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Questions for the Record About “Dark Money” in Environmental Debates

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Scott Walter’s Testimony Before the Senate Budget Committee
Written Statement: HTML or PDF
Oral Testimony: Video, question, and text
Full Committee Hearing (Senate website)
Questions for the Record (below)


Questions for the Record

From Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley
To Scott Walter
President, Capital Research Center

Senate Budget Committee

Hearing on

“Recreation at Risk: The Nature of Climate Costs”

March 20, 2024


Question #1

Two Democrat witnesses testified on behalf of Protect Our Winters. How is Protect Our Winters explicitly linked to Arabella Advisors, the left’s “dark money” network. Just how expansive is Arabella’s network and does it receive foreign donations? Since you last testified, have any Democrat witnesses been linked to Arabella’s dark money network? 

 Arabella’s Hopewell Fund reported giving a $500,000 grant to Protect Our Winters (POW) during the 2022 calendar year. The grant description provided by Hopewell stipulated the grant was for “CIVIL RIGHTS, SOCIAL ACTION, ADVOCACY.”

This grant from the Arabella network comes from the most recent IRS Form 990 available (covering 2022). When available, IRS filings for 2023 from Hopewell and the other Arabella-connected nonprofits may reveal additional grants to POW and possibly also its advocacy affiliate, the Protect Our Winters Action Fund.

During 2022, POW reported total revenue of $6.6 million and total spending of $6 million. POW has existed since 2009, but its annual revenue has multiplied steadily in more recent years. Total revenue in 2018 was just $1.6 million, and for all years prior to that a $500,000 grant from a single source would have equaled at least half of POW’s total funding.

I last appeared before the Budget Committee at the June 21, 2023 hearing titled, “Dollars and Degrees: Investigating Fossil Fuel Dark Money’s Systemic Threats to Climate and the Federal Budget.” On the foreign money question, my written testimony from that hearing includes several paragraphs covering funding to Arabella nonprofits from Hansjörg Wyss.

Here is a relevant quotation from that testimony:

One aspect of Arabella’s environmentalist ties does have an unusual and especially disturbing feature: foreign money. One of the top donors to Arabella’s network for two decades is the environmentalist Hansjörg Wyss, a foreign national who has admitted to violating bans on foreign money in American politics in the past[1] and now funds Arabella’s network to influence America politics. Wyss also funds the League of Conservation Voters. His donations to the Arabella network have drawn an FEC complaint,[2] and the agency’s general counsel found much to support the complaint,[3] although in its usual pattern the FEC declined to act.

For further elaboration, please consult the rest of my testimony and also the detailed report from Americans for Public Trust that documents the hundreds of millions of dollars Mr. Wyss has contributed to the Arabella network and other U.S. nonprofits.[4] A partial summary of that report would include these four notable data points, which only count spending through 2021 because of the limited data disclosed:

  • Wyss’s nonprofits have spent a total of $475 million influencing U.S. politics, with the bulk of the money funneled through the Wyss Foundation and Berger Action Fund.
  • Wyss’s nonprofits have shipped over $265 million to groups in the Arabella Advisors network, a “dark money” hub comprised of multiple nonprofits that support radical environmentalism, sweeping changes to U.S. election laws, defunding the police, packing the Supreme Court, K-12 indoctrination, and more.
  • In 2021 alone, Berger Action Fund doled out a total of $72.7 million to 12 different “dark money” organizations, $62.7 million of which was directed to groups focused on promoting and supporting President Biden’s agenda.
  • In a biography penned by his sister, Wyss’s goal is explicitly stated: to “(re)interpret the American Constitution in the light of progressive politics.”

This disturbing portrait of foreign influence in American elections has led to the introduction of legislation that attempts to limit the harm to our democracy, as Axios reports.[5]

Regarding the number of Democratic witnesses linked to Arabella, I count at least 9 since my June 2023 appearance before the Budget Committee. Two witnesses from that June 21, 2023 hearing have an Arabella connection, but for very different reasons. Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes was listed as a member of the board of directors of Protect Our Winters as recently as the group’s 2020 IRS report. As of late March 2024, she is still listed on POW’s website as one of a dozen “emeritus” board members.

