- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Senate Republicans in a new report say they have uncovered troubling evidence of a complex money channel allowing billionaires to funnel money through charitable environmental groups to achieve their political agenda.

A report by the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works contends that left-wing environmental groups and nonprofits are exploiting loopholes in nonprofit fiscal sponsorship regulations.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the ranking Republican on the committee, told reporters Wednesday that the report raises questions about tax-deductible contributions from nonprofit groups eventually funding political activity.

According to the report, billionaire environmentalists funnel large amounts of money to environmental groups to lobby on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In exchange for their lobbying efforts, the groups receive generous tax write-offs and federal grants and funding. The money is channeled through a complex, multilayered web of organizations, with little to no disclosure, making it almost impossible to track, according to the report.

“It’s no secret that this administration has failed at its goal to be the most transparent,” Mr. Vitter said.

Some of the key issues covered in the report include potential tax status violations, questionable offshore funding, and revolving-door politics within the EPA.

“What this report shows is that eco-left billionaires, including those like Tom Steyer who made their money in fossil fuels, have managed to hijack an entire government agency,” said Michael Sandoval, an energy policy analyst at the free-market Independence Institute in Denver.

“In the words of EPA’s Gina McCarthy, the intent is ‘investment’ in preferred energy sources at the expense of jobs, the economy, and our power grid, all under the cynical guise of environmental philanthropy,” Mr. Sandoval said.

But EPA officials say the accusations are false and that outside money doesn’t influence environmental policy.

“Groups, stakeholders, industries and associations of all stripes routinely express interest in EPA issues, it’s an important part of a democracy. But the bottom line is that no one but the leadership of the EPA is responsible for our policies and regulatory decision,” EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told The Times.

“If anyone deserves credit for giving us ideas, it’s the local officials and communities across the country that are already cutting carbon pollution through the innovative and flexible approaches we are calling for in the Clean Power Plan proposal. The plan was developed with input from thousands of comments we received about policy approaches that states and utilities are already taking,” she added.

The Senate report cited a group called Bold Nebraska as an example of a local “homegrown” environmental group receiving millions in out-of-state funding.

According to the committee report, Bold Nebraska, a group opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, received $140,000 from the California-based Tides Foundation between 2010 and 2013. In addition, the Tides Foundation funneled $2.4 million to The Advocacy Fund, a San Francisco 501(c)(4) which in turn gave another $15,000 to Bold Nebraska.

“While Bold Nebraska is essentially a tool for the Billionaires’ Club and their allies opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, many in the state remain oblivious to this fact,” the committee report says. “Moreover, President Obama has supported Bold Nebraska and the billionaire funders’ efforts by not authorizing the pipeline despite broad public opinion favoring its construction.”

Organizers at Bold Nebraska called the Senate report hypocritical, citing data from the Dirty Energy Money database showing Republican senators received $6 million since 1999 to advance the political agenda for the fossil fuel industry.

“It is disgusting that Republicans are using taxpayer money to attack citizen-led groups working to protect our property rights and water,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska. “I anxiously await the same report outlining campaign donations from Big Oil and the various front-groups doing corporations’ bidding.”

“Talk about throwing stones in a glass house,” said Jamie Henn, of 350.org, another organization named in connection with Bold Nebraska in the report. “These senators take millions from Big Oil billionaires and then waste taxpayer money attacking citizen groups who dare take on the industry. The conspiracy theory that some secret club is controlling a movement of millions is as ludicrous as the accusation is pathetic. I’m surprised they didn’t issue tinfoil hats with the report.”

Another concern cited in the GOP minority report were grants that EPA gives to foundations run by former agency employees.

“This report proves that the Obama EPA has been deliberately staffed at the highest levels with far-left environmental activists who have worked hand-in-glove with their former colleagues,” the report reads.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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