Donors Trust

DonorsTrust

Background

DonorsTrust is a not-for-profit company 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 2004 and 2013, Donors Trust (DT) distributed some $80 million to conservative causes, many of which deny the science and impacts of human-caused climate change or the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund share the same address in Alexandria, Virginia, and share a number of directors, including the late Whitney Ball, the CEO of DT.

Whitney Ball passed away in August of 2015.  DonorsTrust announced that Lawson Bader would take Ball's place as CEO of DonorsTrust on September 22, 2015, after having completed three years as president and CEO at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Bader was also the previous Vice President of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. [14][15]

form on the DT website asking readers to start a fund or to donate cash also includes a statement of affirmation that clearly illustrates the ideological drive behind the money. The statement reads:

I agree that it is wrong that the fortunes of successful Americans are being used to fund political and social causes that undermine the free market economy and traditional American ideals. That’s why I want to help you and DonorsTrust build a credible foundation alternative that can fund good conservative and liberty-oriented causes well into the future.

DT says the organisation is “explicitly devoted to supporting organizations that promote liberty” and to “encourage philanthropy and individual giving and responsibility, as opposed to governmental involvement, as an answer to society's needs”.

2013 investigation by Mother Jones describes DT and DCF as the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement in the US[1]

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.

In 2013, according to the latest data available (as of March 2015), DT's tax form shows it brought in $103 million in funds, handed out $38.4 million in grants and held $102 million in assets. [2]

Distribution of Funds

Donors Trust 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 also has the effect of concealing the identity of the original donor.

Funders looking to set up accounts of $1 million or more are directed by Donors Trust to its partner organisation, Donors Capital Fund (DCF).

2015 Greenpeace Investigation

A December, 2015 undercover investigation by Greenpeace uncovered more details on the DonorsTrust process. [16]

Undercover journalists approached William Happer to produce a paper for a fictional oil and gas company in the Middle East. Happer suggested that funds be channeled through the CO2 Coalition, of which he was a board member. Fellow CO2 Coalition Board Member Bill O'keefe suggested that the funds be channeled through DonorsTrust. View the email chain between Happer and DonorsTrust here.

Investigators then asked Peter Lipsett, director of growth strategies at DonorsTrust, if the Trust would accept money from the (fictional) oil and gas company based in the Middle East. Lipsett responded that, while the trust required that funds come from a U.S. Bank Account, “we can take it from a foreign body, it’s just we have to be extra cautious with that.” [16]

He added that: “I’ll double check everything and make sure I’m wording things  correctly after chatting with our CFO [Chief Financial Officer], but what he’s told me before is that the preference is to have it in US dollars, and the ideal preference is to have it originate from a US source, but the US dollars is the important bit”. [16]

DonorsTrust confirmed in a taped conversation with an undercover reporter that it could anonymously channel money from a fictional Middle Eastern oil and gas company to US climate sceptic organisations. (View audio file below).

“We only accept donations in U.S. currency and drawn from U.S. banks. Donors Trust has never accepted secret donations from foreign donors. We have supported over 1,500 organizations representing the arts, medicine and science, public policy, education, religion, and civics. We are no more a “middle man” between donors and their causes than any other community or commercial donor-advised fund sponsoring organization,” Lipsett said. [16]

Stance on Climate Change

As a funding organisation neither Donors Trust, nor its sister funder 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 Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Funding Income

Donors Trust 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”.

In recent years, the amount of money coming in to DT has risen sharply. In 2003, grants to DT totaled just $1.03 million. Between 2012 and 2013, contributions and grants to DT went up from $45.9 million to $103.4 million.

Some of these monies can be accounted for through the tax declarations of other organisations. The origins of any cash coming from corporations or individuals are not known.

Notable contributors include the Knowledge and Progress Fund (KPF), which has not given cash to any organisation other than DT or DCF since 2005.

DeSmogBlog’s own analysis shows that in the four years of IRS tax returns from 2010 to 2013, the KPF donated $7.65 million to Donors Trust.

The $4.85 million KPF grant to Donors Trust for “general operating support” in 2013 is likely the largest ever single donation to Donors Trust in its history.

