The Dark Money Behind The Gas Bans
The big-money donors behind the gas bans are hiding their identities, and their funding, behind an extensive dark money network.
Last Tuesday, Rewiring America announced that it has hired Georgia politician Stacey Abrams to help the group “launch and scale a national awareness campaign and a network of large and small communities working to help Americans go electric.”
In a press release, Abrams, who will hold the title of “senior counsel” said she is “excited to join Rewiring America to share the benefits of electrification and ensure families get their fair share. I look forward to working together as we build the tools that will transform everyday Americans from energy consumers to energy moguls.”
Abrams, a Democrat who served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years, ran for governor of Georgia two times but failed in both attempts against Republican Brian Kemp. Abrams famously refused to concede in the 2018 race and claimed the election was “stolen.”
Rewiring America is part of the NGO-industrial-corporate-climate complex that, as I reported here last month, is now spending some $4.5 billion per year to promote anti-industry policies. While their agendas vary, the anti-industry NGOs are generally trying to mandate increased use of weather-dependent renewables, hinder (or stop) hydrocarbon production, prevent the construction of new hydrocarbon infrastructure, mandate building electrification, and of course, ban the use of natural gas in homes and businesses.
As I explained in January, Rewiring America’s mission to electrify everything, ban the use of natural gas in homes and businesses, (and gas stoves), is part of a years-long, lavishly funded campaign that is being bankrolled by some of the world’s richest people. But here’s the pernicious part: the big-money donors backing Rewiring America, and other groups pushing the gas bans, are hiding their identities behind a dark money network of NGOs that are purposely obscuring their funding and the groups they are bankrolling.
Since last month, when I published “The Anti-Industry Industry,” I have been delving into the myriad interconnected NGOs that are pushing for bans on natural gas. This dark money network has a skein of overlapping funders, directors, and employees. Rewiring America, which has about 40 employees, is among the most prominent members of this dark money network. The group doesn’t publish its budget or file a Form 990. Instead, it is a sponsored project of the Windward Fund, a 501c3 non-profit that does not disclose its donors. Nor does it reveal how much it is giving to Rewiring America.
Although it is impossible to know exactly how much dark money is being shuffled among groups like the Windward Fund, Rewiring America, and others, my tally shows that just four of the dark money NGOs behind the gas bans have combined budgets of about $820 million. Thus, as you can see in the graphic below, by themselves, those four anti-industry groups are spending about 83% of the amount that is being spent by the top 25 NGOs that support traditional energy sources.
Indeed, despite claims from legacy media outlets about the influence of the hydrocarbon sector, the truth is undeniable: the overwhelming majority of the money, media coverage, and momentum in the debate over energy policy and climate change is on the side of the anti-hydrocarbon and anti-nuclear energy NGOs. And one of their top priorities is banning the use of natural gas in homes and businesses.
Rewiring America was founded by Alex Laskey, Saul Griffith and Ari Matusiak. All three have been involved in various ventures in the wind, solar, electrification and energy efficiency sectors. Of the three, Griffith, an Australian who was awarded a fellowship by the MacArthur Foundation in 2007, gets the most attention. On its website, Rewiring America cites Griffith’s 2020 book, which is also called Rewiring America, in which he claims “we can still address the threat of climate change, but only if we respond with a massive war-time mobilization effort to transform the fossil fuel economy into a fully electrified one, run on wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.”
Note the lack of any mention of nuclear energy. Also unmentioned: attempting to run the economy on weather-dependent renewables would require paving vast tracts of rural America with obscene numbers of noisy, 600-foot-high, bird- and bat-killing wind turbines and endless oceans of landscape-ravaging solar panels. Also unmentioned: attempting to electrify everything would require doubling or tripling the amount of electricity produced in the country, an effort that would require mining, smelting, and fabrication of staggering amounts of copper, steel, aluminum, and other metals. Also unmentioned: nearly all of the alt-energy supply chains depend on China.
In 2020, Griffith made it clear that Rewiring America’s aims are political and that it would be working to influence policymakers at all levels of government. He wrote that “We have to rewrite the federal, state, and local rules and regulations that were created for the fossil-fueled world and are preventing the U.S. from having the cheapest electricity ever.” Earlier this month, while I was in Japan, I watched a fawning profile of Griffith on ABC Australia. In the segment, Griffith said on camera that Rewiring America had “to become a lobby group” and it had to “write policy.” The segment included an interview with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, who said “A lot of the work that Rewiring America did ended up in the climate bill.”
Has Griffith or Rewiring America been lobbying federal officials? If it has, the group has not registered to do so. A search of federal lobby records for the U.S. House of Representatives shows no record for Griffith or Rewiring America. A similar search of lobby registration for the U.S. Senate turned up no records.
