Feb 16, 2012

Who’s the Anonymous Donor keeping a climate sceptic think tank afloat?

Yesterday a dump of leaked documents from the Heartland Institute -- a US-based think tank that pushes a strong climate change denier agenda -- revealed the inside workings of the org

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

Yesterday a dump of leaked documents from the Heartland Institute — a US-based think tank that pushes a strong climate change denier agenda — revealed the inside workings of the organisation and the funding it receives from tobacco, telecommunications and drug companies.

After Graham Readfearn wrote for Crikey on the leaked documents yesterday, the Heartland Institute overnight released a statement acknowledging the leaks and threatening legal action against media organisations publishing stories based on them. “Some of these documents were stolen from Heartland, at least one is a fake, and some may have been altered,” it said.

According to Heartland the Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy document is “a total fake apparently intended to defame and discredit The Heartland Institute”. Much of the reporting in the last 24 hours has focused around this particular document — claims that the Charles G.Koch foundation (set up by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch) donated $200,000 to the organisation, that organisations whose “interests are threatened by climate policies” will be targeted as potential donors and that a curriculum is being developed for school children based on a climate sceptic agenda.

Others question how “fake” the document truly is. DeSmogBlog, the climate news website that originally broke news of the leaked documents and published them all online, outlined four different parts of the alleged fake climate strategy that have been verified by other people or documentation, including the development of a K-12 school curriculum.

But this morning the Charles Koch Foundation released a statement denying it donated $200,000 to the Heartland Institute or that further donations were expected, as the leaked climate strategy memo claimed. Spokesperson Tonya Mullin said:

“It’s unfortunate that those reporting on the matter did not seek the facts as they would have found the Charles Koch Foundation provided $25,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2011 for research in healthcare, not climate change, and this was the first and only donation the Foundation made to the institute in more than a decade. The Foundation has made no further commitments of funding to Heartland.”

In 2010 Greenpeace did an investigation into how the Koch brothers, through their various foundations, funnel money into climate denier organisations. Greenpeace found that between 2005-2008 the Koch foundations donated US $24.9 million to various climate denial organisations (Heartland was not one of them).

But while the Koch brothers may not donate to Heartland, the leaked documents reveal that a very powerful and wealthy donor has donated US$13.7 million since 2006. The mystery donor, referred to throughout the leaked documents as “Anonymous Donor”, has provided up to 60% of donations for the Heartland Institute in the last six years.

He (he is referred to as male throughout the documentation) has already pledged $1 million this year and Heartland projects “that he will give $250,000 more over the course of the year”.

In 2007 his donation of $3.27 million made up 63% of the organisation’s contributions. In 2008 he gave a whopping $4.6 million, which made up 58% of total contributions.

Meaning that during the global financial crisis — and the US presidential campaign — this individual played a very powerful role in keeping Heartland afloat. In 2008 Heartland began its powerful anti-climate change conferences, fronted with well-known sceptics.

Last year the anonymous donor gave $979,000, the lowest amount since 2005. Even still it made up 20% of Heartland’s revenue.

Heartland actively seeks to keep this donor content. “Renewing him each year and keeping him informed and engaged is a major responsibility of the President. We regularly solicite [sic] his ideas for new projects,” it says in the leaked Heartland’s 2012 Fundraising Plan (where the Anonymous Donor has his own section devoted to him).

It seems the donor is predominately interested in the climate sceptic aims of Heartland. “We are extinguishing primarily global warming projects in pace with declines in his giving, and we were careful not to hire staff based on his past generosity,” says the agenda for a 2012 meeting of directors in January.

But apart from that he is male, wealthy and particularly interested in pushing an anti-global warming agenda, not much is known of the donor.

As Leo Hickman in The Guardian points out, he is likely American: “There are few clues about his identity other than he has also personally funded a couple of Heartland’s non-climate projects in Illinois and Wisconsin which might suggest a personal, local interest.”

There’s already been some speculation on the identity of the Anonymous Donor. As Jess Zimmerman writes at Grist:

“Oh man, who could it be? It’s probably another Koch but imagine if it were, like, Karl Rove. Or alternately, imagine if it were Al Gore!”

In the Heartland Institute press release acknowledging the leaked documents, the organisation apologised to donors who had been affected by the leaked documents:

“The Heartland Institute apologizes to the donors whose identities were revealed by this theft. We promise anonymity to many of our donors, and we realize that the major reason these documents were stolen and faked was to make it more difficult for donors to support our work. We also apologize to Heartland staff, directors, and our allies in the fight to bring sound science to the global warming debate, who have had their privacy violated and their integrity impugned.”

Other donors to Heartland must be frustrated about their identity being made public, but the Anonymous Donor has managed to keep his. So far.

Update: this article originally stated that the Anonymous Donor had donated $US8.6 million since 2007. This has been changed to $13.7 million since 2006

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16 thoughts on “Who’s the Anonymous Donor keeping a climate sceptic think tank afloat?

  1. Glenn Brandham

    Hi kd, if you want to see perpetual climate change denier interpretive dance, just watch the mad monk and his bishop in parliament. Hilarious stuff.

  2. kd

    That’s some pretty impressive climate change denier arguments there. I think the deniers should try improving the rigour of their methods by employing interpretive dance as an scientific technique.

  3. Bellistner

    …Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)…

    Is there something else in the mainstream conciousness that AGW stands for?
    Oh, right, we need to have everything laid out for us, because we’re stupid.