Oil billionaire and major Republican benefactor Charles Koch, his wife Liz and son Charles Chase Koch are all KPF directors.

Charles Koch’s long-standing advisor Richard Fink, who also directs other Koch-linked foundations as well as holding board positions on several Koch Industries companies, is also a director at KPF. The Charles G. Koch Foundation is another Koch-industry linked organisation handing cash to DT. [3]

An analysis of tax form data between 2003 to 2013 sourced from Conservative Transparency, of the Bridge Project, shows which foundations have been giving to Donors Trust and how much. [4]

Some $12 million was also transferred to DT from DCF between 2003 and 2013.

Groups Funded by Donors Trust

According to IRS tax forms analysed by Greenpeace, Donors Trust has handed out grants worth $80.5 million between 2004 and 2013 (the latest data available as of March 2015).

The 20 largest recipients are listed below. Other recipients are listed in full at the bottom of this page.

Not included in this list are $1.9 million in cash transfers to Donors Capital Fund over the same 10-year period.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation, founded by oil industry billionaire David Koch, is the biggest recipient of DT funding. [13]

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AfPF) is the 501 (c)(3) charitable organisation linked to Americans for Prosperity, the 501 (c)(4) partner lobbying and advocacy organisation.

The AfPF produces a series of “Need to Know” factsheets on sustainable development, carbon taxes and EPA greenhouse gas regulations for its own “activists, policymakers and others”. [5]

On sustainable development, the AfPF attacks any regulations as being damaging to the economy.  The AfPF claims that carbon taxes are “poisonous” to the economy while attacking renewable forms of energy. On the EPA and greenhouse gas rules, the AfPF tells its scholars these are little more than a “shining example of a hyperactive regulatory agency” and characterises any attempts to regulate fossil fuel emissions as expensive impasses on the American people.

None of the factsheets mention the costs or the impacts of climate change.

In 2008, the AfP started the “No Climate Tax” pledge that eventually saw more than 400 US office holders and politicians singing up to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” [6], [7]

AfP president Tim Phillips also fronted the “Hot Air Tour” in 2008 touring centers across the US. Phillips said laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions would deliver “higher taxes, cost jobs and less freedom” in “the name of global warming.” [8]

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which has received more than $7 million from DT in recent years, has for many years attacked human-caused climate change science and the renewable energy industry.

CFACT’s head of communications is Marc Morano, who runs the climate science denial website ClimateDepot. Media Matters for America named Morano the “climate misinformer of the year” in 2012. [9]

DT has also been a funder of part-time Smithsonian researcher and climate science denier Dr Willie Soon, whose other funding over the last decade has come entirely from the fossil fuel industry.

DonorsTrust 990 Forms

Key People 

Board of Directors

2015[10] 2016[17] Description
James Piereson Y Y Vice Chairman. President, William E. Simon Foundation.
Jeffrey C. Zysik Y DT Secretary and Treasurer and DT Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology
Kimberly O. Dennis Y Y Chairman. President & CEO, Searle Freedom Trust.
Lawson R. Bader Y President and CEO, DonorsTrustPast President of Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and past VP at the Mercatus Center at GMU[15]
Thomas E. Beach Y Y Founder & Managing Director, Beach Investment Council
Whitney L. Ball (1963-2015) Y Late DT President and CEO and director of Donors Capital Fund and the State Policy Network. [14]
William J. Hume Y Y Chairman of the Board, Basic American, Inc.

Staff

2015[10] 2016[17] Description
Christopher D. Renner Y Y Grants & Accounting Manager
Jeffrey C. Zysik Y Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology
Jeffrey C. Zysik, Secretary Y Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer & Chief of Information Technology
Lauren V. Skiver Y Y Outreach Manager (Skiver joined DT from the Charles G. Koch Chairtable Foundation) [11], [12]
Lawson R. Bader Y President and CEO, DonorsTrust
Peter A. Lipsett Y Y Director of Growth Strategies
Thomas Wischer Y Office Manager & Grants Associate
Whitney L. Ball (1963-2015) Y Late DT President and CEO and director of Donors Capital Fund and the State Policy Network. [14]

Other Fundees

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

DonorsTrust Contact & Location

As of June 2016, DonorsTrust listed the following contact information on its website: [18]

DonorsTrust
1800 Diagonal Street
Suite 280
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Phone:(703) 535-3563
Fax: (703) 535-3564

Articles About Donors Trust

Exclusive: Major Climate Denial Funders Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund Handled $479 Million Of Dark Money - DeSmogBlog

More than $470 million of cash flowing into a key funding arm of the climate science denial movement in the United States is untraceable, a DeSmog investigation has found.

