Friday, February 22, 2013

why the attempt at secrecy?

ICH | Conspiracies against the public don’t get much uglier than this. As the Guardian revealed last week, two secretive organisations working for US billionaires have spent $118m to ensure that no action is taken to prevent manmade climate change(1). While inflicting untold suffering on the world’s people, their funders have used these opaque structures to ensure that their identities are never exposed.

The two organisations – the Donors’ Trust and the Donors’ Capital Fund – were set up as political funding channels for people handing over $1m or more. They have financed 102 organisations which either dismiss climate science or downplay the need to take action. The large number of recipients creates the impression that there are many independent voices challenging climate science. These groups, working through the media, mobilising gullible voters and lobbying politicians, helped to derail Obama’s cap and trade bill and the climate talks at Copenhagen. Now they’re seeking to prevent the US president from trying again(2).

This covers only part of the funding. In total, between 2002 and 2010 the two identity-laundering groups paid $311m to 480 organisations(3), most of which take positions of interest to the ultra-rich and the corporations they run: less tax, less regulation, a smaller public sector. Around a quarter of the money received by the rightwing opinion swarm comes from the two foundations(4). If this funding were not effective, it wouldn’t exist: the ultra-rich didn’t get that way by throwing their money around randomly. The organisations they support are those which advance their interests.

A small number of the funders have been exposed by researchers trawling through tax records. They include the billionaire Koch brothers (paying into the two groups through their Knowledge and Progress Fund) and the DeVos family (the billionaire owners of Amway)(5). More significantly, we now know a little more about the recipients. Many describe themselves as free market or conservative think tanks.

Among them are the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Hudson Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, Mont Pelerin Society and the Discovery Institute(6). All of them pose as learned societies, earnestly trying to determine the best interests of the public. The exposure of this funding reinforces the claim by David Frum, formerly a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, that such groups “increasingly function as public-relations agencies”(7).

One name in particular jumped out at me: American Friends of the IEA. The Institute of Economic Affairs is a British group which, like all the others, calls itself a free market thinktank. Scarcely a day goes by on which its staff are not interviewed in the broadcast media, promoting the dreary old billionaires’ agenda: less tax for the rich, less help for the poor, less spending by the state, less regulation for business. In the first 13 days of February, its people were on the BBC ten times(8).

Never have I heard its claim to be an independent thinktank challenged by the BBC. When, in 2007, I called the institute a business lobby group, its then director-general responded, in a letter to the Guardian, that “we are independent of all business interests”(9). Oh yes?


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