The Washington Free Beacon published a story today that caught our attention. The story was an investigative report about dark money coming through mysterious Bermuda off-shore accounts to finance the anti-gas Sierra Club. The report also details how several major environmental organizations rake in the dough through these maze-like channels. It’s no secret, of course, that wealthy foundations such as Tides routinely launder money from individuals and organizations who don’t want their names directly attached to what they fund. The Free Beacon report, though, provided some clues that allowed for some additional investigation. We learned not only how the Sierra Club gets its funding, but also how several other natural gas opponents get their “green” too.
The report centers around the Sea Change Foundation, which distributed more than $100 million the last two fiscal years to various special interest groups. It is headquartered in San Francisco, but gets major chunks of its funding from a Bermuda firm called Klein Ltd. that is connected to some hedge funds. What is interesting is not only the sheer amount of money involved, but also the way it has been distributed. A review of 990 returns for 2010 and 2011 (August 1, 2010 through July 31, 2012) reveals the following donations, among many others:
Of note: The San Francisco-based Energy Foundation is a pass-through entity, as is obvious from its donations to many of the same environmental special interest groups:
Combining the two related sources of financing yields the following breakdown of funding to some of the most vocal of opponents to natural gas development in the world:
The bulk of this money comes through the Simons family and its connections. They have run the largest and most successful hedge fund in the world and pioneered the secretive world of “black box trading.” Their hedge funds are sources of earnings for these foundations, much of the money being funneled through Klein Ltd. – about which very little is known because it is one of those shadowy off-shore operations specifically designed to obscure who’s really behind things.
It’s not hard to see the connections here, however. The Rockefeller Family Fund is actually a recipient of money from the Energy Foundation, and many of the special interests funded have also been special pets of the Rockefeller family, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the League of Conservation Voters, which together received over $22.5 million in just two years.
Other recipients of this dark money include the Sierra Club ($10 million), the Wilderness Society ($8 million) and the World Wildlife Fund (active in European opposition to natural gas – nearly $5 million). There is also the Sustainable Market Foundation, a Rockefeller creation behind so many of the supposedly “grass roots” groups fighting natural gas in New York. And, of course, there is the Clean Air Council. This isn’t all, though, because money funneled to Tides and similar entities also finds its way back to these same groups.
Contrast this reality with those myriad stories about oil and gas industry lobbying expenditures. The money thrown around by the natural gas opposition is nothing less than humongous. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be labeled as “lobbying” because the funds are supposedly going to charity. Combine this with the fact that much of it is dark money that comes from all sorts of special interests we can’t even specifically identify and you get the picture.
What all this illustrates is pretty straightforward: there is nothing “grass roots” about opponents of responsible shale development. It’s driven by the same handful of the super-rich, operating under different names and facades, manipulating things (and all of us) in a vain attempt to create a perfect world…for themselves.
Meanwhile, upstate New Yorkers (and many others) who are hoping to achieve a bit of economic revival in their communities with proven-safe natural gas development try to fight back against this dark money juggernaut.
It’s past time for additional public scrutiny on these groups. The livelihoods of too many people are being jeopardized, and we all deserve to know why.