Secretive donors gave US climate denial groups $125m over three years - The Guardian

The secretive funders behind America’s conservative movement directed around $125m (£82m) over three years to groups spreading disinformation about climate science and committed to wrecking Barack Obama’s climate change plan, according to an analysis of tax records.

Exclusive: Billionaires secretly fund attacks on climate science - The Independent

A secretive funding organization in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt.

Charities Funnel Millions to Climate Change Denial - LiveScience

A British newspaper claims to have discovered the convoluted way oil billionaires in the United States can funnel huge amounts of cash toward climate change-denial campaigns, while reaping tremendous tax advantages in the process.

Koch Family Uses Fund To Channel Millions To Anti-Climate Science Groups: Report - International Business Times

Millions of dollars are being secretly funneled to the climate change “counter movement” by groups connected to the Koch family, UK newspaper the Independent reported on Friday.

Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement - Mother Jones

You haven't heard of Donors Trust, but it's bankrolled the right's fights against unions, public schools, climate scientists, and more.

Resources

  1.  Andy Kroll. “Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement,” Mother Jones, February 5, 2013. Archived July 24, 2015.

  2.  Donors Trust, Inc. Form 990 (2013). Archived July 24, 2015.

  3.  “Market Based Man” (PDF), Philanthropy Vol. XXV, No. 4 (Fall, 2011). Archived July 24, 2015.

  4.  ”Top Supporters of DonorsTrust,” Conservative Transparency. Archived July 24, 2015.

  5.  ”Policies Impacting You,” Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Archived July 8, 2015.

  6.  ”Pledge Takers,” No Climate Tax. Archived July 24, 2015.

  7.  Eric Holberg. “Koch: Climate pledge strategy continues to grow,” Investigative Reporting Workshop, July 1, 2013. Archived July 24, 2015.

  8.  ”AFP's Hot Air Tour: Tim Phillips, Intro Remarks” (YouTube Video) uploaded by user Americans for Prosperity, April 21, 2008.

  9.  Jill Fitzsimmons and Shauna Theel. “Climate Change Misinformer Of The Year: Marc Morano,” Media Matters for America, December 27, 2012.

  10.  ”DonorsTrust Officers & Directors,” DonorsTrust. Archived July 24, 2015.

  11.  ”Directors & Staff,” Donors Trust. Archived with WebCite March 11, 2015.

  12.  Brad Johnson. “Fun fact: The Donors Trust staffer who gave @Smithsonian the Soon $$ came from the Charles Koch foundation #soongate.” February 21, 2015, 7:06 p.m. tweet.

  13.  “Nancy Pfotenhauer To Head Grassroots Advocacy Group” (Press Release), Americans for Prosperity, December 1, 2003. Archived June 22, 2004.

  14.  A Tribute to Whitney Ball,” American Legislator (ALEC Blog), August 18, 2015. Archived August 20, 2015.

  15.  DonorsTrust’s New CEO,” Donors Trust, September 22, 2015. Archived September 23, 2015. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6blg5zdSq

  16. Lawrence Carter and Maeve McClenaghan. “Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding,” GreenPeace EnergyDesk, December 8, 2015. WebCiteURLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6deZxlWnq

  17. Directors & Staff - DonorsTrust,” Donors Trust. Archived June 17, 216. WebCite URLhttp://www.webcitation.org/6iJvZAXQg

  18. Contact Us - DonorsTrust,” DonorsTrust. Archived June 18, 2016. WebCite URL: http://www.webcitation.org/6iLWe44fo