Last week, the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) released a report on the amount of money that has been spent in the fight over Transcanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline, which would run 1,700 miles from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, is opposed by environmentalists.
Unfortunately, CRP’s report portrays the fight as a battle between “Big Oil” and poor little environmental activist groups. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The report quotes Eddie Scher, the senior communications strategist for the Sierra Club. Scher complains that environmental groups can’t compete with the “literally unlimited resources” of energy companies.
“There’s no question we’re up against big numbers of campaign dollars,” he said. “We’re up against the cream of the crop when it comes to K Street lobbyists. But we believe even well-financed insanity is trumped by democracy.”
But the Sierra Club - like other major environmental groups - is by no means poor. At the end of 2009, it had more than $170 million in assets between its activist wing and its education foundation. The Nature Conservancy ended last year with $5.65 billion in assets, after taking in $210.5 million in revenue. The World Wildlife Fund had $377.5 million in assets as of June 2010, after scraping together $177.7 million for the fiscal year. And the National Audubon Society had $305.9 million stashed away at the end of last year. The Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and almost every other national “green” group you’ve ever heard of are similarly “impoverished.”
And then there are the foundations - dozens if not hundreds of them - that finance environmental activism. Among their benefactors: the Energy Foundation ($68.6 million in assets), the Joyce Foundation ($773.6 million), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund ($729 million), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($6.8 billion), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($5.7 billion), and Heinz Endowments ($1.2 billion).
Scher’s Sierra Club might not spend as much money on lobbying as energy companies do, but that’s by choice. The part of the Sierra Club that is organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code - in other words, the part of the organization that isn’t limited by lobbying restrictions - had nearly $49 million in assets at its disposal at the end of 2009. According to its 2009 tax return, the group spent about $4.9 million on “lobbying and political expenditures.” Only $480,000 of that money was spent at the federal level. The other $4.4 million was spent lobbying at the state level or on political activities like advertisements.
But that’s because the Sierra Club has made a strategic decision to focus more on litigation than on lobbying. The group files, on average, one lawsuit per week.
Other groups with as much financial might, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, make similar tactical decisions about litigation, lobbying, and other activities. In fact, litigation involves more bullying than lobbying does. There are few things worse in life than dealing with lawsuits.
It’s time for the people at these well-heeled environmental groups to stop whining about how they “can’t compete” with energy companies.