The Koch Brothers, the IRS, and Tax-deductible Climate Denial

by Jesse Coleman

April 21, 2015

The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates with a banner reading "Koch Brothers: Dirty Money" flies over Rancho Mirage, California on January 28, 2011. The flight took place as oil billionaires David and Charles Koch convened their latest secret political strategy meeting. The aerial message to arriving attendees of the meeting highlighted the Koch BrothersÕ ongoing use of their vast oil profits to push a polluter agenda through campaign contributions, lobbying, and funding fronts groups and think tanks. Photo by Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace

©Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace

Why do the oil and gas billionaire Koch brothers get a tax break for funding climate change science denial? The IRS is finally investigating a Greenpeace complaint on the matter.

Earlier this year, the New York Timesexposed the secret relationships between a well known climate change denier and the fossil fuel industry. The Times revealed that Dr. Willie Soon had been paid over 1.6 million dollars to create scientifically dubious studies absolving the fossil fuel industry of any responsibility for climate change. His funders included ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, and Southern Company, a large coal-fired utility.

Dr. Soon is a rare and valuable tool for the fossil fuel industry because he is one of the very few climate deniers with an actual background in science. Billed as a regular academic who just happened to disagree with 97% of actual climate scientists, Soons work is omnipresent in Congress and state legislatures, and wherever there else there is a debate on climate change.

While Soon had long been known to be on the payroll of major polluters, new documents discovered through investigations by Greenpeace showed that Soons work to obscure the facts on climate change were promised as deliverables to his corporate funders.

The documents also revealed a potential bombshell the tax exempt charity Charles G Koch Foundation was paying for Dr. Soons lobbying against renewable energy and climate change solutions. This means that the Kochs, heirs to an oil and gas fortune that tops $80 billion, could write the funding of Willie Soon off on their taxes. This potentially violates an IRS rule that prohibits tax-exempt organizations like the Charles G Koch Foundation from attempting to influence legislation.

Willie Soon cartoon Tom Avila

Willie Soon

Last week, the IRS responded to a letter from Greenpeace that pointed out this potentially illegal lobbying by the Koch brothers. The IRS letter declined to confirm whether the agency would take action on our complaint, but the letter did encourage Greenpeace to submit additional information to the IRS Dallas office. An IRS staff member also told confirmed they were reviewing the complaint.

The complaint, sent in February, is based on documents obtained from a Greenpeace records request, which contained details of Soons interactions with the Koch brothers. These included evidence that Soon received $230,000 in funding from the Charles G Koch Foundation to create papers that question the existence of climate change.

In his proposals to the Kochs, Soon claimed his work to obscure the cause and existence of climate change would be used for informing public policy, a euphemism for lobbying.

True to his word, Soon used his Koch-funded papers denying climate change while testifying in Kansas against renewable energy legislation. Soon showed slides of his Koch funded research to Kansas legislators in an attempt to get them to vote down renewable energy standards.

Soons research was also used in Congressional testimony to question the belief that greenhouse gases are the dominant cause of observed climate change. Soon quickly sent a letter bragging about this Congressional testimony to the Charles G Koch Foundation. The letter, which asked for a funding extension, touted the testimony as progress towards the Charles Koch Foundations project. In the Congressional testimony based on Soons research, there is no mention of Koch or any fossil funding.

Interestingly, The Charles G Koch Foundation knew that funding Dr. Soons work was a legally risky move. In letters to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Dr. Soons employer, the Koch Foundation was very careful to stress that the koch grant will not be used to influence legislation. The Koch brothers have contributed 79 million dollars to climate change science denial organizations since 1997.

The Charles G Koch Foundation is named for the co-owner and chief executive of Koch Industries. Charles Koch and his brother David, known as the Koch brothers, have used their vast fortunes ($40 billion a piece) to gain huge and disproportionate political influence in the US. The Kochs, through their network of front groups, have pledged to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on the upcoming presidential election.

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