Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change?

Well, of course, this is trivially true, in the sense that $0 is "up to $1bn" and the report doesn't suggest that it could be more than $1bn. I got this from the Graun which continues to irritate by pointlessly and stupidly failing to link to the original study. I assume they do this because, like the mediaeval church, they regard themselves as gatekeepers and priests of knowledge: we should only be allowed their interpretation, and not see the original for ourselves. But enough ranting.

There's a note at the bottom which says This headline on this article was amended on 21 December 2013 to reflect that not all the $1bn referred to will have funded climate change work and indeed, this is the rub. The ~$1bn refers to total funding of a group of think-tanky stuff. But how much of that actually went into anti-GW-science? As far as I can see, the study doesn't even attempt to address this question. Instead it looks at How are these organizations financially maintained? which is indeed interesting, but different. Note in passing that is Q2 in the paper. Q1 is What is the climate change counter-movement? to which the answer turns out to be entities that engage in any of a a wide variety of activities opposing any legislative attempts to enact mandatory restrictions on carbon emissions. Which is interesting, because if you were to regard cap-n-trade as a "mandatory restriction" but carbon taxes as not, then you could argue that I'm part of the CCCM! W00t, way to go.

Incidentally, I should point out that I'm confused by some of the figures, and I think the Graun is too. They say

The groups collectively received more than $7bn over the eight years of Brulle's study – or about $900m a year from 2003 to 2010. Conservative think tanks and advocacy groups occupied the core of that effort... AEI was by far the top recipient of such funds, receiving 16% of total funding over the eight years, or $86.7m.

Well, 16% of $7bn is $1.1bn, not $86m. And dividing it by 8 doesn't help either. I didn't bother track down the disparity, but I think its related to identifiably sourced income - some is hidden. No matter: I'm going to use American Enterprise Institute (AEI; annual budget about $38m) as an example. First off, there are some obvious not-climate related spending items: the Prez, Arthur Brooks, gets a stonking $0.6m. We can assume that he isn't dumb enough to spend his own good money on denialism. Cheney gets $150k, incidentally. OK, so that's trivia. But if I look at [[American Enterprise Institute]] I see an awful lot that clearly isn't about global warming.

One of the things it does point to is this shocking publication "Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes" by Kenneth P. Green, Steven F. Hayward, Kevin A. Hassett, Posted: Friday, June 1, 2007, ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY OUTLOOK, AEI Online. This shameful document... errrm, pretty well says exactly what I've been saying recently about carbon taxes. There's a teensy paragraph with token flings against GW but most of it says: if you want to do it, do it via carbon taxes not cap-n-trade. So of the fairly smallish fraction of AEI effort that goes into GW related stuff, not all of it is anti-GW.

There is something in the paper that gets somewhere near this problem: they say, in attempting to define the CCCM:

To develop a comprehensive roster of CCCM organizations for this study, a two-step process was used. First, a consolidated list of all of the organizations identified in prior studies was created. These organizations were then individually examined to identify those that had a substantive focus on climate change. This process identified 118 CCCM organizations.

There's an ill-defined word in there: "substantive". What does it mean, in this context? Clearly, it doesn't mean "a majority of effort spent on". There's no doubt that the AEI are currently producing some GW denialism nowadays; but what I'm less convinced by is that its a major part of their operation.

So, while I'm sure there are indeed evil folk funding climate change denial, I don't think the headline of "up to $1bn" is supported by their evidence. They could have written "up to a completely undetermined amount" but that wouldn't be a very good headline. Has anyone got pointers to better studies, or is anyone prepared to wade through the supplementary material to sort the wheat from the chaff?

Note, BTW, that there's no need for the "up to $1bn" headline. Nature World News chose to headline it "Organizations Bankrolling Climate Change Denial Revealed in New Study" which is far more supportable.

[Aaaaannddd: we're in. Only published 10 seconds ago and already google hit #3. I never knew I was such a thought leader.]

[Update: is Andy Revkin reporting Brulle sayin "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... (and which, to be Just, came to me via WUWT).]

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Climate Change Belief?
What’s to believe in when science has only agreed on nothing beyond just “could be” a crisis for 30 years and NEVER “will be” a crisis?
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[That doesn't seem terribly relevant. Are you sure you've got the right post? -W]

By mememine69 (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

is mememine a markov chain bot? i've never been quite sure.

