Facing South

John Locke Foundation comments on Institute investigation

Facing South
Facing South
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The story I wrote about the fossil-fueled attack against the Center for Climate Strategies by the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation has apparently touched a nerve with Locke's Executive Director John Hood, judging by his defensive comments over at Greensboro, N.C.-based blogger Ed Cone's site.

Hood calls my story a "rehash" of a piece I wrote two years ago for the Durham, N.C.-based Independent Weekly. Actually, the earlier story I wrote -- "Turning the warming tide" -- focused on the effect climate change was expected to have on North Carolina if no effort were made to rein in human contributions to the problem. But it did examine the work of the John Locke Foundation as the most outspoken opponent of attempts to address greenhouse gas pollution in the state.

Since that earlier story was published, Hood has repeatedly misrepresented a question I asked him during our interview. He's done that again on Cone's blog.

I'd like to set the record straight.

While reporting the Independent story, I met with Hood to discuss his organization's scientifically unconventional ideas on climate change as well as its funding sources. On the latter topic, I asked him to let me look at his group's 990 Schedule Bs -- tax forms that disclose funding sources. As a nonprofit, the organization is legally obligated to share that information. But Hood refused, telling me, "We don't ever give that out. That's just not something we ever do." (He later blamed his gaffe on bad legal advice.)

I then asked him if his organization accepted money from outfits with ties to fossil-fuel interests. Hood disputes that, insisting I asked only if his group got money from oil interests. As he wrote on Cone's blog:

In that case, she asked me a question about funding from oil companies, I answered it, then she retroactively rewrote the question and reported that I had evaded it.

What Hood apparently did not count on in that interview was that I already had copies of his organization's tax forms showing it had taken money from Big Coal as well as Big Oil. Obviously I wasn't interested only in his organization's oil funding but in its funding from all interests with a financial stake in scuttling carbon regulations. I formulated my question accordingly.

But even if I had asked Hood only about his oil industry funding, he still prevaricated in telling me that he did not accept money from such interests. In fact, his organization has received a significant amount of money over the years from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundations, one of the Koch family funds operated by David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, the nation's largest privately held oil conglomerate.

So now Hood accuses me of "construct[ing] an elaborate conspiracy theory" by connecting the Kochs' financial interests with their charitable giving. But is it really an "elaborate conspiracy theory" to note that the Kochs' charity has founded and supported groups that have helped boost Koch wealth by denying the reality of climate change and fighting efforts to address it?

The fact is, there has been a concerted, corporate-funded effort to deny global warming and to fight efforts to regulate greenhouse pollution, as Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others have documented. And the John Locke Foundation and its allies in the attack on the Center for Climate Strategies have been part of that effort.

What especially concerns me is Locke's effort to thwart full disclosure, as evidenced by its past refusal to hand over its tax paperwork, its unwillingness to list institutional funders on its Web site (unlike we at the Institute for Southern Studies do, and its failure to reveal its own funding in its coverage of the Center for Climate Strategies while at the same time attacking that group for its own money sources. Then we have the effort by Locke and the Heartland Institute to hide their role behind the Climate Strategies Watch Web site by registering the site anonymously, initially leaving out any sponsorship information, and announcing the site on the Locke blog without disclosing the group's own role in creating it. That's no way to have an honest discussion about an important public policy issue.

In his post at Cone's site, Hood raises a point he also made in my Independent story: that funding of the organizations participating in the public debate over climate change policy should not matter because we ought to be evaluating ideas on the basis of their validity, not who's bringing them to the table. Unfortunately, that idealistic vision of a public policy debate where all voices are listened to equally does not describe the reality of the state policy-making process, where money amplifies some voices above others. Given that reality, full disclosure of players' financial interests is crucial.

It made me chuckle when Hood accused me of engaging in "anti-Christian bigotry" for mentioning his editor's attack on the Evangelical Climate Initiative. My straight reporting of his editor's mean-spirited, name-calling rhetorical assault on a Christian group concerned about global warming is "anti-Christian bigotry"? That's rich.

In closing, I'd like to correct another error of fact in Hood's comments. He wrongly stated that the Institute for Southern Studies is associated with "IPS in Washington," by which I assume he means the nonprofit Institute for Policy Studies. While it's true that some ISS board members were involved with IPS in the early 1970s, there has been no connection between the organizations since then.

That said, I must disagree with Hood's characterization of IPS as "odious" -- especially given the group's work documenting the social and environmental consequences of public lending for fossil-fuel projects. However, I can understand why a mouthpiece for the interests of Big Oil and Big Coal wouldn't appreciate that sort of thing.

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