Logo

Inhofe Report Exposes Environmental Groups as 'Massive Democratic Political Machines'

Written by Marc Morano

Share
September 26, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, today released an updated comprehensive investigation into the financial and political activities employed by charitable and environmental organizations claiming to be non-partisan. [See today's updated full report: Political Activity of Environmental Groups and their Supporting Foundations - Previously in 2004 Senator Inhofe released the original report on environmental group funding. See: INHOFE RELEASES DETAILED REPORT ON ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP POLITICAL FUNDRAISING - October 5, 2004]
"Campaigns to ‘save the cuddly animals' or ‘protect the ancient forests' are really disguised efforts to raise money for Democratic political campaigns," Senator Inhofe said during a floor speech today presenting the new report. "Environmental organizations have become experts at duplicitous activity, skirting laws up to the edge of illegality, and burying their political activities under the guise of non-profit environmental improvement.

 "Take this ad for example, displayed on the League of Conservation Voters, or LCV, website. This is LCV's standard text used to raise money for the nonprofit organization. In turn, LCV takes these donations, given to ‘save the environment' and uses them to fund ads for Democratic Candidates such as Ben Lujan from New Mexico. LCV, similar to other groups I'll highlight later, disguises itself as an environmental group dedicated to saving the environment, yet, as shown by this political ad, it is simply an extension of the Democratic political party.  

"What we find now is the fleecing of the American public's pocketbooks by the environmental movement for their political gain.  We also find exhausting litigation, instigation of false claims, misleading science, and scare tactics to fool Americans into believing disastrous environmental scenarios that are untrue. Especially in this election year, the American voter should see these groups and their many affiliate organizations as they are: the newest insidious conspiracy of political action committees and perhaps the newest multi-million dollar manipulation of federal election laws.  "As an American citizen concerned about our environment and our country, I'm dismayed and saddened by this deception. If these groups actually used the hundreds of millions of dollars they raise for actual environmental improvement, just think how many whales and forests we could save. These wolves should be seen for what they really are: massive democratic political machines, disguised as environmental causes."

#

Weblink to Inhofe's full 2008 report: Political Activity of Environmental Groups and their Supporting Foundations

Full Text:  Partisan Environmental Groups Senate Floor Statement by U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) September 20, 2008 

Mr./Madam President, I rise today to shed some light on a subject that is very important to me, as an American citizen, and as the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. 

The situation I'm about to discuss reminds me of an old saying: beware of wolves dressed in sheep's clothing.

Today's so-called environmental movement can be described in much the same way. Campaigns to "save the cuddly animals" or "protect the ancient forests" are really disguised efforts to raise money for Democratic political campaigns.

Take this ad for example, displayed on the League of Conservation Voters, or LCV, website. This is LCV's standard text used to raise money for the nonprofit organization. In turn, LCV takes these donations, given to "save the environment" and uses them to fund ads for Democratic Candidates such as Ben Lujan from New Mexico.

LCV, similar to other groups I'll highlight later, disguises itself as an environmental group dedicated to saving the environment, yet, as shown by this political ad, it is simply an extension of the Democratic political party.

In the fall of 2004, I came to the Senate floor to discuss this very topic.  This report and my remarks today are an update on the 2004 report.

Over the last several months my staff has put considerable effort into examining this deception perpetrated by these wolves disguised in sheep's clothing. This examination has uncovered the tangled web of charitable and environmental organizations, political campaigns, and large foundations.

Environmental groups are tax-exempt IRS registered 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, meaning that contributions to these groups are tax deductible. These groups profess to be stewards of the environment and solicit contributions from a variety of sources using these claims. But they demonstrate more interest in hyping apocalyptic environmental scenarios to raise money for raw political purposes than working toward actual, real world environmental change for the benefit of all Americans.

Not surprising, given these deceptions, these non-profit groups are tightly affiliated with and fund 501(c)(4) lobbying organizations and 527 political organizations.

With these intertwined organizations, it is extremely difficult to differentiate the source of funds and track their use. This problem is highlighted in a report, prepared by my staff, which provides preliminary examples based on the five most politically active environmental groups. The report describes their activities, the foundations that provide their financial support, and the interconnected web among these organizations.

At this time, I ask unanimous consent to have the report inserted into the record at the conclusion of my remarks.  

My staff is not the first to uncover this sham. In a December 19, 2007, article, The Wall Street Journal highlighted the very same problem, stating, "Because the IRS doesn't require 501(c) organizations to detail election spending or to list contributors, it's difficult to track their political activity." The Journal analyzed data on 30 separate 501(c) groups active in elections from 2000 to 2006, culled from a variety of sources. The data show that the 30 organizations spent at least $155 million on the 2006 elections, nearly twice what they spent in 2000.

