Columbia Journalism Review affirms coverage of "secretive climate-denial funding network"
Millions are spent "casting doubt on climate-change science and fighting efforts to address the problem."
February 21, 2013Published: February 21, 2013
By Steven T. Corneliussen
On 14 February in the UK, the Guardian published "Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks" with the subhead "Anonymous billionaires donated $120 million to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science." Now the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) analysis "Digging for dark money" has seconded not only the Guardian's two-part report but a closely related one from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
It will be objected that CJR and those reports exhibit a liberal bias. And indeed Wikipedia characterizes CPI as liberal, with at least one Washington Post writer apparently agreeing. CJR does make plain both the funding network's legality and the questionable ethics involved in the incident that probably started the investigations. That was scientist and climate activist Peter Gleick's deceptive acquisition of private documents from the climate-consensus-opposing Heartland Institute. CJR also stipulates that "liberal donors dole out plenty of money, too," though it adds that the CPI report claims that liberal "groups are markedly more transparent about where the money comes from and where it goes."
Partly through direct quoting, CJR affirms the Guardian's work. Groups in the network labored "to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing 'wedge issue' for hardcore conservatives." The money was "routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC." Such "donor-advised funds are not uncommon"; they "offer a number of advantages to wealthy donors. They are convenient, cheaper to run than a private foundation, offer tax breaks and are lawful." They also offer "complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden." By 2010, "the two Donor Trusts between them were channelling just under $30 million to a host of conservative organisations opposing climate action or science," accounting for "46% of all their grants to conservative causes." This "funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers." When "it came to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs was outspending the Koch brothers by a factor of six to one."
The Guardian's second, accompanying piece carries a subhead that alters the other subhead's numbers: "The secretive funding network distributed $118 million to 102 groups including some of the best-known thinktanks on the right." This companion article reports that the American Enterprise Institute, "which is closely connected to the Republican party establishment and has a large staff of scholars, received more than $17 million in untraceable donations over the years." The piece also notes that Heartland got $13.5 million.
The companion article tells this story too:
The support helped the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (Cfact), expand from $600,000 to $3 million annual operation. In 2010, Cfact received nearly half of its budget from those anonymous donors, the records show.
The group's most visible product is the website, Climate Depot, a contrarian news source run by Marc Morano. Climate Depot sees itself as the rapid reaction force of the anti-climate cause. On the morning after Obama's state of the union address, Morano put out a point by point rebuttal to the section on climate change.
The gregarious Morano is a former aide to the Republican senator Jim Inhofe notorious for declaring climate change the greatest hoax on mankind.
CJR's affirmation ends by observing that while many of the funders may like anonymity, it's the press's job to disappoint them.
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.