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Donors Trust Exposed as Billionaire Puppet Show to Create State Climate-Denial Astroturf

Posted by Charles II on February 19, 2013

[Posted in different form at DK]

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, in partnership with Mother Jones and Center for Public Integrity (via DemocracyNow):

Conservatives used a pair of secretive trusts to fund a media campaign against windfarms and solar projects, and to block state agencies from planning for future sea-level rise, the Guardian has learned.

The trusts, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, served as the bankers of the conservative movement over the past decade. Promising anonymity to their conservative billionaire patrons, the trusts between them channelled nearly $120m to contrarian thinktanks and activists, wrecking the chances of getting Congress to act on climate change.

Now the Guardian can reveal the latest project of the secretive funding network: a campaign to stop state governments moving towards renewable energy.

From Paul Abowd at Center for Public Integrity, a useful graphic


As Suzanne Goldenberg said, what distinguishes the recipients of these trusts from left-wing or centrist foundations that similarly collect money from donors to distribute to projects is that the function of Donors Trust is to promulgate lies and distortions. In some cases at least, they are the primary donor to state-level puppets. Here’s an example of the kind of in-your-face lying that they engage in (from Abowd):

One report from a New Mexico affiliate [New Mexico Watchdog run by the Rio Grande Foundation, which gets most of its money from Donors Capital Fund, a partner of Donors Trust] housed at a free-market think tank also funded by Donors Trust garnered national attention when it reported that millions of dollars in federal stimulus money had been allocated to non-existent congressional districts.

The government database on stimulus spending had indeed listed non-existent districts as receiving funds, but the Associated Press reported that the problem was due to data errors and that “’phantom congressional districts’ are being used as a phantom issue to suggest that stimulus money has been misspent.”

When asked to comment on the criticism, Franklin Center spokesman Moroney said: “Franklin Center adheres to the highest degree of journalistic integrity and we stand by our reporting 100 percent. In this case, the Associated Press had it wrong.”

FOX Noise turned it into a big pseudo-scandal. Other news organizations looked at it and found that the money was spent appropriately. The “phantom districts” were just mislabeled.

Now, in a sense, this is an old story. We’ve known that there are state-level foundations like Heartland that are being run by billionaire money. But John Mashey of DeSmog has a full list. In Minnesota, they funded the Minnesota Freedom Fund and the Minnesota Family Institute. And the fact that this is a coordinated effort and that it specializes in political hit jobs suggests to me that Donors Trust and Donors Capital are not 501(c)3s but money laundering fronts for lobbying organizations.

Anyone know a lawyer who could sort that out for us?

2 Responses to “Donors Trust Exposed as Billionaire Puppet Show to Create State Climate-Denial Astroturf”

  1. klem said

    ” …Donors Trust and Donors Capital are not 501(c)3s but money laundering fronts for lobbying organizations. ”

    You have guessed correctly, ever wonder why these organizations have not been pulled apart by government because they are money laundering fronts for lobbying organizations? Because the same thing is going on with left wing organizations. They too get money from billionaires and they too are not 501(c)3s but money laundering fronts for lobbying organizations. Both sides are doing it.

    If the Guardian wants to open up this can of worms, look out, the spotlight will turn to the left organizations too.

    So governments are not going near any of it. Its a no win.

    • Charles II said

      It’s such a shame that your reading skills did not carry you much farther than the headlines, Klem.

      Goldenberg specifically addressed the point that there are left-wing organizations that have the same structure as Donors Trust/Donors Capital. She pointed out that left-wing organizations do not exist to mislead the public or even to lie. This is a huge difference between the climate denialists that are the primary recipients of right-wing money and left-wing organizations that take money from, say The Tides Foundation. The first donor listed on the chart is the Knowledge and Progress Fund, directed by Charles Koch. He makes his money, in large part, from oil. The longer that he can stall action to stop climate change, the more money goes into his pocket. He is therefore lobbying for his own financial interest.

      Who gives to Tides? Well, according to a right-wing attack dog site funded by the restaurant/beverage industry, “many of the most notorious anti-consumer groups in U.S. history: Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Media Services, Environmental Working Group, and even fringe groups like the now-defunct Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet”

      When we get done laughing at the concept that Greenpeace is in any way comparable to Koch Industries, the largest or second largest private company in the US, we might ask what would a donor to Greenpeace gain from supporting a Tides recipient like, say, Acterra. A smart meter in his home?

      What you are presenting is one more lie of the right– that there is an equivalence between donors who are, for the most part, middle class individuals and billionaires like the Kochs/corporations like Exxon/trade groups like the restaurant association; that there is an equivalence between lobbying for destruction of the environment and protection of the environment, and that there is an equivalence between systematic lying, the way that the tobacco lobby did, and exaggeration, as happened with Alar. How many people died unnecessarily from tobacco thanks to the lies of Big Tobacco? How many people have and will died unnecessarily from the ravages of climate change thanks to the lies of the climate denialists?

      Yes, repeal the laws that enable the Tides Foundation or Donors Trust to take money and re-direct it to grantees. Because that will destroy the power of corporations and billionaires, while doing essentially zero damage to progressive causes.

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