to analyze the internal spending of these organizations, and so I can say nothing about the total amount spent on climate change activities. I hope that this clarifies the findings of my research.

    Best
    Bob Brulle.

  2. 2
    Manju says:

    How does the RWing intend to win here?

    Moneyed interests on the other side include Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher, Google, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the US Dept of Defense (who have their own clentech VC fund, among other vehicles), the CIA (ditto re VC fund etc), the US Govt, the Israeli Govt, the Chinese Govt…I could go on.

    Ain’t none of these folks going to allow some dime store oil company to minimize their profits. When the breakthru battery technology that makes EVs viable finally arrives, I wouldn’t be short Al Gore’s Hedge Fund.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    John, thanks for your comment and especailly for that quote from Bob Brulle.

    As I said in my post, I do realize that Brulle made it clear in his paper what he was talking about, I think that particular information was important enough so it should have been included more prominently (for instance, a sentence in the abstract).

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    I’m not sure there is any meaningful differentiation here. If 20% of conservative group funding and 20% of liberal group funding are ‘dark’, and this is a 100% increase from last year, then that’s definitely a disturbing trend in ‘secret’ funding of political activism. (One of the many good reasons to be in favor of Citizens United is that by permitting organizations to do something that they would likely do anyway, their actions will be more likely public and thus accountable. AKA, legalize pot, and oppressed pot harvesters might start going to OSHA about their brutal work conditions.)

    If conservative groups are suddenly secretly funded while liberal groups remain open bastions of clear beautiful transparency, that’s a different issue, as would be liberal groups increasing their sneakiness while conservative groups gaze with honest resolve at the taxpayer and list every penny.

    Shorter version: an analysis of one end of the spectrum doesn’t really tell us much. What’s the scoop in liberalland?

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    Here’s a link at the WSJ that claims that there have been plenty of donors to liberal/Democratic causes that prefer to remain hidden as well.

    I’m not going overboard on the basis of the above. For one thing, it’s behind a paywall and I can’t read it. I did get an extract of it, but I hesitate to draw any conclusions based on what someone else thinks is the most essential part of the article. However, it causes me to reiterate Robert’s question – what “dark funding” is behind the liberal movement?

  6. 6
    Jake Squid says:

    From the OP:

    But whether it’s just the Conservative movement or American politics in general, the move to “dark money” is disturbing and prevents accountability.

    From RonF:

    However, it causes me to reiterate Robert’s question – what “dark funding” is behind the liberal movement?

    “The other guys do it, too,” is not going to work in response to Amp’s post since, you know, he also expressed concern about that very thing.

  7. 7
    Elusis says:

    A “New Hampshire Rebellion” movement is sponsoring a walk across the state in a few days, to raise voter awareness of campaign finance issues and to try to make it a non-partisan concern in the minds of voters as Presidential primaries start:

  8. 8
    Jake Squid says:

    Hurrah! This should be a non-partisan issue. Except for the partisanship of those for corruption vs those against corruption.

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    Why should it be non-partisan, or rather, bi-partisan? I can see why you, as one of the group of people, largely on one side of the partisan divide, who number ‘campaign finance issues’ among your major issues would *want* it to be non- or bi-partisan; “everyone agrees with us” is a much easier sell.

    But since it IS a partisan issue, I think you’re going to have to come up with something more persuasive than “you meanies just like corruption”, just as I would have to come up with something more persuasive than “you hippies just hate freedom of speech”.

    There are people on my side of this partisan divide who DO like corruption, and there are people on your side who DO hate freedom of speech, but neither of those camps is so vastly influential that a fair-minded observer can dismiss the other concerns of each partisan group.

    It is a partisan issue, in short, because there is a genuine difference of opinion, and that difference is not summarized as “Repubs <3 Corruption" or "Libs H8 Freedom".