Donors Capital Fund

Donors Capital Fund

Donors Capital Fund is a not-for-profit donor advised charity that distributes millions of dollars in grants each year to groups, organisations and projects that are “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise”.

Between 2002 and 2013, Donors Capital Fund (DCF) distributed some $170million to conservative causes, many of which deny the science and impacts of human-caused climate change or the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of DCF’s income comes from unknown private entities with some $347 million of untraceable and unknown income since 2005.

DCF creates accounts known as “donor-advised funds” for conservative philanthropists and groups and then distributes that money to projects that match their ideologies on their behalf. This arrangement has the effect of concealing the identity of the original donor and also distances donors from specific projects or groups.

DCF is related to its sister organisation Donors Trust (DT). Funders looking to set up accounts of $1million or more are directed by DT to DCF. Donations to both organisations are tax deductible.

DT and DCF share the same address in Alexandria, Virginia, and share a number of directors, including Whitney Ball, the CEO of DT.

A 2013 investigation by Mother Jones described DT and DCF as the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement in the US.

Documenting the growth of DT and DCF, Mother Jones found that in 2002 DT and DCF brought in $1.4 million and gave out $1.2 million.

By 2010, the two funds attracted $44 million in funding and handed out $63 million of grants.

The latest available (as of March 2015) DCF tax form shows that in 2013 the organisation declared $48.7 million in income, handed out $52 million in grants and had $35.6 million in assets.

Stance on climate change

As a funding organisation neither Donors Trust, nor its sister organisation Donors Capital Fund, take positions on the science of human-caused climate change.

However, the groups and projects given grants from DCF and DT are among the most active in questioning the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change and blocking attempts to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions.

These groups include The Heartland InstituteAfrica Fighting MalariaAccuracy in MediaBeacon Hill Institute,Cato InstituteFreedomWorksGrassroot Institute of HawaiiHudson InstituteJohn Locke FoundationMercatus CenterNational Center for Policy AnalysisNational Center for Public Policy Research, Reason Foundation, State Policy NetworkThe Heritage FoundationStatistical Assessment ServiceState Policy NetworkPacific Research Institute, and many others.

A 2013 study in the journal Climatic Change, by Professor Robert Brulle, of Drexel University, found that between 2003 and 2010, DT and DCF were the “single largest funders” of the “climate change counter-movement” providing more than $78 million in funding.

Looking at DT and DCF, Brulle wrote in the journal: “Because contributions to a donor directed foundation are not required to be made public, their existence provides a way for individuals or corporations to make anonymous contributions. In effect, these two philanthropic foundations form a black box that conceals the identity of contributors to various CCCM (climate change counter movement) organizations.”

Brulle’s study found that DCF and DT’s contributions to the funding of the  “climate change counter movement” had risen dramatically from 3.3 per cent in 2003 to 23.7 per cent in 2010.

Funding Income

Donors Capital Fund is a vehicle for rich conservative philanthropists and their organisations to distribute money to projects that match their ideology of low government regulation and “free markets”.

A DeSmogBlog analysis of DCF tax forms shows that much of the organisation’s income is hidden.

Between 2005 and 2012, DCF declared $349 million of income from donations into its funds. Yet data from Conservative Transparency, which tracks money flows between conservative groups, suggests that over the same time period only $2.75 million of the $349 million came from other non-profit groups and foundations that have to declare their funding. 

Some $2.725 million of that came from the Knowledge and Progress Fund, staffed by members of the Koch family and a Koch company director.

KPF have not made any donations to DCF since 2007, but have been a key funder of DT in recent years, over which time KPF has not donated to any other organisations. Virtually all of DCF’s income has come from unknown private entities.

As DCF’s website states, “gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues” can be kept anonymous.

The website adds: “Know that any contributions to your Donors Capital Fund account that have to be reported to the IRS will not become public information. Unlike with private foundations, gifts from your account will remain as anonymous as you request.”

Computer scientist John Mashey released a report finding much of the funding that was funneled through DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund to organizations skeptical of climate change in February, 2012 (PDF).

According to Mashey, the “anonymous donor” that funds much of the Heartland Institute's climate science denial activity is most likely Chicago businessman Barre Seid.

Groups funded by Donors Capital Fund

According to IRS tax forms analysed by Greenpeace, Donors Capital Fund handed out some $170.4 million in grants between 2002 and 2013 to organisations challenging climate science or the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The 25 largest recipients are listed below.  Other recipients are listed in full at the bottom of this page.

Not included on this list are $6,838,209 of transfers from DCF to sister organisation DT.

One key recipient of more than $16 million from DCF has been climate science denialist “think tank” the Heartland Institute, based in Chicago.

The Heartland Institute runs annual conferences for climate science denialists attended by contrarians from around the globe.

In 2012 Heartland launched a billboard campaign with a picture of Ted “Unabomber” Kazcynski alongside the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?”

Heartland also produces the Non-intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports – purported to be an alternative summary of the state of climate change science designed to challenge the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

In 2013, DCF gave the Heartland Institute a $100,000 grant “for Climatism books & DVD projects”.  This appears to refer to the Heartland Institute’s effort in sending 100,000 copies of the climate science denial book “Climatism” to “educators, business and civic leaders, judges, environmental journalists, and elected officials”.

The book claims that “man-made emissions are an insignificant part of global warming” and that “climate change is natural”.

Climate scientist Dr John Abraham critiqued the book, finding numerous glaring errors and misrepresentations of the scientific literature.

The DVD “Unstoppable Solar Cycles” claims the sun could be driving climate change and features Dr Willie Soon, a fossil fuel funded part time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory who has also received funding from Donors Trust.

The top recipient of Donors Capital Fund money is the American Enterprise Institute, an organisation which has repeatedly challenged the need to act on greenhouse gas emissions.

In a February 2015 blog post, the AEI’s energy policy fellow Benjamin Zycher attempted to argue that concerns over sea level rise, global temperatures, floods, droughts and sea ice were overblown and that agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be ineffective and too costly. Zycher has previously argued that subsidies for renewable energy should be abandoned.

The Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation which received $2million in 2012 and another $2million in 2013 from DCF, has been running a campaign to “Defund the EPA” to protect American business from what it says are “radical environmentalists”.

Personnel

Directors

  • Adam Meyerson - DCF Chairman, President of The Philanthrophy Roundtable
  • Whitney L. Ball - President and CEO of Donors Trust
  • Arthur C. Brooks - President, American Enterprise Institute
  • Kimberly O. Dennis - President & CEO, Searle Freedom Trust
  • Steven Hayward - Fellow, Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs
  • Kris Alan Mauren - Executive Director, The Action Institute
  • William H. Mellor - President & General Counsel, Institute for Justice
  • Roger R. Ream - President, The Fund for American Studies
  • John A. Von Kannon - Vice President & Senior Counselor, The Heritage Foundation

Staff

  • Kimberly O. Dennis, DCF Secretary, President and CEO, Searle Freedom Trust
  • Whitney L. Ball, DCF President, President and CEO of DonorsTrust
  • Steven Hayward, DCF Treasurer, Fellow, Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs
  • Jeffrey C. Zysik, DCF Assistant Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer  and Chief of Information Technology

 Other fundees

A list of the remaining organisations funded by DCF between 2004 and 2013.