Founded in 2015, the Windward Fund says it “incubates and hosts initiatives which pursue bold solutions to environmental challenges from a range of angles.” By 2018, the group was taking in about $19 million per year. By 2021, that sum had jumped 14-fold to $273 million. Thus, by itself, Windward Fund has revenues greater than those of the American Petroleum Institute. (In 2020, API’s revenues totaled $214 million.)
Windward Fund is closely tied to a group called Arabella Advisors. Windward says that one of its projects is “managed by an experienced grantmaking team from Arabella Advisors.” In 2021, according to Windward’s Form 990, it paid Arabella about $4.2 million for “administration, operations, and management services.”
According to Influence Watch, Arabella guides “strategy, advocacy, impact investing, and management for high-dollar left-leaning nonprofits and individuals.” It also notes that in 2020, Arabella’s nonprofit network “boasted total revenues exceeding $1.67 billion.” In 2021, the New York Times published an article that criticized Arabella, noting the group “has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through a daisy chain of groups supporting Democrats and progressive causes. The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money, and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.”
“The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money, and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.”
The Times article continued: “The Arabella network has similarities to the operation created by the Kochs. Democrats have long criticized the Kochs and others who have engaged in the hard-to-track political spending unleashed in part by the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case.”
Windward’s flood of cash is not coming from foundations. Instead, most of it is coming from super-rich individuals. The first listing on Schedule B of its 990 shows a donation of $59 million from an unnamed person. Other individuals kicked in sums of $24 million, $20 million, $16 million, $14 million, $13 million, $10.5 million, $10 million, $10 million, $9 million, $6 million, and $6 million respectively.
Thus, more than two-thirds of the Windward’s 2021 revenue came from about a dozen unnamed plutocrats. Windward’s 990 also shows that it is giving grants to dozens of small climate-focused NGOs around the country. In 2021, it gave a $1 million grant to the Solutions Project, an Oakland-based NGO founded by Stanford academic Mark Z. Jacobson, who, for years has been promoting his debunked claim that the U.S. can be run solely on weather-dependent renewables. On its website, the Solutions Project says its goal is “simple: 100% renewable energy for 100% of the people.”
In addition to Rewiring America and Windward Fund, the other prominent members of the dark money network are the United States Energy Foundation, Energy Innovation LLC, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Climate Imperative Foundation.
The Energy Foundation has been in the middle of the Left’s dark money network for years. Influence Watch says “Energy Foundation describes itself as a nonpartisan ‘grantmaker’ with a focus on building a ‘new energy’ economy. In reality, it is a medium for bundling vast sums of money from donors to far-left political causes, under the guise of philanthropy.” In 2020, Energy Foundation had revenue of $186 million. (Guidestar does not have the group’s 2021 Form 990.) And like Windward Fund and other 501c3s, it does not list its donors.
Energy Foundation lists more than 100 staff on its website. Its board members include Gina McCarthy, who was a climate advisor to President Biden. Before that job, McCarthy headed the Natural Resources Defense Council, the giant anti-nuclear NGO that shamelessly cheered about its role in the premature closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York.
Last June, McCarthy (who has since left the Biden administration) declared that she was in favor of having big tech companies censor speech involving climate change. In an interview with Axios, she said “tech companies have to stop allowing specific individuals over and over again to spread disinformation.”
Then, in an ironic statement, given the amount of dark money that is being deployed by the anti-industry industry, McCarthy claimed, “Now it has moved from denial, but the dark money is still there. The fossil fuel companies are still basically trying their best to make sure that people don't understand the challenge of climate.”
The Energy Foundation has been a major funder of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Its 2020 Form 990 shows a grant of $496,000 to the group. In 2019, the group gave grants to the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Sierra Club Foundation. Energy Foundation also lists Climate Imperative as one of its partners “in transitioning to a clean and equitable energy future.” (More on Climate Imperative in a moment.)
Energy Foundation was founded by Hal Harvey, a veteran of the NGO-industrial-corporate-climate complex. Harvey now heads another San Francisco-based entity called Energy Innovation LLC that churns out policy papers touting the benefits of renewable energy and promoting the electrify everything push. Energy Innovation’s website shows about three dozen staff people on its website. But it doesn’t list its funders or revenue sources. Energy Innovation says it is a “non-partisan energy and climate policy think tank.” It is also a relentless renewable energy booster. In 2020, it partnered with researchers at the University of California Berkeley on a study that claimed that the US could convert its electric grid to run on 90% renewables by 2035.