Climate change denial PR/lobbying is a fairly cheap activity compared to doing actual science (which requite satellites, big computers and lots of people etc). I don'y think it takes that big a spend to have a significant effect on policy. That said I'd still like to know where the money is coming from. In Australia the fabulously wealthy mining boss Gina Reinhart tends to throw money into the ring for climate denial stuff (e.g. for the potty peer to tour Australia amongst other similar activities). But a lot of the funding for these things around the world is well hidden. I wish some enterprising investigator would follow the money and tell us where it comes from - this paper doesn't really succeed in that.

"I assume they do this because, like the mediaeval church, they regard themselves as gatekeepers and priests of knowledge"

Why assign to malice what can so much more easily be explained by base self interest? They don't want people clicking away from their site.

If you wish to follow the money, I recommend SourceWatch and ExxonSecrets. The latter may be out of date, but I know they use things like annual reports and tax returns. I find SW is quick and easy, and it's always a revelation when one opens the door on this caca.

John Mashey does a superb line on this stuff too.

If you think about it, the trillions in subsidies worldwide over time for fossil fuels interests is a very good return on the millions then spend on lobbying and disinformation.

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

Grauniad reports Hoover Institution denies working on climate change, and G then discusses a Hoover Fellow's work on same, one named Jeremy Carl.

Hey, I know that guy! He may even be a constitutent of mine. He said this about my work on climate divestment: "'We've seen people saying the fossil fuel companies are awful, and then driving home in their car and turning on their natural gas-powered electricity,' he said. 'I find it totally a distasteful and hypocritical way of looking at a serious situation. It trivializes an important issue.'"

Anyway, I think it's useful to follow the money, even if any particular effort is imperfect.

More important point: prior to 2010, many conservatives in the US argued for a carbon tax instead of cap and trade as the way to kill the only game in town, which was cap and trade. A good test is whether they still argue for a carbon tax on the national level.

By Brian Schmidt (not verified) on 22 Dec 2013 #permalink

It may be that if you're not American, and not familiar with the political process here, it's easy to underestimate the money spent by interest groups to fight any action on climate change. The calculation is also complicated by the intertwining of several different political issues.

Right-wing conservative politicians must toe the line on several of these issues simultaneously (anti-abortion, anti-public schools, anti-GW, anti-taxes, etc). In any given voting district the list of necessary political stances may vary. So Heritage or AEI may be lending support in one district to a politician that takes the opposite stance on one of these issues compared to another politician it supports somewhere else, but the sum of stances will overwhelmingly fit their ideology.

When making the calculation for 2012, how much of the $3 billion spent by Republican candidates was money raised based on their stance on GW? How much less would have been raised if they'd taken a pro-climate change stance? Is *any* of this money even being counted as money spent to fight action on climate change? I doubt it.

Similarly, how much of the money spent to create the faux-grassroots Tea Party was inspired by anti-GW? Or any of the myriad front groups that seemingly have little or no relation to the issue (e.g., United Sportsmen of Wisconsin). In the USA it's all a shell game of money, secrecy, lies, and denial.

My guess would be that even The Guardian's estimate falls short for the USA alone.

By Kevin O'Neill (not verified) on 22 Dec 2013 #permalink

1) I am rather familiar with Bob Brulle's actual study, having traded emails, spreadsheets since early 2012, and talked about it over dinner a few times. After I'd figured out what Donors Trust was doing, we were surprised to find that it didn't show up in the usual search engines: one had to get the Form 990s and go through them.

2) the supplementary materials explain the coding used to figure out if climate was relevant or not.

3) Bob is quite clear that:
A) We can see how much money the identified thinktanks got, via the Form 990s that tax exempts must file. They also tell IRS where big donations came from, but that section is not public, except by occasional accident.

B) We can see how much money is reported by foundations as being given to each, by foundations, because they can only give to tax-exempts, and have to report that on their 990s.

C) Except in rarities like the Heartland/Gleick case, we cannot tell how they spent the money, although one can guess from ExxonMobil or coal companies. In Heartland's case, It is really hard to apportion costs, except for things like their conferences. I have no idea of the cost allocation for their newsletter, although I looked at a few thousand pages of it. I have no idea how one tracks efforts spent to cause doubt about science in general or in courting legislators.