In 2014, University of Colorado climate researcher Roger Pielke, Jr., had his professional reputation unjustly attacked by ThinkProgress, a partisan political advocacy platform run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action), a 501(c)(4) group and therefore by standard rhetoric a “dark money” organization.

As Pielke stated in his testimony to the Budget Committee last year, he believes the scientific data indicates that humans are causing climate change. His supposed sin in 2014 was to use data to debunk the more extraordinary claim that climate change was creating more economically destructive storms. He stood by this conclusion when he spoke to you last year.

An editor from ThinkProgress bragged in an email to left-wing billionaire Tom Steyer that they were responsible for Pielke losing his position as a commentator at the 538 blog.[6] The email to Steyer was discovered in 2016, when Wikileaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress and its Action Fund and then-chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

In the years since, CAP Action has received millions in donations from Arabella’s Sixteen Thirty Fund, including one $3.2 million grant in 2020 for “environmental programs.” Perhaps Arabella approves of the group’s character assassination against the climate researcher?

The July 12, 2023, meeting of the Senate Budget Committee was titled, “Protecting Social Security for All: Making the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share.” Two of the five invited witnesses were from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Both are left-leaning policy groups that have received Arabella-connected funding. The ITEP received a $140,000 grant from the Hopewell Fund in 2022, and a $50,000 grant from Arabella’s New Venture Fund (NVF) in 2019. The CBPP received $101,000 from the New Venture Fund in 2020, and $350,000 more in 2021.

A representative from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also appeared before the committee for the January 31, 2024 hearing, titled, “A Blueprint for Prosperity: Expanding Housing Affordability.”

The September 13, 2013 hearing was titled, “Unlocking America’s Potential: How Immigration Fuels Economic Growth and Our Competitive Advantage.” One of the witnesses was the Associate Director of Immigration Studies for the Cato Institute. Given Cato’s libertarian perspective on immigration policy, this appearance may have been as a witness invited by the Democratic senators. In 2022, the New Venture Fund gave a $200,000 grant to Cato. The grant description provided by NVF stated the funding was for “CIVIL RIGHTS, SOCIAL ACTION, ADVOCACY.” A different Cato Institute witness appeared for the Senate Budget Committee’s November 8, 2023 hearing titled, “Fairness and Fiscal Responsibility: Cracking Down on Wealthy Tax Cheats.” This witness, given Cato’s libertarian perspective on tax policy, may have been invited by the Republican senators.

A representative from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth appeared at the September 20, 2023 hearing titled, “Reducing Inequality, Fueling Growth: How Public Investment Promotes Prosperity for All.” The Washington Center received a $150,000 grant from the Hopewell Fund in 2020, another $75,000 donation from Hopewell in 2018, and a $20,000 grant in 2018 from the New Venture Fund.

The October 18, 2023 hearing was titled, “Improving Care, Lowering Costs: Achieving Health Care Efficiency.” The Brookings Institution provided a witness. Brookings was the recipient of a $270,000 grant from the New Venture Fund in 2022, another $243,500 in 2019, $75,000 in 2018, and $366,847 in 2017.

A witness from Small Business Majority testified in the January 17, 2024 hearing titled, “The Great Tax Escape: Closing Corporate Loopholes that Reward Offshoring Jobs and Profits.” Small Business Majority has been financially connected to at least three of Arabella’s donor nonprofits. Arabella’s Windward Fund gave two grants of $75,000 each in 2021 and 2022. The Hopewell Fund gave grants of $21,676 in 2020, $39,324 in 2021, and $30,000 in 2022. And the New Venture Fund gave a grant of $15,000 in 2013.

As noted previously, the 2023 IRS reports for many nonprofits are not yet publicly available, so Arabella’s funding priorities for these groups after 2022 are not yet known.

Question #2

Democrats on this committee and their witnesses are clearly willing to do whatever it takes to raise the cost of gasoline and other fossil fuels.  Your testimony discusses how fossil fuels are needed for transportation to outdoor sites. Are there other ways fossil fuels are needed for outdoor recreation, such as the creation of outerwear for winter athletes or products produced by NEMO Equipment?

