Find-A-Funder launched to encourage readers to investigate and reveal the name of seed donor to GWPF from clues in Charity Commission response to Freedom of Information requests > It’s like a crossword. Except more difficult. And significantly more important.
The identity of the seed funder of Lord Lawson’s climate denial Global Warming Policy Foundation remains a closely guarded secret. But we have some vital clues. And the power of crowdsourcing. On Tuesday, DeSmog UK for the first time named Neil Record and Lord Vinson as Lawson’s denier donors and demonstrated the close links between the GWPF and the oil and tobacco funded Institute of Economic Affairs.
And now we’re launching the “Find-A-Funder” campaign encouraging readers to scour the Internet for vital clues and even name the elusive donor referred to in a series of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents filed by Farrer and Co happened to include the name of the first GWPF donor who provided a cheque for £50,000 and proved that the charity had enough funds to meet commission’s criteria. These documents were requested under FOIA but after a lengthy battle Lawson was able to ensure the funder’s name was not disclosed.
The Charity Commission did, however, provide pages of evidence to the Information Commissioner, and among them was an internal record with the name of the funder – which has been poorly redacted – and some fascinating clues. In a letter from the Charity Commission to Dr Benny Peiser, director of the GWPF, dated 20 September 2010, the author says: “The (bank) statement in question relates to the Charity’s REDACTED account number REDACTED and covers the period 31 July 2009 to 5 August 2009.
“The bank statement makes it clear that the charity was set up with an initial donation of £50,000 from someone listed as “REDACTED”. I have conducted a brief internal search and discovered that a REDACTED is REDACTED but I do not know whether this is the same person who donated money to your Charity.”
The redacted name appears to begin with “V” and end with “T”. Inquiries by DeSmog UK have ruled out Vincent Courtillot, a member of the GWPF academic advisory council and a sceptical climate scientist; and also the billionaire Vincent Tchenguiz, a donor to the apparently sceptic and avowedly anti-wind Renewable Energy Foundation.
The Charity Commission also released two notes taken during conversations with Lord Lawson about the request. In the first, dated 22 September 2010, the member of staff recorded: “He confirmed that the donor is the REDACTED.” “He said that the donation had been given to the Charity on the Basis of strict anonymity and that the Charity is keen to be able to keep his identity out of the public domain so that they can remain faithful to the undertaking they gave him at the time.
“I pointed out that REDACTED has made his donations to other charities a matter of public record and his support for REDACTED. Mr Lawson said he would get in touch with REDACTED and check whether he was willing to have his name released….
“The charity believes that being able to preserve the identity of donors means that they can attract more donations from people who do not want their donations made known public and therefore is i (sic) the interests of the charity.”
“The charity is a think tank and think tanks operate in controversial areas – particularly this one. If the identify of donors is revealed they may be subject to ‘vilification and abuse’ in the media and elsewhere.”
The note concluded: “[Lawson] acknowledged that there may be some people that think that because we (sic) don’t reveal donors we must be funded by the oil industry. He categorically refuted this and said that the Charity has a formal protocol for the acceptance of gifts which makes it very clear they will not accept donations from the oil industry.”
Considerable Personal Wealth
The second telephone memo, dated 27 September 2010, added: “REDACTED is currently out of the country but will return later this week…”
The Charity Commission has provided further clues in a letter sent to the Information Commission on 15 March 2011. It says: “In the course of dealing with REDACTED request the Commission has undertaken internet searches looking for information about the donor.
“The donor is well known. Entering the donors name into a google search provides initial results which identify the donor and nobody else with the donor’s name. I have reviewed the first page of the results of this google search and they do not contain any indication that the donor is a well known climate sceptic.
“The Commission is not aware that the donor has any links to oil or energy companies…I can confirm that the donor is a person of considerable personal wealth and therefore it is not surprising that s/he was able to make a donation of £50,000 to a charity of his/her choice.”
The Public Interest There is a strong public interest in naming the donors to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The tribunal found the public interest test had not been met because Lawson’s charity was not “influential” enough.
Dr James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, provided evidence to the original tribunal hearing into this FOIA case. He told the Guardian at the time: “Our children and grandchildren will judge those who have misled the public, allowing fossil fuel emissions to continue almost unfettered, as guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.
“But the eventual conviction of these people in the court of public opinion will do little to ease the burdens that will have been created for today’s young people and future generations.” Readers should share their leads and discoveries with us on Twitter and Facebook. Happy hunting.