Oral Testimony About “Dark Money” in Environmental Debates

Oral Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Budget Committee

Scott Walter’s Testimony Before the Senate Budget Committee
Written Statement: HTML or PDF
Oral Testimony: Video, question, and text (below)
Full Committee Hearing (Senate website)

Oral Testimony

Before the

Senate Budget Committee
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Chairman

Hearing on

“Recreation at Risk: The Nature of Climate Costs”

Scott Walter
President, Capital Research Center

March 20, 2024

Chairman Whitehouse, Ranking Member Grassley, distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the honor of testifying. Like the rest of the panel & most Committee members, I have no expertise in climate science. But I do have expertise in political operations that camouflage themselves as grassroots groups while quietly exploiting complicated funding streams enriched by billionaires—some people call this, “dark money.”

The phenomenon often appears in environmental debates, including pressure groups that claim to represent outdoor recreation interests but receive cash from billionaires and other elite political operatives for crude political purposes. Take Patagonia, whose owners donated billions in company stock to a series of 501(c)(4)—aka “dark money”—groups. Initial reports said the money would go only to save the planet.[1] But even the New York Times, fooled at first, investigated and found monies going to political machinations like saving the seats of the Majority’s congressional delegation and pushing non-environmental issues like abortion.[2] This Patagonia network of “dark money” nonprofits already has an FEC complaint because it appears to have falsified the actual sources of its contributions to the Senate Majority PAC and others.[3]

Now consider an environmentalist group that’s received Patagonia funding, Protect Our Winters, or POW.[4] Protect Our Winters claims it’s just “help[ing] passionate outdoor people protect the places and experiences they love.”[5] But POW also cares about the banal indoor recreation of politics, such as helping elect Democrats to Congress and shilling for the partisan Inflation Reduction Act.[6]

POW has a (c)(4) “dark money” arm that gives 100%, cycle after cycle, to elect Democrats.[7] POW’s (c)(3) arm receives support from ordinary outdoor enthusiasts but also from notorious political actors. Those include a nonprofit in Arabella Advisors’ network, the biggest “dark money” network on earth,[8] which takes in billions every election cycle, including large sums from a foreign donor,[9] yet oddly goes unmentioned by Congress’s fiercest “dark money” hawks. POW also receives money from the Tides Foundation,[10] a donor-advised fund provider, and from the David Rockefeller Fund,[11] which also donates to the Tides and Arabella networks.[12]

POW helps corral into political campaigns trade associations that should know better, including the National Ski Areas Association. The Association’s ties to POW appear in its “Climate Challenge” reports, which require “all Climate Challengers” to do such things as endorse letters from groups like POW, Citizens Climate Lobby, and We Are Still In.[13]

We Are Still In is an environmentalist pressure group underwritten by left-wing billionaire Michael Bloomberg,[14] while Citizens Climate Lobby has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Enron billionaire John Arnold, as well as funding from Arabella.[15]

Groups like POW are so compromised politically that they never mention powerful threats to outdoor recreation from their radical environmentalist allies.

Obviously, for the foreseeable future, outdoor recreation absolutely depends on inexpensive transportation for ordinary Americans. That means fossil fuels for cars, trucks, boats, and planes, and it means roads and parking.

Just consider what outdoor trade groups say and the Biden Administration brags about. The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable’s president says, “We have the best public lands, waters and outdoor businesses in the world right here in the United States, but if Americans can’t access them with sound roads … then we are missing out on economic opportunity and undermining our American outdoor heritage.”[16] I think she expects those roads to be traveled by people who aren’t rich enough to afford Teslas.

Then there’s the Biden Administration, bragging that its National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund will “increase visitor access by restoring and repairing roads … and parking areas.”[17]

After all, how many hikers can reach Yellowstone without the use of jet fuel or gasoline?  How many skiers visit Aspen or Park City without flying on a plane?

Ending jet travel and sales of gasoline—or just hiking their costs—would devastate outdoor recreation, which means a lot of environmental extremist groups pose serious threats to outdoor recreation. Just last year the magazine of the Sierra Club, a group Chairman Whitehouse repeatedly cites,[18] ran a long article that began by lionizing a man who hasn’t ridden a plane in five years; it ended with hopes that planes will disappear in a few decades.[19] Jet travel is also denounced by groups like Stay Grounded[20] and Flight Free USA.[21] In the world these pressure groups and their donors fight for, how can an Aspen ski resort or a fishing outfitter on Montana’s Blackfoot River survive?

More threats come from the ESG movement’s effort to debank all fossil fuel-related companies.[22] If this movement and its rich leaders like Larry Fink have their way, an ordinary American who depends on a gas-powered car for transport will never drive to Yosemite, and no fisherman will travel in a gas-powered boat across the beautiful Tennessee lakes of my childhood.

These threats to outdoor recreation deserve their own hearing.

Thank you.


[1] David Gelles, “Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company,” New York Times, September 21, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/14/climate/patagonia-climate-philanthropy-chouinard.html.

[2] David Gelles and Kenneth P. Vogel, “Patagonia’s Profits Are Funding Conservation—and Politics,” New York Times, January 30, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/30/climate/patagonia-holdfast-philanthropy.html.

[3] Thomas Catenacci, “Major Outdoor Clothing Company Quietly Operating Liberal Dark Money Group Hit with FEC Complaint,” Fox News, https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/major-outdoor-clothing-company-quietly-operating-liberal-dark-money-group-hit-fec-complaint. For the actual FEC complaint, see https://americansforpublictrust.org/document/holdfast-collective-fec-complaint/.

[4] The proprietary FoundationSearch database reports eight grants from Patagonia Org to POW totaling $85,742.