I am not an expert on such questions, but I am aware that, for example, Patagonia—a funder of Protect Our Winters and other environmental groups, as well as of Democratic PACs—has admitted that fossil fuels are irreplaceable and even life-saving in products it makes:

It is remarkably hard to reduce the environmental impact associated with our technical gear, especially our shells. Unlike other products we make, a shell is a lifesaving piece of equipment that absolutely must perform in the world’s worst weather. Unfortunately, to meet that standard of functionality we rely on fossil fuels. While Patagonia continually searches for alternative materials and processes, our environmental ambitions still outstrip current shell technology.[7]

Another example of fossil fuel-dependent outerwear that comes to mind are the uniforms worn by my fellow hearing witness, Gus Schumacher, at the 2022 Olympic games. They used Gore-Tex technology,[8] which is dependent on fossil fuels.[9]

Similarly, Nemo Equipment writes on its website how “the ultralight backpacker has discovered the benefits of breathable Gore-Tex.”[10] And just sticking to fabrics, without considering plastic tent poles and stakes, backpack parts, or any other technology dependent on fossil fuels, Nemo makes extensive use of polyester and nylon fabrics made from fossil fuels. Searching its website for “nylon” brings up 92 hits,[11] while a search for “polyester” results in 279 hits.[12]

An addition example of the refusal to recognize the reality of fossil fuels in modern life comes from North Face, another outdoor recreation company that supports environmentalist activism and publicly spurns fossil fuels. As a writer in the Atlantic observed:

North Face’s business depends not only on people who like the outdoors, but also on oil and gas: At least 90 percent of the materials in its jackets are made from petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas. Moreover, many of its jackets and the materials that go into them are made in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, and then shipped to the United States in vessels that are powered by oil. To muddy matters further, not long before North Face rejected the request [from a fossil fuel-services company for jackets sporting that company’s logo], its corporate owner had built a new hangar at a Denver airport for its corporate jets, all of which run on jet fuel. To spotlight the obvious contradiction, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association presented its first ever Customer Appreciation Award to North Face for being “an extraordinary oil and gas customer.”[13]

North Face refused the award.

Question #3

How do left-wing environmental groups hinder transportation to outdoor sites and the production of clothes and equipment needed for outdoor recreation? Are there other ways environmentalist groups threaten the outdoor business sector? Why do Democrats consistently support groups who stand in the way of outdoor recreation?

The mission of the Capital Research Center is to be America’s investigative think tank that empowers all Americans to defend their freedom. We investigate and expose power-seeking influencers so that we remain a land of individual liberty, vibrant civil society, and limited government.

As such, other nonprofits are better positioned to address the specifics regarding the science and economics of petrochemical products and fuels. But to repeat my written testimony, for outdoor recreation to flourish, ordinary non-rich Americans need inexpensive transportation by plane, car, and truck, which are largely dependent on fossil fuels, as are persons—like my fellow witness Gus Schumacher—who compete in outdoor motocross events.[14] A recent example of the importance of inexpensive transportation comes from a state famous for its outdoor recreation that is also thoroughly Democratic in its politics: Maine, whose governor’s mansion, state senate, and state house are controlled by Democrats. Yet a March 21, 2024 news report is headlined, “Maine rejects sweeping electric vehicle mandate in blow to governor’s climate agenda.”[15] The report states:

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) turned down the so-called Advanced Clean Cars program after receiving overwhelming opposition from stakeholders and citizens. The proposed program would have closely mirrored regulations approved in California, mandating that at least 51% of new car purchases in the state be electric by 2028 and 82% be electric by 2032.

One Republican state senator explained that the Board of Environmental Protection “received nearly 1,800 comments from the people of Maine and nearly 84% were not in favor of this EV mandate.” The senator added that “Maine is far too rural with far too few charging stations, and many Mainers are also concerned about the reliability of these vehicles in our extreme cold-weather months.” A Republican state representative declared, “Affordable transportation is a requirement, not a luxury, in rural Maine.”

In the previous question, I described how environmentalist extremism is at odds with the necessities involved in outdoor clothes and equipment. Speaking more generally, a wise analyst in this space has observed that mankind would have needed to invent fossil fuels if we hadn’t first discovered them. Even setting aside the enormous contribution of fossil fuels as energy sources, it’s impossible to imagine modern civilization without products made possible by the oil and gas industry.

