Exclusive: Major Climate Denial Funders Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund Handled $479 Million Of Dark Money


More than $470 million of cash flowing into a key funding arm of the climate science denial movement in the United States is untraceable, a DeSmog investigation has found.

Sister organisations Donors Trust (DT) and Donors Capital Fund (DCF) declared an income of $511 million between 2005 and 2012, tax records show.

But a DeSmog analysis of the sources of DT and DCF income finds that some $479 million of the income is “dark money” coming from individuals or groups who do not have to declare their donations.

The amount of untraceable cash moving through DT and DCF is likely to be increasing substantially. In 2013, the two groups had their biggest year to date with a combined income of $152m and cash assets of $138m. Donors Trust itself saw income more than double from $46m in 2012 to $103m in 2013 even though the value of grants it handed out remained stable at about $40m each year.

While the role of DT and DCF in financing the climate science denial movement has been known for several years, DeSmog’s investigation reveals for the first time the true scale of untraceable money flowing through the two funds, which share an address in Virginia.

DeSmog’s investigation found just $32 million of donations to the two conservative-aligned funding arms originated with other non-profits that make tax records and details of donations available in public documents. 

Both DT and DCF have funneled money to high profile advocacy groups that campaign against regulations to cut greenhouse gases and promote fringe and discredited views on climate science.

While Greenpeace analysis reviewed by DeSmog shows DT and DCF have given $170m over the years to fund other groups blocking climate change action, the source of the Donors’ network income remains largely hidden.

DT and DCF have been described as the “dark money ATM” of the conservative right in the United States, and are key funders for groups including the Heartland Institute and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

Many of the organisations funded by DT and DCF are known to have received cash from fossil fuel interests in the past. 

Both DT and DCF say they only give money to projects that will explicitly promote “free markets” and “liberty” and that will lower government involvement in society.

A form on the DT website asks potential funders to declare that they “agree that it is wrong that the fortunes of successful Americans are being used to fund political and social causes that undermine the free market economy.”

The cash given through DT will “fund good conservative and liberty-oriented causes,” the form says.

One major known funder of DT is the Knowledge and Progress Fund (KPF) that donated $7.65 million from 2010 to 2013 — the only grants made by the foundation.

On the KPF board are oil billionaire and major Republican benefactor Charles Koch, his wife Liz and son Charles Chase Koch. 

Richard Fink, a Koch company director and long-standing aide to Charles Koch, is also a KPF director.

Dark Money Donor-Advised Funds

DT and DCF are both so-called “donor-advised funds” where cash is accepted from donors and placed in a dedicated account before being redistributed under the DT or DCF name.

This has the effect of hiding the identity of any individual donors and removes a direct association between a funder and an organisation or project.

For example, between 2002 and 2013, Greenpeace analysis shows that the Heartland Institute received more than $16 million from DCF

The Heartland Institute organises regular conferences for climate science denialists and once compared people who accepted climate change science to mass murderers.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which promotes extremist views on climate change while denigrating climate scientists and renewable energy, has received more than $7 million from DT

DT and DCF were among 100 groups targeted with letters from three US Democratic senators “to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution”.

Other groups to receive funding from DT or DCF include the State Policy Network, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans For Prosperity Foundation. 

Many of the conservative organisations funded by DT and DCF work across multiple issue areas and it is not possible to know how much is spent directly on their climate change and energy advocacy.

According to analysis from Greenpeace, between 2002 and 2013, DT and DCF funneled $170m to organisations that have worked to undermine action on climate change. 

DT has also funded the work of fossil fuel-funded contrarian scientist Dr Willie Soon, who it emerged earlier this year had described his scientific studies as “deliverables” to funders at coal firm Southern Company and to DT.

DeSmog analysed the tax returns of DT and DCF and found declared income from donations and grants worth $511m between the two organisations. 

DeSmog used data from Conservative Transparency, a website which tracks money flows between conservative groups and foundations, and found that from 2005 to 2012 only $32m came from organisations required to disclose who they fund. This means $479m of the money handed to DT and DCF came from unknown sources. 

A study by Professor Bob Brulle, of Drexel University, published in 2013 examined the funding of the “climate change counter-movement” and found that DT and DCF were likely the “single largest funder.”

In the journal Climatic Change, Brulle wrote of DT and DCF: “Because contributions to a donor directed foundation are not required to be made public, their existence provides a way for individuals or corporations to make anonymous contributions. In effect, these two philanthropic foundations form a black box that conceals the identity of contributors to various CCCM (climate change counter movement) organizations.”

Brulle’s study found that DT and DCF were funding an increasingly large share of the movement. In 2003 DT and DCF were funding just 3.3 per cent of the movement, but by 2010 this had risen to 23.7 per cent. 

Commenting on DeSmog’s findings, Brulle said: “DT/DCF are a major funder of the conservative organizations that fight against climate change.  But there are also others.  I think it is safe to say that they are a major funder among a number of others, such as the Scaife or Bradley Foundations.  They are one among a dozen or so major funders.

I think it is vital that all contributions to advocacy organizations, regardless of their viewpoint, should be fully transparent.”

A new funder to DT is the foundation of billionaire “vulture capitalist” and hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who donated $1.5m in 2012. Singer was revealed by DeSmog to have funded the think tank of Danish climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg.

The Charles Koch Foundation has some $63 million invested in one of Singer’s hedge funds, according to that foundation’s tax returns.

Image credit: Shutterstock.

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