In any case, the Guardian and others indeed misstated.
I think there are several important things about this study, which think us very important, and extensive, far exceeding my efforts at money chasing:

- We can only find ~25% of the money, so most if it is dark, and it is clear that like GWPF, these folks get tax-exempt status basically to do PR/lobbying with an academic-sounding facade, with Fellows, Resident Scholar titles.

- The visible giving patterns are strong circumstantial evidence if a shift from visible foundations to the DONORS anonymizer.

Note: Hoover is rather different from a bunch of these, I know some associated with it I respect as legitimate conservative thinkers and scholars. When they say they'd prefer a carbon tax, I think that means they actually want one.(I've actually heard that from Exxon people I believed.) George Shultz is hardly a left wing treehugger.. :-)

For most of the others, I don't believe it for an instant , and I've studied some if them pretty closely. Their argument is clearly designed to stop action. What coal company would ever want a carbon tax? (Oil/gas companies are distinct, and at least some are planning for carbon taxes. A common error is to lump all fossil fuel companies together.)

[The point about anonymity is interesting, and doesn't come out clearly from the Guardian version of the story. It didn't come clearly from the original either - though I did see it in there, I wasn't really following that strand, because I'd got lead astray by the G perhaps. I'm not sure how much I care about anonymity though. Why should we be entitled to know how private individual spend their money? -W]

By John Mashey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2013 #permalink

Thanks for the interesting comments John Mashey and others. I suspect lifting the lid on donors trust and the like will only happen via whistleblowing unless someone with a *lot* of investigative know-how gets stuck in.

WMC poses a difficult question:

Why should we be entitled to know how private individual spend their money? -W]

My instinctive response is that if they are spending enough on distorting the democratic process to make a difference then it becomes a legitimate matter for public knowledge. But quantifying this at an individual level is obviously going to be very difficult.

To learn about 501(c)(3)s, DONORS and such, read relevant parts of Fakery 2: More Funny Finances, Free Of Tax.. such as 0.4, 0.6,Appendces F and I.

501(c)(3)s are not on ly non-profit, but tax-exempt, i.e., donors get to deduct their donations, which are supposed to be spent in the public interest, and there are rules around that.

If Charles Koch and Philip Morris want to spend their money on ad campaigns (they do), that;'s fine, but getting tax write-offs for getting PR/lobbying and academic cover from Heartland, CATO, etc ... certainly violates the spirit of the laws ... ad we will find out if it violates the letter enough to cause some to lose the status. It is sometimes hard to tell what they do for the money, except for about a decade during the 1990s when we have the Legacy Tobacco Document Library records, or the back-history of the TEA Party.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2013 #permalink

To understand the reason for Donor's Trust you have to understand the difference between 501 c3s, c4s and 527 organizations. Briefly put C3s are pure, c4s are a bit slutty and 527s are pros. Donations to c3s and c4s can be anonymous, but only donations to c3s are tax deductible.

OK, so someone donates to Donors or Heartland HI. That is tax deductible. Donors then ships some money to a c4. That is not taxed because Donors is a c3. Now does the Weasel see why people care and why it is their business?

Heartland had a really neat scam. They took tax deductible money and shipped it to Idsos little laundry who gave the money directly to Robert Ferguson who runs a lobbying shop out of a hole in the wall in VA. Essentially Idso paid Ferguson an amount equal to their operations entire budget before they hooked up with Heartland. See for details</a.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 22 Dec 2013 #permalink

Well, (c)(3)s are supposed to be pure., but otherwise, Eli mostly has it right.

On teh CSCDGC Form 990s, Ferguson got to be the highet paid employee, i.e., SPPI is not really a separate entity. Ferguson tried to get 501(c)(3) status, but either wa not allowed or abandoned it.

Finally, from Eli's link, I wouldn't call CSCDGC a front for SPPI, because SPPI is only part of its activities, and it existed long before SPPI. AS best as I can tell, it gets a fair chunk of its money from Heartland to do the NIPCC reports.