The easiest, but by no means only example, is that petrochemicals are the building blocks for our plastics, and this has had beneficial effects on the outdoor sector and the wildlife that is one of its greatest appeals. Before synthetic plastics were put into wide use, tortoise shell glasses were made from rare turtles, ivory billiard balls from real elephant tusks, and so on. In addition to the enormous wildlife and habitat destruction brought about by using those sources, making these products from so-called “natural” sources was an immense waste of time and energy.

Needlessly killing off plant and animal species held us back as a species until we literally “struck oil.” Journalist Michael Shellenberger and others have shown that sperm whales, once hunted to near extinction for whale oil, were saved because of “Big Oil.” Shellenberger has also written that artificial creations from petrochemicals should largely be credited with preservation of the natural world.

As noted, at Capital Research Center we’re not experts on the science and economics of all this, so I’ll turn to some who claim to be.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a two-page brief titled “PRODUCTS MADE FROM OIL AND NATURAL GAS.” This report states that the petrochemical industry makes possible more than “6,000 everyday products and high-tech devices” and that “modern life relies on the availability of these products.”

Just a single page of examples is provided that includes nearly two dozen indispensable outdoor recreation items: backpacks, beach umbrellas, boats, fishing boots, fishing lures, footballs, golf bags, golf balls, insect repellant, kayaks, life jackets, luggage, motorcycle helmets, nylon rope, skateboards, skis, sunglasses, surfboards, swimming pools, tennis rackets, and tents.

Examples of some items not specifically related to “outdoor recreation” but presumably important to some of us who engage in those activities include solar panels, wind turbine blades, artificial limbs, antiseptics, cell phones, clothes, shoes, deodorant, heart valves, pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.

Also on the list: “light-weight aircraft.” Except for the tiny few of us blessed to live right in the middle of America’s natural and recreational outdoor wonders, nearly all the rest need petroleum to get there. And to get any reasonable distance from home often requires jet fuel, as seen in the opening paragraph of the testimony of fellow witness Gus Schumacher: “I just flew in from a world cup race in Sweden after having just won the World Cup 50K freestyle event at the American Birkebeiner in Cable, Wisconsin.”[16]

Physics hasn’t been kind to the faith federal politicians placed in electric vehicles (EVs). The EV products being produced by American automakers, with incentives in the federal budget, are stacking up, unsold on the lots of local dealerships. Every financial quarter, energy journalist Robert Bryce produces a new analysis of the $60,000 (or more) that Ford is losing for every single EV it sells. Forcing the transformation of the transportation sector to electric vehicles has been economically dangerous for the nation, and of course what harms the American economy also harms the federal budget.

Forcing the electric power sector off of carbon-emitting fuels has also mostly been a disaster for the nation and the environment, but it doesn’t need to be. We absolutely cannot make more land and landscapes, also known as “the environment.” Yet every reputable study demonstrates beyond doubt that wind and solar energy systems are disproportionately voracious consumers of land. Wind energy, according to a 2021 report from Bloomberg, needs 370 times more land than natural gas to produce an equivalent amount of energy. Yet the aforementioned Robert Bryce reports that you—the Congress—have appropriated 31 times more subsidy dollars per unit of energy for wind versus subsidies for the oil and gas sector. (And he found the solar subsidy disparity to be even more lopsided).

There is a better way. Ironically, according to Bryce, carbon-free nuclear energy has received far lower federal subsidies per unit of energy output than every other energy source we have. The taxpayer money you spend on solar energy subsidies are 302 times greater.

And yet, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, “nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source” and “you would need more than 3 million solar panels to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines.” The Energy Department report also notes: “Nuclear energy produces minimal waste. . . . All of the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the last 60 years could fit on a football field at a depth of less than 10 yards!”

Nuclear is the largest source of carbon-free electricity used by Americans. For decades the French have obtained most of their electricity from nuclear energy. We are the United States of America. We could certainly replicate or even build upon their example.

Yet despite these obvious advantages of carbon-free nuclear power, nearly every major American nonprofit raising concerns about carbon emissions and purporting to be part of the “environmental” movement opposes it. Following the money on this front is definitely within the mission of the Capital Research Center. Our list of anti-nuclear nonprofits includes the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). But there are more than a hundred more such names in our Influence Watch profile: Opposition to Nuclear Energy. Did you know, for example, that the League of Women Voters has opposed nuclear power?

