Foundation Watch

The Left’s Green Giant: Meet the Oak Foundation


The Left’s Green Giant (full series)
Meet the Oak Foundation | Litigating Climate Change | Climate Meddling as an International Pastime

Summary: Many left-wing foundations in the U.S. support overtly political causes in the name of “philanthropy,” spending tens of millions of dollars each year pushing an environmentalist agenda. But one of these “green” mega-funders shells out its millions from the seclusion of its headquarters in Switzerland—far beyond the reach of IRS disclosure rules. Meet the Oak Foundation, the Left’s “green giant.”

One of the Left’s greatest accomplishments is turning support for an overtly political issue—global warming—into philanthropy. Dozens of massive foundations pour hundreds of millions of dollars each year into “climate resilience” and “climate justice” causes in America.

But one funder, the mysterious Oak Foundation, does so with little to no American oversight. Ensconced in the alpine city of Geneva, Switzerland, this mega-funder quietly spends its millions on activist groups which push climate change policies in the developing world and encourage cities to sue the oil and gas industry over supposed global warming-related damages. And unlike American foundations, which are required to disclose their spending, much of Oak’s funding enjoys virtual anonymity in the United States.

A Swiss Green Giant?

So what is the Oak Foundation? The group is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Bulgaria, India, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. The original, Europe-based foundation was created in 1983; its smaller U.S. affiliate was created around 1999 (though records are unclear).

Identifying founding records on the Geneva Oak Foundation itself is more difficult than might be expected. A search of Swiss corporate records reveals no entities registered in the country under the names “Oak Foundation” or “Oak Philanthropy” (the name supplied by the group’s 2017 annual report). An archived page posted by the Oak Foundation states “Oak Philanthropy Limited” as being incorporated in Jersey, a British-owned part of the Channel Islands located off the French coast near Normandy.

The foundation’s 2018 annual report claims that Oak Philanthropy Limited is wholly owned by Oak Holdings Limited, but there’s another Jersey entity that was formed on September 1, 1997, and registered to the same address in Jersey as Oak Philanthropy Limited.

Oak Holdings Limited’s 2018 annual report provides some additional insight, noting that Oak Holdings Limited is co-owned by RBC Trust Company Jersey Limited, an incorporation and offshore services entity affiliated with the Royal Bank of Canada Wealth Management, and Oak Fiduciary Services Limited. The purpose of this indirect ownership is unclear and made all the more confusing because the Oak Foundation in Switzerland isn’t bound to follow IRS disclosure and filing rules.

The foundation’s latest annual report reports that Oak made more than $350 million in grants in 2018 alone to groups in 36 countries covering a number of issue areas, most notably humanitarian causes (like preventing child sex abuse), the environment, and what it calls “special interest” projects—a catch-all term covering genuine charities as well as social justice activists.

According to the online service FoundationSearch, Oak’s American arm—the San Francisco-based Oak Foundation USA—paid out $430 million in grants between 1999 and 2016. These grants run the gamut of issue areas with a particular emphasis on environmentalist and social justice causes.

For example, since 2003 Oak has given Oceana $16.9 million, ClimateWorks Foundation $4 million, Climatecare Foundation USA $3.1 million, New Venture Fund $2.7 million, the Natural Resources Defense Council $2.5 million, the Energy Foundation $2.2 million, and 350.org $1 million. In October 2016, Oak also announced a $20 million grant to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, an environmental project of the left-wing fiscal sponsor group New Venture Fund.

Social justice-oriented groups funded by the Oak Foundation USA include the Robin Hood Foundation ($9.6 million), Human Rights Watch ($9 million), the Fund for Global Human Rights ($4.6 million), New Profit ($3 million), the Center for Constitutional Rights ($2.4 million), the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants ($1.6 million), and the Tides Foundation ($1.1 million).

The Oak Foundation’s “special interest” category of grants covers a wide range of issue areas, many of which are genuinely charitable; others are less so.

One Oak Foundation grant recipient is El Pueblo, Inc., a North Carolina-based Latino voter mobilization and registration organization that agitates against increased enforcement of illegal immigration laws. In 2018, Oak granted $4 million to Human Rights Watch to “counter the anti-rights populist surge” in the U.S. (presumably among conservatives).

One of the Oak Foundation’s areas of focus is funding climate change activism. The group has funded Greenpeace, the World Resources Institute, Environmental Law Institute, World Wildlife Fund, and other eco-activist groups to support the 2015 Paris Climate Accords and push global warming policies.

In 2018, the group gave $1 million to Oil Change International “to align the global energy transition with the goals set in the historic Paris [Climate Accord] by ending public funding of fossil fuels.” The Oak Foundation also directed a $3 million grant to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to promote “climate mitigation efforts.”

In 2018, Oak gave $1 million to ClimateWorks Foundation “to support the greening of the Belt and Road Initiative,” a global trade infrastructure project pushed by Chinese President Xi Jinping to link the communist country with the rest of Eurasia. Another Oak grant to the Brazil-based Instituto Clima e Sociedade is meant to “strengthen Brazilian civil society . . . by supporting the Brazilian Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the next installment of The Left’s Green Giant, learn how the Oak Foundation helping left-wing governments sue energy companies.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is an Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is a native of Orange County, California, and a graduate of Sonoma State University.
+ More by Hayden Ludwig

Kevin Mooney

Kevin Mooney, a frequent CRC contributor, is an investigative reporter for The Daily Signal.
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