[5] Protect Our Winters, “About POW,” https://protectourwinters.org/about-pow/.

[6] See the extensive cheerleading for the Inflation Reduction Act in its 2022 annual report: Protect Our Winters, “2022 Annual Report,” https://protectourwinters.org/about-pow/annual-reports/2022-annual-report/.

[7] OpenSecrets reports the 2022 cycle independent expenditures made by Protect Our Winters Action Fund in OpenSecrets, “Protect Our Winters Action Fund Independent Expenditures,” 2022 cycle, https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/protect-our-winters-action-fund/C90017898/independent-expenditures/2022; OpenSecrets, “Protect Our Winters Action Fund Independent Expenditures,” 2020 cycle, https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/protect-our-winters-action-fund/C90017898/independent-expenditures/2020; and OpenSecrets, “Protect Our Winters Action Fund Independent Expenditures,” 2018 cycle, https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/protect-our-winters-action-fund/C90017898/independent-expenditures/2020.

[8] The Atlantic headlined an interview with Arabella’s then-president Emma Green, “The Massive Progressive Dark-Money Group You’ve Never Heard Of,” The Atlantic, November 2, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/11/arabella-advisors-money-democrats/620553/. “Over the past half decade, Democrats have quietly pulled ahead of Republicans in untraceable political spending. One group helped make it happen.” For more on Arabella, see InfluenceWatch, “Arabella Advisors,” https://www.influencewatch.org/for-profit/arabella-advisors/. POW received $500,000 from Arabella’s Hopewell Fund in 2022: ProPublica, Hopewell Fund’s Form 990 for 2022, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/473681860/202333149349300038/IRS990ScheduleI.

[9] See the Americans for Public Trust report on Hansjörg Wyss: Americans for Public Trust, “Left-Wing Swiss Billionaire Exploiting the Foreign Influence Loophole,” July 10, 2023, https://americansforpublictrust.org/news/report-left-wing-swiss-billionaire-exploiting-the-foreign-influence-loophole/. Wyss has admitted to illegal direct political contributions to groups such as Friends of Dick Durbin; the statute of limitations has expired for Wyss’s direct political contributions, but they remain in the FEC database: Federal Election Commission, “Individual Contributions: Wyss, Hanjorg,” https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Wyss%2C+Hansjoerg&contributor_name=Wyss%2C+Hansjorg.

[10] ProPublica, “Tides Foundation,” https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/510198509. For more on Tides, see InfluenceWatch, “Tides Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/tides-foundation/.

[11] ProPublica, “The David Rockefeller Fund Inc,” https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/133533359.

[12] InfluenceWatch, “David Rockefeller Fund,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/david-rockefeller-fund/.

[13] National Ski Areas Association, Climate Change Annual Report 2023, http://nsaa.org/webdocs/sustainability/CC%20Annual%20Reports/CCAR2023.pdf.

[14] InfluenceWatch, “We Are Still In,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/we-are-still-in/.

[15] InfluenceWatch, “Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL),” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/citizens-climate-lobby/.

[16] Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, “ORR Applauds Administration’s $2.8 Billion Investment in Public Lands Infrastructure and Access,”

April 8, 2022, https://recreationroundtable.org/news/orr-applauds-administrations-2-8-billion-investment-in-public-lands-infrastructure-and-access/

[17] U.S. Department of the Interior, “President Biden’s Budget Invests $2.8 Billion to Support Outdoor Recreation Economies, Access to Public Lands,” April 8, 2022, https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/president-bidens-budget-invests-28-billion-support-outdoor-recreation-economies-access.

[18] Office of Sheldon Whitehouse, search string “sierra club,” https://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/?s=%22sierra+club%22.

[19] Dayton Martindale, “The Carbon Footprint of Air Travel and How to Live a More Grounded Life,” Sierra, June 15, 2023, https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2023-2-summer/feature/carbon-footprint-air-travel-and-how-live-more-grounded-life.

[20] Stay Grounded, website, https://stay-grounded.org/.

[21] Flight Free USA, website, https://flightfree.org/flightfacts.

[22] See my testimony to this Committee last year: “The ESG movement, for example, funded with millions from billionaires like George Soros and millions from the Arabella network, is currently trying to have banks stop loans to any company related to fossil fuels, which would mean Americans couldn’t buy gas for their cars and trucks.” Scott Walter, “Written Statement on ‘Dark Money’ in the Climate Debate,” testimony before the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, June 21, 2023, https://capitalresearch.org/article/written-statement-on-dark-money-in-the-climate-debate/. I gave the following citations to support those claims: “For example, Soros’s Open Society foundations have given seven-figures in donations to As You Sow, one of the most prominent ESG groups. Open Society Foundations, “Awarded Grants,” search “as you sow,” https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/past?filter_keyword=as+you+sow. For example, Arabella’s New Venture Fund has given almost $7.3 million to Ceres, a prominent ESG group, from 2017 to 2021. InfluenceWatch, “New Venture Fund (NVF): Grants from New Venture Fund,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/new-venture-fund/#grants-from-new-venture-fund. For more on Ceres, see Ken Braun, “Ceres Inc.: The ESG Old Guard,” Capital Research Center, September 12, 2022, https://capitalresearch.org/article/ceres-inc-the-esg-old-guard/. In 2022, 10 different banks had received proposals asking them to stop financing or underwriting such projects. See Brigid Rosati, Kilian Moote, Rajeev Kumar, Michael Maiolo, and Georgeson, ‘A Look Back at the 2022 Proxy Season,’ Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, February 14, 2023, https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2022/10/23/a-look-back-at-the-2022-proxy-season/.”

Scott Walter

Scott Walter is president of Capital Research Center. He served in the George W. Bush Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president at…
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