Environmental organizations have become experts at duplicitous activity, skirting laws up to the edge of illegality, and burying their political activities under the guise of non-profit environmental improvement. This chart demonstrates this interconnected "enviro-family affair" of non-profits and their benefactors.  As you can see, the six organizations at the bottom of this chart are all either 527 groups or political 501(c)(4)'s.

Let's take a look at the League of Conservation Voters, a poster child of this deceit. The LCV is an IRS registered 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions to the LCV's 501(c)(3) organization are tax deductible. However, contributors should understand that LCV is a political organization affiliated with a 501(c)(4) organization, a political action committee, and a 527 organization. LCV represents itself as "turning environmental values into national priorities," and much of its funds, even from its 501(c)(3) organization, go to fund voter mobilization and education drives.

In each election cycle, LCV endorses political candidates. Since 1996, LCV has published a "Dirty Dozen" list, and bragged about its effectiveness in ousting the candidates on the list. Not surprisingly, the list singles out mostly Republican candidates.  To date, eighty-three names have been placed on the LCV's "Dirty Dozen," seventy-four of which are Republicans.  By their bipartisan claims, it would be expected that LCV's support would be split evenly. The publishers of the "Dirty Dozen" have yet to name even a dozen Democrats to their list in the past twelve years. 

In 2006, LCV had two 527 groups: the League of Conservation Voters - SSF and the League of Conservation Voters Inc. SSF - 527 II. These 527 groups were fined by the Federal Election Commission for three violations of federal election law.   One of the violations was that LCV knowingly accepted individuals' donations in excess of $5,000.  LCV collected over $6 million in donations during 2004 that violated the $5,000 individual maximum amount restriction, and ultimately was fined a total of $180,000 by the FEC.  According to an FEC press release, LCV received this fine for acting as a clear political committee and violating federal election law.  The Wall Street Journal highlighted these violations in an article published in December 2007.  Following this incident, the LCV restructured its organization into a 501(c)(4), which allows the organization to run with fewer disclosure restrictions.  

LCV has a long history of direct involvement in political campaigns.  In 1996, the LCV spent a total of $1.5 million in ads focused on defeating its Dirty Dozen list targets of eleven Republicans and one Democrat. In 1998, the LCV spent $2.3 million targeting its Dirty Dozen list of twelve Republican candidates and one Democrat candidate. In 2000, the LCV spent a total of $4 million, again targeting eleven Republicans and one Democrat on its Dirty Dozen list. And I can't forget that in 2000 the LCV also endorsed Al Gore for President.

In 2002, the LCV once again targeted eleven Republican congressional candidates and one Democrat. Mr./Madam President, clearly there is a partisan pattern here. LCV spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in congressional contests against Republican candidates.

That same year, the group undertook its strongest single effort to date, focused on my friend, Senator Allard. The LCV claims to have budgeted $700,000 for that race and hired a campaign staff of twelve to coordinate phone banks and precinct walks. In addition LCV ran television and radio advertisements against the Senator.

Altogether, the LCV reportedly spent $1.4 million in independent expenditures during the 2002 election cycle. Of that total amount, LCV spent $1.3 million benefitting Democratic candidates while only spending $136 thousand for Republican candidates.

Two years later, in 2004, the "Dirty Dozen" list contained twelve Republicans and one Democrat.  LCV and its affiliates spent a new record total of $16 million during that year's elections targeting the 13 candidates.  As in previous years, the one Democrat on the list retained his seat while four of the twelve Republicans were defeated. For the first time, in 2004, the LCV included a presidential administration on their list. The LCV endorsed Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for President.

In 2006, the LCV chose fifteen candidates for their "Dirty Dozen" list.  The list was comprised of thirteen Republicans and two Democrats.  While the two Democrats on the "Dirty Dozen" list retained their seats, nine Republicans lost their seats.  The LCV and its affiliates used its extensive budget of $27 million on campaign activities. 

The 2006 elections also highlighted the intertwined political activities of LCV and other groups. A coalition of environmental organizations, that included LCV and the Sierra Club, worked together in 2006 to defeat their top target Richard Pombo, then Chairman of the House Resources Committee. This coalition invested more than $1.7 million in the race to defeat him.  If that figure alone is not startling enough, then look at this chart that shows part of a Sierra Club press release that gloats about their activity in this House race.  We see that the Sierra Club invested $545,000 in this race and had 643,000 contacts with voters, and sent 397,000 pieces of mail in this race alone. 

