America’s Plutocrats and PovertyKeepers

America's Plutocrats - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


Is America governed by plutocrats who twist and turn public policy against the common man? A close look at a handful of non-profit foundations operate suggests it is.

Roughly five years ago a cordial but hard-core leftist acquaintance of mine challenged his friends (among whom I was counted) to prove America wasn’t a plutocracy. It was a bizarre challenge coming from a man who, like most people who complain about corporate America, lives off inherited wealth and uses his Harvard education to do so. I’m no fan of big-business per se, especially when it engages in the sort of crony capitalism we see so much of today (I prefer the real thing) but it’s impossible to take these trust fund occupier types seriously, so I dismissed it. It turns out, from everything I’ve learned since, he was correct. He just failed to identify who the plutocrats really are. He needed to look inward.

Yes, sadly, America has become a plutocracy, governed by the inherited wealth produced by the nation’s business titans, now held in the hands of a small clique of spoiled children who run a relatively small number of extremely large special interest foundations operating under the banner of non-profit charities. We talk about those plutocrats all the time here at but we’re noticing lately that others are noticing as well.

America’s Plutocrats Behind Canadian Campaigns

Yesterday, our colleague Jim Willis from Marcellus Drilling News, ran a post on his site and here covering a remarkable must-read story in Philanthropy Magazine that exposed the Park Foundation’s astro-turf campaign against shale gas.

America's Plutocrats

Vivian Krause

Then, later yesterday, we became aware of another simply incredible article in the Financial Post by Vivian Krause who, like us, has been poring over 990 returns for some time now to discern who has been behind opposition to development of Canadian oil resources. It’s an interesting story and follows the pattern of my own education on America’s plutocracy.

Krause started out trying to understand who was behind a campaign against Canada’s salmon industry and started noticing the really big money coming into Canada from American foundations to fight not only salmon but also tar sands oil development. It opened her eyes, just as mine were opened when I noticed who was really behind the Catskill Mountainkeeper and all the other fractivist groups here in the US. It’s the same people, of course.

Krause’s phenomenal piece is entitled “Following the (primarily U.S.) money funding Canada’s anti-oil movement” and it explains how the same wealthy America plutocrats who fund groups such as New Yorkers Against Fracking and the Gasland movie series are also financing the war against Canadian oil and gas development using phony local groups  as their fronts, including First Nations groups. We, too, covered some of this in a post about the fracking battle in New Brunswick, but Krause digs deep into the relationship’s among these entities. Here are some absolutely key excerpts:

The greatest obstacle to energy infrastructure projects isn’t technical expertise or financial capital; it’s gridlock due to opposition from strong alliances between environmental organizations and First Nations and their ability to attract media attention and stop or stall development. This gridlock has been fomented by the Tar Sands Campaign, a heavily-funded international initiative launched by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Tides Foundation in 2008…

According to U.S. tax returns and other documents, the Tar Sands Campaign is co-funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Sea Change Foundation, the Marisla Foundation and at least a dozen other foundations – most of which are based in California. These are the big green elephants that have fueled efforts to thwart the development of Canadian oil and gas for more than a decade…

So, what’s the motivation of the funders? One of the few documents that provide insights into the funding of the climate movement is a strategy paper, Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming. According to Design to Win, the overarching goal of voter and consumer education campaigns is to create a policy context for a massive shift in investment capital and a billion-dollar market for renewable energy. Without a negative foil of bad press about fossil fuels, it would be much harder to justify the billions of dollars that government has invested in solar and wind.

It is no coincidence that U.S. foundations are funding a multimillion-dollar campaign against Canadian energy. All of the big funders of the Tar Sands Campaign are members of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD), an umbrella organization created in 1987 by the U.S. Agency for International Development, an agency of the U.S. State Department. Originally, the CGBD’s purpose was to co-ordinate grantmaking in developing countries but over the years, that’s changed. Today, the CGBD has a primary focus on climate and energy-related issues and operates like an industry association for environmental funders, a back-office think-tank and collaboration hub. Membership is by invitation only. As of 2012, the CGBD’s 60 member foundations had more than US$50 billion in assets and combined annual expenditures of over US$3 billion…

During the early years, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund received funding from USAID to serve as the CGBD’s secretariat. The Tides Foundation has also been involved in the CGBD for nearly 20 years. Since the 1980s, the Rockefeller Brothers has funded more than 200 organizations involved in the climate movement. One of the many projects that it funds is the Presidential Climate Action Project, which aims to create the climate legacy of President Obama…

Each year since 2011, the Hewlett Foundation grants a total of roughly US$150 million for environment and energy-related causes, up sharply from just a few years ago. This foundation is no fan of Canadian oil. In an interview posted on its website, a former environment officer refers to the Alberta oil industry as “a nasty business” and “a major contributor to global warming.”

