In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor October 4, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) outlined the connection between environmental groups, government funding, and their political activities.
“Interestingly, these environmental groups are all tax-exempt IRS registered 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, meaning that contributions to these groups are tax deductible, yet all these non-profit groups are also closely associated and fund their affiliated 501(c)(4) lobbying organizations and 527 political groups,” Inhofe said.
“These groups profess to be the greatest stewards of the environment and solicit contributions from a variety of sources by that claim,” Inhofe added. “But they demonstrate more interest in hyping apocalyptic environmental scenarios to raise money for raw Democrat political purposes, rather than working together to improve our environment for the benefit of all Americans.”
The recent changes in campaign finance law do not apply to charitable groups. The environmental groups described by Inhofe spent millions of dollars in what their opponents characterize as an effort to sway the election.
Activist Groups Skirting Funding Laws
Inhofe outlined how five environmental activist groups–the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Environmental Defense–have been receiving funding from government grants and large foundations such as Pew Trusts, the Heinz Endowments, and the Turner Foundation.
The Heinz Endowments, of which Teresa Heinz Kerry is either chairman of the board or a member of the board of trustees, have given nearly $3 million to Environmental Defense, the Sierra Club, the LCV, and NRDC since 1998.
“Environmental organizations have become experts at deceptive activity, skirting laws up to the edge of illegality, and burying their political activities under the guise of non-profit environmental improvement. These reports demonstrate this interconnected ‘environmental family affair’ of non-profits and their benefactors,” Inhofe said.
“In examining how the environmental groups receive and spend their federal funds, it became apparent that these groups receive funding from numerous sources including large foundations,” noted a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works news release the day after Inhofe spoke. “With these organizations’ political and grass-roots efforts it became difficult differentiating the sources of their funds and how they spend them.”
Senate Report Documents Abuses
The staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, of which Inhofe is chairman, has compiled a 15-page report on the funding and expenditures of the five groups.
“This report does not represent the totality of environmental groups engaged in political activity in this election year or prior election years,” states the report. “It does not even represent all the actions taken by the environmental groups that are highlighted in this report each election year. However, this report provides examples of some of the actions being taken by these groups and clearly questions any claims these groups make concerning being ‘non-partisan.'”
During the 2004 elections, for example, the Sierra Club endorsed Kerry for president and 16 Democrat Senate incumbents and challengers, but not one Republican Senate candidate.
“Today’s environmental groups,” summarizes the report, “are simply political machines reporting millions in contributions and expenditures each year for the purpose of raising more money to pursue their agenda.”
EPA Grants Mismanaged
Based on an earlier oversight hearing, the Committee also has released a 30-page report to the chairman on the mismanagement of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant dollars by such organizations. Among the concerns the report raised: EPA’s failure to require grant recipients to demonstrate real environmental benefits from grants; its failure to require competition in its grant awards; and the failure of EPA grant officers and recipients to oversee grants and the activities funded by them.
David Healy, research fellow at the Capital Research Center, noted, “Incredibly, taxpayer money may indirectly subsidize some of these efforts, and the money comes from the Bush administration. During the first three years of the administration, the NRDC received $2.6 million from the EPA. And NRDC isn’t the only environmental group profiting from federal giveaways.
“Audits by the White House Office of Management and Budget reveal that federal grants to environmental groups totaled $71,989,835 in 1998. By 2004, federal assistance climbed to $143,266,852, a net gain of $71,061,883.
“A review of federal grants shows that many support relatively uncontroversial projects,” said Healy. “But often that only frees up other nonprofit money for political advocacy. To its credit, the Bush administration cut back on its grants to two of the most politically active environmental groups, [including] the Natural Resources Defense Council, which specializes in filing frivolous environmental lawsuits.”
Gretchen Randall ([email protected]) is a senior partner at Winningreen LLC, an environmental and energy policy consulting firm based in Chicago.
For more information …
The news release issued by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works following Senator James Inhofe’s floor speech is available online at http://epw.senate.gov/pressitem.cfm?party=rep&id=227136.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s report on environmental group funding and spending is available online at http://epw.senate.gov/repwhitepapers/PoliticalActivityofenvironmentalgroups.pdf.
The Committee’s report on mismanagement of EPA grant dollars is available online at http://epw.senate.gov/repwhitepapers/Grants.pdf.