Shocking News: Donations Follow Opinions—Who Knew?


The Greenpeace noise machine managed to persuade the Guardian to publish a "shocking" article detailing the amazing fact that donors tend to support groups that advocate points of view with which they generally agree. To the report:

A Greenpeace Investigation has identified a little-known, privately owned US oil company as the paymaster of global warming sceptics in the US and Europe.

The environmental campaign group accuses Kansas-based Koch Industries, which owns refineries and operates oil pipelines, of funding 35 conservative and libertarian groups, as well as more than 20 congressmen and senators. Between them, Greenpeace says, these groups and individuals have spread misinformation about climate science and led a sustained assault on climate scientists and green alternatives to fossil fuels.

Greenpeace says that Koch Industries donated nearly $48m (£31.8m) to climate opposition groups between 1997-2008. From 2005-2008, it donated $25m to groups opposed to climate change, nearly three times as much as higher-profile funders that time such as oil company ExxonMobil. Koch also spent $5.7m on political campaigns and $37m on direct lobbying to support fossil fuels.

The Guardian article then lists ten different policy groups that the Koch industries and the associated foundation have supported over the years. Perusing Greenpeace's report one finds various amounts donated to the listed groups. I have no idea if these figures are correct or not, but let's assume they're in the ballpark. So what? 

Reason Foundation which publishes Reason magazine and this blog, is listed in the Greenpeace report as having received a total of $1.7 million from the Koch Foundation over the years. Greenpeace also notes that David Koch "was the 1980 Vice Presidential candidate for the anti-regulatory Libertarian Party" and that he sits on the foundation's board of directors—both of which are true facts. Greenpeace doesn't give much attention to us, but does describe us as a "rightwing climate-denier think tank."

The chief piece of evidence for Reason's perfidy, Greenpeace oddly cites an opinion piece done for the policy side of the foundation by analyst Indur Goklany dealing with the issue of compensating poor countries for climate change damages. Greenpeace characterizes that piece as an example of Free Market Environmentalism that allegedly argues "that those who suffer from the effects of global warming have little legal or moral claim for compensation from GHG emitters." For my part, I think the Goklany analysis can be more accurately characterized as pointing out how the empirical evidence for the costs and benefits stemming from the emissions of greenhouse gases vitiate the argument that harms must be compensated while benefits are ignored. Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

I find Greenpeace's assertion that the Reason Foundation is a "climate denier think tank" an amusing example of the sort of misinformation that one expects to emanate from the PR apparatus of that vast international green lobbying group. Misinformation? Well, there is my 2005 column "We're All Global Warmers Now" where I wrote:

Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up.

And Geenpeace evidently overlooked by my 2006 magnum magna mea culpa "Confessions of an Alleged Exxon Mobil Whore" in which I wrote:

Since I work for a self-described libertarian magazine that should indicate to even the dimmest reader that I tend to have a healthy skepticism of government "solutions" to problems, including government solutions to environmental problems. I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization. That's because I believe that the overwhelming balance of the evidence shows that centralized top-down regulation tends to be costly, slow, often ineffective, and highly politicized. As a skeptic of government action, I had hoped that the scientific evidence would lead to the conclusion that global warming would not be much of a problem, so that humanity could avoid the messy and highly politicized process of deciding what to do about it. Unhappily, I now believe that balance of evidence shows that global warming could well be a significant problem.

For the conspiracy minded (and I suspect disingenuous) folks over at Greenpeace I will point out once again that donors tend to support …

…the Reason Foundation because my colleagues robustly defend the free enterprise system. "Follow the money" is often pretty good advice when evaluating the source of information, but in the think tank and public policy magazine realm money tends follow opinion, rather than the other way around.

It bears mentioning that many of the conservative and free market organizations listed by Greenpeace devote a comparatively small amount of their budgets and analysis to global warming policy. Just for comparison, consider this 2001 Sacramento Bee series, "Environment Inc" (download) which noted:

Donations are at flood stage. In 1999, individuals, companies and foundations gave an average of $9.6 million a day to environmental groups, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which monitors nonprofit fund raising…. In 1999, environmental groups nationwide took in a record $3.5 billion in donations.

That was ten years ago. Are the companies, foundations, and individuals who donate tens of millions to Greenpeaace buying that lobbying group's opinions or are they just supporting the work of folks with whom they agree?

Whole overwrought Guardian article is here.

For those suspicious types, they may check out an absurdly long personal disclosure here (scroll down).