The sequence of events, as laid out in this Wall Street Journal story (sorry, sub. req.):

  • In 2002, a right-wing activist founded Public Interest Watch "in response to the growing misuse of charitable funds by nonprofit organizations and the lack of effort by government agencies to deal with the problem." Though the group claims to be non-partisan non-ideological, non-profits that threaten corporate interests are given, shall we say, special attention.
  • "PIW’s most recent federal tax filing, covering August 2003 to July 2004, states that $120,000 of the $124,094 the group received in contributions during that period came from Exxon Mobil."
  • In late 2003, PIW sent a letter to the IRS, accusing Greenpeace of money-laundering and other illegal activities.
  • In Sep. 2005, the IRS launched a full-scale, months-long audit of Greenpeace.

    Greenpeace officials said an IRS auditor showed up at their Washington office Sept. 12, 2005. [Executive Director John] Passacantando said that when the auditor, Charles Walker, arrived, he pointed to a picture of an activist chained to an Exxon Mobil gas pump and said, "You guys are engaged in illegal activity and this stuff has got to stop." Mr. Walker later said the audit had been triggered by the PIW complaint, according to Mr. Passacantando.

  • This month, IRS notified Greenpeace that everything looks in order, and they can keep their tax-except non-profit status.

The lesson?

Industry cannot compete with environmental groups in the court of public opinion. The public has repeatedly expressed sympathy with environmental goals, and is willing to let individual companies and industries sacrifice a bit to achieve them.

So industry goes after environmental groups in other ways. It drums up hysteria about "eco-terrorism." It leverages it influence in the halls of power to have them investigated and audited. Etc.

No shock, of course, but it’s nice for the WSJ (of all places) to lay out a fairly clear example.