Green Watch

Environmentalists Spent a Record $2.4 Billion Pushing Global Warming Ideology

The greenest thing about Big Green is its mountain of cash.

New research from the Capital Research Center reveals that groups on the environmental Left poured out the record $2.4 billion in 2019 (see the data in the Appendix). This stunning figure contrasts with the self-image of the environmentalist movement as David vs. Goliath: impoverished, idealistic eco-activists outgunned by powerful interests in the “fossil fuel” industry.

Green Finances

Liberals have long tried to claim that environmentalists are outgunned by the Right. In 2018, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle published a misleading study that measured the income of broadly right-leaning groups focused on a host of issues—welfare, telecom regulation, agricultural policy, etc.—to produce the claim that conservatives spend $1 billion per year to stop action on climate change—a 10 to 1 disparity with environmental groups.

In reality, environmental activists are some of the best-funded special interests in the country, and they receive no shortage of help from Big Oil and Gas in promoting disastrous carbon taxes, federal subsidies for renewables, and other cronyism.

CRC examined the finances of 166 left-leaning policy, activist, litigation, and research organizations along with any associated political action committees (PACs) that primarily focuses on climate change or environmental regulation. Using their publicly available Form 990 filings, we captured their revenues, expenditures, and the amounts of grants they paid out in 2019.

What we found is staggering. In a single year, these organizations:

  • Raked in $2,669,433,867 from donors, nearly all of which remain undisclosed.
  • Spent $2,434,774,582 paying staffers, attorneys, activists, professional fundraisers, and researchers and lobbying for environmental regulations. In the case of 501(c)(4) groups and PACs, they also helped elect Democrats and oppose Republicans in the 2019-2020 election cycle.
  • Paid out $435,311,881 in grants to other, mostly left-leaning nonprofits.

These figures don’t include lobbying by private firms for renewables subsidies, left-wing groups with a broader focus that than just climate change or the environment (e.g. the Center for American Progress or Media Matter for America), or eco-Right groups, self-identified “conservative” organizations that support carbon taxes and other global warming policies. Were finances from these groups included, the final numbers might be double or even three times current figures. Including the moderately left-leaning Nature Conservancy would balloon total revenues by another $998 million.

Funding Distribution

The tax status of these organizations sheds light on the distribution of funds within the environmental movement. The bulk of these groups (111 of 166) are IRS-designated 501(c)(3) public charities, so donations to them are tax-deductible. The 501(c)(3) nonprofits account for the overwhelming majority of the finances CRC traced:

  • 83.95 percent ($2.24 billion) of the $2.7 billion in total revenues uncovered,
  • 83.1 percent ($2.02 billion) of the $2.4 billion in total expenditures uncovered, and
  • 78.5 percent ($342 million) of the $435 million in grants paid.

Of the 166 groups, 46 are 501(c)(4) advocacy nonprofits, which are permitted to spend significantly more on lobbying than their 501(c)(3) counterparts. They accounted for 13.4 percent of total revenues, 13.98 percent of total expenditures, and 14.5 percent of grants.

The top 20 biggest spenders also number among the loudest voices pushing environmental regulations:

  1. World Wildlife Fund: $236 million
  2. Environmental Defense Fund: $188.6 million
  3. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): $173 million
  4. Sierra Club: $150 million
  5. World Resources Institute: $120.8 million
  6. National Audubon Society: $118 million
  7. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): $109.9 million
  8. Sierra Club Foundation: $93.9 million
  9. National Wildlife Federation: $89.7 million
  10. EarthJustice: $78 million
  11. League of Conservation Voters: $66.5 million
  12. NextGen Climate Action Committee: $56.8 million
  13. NextGen Climate Action: $54 million
  14. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): $53.5 million
  15. Rocky Mountain Institute: $45 million
  16. Resources Legacy Fund: $42.3 million
  17. Union of Concerned Scientists: $40.7 million
  18. Greenpeace: $37.7 million
  19. Oceana: $36 million
  20. League of Conservation Voters Education Fund: $34.8 million

These are the titans of “Green” Activism Inc., spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pass the socialist Green New Deal and promote radical global warming legislation that promises to jack up household electricity prices and promote the Left’s war on science.


See the data here.

Figures also include 2018 expenditures (red font) for groups that did not have 2019 Form 990 filings publicly posted as of writing to serve as estimates for 2019 data. This report will update the data set with exact 2019 figures as they become available.

Source: Form 990 filings through 2019, Part I, lines 8, 12, 13; and Federal Elections Commission, 2019–2020 cycle PAC receipts, disbursements, contributions to other committees, independent expenditures (minus reimbursed donations).

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is the Director of Policy Research at Restoration of America. He was formerly Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. Ludwig is a native of Orange County, California,…
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