Over the past decade, the Hewlett Foundation has granted at least US$47 million for campaigns and conservation initiatives that seek to reduce fossil fuel development in Canada and the western U.S. That includes US$20 million granted to the Pew Charitable Trusts for the Canadian Boreal Initiative. Putting land off-limits by creating parks or conservation areas is a key strategy of the Hewlett Foundation approach to reducing fossil fuel development. Call it strategic parkification…

The same foundations that fund the Tar Sands Campaign also grant substantial funds to environmental organizations in Europe, notably the European Climate Foundation, which has received at least US$30 million from the Hewlett Foundation, Sea Change, the Oak Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers.

In Europe, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leadership Group are all funded to some degree by the European Climate Foundation, but the amounts these organizations receive is not publicly reported…

On a smaller scale, some American charitable foundations fund campaigns to thwart the development of fossil fuels in other parts of the world. For example, in October 2013, Tides paid US$10,000 to an Australian organization “to support a speaking tour and series of public forums in the Northern Territory which will kick-start the campaign to stop shale gas drilling.” The same organization, Lock the Gate Alliance, also received US$395,000 from Tides for unspecified purposes. Tides also funds the campaign against fracking in New York, California, Ireland and perhaps elsewhere. In Canada, Tides funded White Gold Productions to produce a video about fracking in the Horn River Basin…

Whether intentional or not, environmental activism is becoming a new form of protectionism. By exaggerating risks and impacts, activists exert such political and social pressure that major infrastructure projects can be stalled or stopped altogether, land-locking Canadian oil and gas and keeping Canada over a barrel.

Activism is important, but when it comes to budgets for influencing public opinion, the tides have changed. Environmentalists now have access to substantial resources. For the fossil fuel industries, the battle with environmental activists is no longer David versus Goliath.

Strategic Parkification

If you have been following this blog or Energy In Depth, you probably aren’t surprised at a lot of this, but two things stand out. First, although the oil and gas industry takes a neutral stance on global warming and/or rightly highlights the positive impacts of natural gas in mitigating it, the favor isn’t being returned. Climate change religionists and their funders relentlessly attack natural gas, not because they believe a word of Bob Howarth’s junk science, but because they mistakenly think it threatens renewables development. The industry may not have declared war on the global warming industry, but it has surely declared war on the industry. A few folks with saner minds have seen through the futility of this strategy, but not the big money funders.

Secondly, Krause really hits home with her “strategic parkification” observation. It is precisely what the Open Space Institute is all about, along with their joint initiative with the William Penn Foundation. It’s why Carol Collier’s DRBC was so obsessed with getting the Delaware River into a blueways program and passing a Delaware River Conservation Act, and why its step-sister, the Delaware Riverkeeper, wants to upgrade the Delaware River’s stream classification to “Exceptional Value,” because these are all effective obstacles to future development, ways to interfere, slow and stop projects that might “threaten values.”

This is precisely the strategy of America’s plutocrats when it comes to oil and gas and it was reflected in discussions and papers developed by William Penn Foundation. They aim to do here exactly what they’re doing in Canada; block development by high-sounding but strategic parkification projects. And, it’s the same people doing it. I’ve done my own research of them and while the database is quite huge and the interrelationships quite complex, here are the ones we can safely refer to as the Top 24 American Plutocrats and PovertyKeepers (amounts are annual numbers from most recent 990 returns):

America's Top 24 Plutocrats

Note that not only are they the same people Vivian Krause identifies in her story but they are interconnected, providing grants back and forth and funding the same initiatives. The central role of Tides and the charitable endowment funds (Foundation for the Carolinas, Schwab and Vanguard) is also apparent. They are all essentially money launderers who allow America’s plutocrats to hide much of what they’re doing here and in Canada to keep the poverty; perhaps unintentionally in the form of the “collateral damage” the Park Foundation spoke of, but poverty keeping, nonetheless.

