The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has tried every trick in the book to wrongly defend ExxonMobil against allegations that the company intentionally misled shareholders and the public about the science of climate change. Now one member of the editorial board is pushing yet another defense of Exxon so riddled with errors that it completely falls apart upon a basic review of the facts.
In a June 16 column, the Journal’s Kimberley Strassel alleged that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent subpoena of ExxonMobil shows that the attorneys general investigating Exxon aren’t really concerned with whether the company’s climate science denial constitutes fraud. Rather, Strassel declared, “The real target is a broad array of conservative activist groups that are highly effective at mobilizing the grass-roots and countering liberal talking points.”
As supposed proof, Strassel pointed to Healey’s request for Exxon’s communications with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Strassel asserted that Healey targeted ALEC because it is “one of the most powerful forces in the country for free-market legislation,” an argument she based on the false premise that “ALEC doesn’t now, and hasn’t ever, taken a position on the climate.”
The truth is that ALEC has crafted model legislation that misrepresents the science of climate change and hosted prominent climate science deniers at its conferences, and ALEC officials – including CEO Lisa Nelson – have refused to acknowledge or outright denied the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels and other human activities are causing climate change. ALEC, a corporate front group that connects fossil fuel industry executives with legislators to serve industry interests, has also pushed model bills that would mandate teaching climate science denial in public schools. So it’s not hard to understand why Healey would want to know whether Exxon and ALEC have teamed up to undermine climate science.
Strassel similarly claimed that Healey targeted the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) because “its 2.3 million activists nationwide are highly effective in elections.” This must be true, Strassel argued, because “AFP confirms it has never received a dime from Exxon.”
However, as Climate Hawks explained in response to a Daily Caller article that made the same claim, “Americans for Prosperity's predecessor Citizens for A Sound Economy got hundreds of thousands from ExxonMobil,” meaning that “the group in question simply went by another name when it was funded by ExxonMobil.”
Moreover, it remains an open question whether Exxon is continuing to funnel money to AFP via DonorsTrust and the Donors Capital Fund, dark money groups largely backed by the Koch brothers. In October, InsideClimate News reported that a group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to Exxon “questioning Exxon's contributions to Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, which provide a conduit between well-heeled contributors and various conservative public policy organizations, including many at the forefront of climate science denial.” InsideClimate News further noted that the senators cited research from Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who provided evidence that Exxon may have engaged in an effort to “simply reroute its support” of climate denial organizations:
Brulle is a leading sociologist who has been published extensively in the peer-reviewed literature on the climate denial movement.
In material supplementing one of his studies, Brulle documented Exxon donations directly to climate denial groups such as the Heartland Institute, up until about 2008. At about the time Exxon scaled back its giving to those groups, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund stepped up their donations to them.
Americans for Prosperity “frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation has received approximately $23 million in combined contributions from Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund since 2008.