Last year, one of our researchers added up the most recent annual revenue of all nonprofits that have opposed nuclear power, and the jaw-dropping total was more than $2.3 billion in one year. And that’s a conservative figure.

To bring this full circle, one of the largest donors to the anti-nuclear nonprofits has been none other than the Sixteen Thirty Fund, run by Arabella Advisors. But they’re not alone. Other major institutional donors to known anti-nuclear non-profits include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.

You are concerned whether “environmentalist groups threaten the outdoor business sector” and ask why “Democrats consistently support groups who stand in the way of outdoor recreation.” The foundation executives and billionaires in control of all that anti-nuclear money are better placed to answer your questions. It would be good for the American people to know why they have decided to heavily bankroll so much opposition to the largest, most reliable, and least environmentally intrusive, carbon-free power option that we have. May I respectfully  urge you to have them testify at any future hearings on this subject.

Notes

[1] Federal Election Commission, “First General Counsel’s Report” MUR 7904 (re: Hansjörg Wyss et al.), June 28, 2022, 3, https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2023/06/FEC-gen-counsel-report-on-APT-Wyss-complaint.pdf.

[2] Federal Election Commission, Americans for Public Trust v. FEC (22-1126), https://www.fec.gov/legal-resources/court-cases/americans-for-public-trust-v-fec-22-1126/.

[3] Federal Election Commission, “First General Counsel’s Report” MUR 7904.

[4] Americans for Public Trust, “Left-Wing Swiss Billionaire Exploiting the Foreign Influence Loophole,” July 10, 2023, https://americansforpublictrust.org/news/report-left-wing-swiss-billionaire-exploiting-the-foreign-influence-loophole/.

[5] Hans Nichols and Stef W. Kight, “GOP Plan Targets Foreign Dark Money for 2024,” July 10, 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/07/10/gop-targets-foreign-dark-money-2024-election.

[6] Robert Bryce, “WikiLeaks Exposes Podesta-Steyer Climate McCarthyism,” Manhattan Institute, October 26, 2016, https://manhattan.institute/article/wikileaks-exposes-podesta-steyer-climate-mccarthyism.

[7] Patagonia, “A Shell Game in the Dark,” https://web.archive.org/web/20180622130541/http://www.patagonia.com/a-shell-game-in-the-dark.html.

[8] Colorado Snowsports Museum, “2022 Beijing Olympic Uniforms,”  https://www.snowsportsmuseum.org/blog/2022beijing.

[9] Georgia Heitz, “Gore-Tex Energy Paper,” Design Life-Cycle, March 15, 2023, https://www.designlife-cycle.com/goretex#:~:text=Gore%2DTex%20dominates%20the%20outdoor,Its%20manufacturing%20is%20energy%20intensive.

[10] Matt Tufts, “What Type of Gear Head Are You (and What You Should Sleep In),” NEMO Equipment, https://www.nemoequipment.com/blogs/journal/who-am-i-and-what-do-i-need-stereotypes-sleep-systems.

[11] Google, search “nylon site:nemoequipment.com,” https://www.google.com/search?q=nylon+site%3Anemoequipment.com..

[12] Google, search “polyester site:nemoequipment.com,” https://www.google.com/search?q=polyester+site%3Anemoequipment.com.

[13] Daniel Yergin, “Why the Energy Transition Will Be So Complicated,” The Atlantic, November 27, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20220104220711/https:/www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/11/energy-shock-transition/620813/.

[14] Gus Schumacher, “About Me,” https://www.gusschumacher.com/about.

[15] Thomas Catenacci, “Maine Rejects Sweeping Electric Vehicle Mandate in Blow to Governor’s Climate Agenda,” Fox News, March 21, 2024, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/maine-rejects-sweeping-electric-vehicle-mandate-blow-governors-climate-agenda.

[16] Gus Schumacher, “Testimony of Gus Schumacher,” testimony before Senate Budget Committee, March 20, 2024,  https://www.budget.senate.gov/download/mr-gus-schumacher_-testimony—senate-budget-committee.


Source: https://capitalresearch.org/article/questions-for-the-record-about-dark-money-in-environmental-debates/


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