At the time of this report, the LCV had yet to release a completed version of the 2008 "Dirty Dozen" list.  However, it has released the names of nine individuals who will fill up the ranks of the completed list.  Of those nine, there is one Democrat joining the "Dirty Dozen."  I would be remiss not to mention that it looks like I will be on their list this year.  It should come as no surprise that for the 2008 Presidential election, the LCV has endorsed Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) for President.

While there is no means of calculating or anticipating what LCV will spend this year, as their budget has grown every election cycle, they will most likely have at least the $27 million that they did in 2006.

LCV is certainly not the only wolf out there. The Sierra Club, which describes itself as "America's oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization," has a similar record of trickery. The Sierra Club Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with an affiliated 501(c)(4) group, Sierra Club. There is also a 527 organization called the Sierra Club Voter Education Fund, which claims to be a "separate segregated fund of the Sierra Club."  The Sierra Club Foundation does not claim affiliation with this 527 organization, however the Sierra Club Voters Education Fund "does not have its own board of directors, officers or trustees." 

In 2006, the Sierra Club 501(c) organizations brought in more than $110 million and spent nearly $104 million; the Sierra Club 527, the Sierra Club Voter Education Fund, only brought in $60,000, but managed to spend nearly $1 million.

Similar to LCV, the Sierra Club has a history of endorsing candidates for political office.  Most recently, the Sierra Club announced its support of Senator Obama's (D-IL) presidential bid.  While there is no reported activity yet from the organization, the Sierra Club has been known to run television and radio advertisements both supporting their candidate and criticizing the opposition.  At the time of this report, Sierra Club had announced its support of thirteen candidates for seats in the United States Senate.  Of those thirteen candidates, none are Republicans.  The organization has also announced its endorsement of one hundred and fifty-six candidates for the United State House of Representatives.  Of the candidates, four are Republicans.  Essentially, ninety-eight percent of Sierra Club's endorsements favor Democrat candidates. 

Another example Mr./Madam President, is the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization.  It is also affiliated with a 501(c)(4) organization, the NRDC Action Fund, and a 527 organization, the Environmental Accountability Fund.  By having at least one of each category of tax-exempt organizations, these groups can transfer wealth throughout their family of organizations and remain virtually undetected.  In its 2006 tax filing, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. transferred $98,801 to NRDC Action Fund, and NRDC Action Fund transferred $124,500 to undisclosed "other organizations" that same year.

Founded in 1970, NRDC purports to be the "nation's most effective environmental action group" whose mission is to "[t]o safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends."  The NRDC claims to use grassroots efforts and the power of legal and scientific expertise to achieve its goals, which they describe frequently as "independent." 

From 2001 through 2005, the NRDC reported on the Bush Administration by creating the Bush Record.  The Record categorized President Bush's time in office as an administration that "will cater to industries that put America's health and natural heritage at risk."  The NRDC predicted that Bush would continue "to undermine environmental enforcement and weaken key programs."  The organization gave up the effort and stopped tracking the Administration's moves after President Bush defeated Sen. Kerry in the 2004 election. 

My staff examined two other organizations, Greenpeace and Environmental Defense Fund, and found similar patterns of partisan fund-raising and spending. 

Greenpeace, like other environmental activist organizations, has strong ties to other politically oriented groups.  The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Donald Ross, is involved in multiple organizations, including the LCV, where he is a board member.  Ross is also the founder of M+R, a campaign strategy firm whose clients include, among others: Environmental Defense Fund; LCV; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Greenpeace is also a client of Earthjustice, the legal entity that represents the Sierra Club, NRDC, and Environmental Defense Fund.  Additionally, Greenpeace remains officially affiliated with the Partnership Project, whose members also include Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, NRDC and LCV.  While Greenpeace may not make a Dirty Dozen list, or endorse hundreds of Democratic candidates, it is affiliated with and supports the organizations that do.  Furthermore, it represents those affiliations to the rest of the world.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) describes itself as an organization that "is dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people" by using a scientific approach that is "nonpartisan, cost-effective, and fair."   Environmental Defense Fund is represented by its family of organizations, Environmental Defense, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, and Environmental Defense Action Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization.  

