In his review of "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right," environmental writer Bill McKibben condemns moguls such as the Koch brothers for hiding “their contributions through outfits like DonorsTrust.” In other words, according to McKibben, DonorsTrust, which is “committed to the principles of limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise,” is a conservative dark money conduit.
Such dark money, however, are not just the domain of wealthy conservatives and libertarians. The term entered politics following the U.S. Supreme Court case of Buckley vs. Valeo (1976) in which the court enunciated the difference between funds given for electioneering and funds given for issue advocacy. Sources for the former are regulated by campaign finance laws and must be disclosed, while sources for the latter are protected by the First Amendment and need not be disclosed.
Since then, dark money for advocacy purposes has grown exponentially. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in 2012.”
A new report titled "Target: Montana" documents similar growth in the flow of dark money to Montana environmental causes. (To be fair, GreenDecoys, the organization responsible for the report, is affiliated with the Environmental Policy Alliance. The Alliance is “devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups” and it does not disclose its supporters.)
The report starts by describing the advertising campaign attacking Secretary of Interior Zinke’s review to resize national monuments. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers spent $1.4 million in August 2017 on this campaign financed by large out-of-state foundations. BHA gets less than a quarter of its funding from 17,000 members and more than 50 percent from large out-of-state foundations.
BHA was joined by the Denver-based Western Values Project which spent $500,000 on the ad campaign. According to Target: Montana, the Western Values Project has only a P.O. Box in Whitefish and is really an internal project of the Washington, D.C., based New Venture Fund. The fund accepts money from large foundations such as the Wyss Foundation, Packard Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and Gates Foundation and channels it to Montana campaigns without saying where the money comes from.
Here are some more examples of dark green money flowing into Montana environmental debates. Over 95 percent of the foundation money going to the Montana Wilderness Association comes from outside the state, including $1.3 million from the Wyss Foundation, $787,000 from the Pew Charitable Trusts ($787,000), and $605,000 from the Wilburforce Foundation. Between 2011 and 2017, BHA got $850,000 from the Hewlett Foundation located in California, $904,000 from the Western Conservation Foundation in Denver, and $240,000 from the New Venture Fund in Washington, D.C.
Funding for Montana environmental campaigns does not stop at America’s shores. A sub-report titled "Montana in the Crosshairs" links funding to the Open Society Institute bankrolled by Hungarian billionaire George Soros and to Klein Ltd., a shell company in Bermuda linked to Russian state-owned oil interests. Both of these groups channel their funding through foundations that operate like the New Venture Fund, making it impossible to follow the dark money trail.
Environmental campaigns in Montana represent big money far from the Big Sky. They are not the voices from local hunters and anglers or from mountain mommas. They are mostly paid for by wealthy outside interests telling us how we should live. Don’t be fooled.