Energy, Environment, Featured, Michael Sandoval

Senate Report Highlights Colorado Nexus of Environmental Efforts, Billionaire Funds

In a wide ranging, heavily footnoted report released July 30, the Minority Staff of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works demonstrates the confluence of the Environmental Protection Agency, eco-left activists, and what it calls the “Billionaire’s Club” in a complicated, tax-evading, multi-million dollar philanthropy scheme of dark money:

“Through these arrangements, the Billionaire’s Club gains access to a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats who specialize in manufacturing phony “grassroots” movements and in promoting bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public. Not only is the system incredibly sophisticated, but the Club’s attorneys and accountants have mastered the loopholes and gray areas in the tax code, which enable them to obtain a full tax benefit, even when the recipient of the grant is not recognized as a public charity, and even if the money indirectly and impermissibly funds political activities.”

The report finds fault with the billionaires’ “scheme to keep their efforts hidden and far removed from the political stage,” which they characterized as “deliberate, meticulous, and intended to mislead the public.”

“While it is uncertain why they operate in the shadows and what they are hiding, what is clear is that these individuals and foundations go to tremendous lengths to avoid public association with the far-left environmental movement they so generously fund,” the report authors wrote.

Highlighting the byzantine tax procedures used to cloak the various foundations and individual donors, the report used case studies of efforts targeted in several different states, including Colorado.

In the section on activism targeting hydraulic fracturing, the report singled out New York anti-fracking efforts that later manifested in Colorado:

The same billionaire foundations behind the New York anti-fracking efforts have also moved into Colorado through two coalitions – Local Control Colorado and Frack Free Colorado, which are directly affiliated with the NY-based groups already discussed. Local Control Colorado claims to be, “a coalition of community, consumer and public interest groups from across Colorado” promoting an anti-fracking ballot measure. However, they list DC-based Food & Water Watch, which is funded by CA-based Schmidt and Tides, and NY-based Park, as part of the coalition. Food & Water Watch is also listed as a partner to another member of the Local Control Colorado coalition, Frack Free Colorado (FFC). Self- described as a “collaborative, grassroots movement that works to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking,” FFC’s website states the group is “a people’s movement that consists of concerned citizens, companies … and organizations.” However, at least two of the organizations listed as a member of FFC – Artists Against Fracking and Food & Water Watch – are based in New York and Washington, DC. Interestingly, FFC has reportedly tried to hide its partnership with another NY-based organization, Water Defense.

The attempt to keep these connections secret include removing evidence from the group’s web pages, as first reported by CompleteColorado.com in November 2013.

But the connections are repeatedly clear and demonstrable, and include the names of several specific individuals:

In addition to the funding and partnership ties, these schemes have one key employee in common who binds these cross-country efforts: Russell Mendell. Mendell previously worked for three of the NY-based organizations – Frack Action, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Water Defense. While at Frack Action in November 2011, Mendell organized a rally of activists in front of the White House calling for the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Mendell was also active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, once stating that Occupy was “about linking arms between the various movements … there’s not a lot that separates the environmental movement and Occupy Wall Street.” In 2012, Mendell, along with another Water Defense employee, Ana Tinsely, left to move across the country and work for FFC in an apparent coordinated effort to apply the same activist tactics used in New York to the attack on fracking in Colorado. Overall, these schemes illustrate a model with FFC and Local Control Colorado “grassroots” coalitions that bind efforts via partnerships with billionaire-backed groups that are far from local.

The report included the following diagram:
ffc diagram

Simon Lomax, a Denver-based energy industry consultant and spokesman for Energy In Depth, told Complete Colorado that none of the revelations are particularly surprising.

“This report confirms yet again that national ‘ban fracking’ groups and their ultra-rich donors have spent years campaigning behind the scenes to wipe out one of Colorado’s most important industries. I don’t know who they think they are fooling any more, but I must admit, it’s kind of amusing to watch guys like Russell Mendell scramble to hide their ties to Occupy Wall Street, Water Defense, Food & Water Watch and other fringe political groups,” wrote Lomax.

But this is not just about eco-left activists pushing a few ballot measures, as they did in 2013. This year, the stakes are much higher.

“Believe it or not, Congressman [Jared] Polis is siding with this cast of characters against Colorado’s working families and practically the entire business community of our state. If he throws his millions behind the activists and their cause, he’ll be bankrolling the permanent expansion of an extreme and angry form of political campaigning in Colorado that isn’t just anti-energy, but anti-business and anti-jobs,” Lomax concluded.

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