Total foundation funding distribution to U.S. climate change countermovement organizations, 2003-2010. Graphic: Brulle, 2013

Total foundation recipient income distribution to U.S. climate change countermovement organizations, 2003 to 2010. Graphic: Brulle, 2013

20 December 2013 (PhysOrg) – A new study conducted by Drexel University's environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle, PhD, exposes the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the powerful climate change countermovement. This study marks the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort.

Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the countermovement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that, while the largest and most consistent funders behind the countermovement are a number of well-known conservative foundations, the majority of donations are "dark money," or concealed funding.

The data also indicates that Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, two of the largest supporters of climate science denial, have recently pulled back from publicly funding countermovement organizations. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to countermovement organizations through third party pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funders cannot be traced, has risen dramatically.

Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science in Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences, conducted the study during a year-long fellowship at Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. The study was published today in Climatic Change, one of the top 10 climate science journals in the world. […]

"The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on the issue of global warming," said Brulle. "Like a play on Broadway, the countermovement has stars in the spotlight – often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians – but behind the stars is an organizational structure of directors, script writers and producers, in the form of conservative foundations. If you want to understand what's driving this movement, you have to look at what's going on behind the scenes." [more]

Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort

ABSTRACT: This paper conducts an analysis of the financial resource mobilization of the organizations that make up the climate change counter-movement (CCCM) in the United States. Utilizing IRS data, total annual income is compiled for a sample of CCCM organizations (including advocacy organizations, think tanks, and trade associations). These data are coupled with IRS data on philanthropic foundation funding of these CCCM organizations contained in the Foundation Center’s data base. This results in a data sample that contains financial information for the time period 2003 to 2010 on the annual income of 91 CCCM organizations funded by 140 different foundations. An examination of these data shows that these 91 CCCM organizations have an annual income of just over $900 million, with an annual average of $64 million in identifiable foundation support. The overwhelming majority of the philanthropic support comes from conservative foundations. Additionally, there is evidence of a trend toward concealing the sources of CCCM funding through the use of donor directed philanthropies.


It is clear that there is substantial foundation funding of CCCM organizations. While trade associations rely primarily on member organization dues, foundation funding is a significant factor in the organizational maintenance of think tanks and advocacy organizations. It provides 25% of the income for 501 C3 organizations, and 14% for 501 C4 organizations. However, there is a wide variance in the level of funding for various individual organizations, as shown in Table S-5 (see Supplementary Material). The percentage ranges from zero to nearly 74%, with a mean of 24.8%. Thus foundation funding can be a significant source of income for individual organizations.

To determine the role of foundation funding of the CCCM, the Foundation Center data were further examined.5 The first step was to identify the overall distribution of foundation funding to CCCM organizations. Figure 1 shows the overall amount and percentage distribution of foundation funding of CCCM organizations. The single largest funders are the combined foundations Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund. Over the 2003–2010 period, they provided more than $78 million in funding to CCCM organizations. The other major funders are the combined Scaife and Koch Affiliated Foundations, and the Bradley, Howard, Pope, Searle and Templeton foundations, all giving more than $20 million from 2003–2010.

Of special interest in this regard is that Donors Trust and Donors Capital are both “donor directed” foundations. In this type of foundation, individuals or other foundations contribute money to the donor directed foundation, and it then makes grants based on the stated preferences of the original contributor. This process ensures that the intent of the contributor is met while also hiding that contributor’s identity. Because contributions to a donor directed foundation are not required to be made public, their existence provides a way for individuals or corporations to make anonymous contributions. In effect, these two philanthropic foundations form a black box that conceals the identity of contributors to various CCCM organizations.

The second step in understanding the role of foundation funding in CCCM organizations was to examine the overall distribution of funding among different CCCM organizations. Figure 2 illustrates the overall sum of foundation funding received by the 69 CCCM organizations listed in the Foundation Center Date Base. As this figure shows, conservative think tanks were the largest recipients of foundation support. These think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, are among the best known conservative think tanks in the United States. The American Enterprise Institute received 16% of the total grants made to organizations that are active in the CCCM. The Heritage Foundation was a close second, receiving 14%. The majority of foundation funding goes to multiple focus conservative think tanks. As previous analyses have shown (Jacques et al. 2008; Dunlap and Jacques 2013), these multiple focus think tanks are highly active in the CCCM.

This distribution of funding shows that both conservative foundations and the recipient organizations are core actors in the larger conservative movement. The foundations that play a major role in funding the CCCM are all well-known and prominent conservative funders (Stefanic and Delgado 1996). Thus it is clear that the most prominent funding foundations and the organizations receiving this funding are identical to those constituting the larger conservative movement, indicating that the CCCM is a subsidiary movement of the larger conservative movement, as numerous analyses have argued previously (McCright and Dunlap 2000, 2003; Dunlap and McCright 2011; Jacques et al. 2008, and Oreskes and Conway 2010).

These findings are significant because funding has important impacts on organizations. The level of financial support provided by private foundations and individual patrons exerts a powerful influence on the capabilities of non-profit organizations, whether conservative or progressive (Walker 1991). Private foundations gain their influence over social movement organizations through their financial power and constitute a system of power and influence. This limits the range of organizational forms and goals for movement organizations (McCarthy et al. 1991:69–70). Movement organizations depend on foundations for programmatic ideas, occasional technical support, and the sense of legitimacy and prestige that comes with foundation grants. Well-funded organizations gain the attention of policymakers simply by virtue of the recognition they have received from national grant makers (Snow 1992: 65). In addition, foundations are not passive actors, but carefully select from the grant proposals they receive. Foundations have increasingly taken a more activist role in the development of social movement organizations, including forming their own organizations (Ylvisaker 1987:363). For example, the Cato Institute was founded by the Koch Brothers, and continues to receive funding from the Koch affiliated foundations. Additionally, foundations can sometimes gain additional influence over the organizations they fund through direct participation on the board of directors (Colwell 1993: 105).

Thus, external funding creates a dynamic that can be seen as financial steering of social movement organizations. Accordingly, the funding links illustrate the power relationships within a social movement, or in this case, counter-movement. Conservative foundations have long played a major role in the development of conservative ideas (Hoplin and Robinson 2008: 15–33). Anheier and Daly (2005: 159) note that: “Foundations are among the most independent institutions of modern society. They are not subject to market forces or consumer preferences, nor do they have a membership or some electorate to oversee decisions and performance.” This legal status has allowed conservative foundations to take a very active role in the creation and maintenance of think tanks and advocacy organizations that, in turn, play a major role in the CCCM (Minkoff and Agnone 2010: 367, NCRP1997). [more]

Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations



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