Web of Power: Cambridge Analytica and the Climate Science Denial Network Lobbying for Brexit and Trump


It has been a heck of a few days in the spotlight for Cambridge Analytica — a ‘political consultancy’ that confesses it likes to operate in the shadows.

Revelations continue to emerge about its practices, including allegations of illegal use of Facebook data and corrupting foreign elections.

While the company denies any illegal behaviour, what we do know is that it has been behind seismic political shocks on both sides of the Atlantic: Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump.

Tied to those is a climate science denial agenda that seeks to slash regulation, and line the pockets of those with a vested interest in fossil fuels.

This map shows how Cambridge Analytica lies at the heart of a network of operatives pushing climate science denial in the name of Brexit and Trump:

View the full interactive map on LittleSis. For more information and profiles of all the organisations and individuals, see DeSmog UK’s Disinformation Database.

From Cambridge Analytica to Trump, via the Mercers and a web of climate science denial

On the US side, Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer are the key links. The Mercers invested approximately $5 million in Cambridge Analytica.

The Mercers are also well known funders of climate science denial, and its current global posterboy Donald Trump.

Robert Mercer emerged as the “single most influential donor to Trump” ahead of his election, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CIP).  Robert Mercer’s super PAC, while not endorsing Donald Trump directly, would focus ‘”solely on attacking Clinton”, Bloomberg reported.

Mercer’s strategists, super PACs, and other political organizations as well as his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, “emerged to play a pivotal role in Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign”, according to The New York Times.

The Mercer Family Foundation also spent at least $3,824,000 between 2003 and 2010 directly funding groups opposing climate change action. That money went to organisations including The Heartland Institute, Manhattan Institute, Media Research Center, and Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM).

The Mercers are also linked to other major funders of climate science denial including the Koch brothers. In 2014, Robert Mercer made a $2.5 million contribution into the Koch’s Freedom Partners Action Fund.

The Koch’s have spent at least $100,343,292 on 84 groups denying climate change science between 1997 and 2011, according to Greenpeace — crucial years for international climate change talks.

Another of Cambridge Analytica’s funders (and co-founders) is Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for Trump.

Prior to joining Trump, Bannon has been the figurehead of alt-right propaganda machine, Breitbart News. He returned to the organisation after his ignominious depature from the White House.

Both Bannon and Breitbart are well-known for their climate science denial. Bannon hired infamous UK climate science denier columnist James Delingpole as a Breitbart editor.

For more information, see DeSmog UK’s map of a transatlantic network politicians and lobbyists pushing for Trump and Brexit.

From Cambridge Analytica to Brexit, via the UK government and anti-climate science lobbyists

Cambridge Analytica also has well-publicised ties to Brexit. It was involved with unofficial anti-EU campaign, Leave EU, having been hired by the group’s main funder, Arron Banks.

Information from a third whistleblower that used to work for Cambridge Analytica contradicts a statement by the company’s CEO that it did not work for Leave.EU. The whistleblower told the Guardian that Cambridge Analytica met with the group, and analysed data provided by the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP is also funded by Banks, and counts climate science denying former Member of the European Parliament Roger Helmer in its ranks.

Banks infamously shared a photo opp with Donald Trump and former leader of UKIP Nigel Farage in a golden lift. Farage has spoken at a number of events hosted by right-wing lobby groups in the US, including the anti-climate action Heritage Foundation.

Banks is also a political ally of Conservative politician and current Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom, who has a slightly shaky grasp of climate science, was a committee member of the official Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave.

Vote Leave hired Canadian data analytics firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) during the Brexit referendum. Aggregate IQ was once called “SCL Canada”, a reference to the ownners of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group.

A whistleblower for youth Brexit campaigners BeLeave told the Guardian that supposed donations from Vote Leave to the group actually went straight to AIQ, which was working on behalf of Cambridge Analytica.

Vote Leave was supported by two members of the Conservative party with climate sceince denial links: North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson and hereditary peer Matt Ridley. Both are well-known allies of the the UK’s most prominent climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

In October 2017, Paterson delivered a speech to an invited audience at the Competitive Enterprise Institute — a US thinktank infamous for spreading climate disinformation. He also signed a letter to the BBC complaining its coverage of the Brexit referendum was biased to the ‘remain’ side, and declared his support for Andrea Leadsom in the Conservative party leadership contest following David Cameron’s resignation. 

Cambridge Analytica also has ties to the party currently propping up Theresa May’s government, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), through its pro-Brexit ties.

Infighting between the Leave EU and Vote Leave groups in the run up to the referendum spawned campaign group Grassroots Out, which was fervently supported by DUP MP and renowned climate science denier, Sammy Wilson. The DUP itself didn’t have a single mention of “climate change” in its election manifesto, and has hindered climate action in Ireland.

For more information, see DeSmog UK’s map of climate science deniers pushing for Brexit based out of 55 Tufton Street.

Fossil Fuels

Nafeez Ahmed over at Motherboard has outlined how Cambridge Analytica has ties to the fossil fuel industry, which we’ve outlined in more detail in a separate map.

The headlines are that through SCL‘s offshoots, Cambridge Anlytica has ties to the world’s biggest coal company, Peabody Energy, as well as Big Oil companies including Exxon, Shell and BP.

Donald Trump has well established links to the fossil fuel industry, not least through former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who used to be CEO of Exxon Mobil. The company has spent at least $33 million on funding climate science denial, previous investigations have shown.

And the fossil fuel links also tie Cambridge Analytica back to the Brexit part of the map, as a major Leave campaigner and backer, Lord James Hanson, has investments in Peabody through an fund he founded.

For more details on how Cambridge Analytica ties to the fossil fuel industry, see this article and this map.

Image: KamiPhuc/Flickr CC BY 2.0. Updated 23/03/2018 to include a paragraph on UKIP‘s involvement with Cambridge Analytica. Updated 26/03/2018: The links between AIQ, Cambridge Analytica, BeLeave and Vote Leave were added. Updated 04/04/2018: A section on ties to the fossil fuel industry was added, and the map was updated.

Get Weekly News Updates

Mat was DeSmog's Special Projects and Investigations Editor, and Operations Director of DeSmog UK Ltd. He was DeSmog UK’s Editor from October 2017 to March 2021, having previously been an editor at Nature Climate Change and analyst at Carbon Brief.

Related Posts


Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.

Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.

This is a guest post by environmental communication professor and Louisiana native Ned Randolph. I grew up in the shadow of the Mississippi River, whose mythology pressed upon my imagination.&n...

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.