Finally, I must also bring still another must-read article to our readers attention. It’s by my friend Steve Everley at Energy In Depth and is titled “Fracking, Inside Climate, and Public Integrity.” It’s the sort of thing Steve and EID do so well; an in-depth detailed research report on how some of the news and Weather Channel reporting on fracking has been made. It isn’t pretty and ties right into the Jon Entine story on the Park Foundation as well as Vivian Krause’s on the Rockefellers, Tides, et al. It completes the circle in demonstrating how America’s plutocrats and povertykeepers work behind the scenes to create issues, report on them and influence public policy without almost hop one knowing who is behind it. Please read it!

What you’ll see, and what I’ve learned, is this; my hardcore leftist friend was on the money when he said American was governed by its plutocrats. It is. It’s just not who he thought it was. No, it’s the wealthy special interest foundations who create the agendas and fund them using all kinds of ruses to hide how much they spend and how they spend it.

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31 thoughts on “America’s Plutocrats and PovertyKeepers

  1. It’s funny, Tom, the kind of behavior you suggest represents a plutocracy. It sounds like the folks you are disparaging are merely exercising their first-amendment rights – freedom of speech. It’s the same thing you and I are doing here with this blog.

    According to Merriam-Webste a plutocracy is government by the wealthy. It says nothing about the wealthy speaking out. But I to share your concern that this democracy is headed that way, particularly with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

    But when it comes to fracking, the actions of former Halliburrton CEO Cheney in crafting the Energy Policy Act of 2005 stands as the poster child for plutocracy in action. With no public input he put his oil services company in a favored position by exempting fracking fluids from the Clean Water Act. That nicely fits the definition of a plutocracy and the result was exactly the sort of outcome we should all fear.

    There may be better examples, e.g. “Dirty Energy Money Behind the Push to Frack California” where we see how Occidental, Edison, Chevron and Phillips 66 have showered Gov. Brown with $161,000 to make sure fracking happens under his governorship. Some would call that “free speech” but I call it a plutocracy when the government can be bought and paid for by the rich.

    Here’s another example, “Drillers Pay Hush Money to Keep Their Fracking Secrets” You see, when frackers lose in court they merely pay the plaintiffs to keep their mouths shut. In that case the plutocracy has spread to the judicial branch.

    So, Tom, your hardcore leftist friend was right and the plutocrats do indeed reside in big business, especially the O&G sector.

    • You lost all credibility, Cliff, when you repeated that old Cheney line. That act passed with total bi-partisan support and your buy-in to the wacko theory suggests to me you’re a lot more radical than I thought. You won’t get any research funding spouting that nonsense.

    • Cliff you’re being funded by DOE grants for research and development of your wave energy generation by our tax dollars. Instead of opposing the very fossil fuels that help build your system, why don’t you write an article about how it works ?? I’m not against renewable energy but it does have it’s flaws. Your idea falls into the hydro power category and I’d take that over wind and solar. I have to give you credit because of all the people I argue with, you offer a solution.

        • I’m curious too. I’m wondering about your specific WEC. I can find general descriptions online but not yours in particular, with the exception that it is a “flap” type that sits at the bottom. I’m also curious, do you have your share of activists, or “Aqtivists”? No one lining up to complain about displacing crab habitats, sand reefs or the like? I too am interested in multiple solutions, moving to G&O from Nuclear. I would love more information. Thanks.

          • So far there has not been much opposition except from a few who see anything that’s placed in the ocean to be a threat. However, because of the nature of these devices (movements slower that the surrounding water) they are uniquely benign.

            Some WECs have a surface expression that can be seen as objectionable by some, while other designs are completely submerged and you wouldn’t know they were there except for the reduced wave energy reaching the beach.

            The only legitimate beef is with the surfing community where WECs take power from their waves. Through proper site selection these conflicts will be avoided.

          • Well Cliff it looks like we are just scratching the surface of this concept. And far be it for me to nit pick but, have you taken the negative effects of storm surge into account? How about feeding habits of aquatic life? Face it Cliff,you are heading into a anti -nimby mine field! This concept is way way down the road for us in the U.S. Gas can work now! You seem bright Cliff why not put your thinking cap on and invent better ways to build a natural gas delivery system. And Cliff good luck finding a patsy to fund your wave machine in this country. Every time there is a coastal flood you would be sued and sued by the very folks you are trying to help. Like I said before, good luck you are going to need it!

