- - Thursday, March 12, 2015

The news that several foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, gave millions to the Clinton Foundation, including donations while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, has riled up Republicans. But if congressional Republicans want to hold hearings, they shouldn’t limit the subject to Hillaryland. Foreign money isn’t exclusive to the Clintons, and it may be coming into more serious play in influencing U.S. energy policy.

The Environmental Policy Alliance, an organization I helped create, released a report in January highlighting a pathway for Russian money to fund the U.S. environmental movement through a Bermuda law firm. The firm houses a company called Klein Ltd., which gave more than $20 million to the San Francisco-based Sea Change Foundation in 2011 and 2012. Sea Change, in turn, gave money to environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Bermuda law firm also has ties to a number of Russian energy interests and a Russian money-laundering case. Because money exchanged hands so frequently and was passed through different organizations, it was difficult to track — which is, of course, the point of setting up dummy offshore corporations.

The amount of money that has been, and could be, going from foreign interests to influence the energy debate should concern everyone. In November, The New York Times reported that Russian money was suspected to be funding anti-fracking protests in Romania. The 2012 film “Promised Land,” which stars Matt Damon and paints natural gas executives in a bad light, was financed in part by the royal family of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Foreign oilmen have an interest in seeing their competitors in the United States and elsewhere maligned and marginalized. The economic rational is obvious. By constraining America’s (or Europe’s) ability to become more energy independent, they increase revenue from their own energy industries to help fund their regimes. As The Economist reported, governments such as Russia and Iran rely on a certain oil price to break even on their budgets — the last thing they want is an abundance of supply from America.

It’s an issue that has major economic implications, and impacts America’s foreign policy decisions as well. It’s difficult for the West to take a hard line with Middle East countries or Russia while dependent on their oil.



But it’s not only economic opportunism and geopolitical interests that may be driving foreign money into the U.S. environmental movement. Ideological activism by wealthy foreigners is another gravitational force. Consider the Wyss Foundation, founded and funded by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss. The foundation has been an active player in the radical environmental movement since its founding in 1998, doling out money to groups, including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice.

The foundation’s goal, in short, is to lock away millions of acres of land from energy development. It has assets exceeding $2 billion. By channeling tens of millions of dollars to organizations like the Nature Conservancy, the Trust For Public Lands, the Conservation Lands Foundation and the National Conservation System Foundation, Mr. Wyss and his foreign money take American lands out of productive use and turn them into wilderness. This hurts America’s energy independence by putting our natural resources off-limits.

Mr. Wyss hired Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff John Podesta as a “consultant” in 2013, while also giving Mr. Podesta’s Center for American Progress $4.1 million. Last year, after Mr. Podesta had joined the White House team, he announced that the Obama administration was seeking to ban the development of 12 million acres of land in Alaska from oil drilling.

Mr. Podesta has now joined Hillary’s campaign, so you might expect the foreign money spigot to remain open and environmentalists to continue to exert undue influence.

For environmentalists, as with the Clintons, it seems anybody’s money is “green,” regardless of the damage it could have on the United States.

Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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