The People and Groups Behind the ‘Climate Justice’ Push

Billionaires, liberal foundations fueling green groups who seek to use climate as a wedge issue

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A network of well-funded green groups hope to capitalize on the United Nations’ environmental summit in order to turn "climate change" into an issue voters care about ahead of the 2016 elections.

Progressive billionaires and the dark money philanthropies they have endowed plan a wide range of activities—from pushing for the closure of coal plants to increasing government spending on green energy projects to registering environmentally minded voters—to advance their cause.

One such recent high-profile push, launched by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, was announced shortly before the talks in Paris began.

Gates—along with 27 other billionaires including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and progressive activists Tom Steyer and George Soros—pledged a portion of their overall fortunes to invest in early-stage clean energy companies—through their Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

The "urgency of climate change and the energy needs in the poorest parts of the world require an aggressive global program for zero-emission energy innovation," the Coalition claimed.

Michael Bloomberg, who has already pumped millions into anti-coal efforts, pledged an additional $30 million earlier this year to the Sierra Club’s "Beyond Coal" campaign, the goal of which is to eliminate half of the nation’s coal-powered plants by 2017.

The former New York City mayor has called the campaign "one of the most successful grass-roots environmental efforts in this country’s history," as the Sierra Club has taken credit for the "planned retirements" of 206 power plants to date with their sights set on 317 more plants in order to reach their end-goal.

The Democracy Alliance, a network of progressive donors that steers money to liberal nonprofits, urged its members during recent closed-door meetings in Washington, D.C., to step up giving to groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, according to a memo obtained by Politico.

The vast liberal dark money network, whose members contribute at least $200,000 per year to approved organizations, hopes to make global warming a central issue during the 2016 presidential elections. The Alliance’s "2020 Vision" aims to blunt the influence of the fossil fuel sector during elections, put Congress in a strategic position to push through a national carbon tax, and persuade states to undertake renewable energy policies.

Many of the largest and most powerful groups pushing environmental agendas do not disclose individual donors and are fueled by contributions from wealthy liberal foundations.

The Tides Foundation has given millions of dollars to "climate justice" groups since its inception in 1976. Publicly available Form 990s filed by the organization show that a number of these green groups—which tend to work in conjunction with one another—have been the recipients of generous donations from the foundation.

One such group, 350.org, has received at least $293,720 from the Tides Foundation. The group, founded by radical environmentalist Bill McKibben in 2007, boasts of partnerships with the likes of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Natural Resources Defense Council—all of which also receive money from Tides.

Tides has given the Sierra Club a total of $4,133,843; Greenpeace has received $1,140,893; Friends of the Earth has been granted $1,336,353; and the National Resources Defense Council has been given $3,033,323. The Democracy Alliance has twice been one of the five highest-compensated independent contractors by the group since 2012, pulling in $675,000 for "program services" from the foundation.

Tides has also given heavily to "The Ruckus Society," an environmentalist group that has been criticized for its confrontational methods. The group has received $447,310 from Tides.

The Tides Foundation did not return a request for comment. Critics of the organization said it was little more than a front group to hide the source of funding for radical environmental groups.

"Tides is the poster boy of dark money, long serving as a vehicle for wealthy funders to send money to front groups without having their fingerprints on them," Will Coggin, spokesman for the Environmental Policy Alliance, told the Washington Free Beacon.

In addition to making global warming a wedge issue in 2016, a coalition of environmental groups—led by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV)—will push to register one million "climate voters." The effort is reminiscent of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Fund. Steyer poured $74 million into the 2014 midterms elections, by far the most of any single contributor during the election cycle.

"Greater voter participation is the key to overcoming special interests, so our goal is to make election day an Earth Day too. That's why the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund is proud to join with our partners in this pledge to register one million Americans ahead of the 2016 election," said Gene Karpinski, the group’s president, in a statement released at the launch of the campaign and forwarded to the Free Beacon by the group.

"We can be sure environmentalists will tap into their shadowy web of front groups and pour dark money into making climate an issue in 2016," said Coggin. "But with only three percent of Americans recently telling pollsters that climate change is their most important issue, it shows just how out-of-touch environmentalists are."

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Democracy Alliance, 350.org, Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and Ruckus Society did not return a request for comment.

Update 11:22 A.M.: Following publication of this article, a spokesperson for 350.org told the Free Beacon:

"We have received grants from a variety of funds at Tides over the years, including the White Cedar Fund, the Bridge Fund, and the New Venture Fund," said Jame Henn. "We have also received a few anonymous gifts via Tides, and we get anonymous gifts from other sources too, including via Schwab, Fidelity, individual wealth managers, and community foundations. Donors often choose to remain anonymous so they don't have a huge influx of requests for funds from other organizations."

"Money comes through Tides because they provide a service for family foundations and other donors who do not have the capacity, or who do not want to use their resources, to set up their own foundation with staff, infrastructure, paperwork, etc. We are grateful for all the support we receive from donors, and appreciate the fact that Tides can facilitate donations from smaller donors."

Joe Schoffstall   Email Joe | Full Bio | RSS
Joe Schoffstall is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Previously, he spent three years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. He can be reached at Schoffstall@freebeacon.com. His Twitter handle is @JoeSchoffstall.