          • Well Tim maybe we could take advantage of n gas for now. Also maybe all the money being spent paying anti gas causes could be spent refining other ways to meet our energy needs?

  2. Why are we not taking the DRBC to court for the taking of our property rights without just compensation. This is a multi-billion dollar asset, located in Wayne County, that is being wasted. If the DRBC stops fracking (as it has) then compensate us.

  3. The thing hardcore renewable energy people dont seem to get is Natural Gas can compliment their lower Co2 objectives. The reason natural gas was notoin this position before was sarcity of supply relative to coal. Now with Fracking and the gas unlocked out of shale the perfect base load is here and taking down Coal fired plants. There is nopoasible way a renewable build out would be able to do base load. With coal you have to idle a plant to deal with the unreliablity of renewables . With Natural gas 15 minutes and you are up to full power . It typically takes 12 hours for start up for coal or nuclear. Natural Gas can also get into small distirubted power untis . Honda has sold over 100000 of these units for homes in Asia Europe. I dont know how explicitly I can write the advantages . Combined Heat and power units can elimiate thenuae of frunace oil in homes as happens here in eastern canada . I am not against renewables ezcept when it causes power rates to make energy poverty victims in my region

  4. The funny part is CLifford the very people you side with will be your worst enemies.Once it were to become a viable source of energy there will be a line of specale interest groups stomping your ideas into dust. If you think you will ever get away with tearing up coral reefs with your wave machines you are in for a big big let down. No Nimby will miss out on the chance to tear you to shreds . There are trade offs on all energy plans. Some better than others? And another thing to consider for all you anties and nimbys is the american consumers will get fed up with subsidy bloated heating bills in the not too distant future. It should be soon due to $4-5 heating oil and gas prices. When they finally realize what they are paying for. a lot of those enjoying the fruits of the subsidy tree might become the target of vote challenged politicos! There,s nothing they like better than someone to blame! Good luck , you going to need it!

    • Thanks for the warning, Freegas. I welcome any and all scrutiny. But if you look into it you’ll learn that it’s oil spills and ocean acidification that are ruining coral reefs.

      I do not see the public reaction as a looming problem because renewables are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Indeed I see regulatory hurdles as the largest barrier to implementing these sorts of energy solutions.

      • Of course you don’t see it! The wind generation people at NRDC didn’t expect the Kennedy’s to oppose it, either, especially when RFK, Jr. was one of their senior attorneys. The solar people didn’t expect it. No one expects it until it strikes. I have spent 40 years of my life fighting NIMBY types, snobs and ideological nuts who are opposed to anything and everything, especially if it involves energy. We’ve enabled these people through a lot of bad law over the last four decades and they will attack your project with a vengeance the moment it shows promise. They only like large-scale renewables in the abstract. I say yes to your wave energy, endorse it and say “full speed ahead” but that isn’t the reception you’ll receive from your erstwhile “friends” among the fractivist crowd.

      • Cliff, Groups like the Sierra Club and others, Said NG was the solution, until just a few years ago! What people don’t get get is Enviro Activism is BIG BUSINESS, lots of people make fist fulls of cash, calling the poor “Greedy”. It’s more just fighting to fight something or someone! I am 200% Pro gas, but i also think supplementing with renewables is a good thing! It will make or O&G last longer, and could help bring prices down. But really we have no way to store the energy needed for when they don’t work (like 75% of the time in NEPA and USNY). But like other commenters i would like to hear more about your projects! With the interest shown for more info, i am sure Tom would be happy to publish it. And i would be interested to read it. But remember Pro gas folks do not want to kill renewables, we just understand, The world is in no way ready to make that jump and wont be for decades.

  5. Personally I want to see a massive buildout of nuclear power stations, by public utilities operated as non-profits. But, your basic premise is correct. It’s been true for some time, but became undeniable in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Not a single one of the criminals running our financial system will ever see the inside of a prison.

    • All we have is one vote each and lots of prayers.It might take a while but Wright is mite!Oh one more thing, Boycott their products. Once our fellow voters realize the scam we can have NG .

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