  4. Girma

    There was five-times increase in human fossil fuel use from about 30 to 170M-ton of carbon in the recent warming phase from1970 to 2000 compared to the previous one from 1910 to 1940. However, their global warming rate of about 0.15 deg C per decade is nearly identical as shown in the following graph.


    In the intermediate period between the two global warming phases from 1940 to 1970, there was global cooling with increase fossil fuel use of about 70M-ton as shown in the following graph.


    And since about 2000, there was little increase in the global temperature with further increase in fossil fuel use of about 70M-ton as shown in the following chart.


    Either change the data or dismiss AGW!

  5. icer

    Wow, three in a row Girma, impressive. So all those spectrophotometers that demonstrate the opacity of CO2 to long wave radiation are somehow mistaken? Is that really want you want to say?

  6. Girma


    The effect of carbon dioxide on the global mean temperature pattern is NIL => http://bit.ly/wzkYvi

    This pattern has not changed in 160 years: An overall warming of 0.5 deg C per century with an oscillation of 0.5 deg C every 30 years.

  7. icer

    Congratulations on verifying troll status with a further incorrect statement Girma, your backing away from your original ‘acceleration’ is about as much a statement that you know you are wrong as I guess I can hope for. Hope the heartland institute pays well.

  8. Girma


    The warming that you see is only 0.06 deg C per decade, not IPCC’s 0.2 deg C per decade. IPCC exaggerates everything by 0.2/0.06 = 3.33.

    IPCC projected for a warming of 0.2 deg C per decade.

    What is the observation?


    It shows global cooing of –0.1 deg C per decade.

    During the last decade, human emission of CO2 increased by about 300 Gt.

    As a result, based on the observed data, the models are wrong. AGW is wrong. Human emission of CO2 has nothing to do with global mean temperature.

  9. Fran Barlow

    Caution: Girma is a regular denier troll over at Deltoid.


  10. icer

    Astonishing Girma. You point to a graph that shows global warming beyond all observational uncertainty (the ‘boundary lines’ you refer to), then claim it can’t be true because it is not happening ‘fast enough’. What are you so afraid of, that it makes you this blind?

  11. Girma


    Here is the global mean temperature (GMT) data => http://bit.ly/Aei4Nd

    The most important observation in the above data is that the upper GMT boundary line passes through most of the GMT peaks, the lower GMT boundary line passes through most of the GMT valleys, and these lines are parallel. Also, the line that bisects the vertical space between the two GMT boundary lines is nearly identical to the long-term global warming trend line of 0.06 deg C per decade for the data from 1880 to 2010. This result indicates, since the GMT record begun, the GMT behaved like a stable pendulum with the two GMT boundary lines that are 0.5 deg C apart as the end points of the pendulum’s swings, and the long-term global warming trend line of 0.06 deg C per decade as the pendulum’s neutral position.

    From the above graph, the GMT has a single pattern that consists of a warming rate of 0.06 deg C per decade with an oscillation of 0.5 deg C every 30 years.

    In the above graph, a shift in climate to an accelerated global warming would have been indicated if the upper GMT boundary had been a curve with increasing positive slope with increasing years. As this has not been the case, there is no evidence of human emission of CO2 affecting the GMT.

    As a result, there is no evidence of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) so far.

    Future evidence of AGW would be if the GMT lies in the red region in the following graph.


    Actually, the globe is cooling as shown in the following graph:


    A denier is the one who says the globe is warming when the observed data says it is cooling.

  12. Bob Robson

    No more comments so far? I blame the poor people; there’s os many of them it makes us biilionaires astand out. I’m sloosening my tie in the spotlight as I type, sweating. I know this is a serious post of yours and Ayem Trying to do it justice. Lots of billionaires too, that’s why we jhave spy agencies and other even more secret ones that do both.

    It’s difficult to know what the billionaires are up to. We, I hope for thwe good of mankind and animals that what they do they do do well they do with verve or they’re done, whatyagonnadocan’t change it.

  13. Bob Robson

    personally I wouldn’t have a clue; i do however have a cold Aaaaaaaaschookoch.

  14. Liz A

    In another development, Mother Jones has posted an email (purportedly) from Heartland to all their donors, sent Wednesday (US time).


    [Now Heartland is using the incident to fundraise, according to an email to donors obtained by Mother Jones on Wednesday night. The email complains that “scores of bloggers and left-wing activists and their pets in the lamestream media” are posting and quoting the documents, and says that what New York Times’ Andy Revkin did—i.e. publishing some of the documents—”was not only unethical, it was also probably illegal.” It also asks for donations to the organization’s legal defense fund to fight “false and defamatory” stories. And it apologizes to funders whose names were made public by the incident: “We promise anonymity to many of our donors because nobody wants the risk of nutty environmentalists or Occupy Wall Street goons harassing them. We know that privacy is important to you.”]

  15. Mike Flanagan

    Whilst many of us might search for the identity of this anonymous donor in the mining and fossil fuel industry we should not forget all these industries require the support of our major financial institutes. Their financiers are playing a game of Russian Roulette with our lives and the planet to serve their short term ambitions for their bottom lines and perhaps those that wish to search should look in this area to identify this irresponsible culprit.
    A good piece Amber.

  16. lilac

    wouldn’t be Gina by any chance?

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