Energy Innovation has also been a cheerleader for bans on natural gas. In 2019, in Forbes, Amanda Myers, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation, lauded the move by Berkeley, California to ban the use of natural gas. In an article titled, “As Cities Begin Banning Natural Gas, States Must Embrace Building Electrification Via Smart Policy,” she wrote that Berkeley is “leading a national trend that will cut natural gas demand through building electrification.” She continued, claiming “Building electrification has been an overlooked climate imperative.”
The Rocky Mountain Institute is another hub of the dark money network pushing gas bans. As mentioned above, the group has been getting funding from the Energy Foundation. It has also been hyping the supposed danger of gas stoves. In 2020, it published a report which highlighted “the impact of gas stoves on air pollution and public health.” In January, a spate of news stories were published about a paper produced by the Rocky Mountain Institute that claimed 12.7 percent of childhood asthmas are due to gas stoves. One of the authors of that paper was a Rocky Mountain Institute employee named Talor Gruenwald.
But just a day or two after those news stories were published, the group walked back its claims, with one official at the NGO telling the Washington Examiner that the study "does not assume or estimate a causal relationship" between childhood asthma and natural gas stoves. Causal or not, the overlapping ties in the dark money network are once again, obvious. In addition to duties at Rocky Mountain Institute, where Gruenwald works on “carbon-free buildings,” Gruenwald is also a research associate at Rewiring America,
The other key player in the dark money network is Climate Imperative (2021 revenue: $221 million). The San Francisco-based non-profit that I spotlighted in my January 26 piece, “The Billionaires Behind The Gas Bans,” doesn’t list its funders or the groups it is funding. It says it wants “rapid scaling of renewable energy” and “widespread electrification of buildings.” As I explained in January, Climate Imperative is the newest, and richest NGO you’ve never heard of. And the group’s leaders want to keep it that way. As can be seen below, three of the top executives at Climate Imperative — Mary Anne Hitt, Bruce Nilles, and Hal Harvey — are not disclosing their affiliation with the group on their Twitter profiles.
Before working at Climate Imperative, Nilles and Hitt spent more than a decade heading the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Nilles is the executive director at Climate Imperative. Hitt is a senior director at the group. Harvey, in addition to his job at Energy Innovation LLC, is the president of Climate Imperative.
Why don’t Hitt, Nilles, and Harvey include their affiliation with Climate Imperative on Twitter? As I noted back in January, Hitt did not reply to my emails about her group. Thus, I did not reach out to her for this article.
There is much more to be written about the dark money that is driving the anti-industry industry, the unaccountable parasitic force that employs thousands of lawyers, strategists, pollsters, and fundraisers, who are pushing policies like natural gas bans. I will close this piece by recounting a claim Abrams made in the press release put out by Rewiring America last Tuesday. She said that families across the country are living “too close to the economic edge,” and that “few understand how much money they can save with a little help to upgrade their homes and vehicles.”
Banning natural gas and forcing consumers to buy EVs will impose regressive energy taxes on consumers. In addition to the high cost of replacing existing appliances with electric ones, the cost of operating an all-electric home is higher than that for a home that uses natural gas. As for EVs, good luck finding a Tesla in the barrio. An average EV now sells for about $66,000. That’s Benz and Beemer territory.
Last March, in the Federal Register, the Department of Energy published its annual estimate for residential energy costs. As you can see in the graphic above, on a per-Btu basis, electricity costs about 3.5 times more than natural gas. The fuel is, by far, the cheapest form of in-home energy, costing less than half as much as fuels like kerosene, propane, and heating oil. That point was bolstered again last October when the Department of Energy published its Winter Fuels Outlook, which predicted that heating with electricity this winter would cost about 46% more than heating with natural gas.
The DOE’s numbers make it clear that Rewiring America’s agenda of forced electrification will result in higher energy bills for consumers. And low- and middle-income Americans will pay the biggest price because they will be forced to spend a larger percentage of their disposable income on energy than wealthy consumers.
Abrams may have found a new job at Rewiring America. Good for her. But does she really understand the economics of what she will be promoting? The facts are clear: attempting to electrify everything will impose new regressive taxes on the poor. And no amount of spin, or dark money, can change that fact.
Generally I think both sides could come together with some small tweaks to messaging and strategies. Promote nuclear, renewables and new fossil fuels. Don't ban gas, but make it easy/cheap to upgrade to heat pumps (and if you already have gas, then it can serve as a great reliable back up) etc etc.
This post definitely respresents the polarization of these issues. Yes there is big money lining up behind left energy policies that really need to be sense checked becase they are hamful in the long term. But historically there has been way more influence behind anti energy transition intiatives whether from corporates or the Koch's as you mention, so the influence is just catching up.
Would love a follow-up to this article identifying $ going to moderate causes with sensible solutions.
What is commonly overlooked in this race to electrify everything is the need for fossil fuels for all of the transportation required. There is no replacement. Renewables don't transport anything.