EDF is also intimately connected with other environmental and political organizations.  Trustee Frank Loy currently serves as one of Senator Obama's "top environmental advisers" for the 2008 Presidential Campaign.  This past year, trustee Douglas Shorenstein donated $272,100 to Democratic political objectives, including the Hillary Clinton and Al Franken campaigns. Trustee Joanne Woodward, wife of noted Hollywood star Paul Newman, donated significantly to both the Clinton and Obama campaigns.  Until 2006, Teresa Heinz, wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), served on the board of trustees for EDF.  Heinz is also the current chairman of Heinz Endowments, a part of the Heinz Family Foundation, one of the nation's twenty-five largest charitable foundations.  Current EDF trustee George Woodwell also serves on the board of the NRDC. 

EDF reported raising $71.8 million for the 2006 calendar year, and reported receiving contributions totaling more than $94 million during the 2006 IRS filing period.  Of that amount, the organization spent $18.9 million to promote their stance on climate change issues, and $19.5 collectively on land and ocean environmental issues.

In addition to the publicly professed alliances among these groups, they are all connected by the foundations that provide them with a significant amount of funding.

The Heinz foundations are some of the largest contributors to these non-profit environmental organizations, and, of course, Ms. Teresa Heinz Kerry is either chairperson of the board of trustees or member of the board of trustees on each foundation. In fact, Ms. Heinz Kerry oversees more than $1.5 billion of Heinz foundation resources.

Last year alone, Heinz gave $160,000 to NRDC directly. Since 2002, Heinz has given a total of $740,000 to EDF, LCV, and NRDC specifically.  Over the past five years, Heinz has also given $3.8 million to Tides.  Tides has donated significantly to all five of the mentioned environmental organizations, and receives a large portion of their funding from foundations such as Heinz.

Another major supporter of environmental groups is the Turner Foundation, founded in 1990 by Ted Turner.  The Turner Foundation sponsors special projects including the Partnership Project comprised of twenty national environmental groups. Since 2002, the Turner Foundation has contributed more than $2.9 million to the Partnership Project.  Additionally, the Turner Foundation has given more than $1 million to the NRDC, $778,875 to EDF, and $6.7 million to the LCV Education Fund.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which claims it is "an independent non-profit serving to inform the public on key issues," also gives substantially to environmental groups. Two of Pew's environmental priorities include global warming and wilderness protection.

Since 2002, Pew has given a substantial amount of money to environmental activist groups directly and through other private funds that finance these groups.  Pew contributed $431,000 to EDF, $900,000 to NRDC, and $700,000 to the Partnership Project, a joint venture of the nation's leading environmental groups.  Additionally, Pew gave more than $7 million to the Tides Foundation.  During that time, the Tides Foundation contributed a collective $1.8 million to the following organizations:  EDF, LCV, Greenpeace, NRDC, and Sierra Club

This tangled web of political financing and private dollars should be disconcerting and even scary to American's concerned about transparency and honesty in our government. Clearly, where these environmental groups are concerned, there is no line between issue advocacy and political activity. And most disturbing is the fact that one can't tell if these so-called environmental groups that claim to protect and conserve our environment, really spend ANY money on actually improving our environment. 

Why is this important? Well, it's important because our environment is important to all of us. Despite what you may hear from these groups in their attack advertisements against President Bush and Republican candidates across the nation, our air is cleaner, water more drinkable, and our forests are becoming healthier. For instance, over the last thirty years, we've cut air pollution in half.

This is also important because these wolves disguised in sheep's clothing are deceiving the America people. When an individual gives their hard-earned money to one of these organizations, most expect it to be used for the environmental cause they support, not political campaigning.

It seems that it is more important to these groups to turn their once laudable movement into a political machine misleading the American public regarding their purely politically partisan agenda under the guise of environmental protection. Again, a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Our nation's first Chief of the United States Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, said, "Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men."  He also said that "conservation is the application of common sense to the common problems for the common good. "

Those words ring true today. Unfortunately, it is clear to me that the environmentalist movement is deaf to them. What we find now is the fleecing of the American public's pocketbooks by the environmental movement for their political gain.  We also find exhausting litigation, instigation of false claims, misleading science, and scare tactics to fool Americans into believing disastrous environmental scenarios that are untrue. 

Mr./Madam President, especially in this election year, the American voter should see these groups and their many affiliate organizations as they are: the newest insidious conspiracy of political action committees and perhaps the newest multi-million dollar manipulation of federal election laws.

As an American citizen concerned about our environment and our country, I'm dismayed and saddened by this deception. If these groups actually used the hundreds of millions of dollars they raise for actual environmental improvement, just think how many whales and forests we could save.

These wolves should be seen for what they really are: massive democratic political machines, disguised as environmental causes. 

Mr./Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

# # #

   

You are now being logged in using your Facebook credentials