Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120 million to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.
The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing “wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.
The millions were 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, D.C. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1 million or more.
Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust, told the Guardian that her organization assured wealthy donors that their funds would never be diverted to liberal causes.
"We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise," she said in an interview.
By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. "It won't be going to liberals."
Ball won't divulge names, but she said the stable of donors represents a wide range of opinion on the American right. Increasingly over the years, those conservative donors have been pushing funds towards organizations working to discredit climate science or block climate action.
Donors exhibit sharp differences of opinion on many issues, Ball said. They run the spectrum of conservative opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians. But in opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they found common ground.
"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," she went on. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."
By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118 million distributed to 102 think tanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.
The money flowed to Washington think tanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.