The issue with all of this is:
a) When you read Form 990s, all these guys sound like they do wonderful work.

b) A random IRS employee has ~zero chance of getting a Form 990 and figuring out what they really do and track down the strange money flows.

c) That pretty much means they need somebody to do some of that work and file complaints. Then, given the usual priority calls, they can use the extra data they get and investigations can be done, given the usual priority calls.

d) But remeber, the DONORS deal is even better:
- Donors 1, 2, 3 put money into DONORS, getting an immediate tax break. Sometime, arbitrarily later, they tell Whitney Ball to write checks to Heartland, etc ... but now the public cannot tell who donated, because she writes every check. Charles Koch has long hated fact that his own foundation giving was trackable by law. DONORS accumulated enough donors and money that one simply cannot tell.
The only one that's been clear was Barre Seid's use of DONORS to fund Heartland. There was strong circumstantial evidence, but the Heartland internal documents proved it, by comparing relevant numbers from multiple sources that the Anonymous Donor had to be him.

Now, less one can the wrong impression, I think most 501(c)(3)s are legitimate. I'm a Trustee of a real one, a museum. But, every year, a bunch of 501(c)(3) statuses get revoked for various reasons. at which point foundations can no longer give them money.

By the way, Murry Salby's off-campus company was a 501(c)(3), and he was lucky to have been gone before the NSF closed in on him.

Anyway, I object to paying higher taxes so that Heartland can deceive people on science and help tobacco companies in their efforts, as they have fo 20 years. Heartland is currently going all-out for their best hope, e-cigarettes.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2013 #permalink

1) In the US, complaitns have been filed with IRS at least against Heartland
SEPP (Fred Singer)
ALEC (that one by Common Cause)

2) In the UK, the GWPF plays a similar role, and Lawson's friends get to deduct their contributions to support Benny Peiser's efforts. Bob Ward has filed with the Charities Commission on that one. See their entry @ the Charities Commission. I have no direct experience with them, but they do revoke charity status at least occasionally, and the IRS revokes dozens/quarter.

3) These entities are well-interconnected internationally, as can be seen both in Fakery 2: More Funny Finances, Free Of Tax, section H.4, where Heartland funnels money to dubious foreign groups
Section 0.4 discusses practices that can get you in trobule, specific the tag IRS-10F, p.10.

Many other interconnects are public from joint activities, cross-advisorships, etc.

4) Every once in a while, communication not intended to be public gets revealed. See FOIA Facts 5 - Finds Friends Of GWPF, in which Ed Wegman, withoout being asked, provided an interesting email to a FOIA request.

5) Entities like the IRS have to prioritize which complaints to work on, and like research misconduct cases, can take years, and one never gets given progress reports, jsut "case is open (or not)' So, it remains to be seen what will happen.

6) However, it is very clear that the Kochs and usual allies, including the tobacco companies have created a substantial network of tax-exempt entities with pseudo-academic appearance. One can study what they do to assess the balance of political/policy efforts and work truly done in the public interest. Such entities were used to incubate and support the US Tea Party, now expanding internationally.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2013 #permalink

"Well, (c)(3)s are supposed to be pure"

I used to work for a c(3), and I'm pure.

Re IRS revocations, I think they're usually for c(3)s that are so defunct or so lame that don't file their paperwork and don't get their act together when given repeated chances to file. More and real scrutiny would be helpful.

By Brian Schmidt (not verified) on 23 Dec 2013 #permalink

I'm a 501(c)(3) and I'm pure as well.
I think Brian characterizes the retractions fairly well, although ones that don't file their paperwork tend to fall in different category.

But indeed, more oversight would really help, but the challenge is that there are a *lot* of these, and most of them seem reasonable, and it is really nontrivial to look at a Form 990 in isolation and discover big mismatches between what they claim and what they actually do.
a) They might catch out-of-whack numbers.
b) But, for instance, Joe Bast's "Joe Camel is Innocent!" probably didn't get mentioned.

I would not want the IRS to spend the many hours I spent dissecting Heartland Form 990s and other data ... and do that for every non-profit. Hence, in pradtice, unless there are glaring financial tipoffs, the IRS needs complaints to start real investigations.

The ad thing is that a small of folks have figured out how to abuse the 501(c)(3) category, and have done so on a large scale.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2013 #permalink

Thank you John Mashey.

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 26 Dec 2013 #permalink