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Is Putin’s Russia Funding the Religious Left’s War on Fossil Fuels?

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For all of their wailing and gnashing of teeth about transparency, some in the American progressive movement certainly turn a blind eye toward the funding of their own pet causes. Last week, The Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay reported that millions of dollars from unknown sources have been passed through a company in Bermuda and transferred to American nonprofits who oppose hydraulic fracturing and, it seems, any industry involved with fossil fuels. Among these nonprofits are several established groups of religious shareholder activists.

Markay quotes a Senate Minority Staff report released last summer by the U.S. Committee on Environment and Public Works (CEPW):

This report articulates several possible reasons for the convoluted and secretive structure of the far-left environmental movement; yet, at the end of the day, we are still asking – why? Why [are billionaires and millionaires] going to such extreme lengths to hide their generous support of supposed charitable causes?

The CEPW report asserts:

In reality, an elite group of left wing millionaires and billionaires, which this report refers to as the ‘Billionaire’s [sic] Club,’ who directs and controls the far-left environmental movement, which in turn controls major policy decisions and lobbies on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)….

The failure to openly acknowledge this force and the silence of the media with whom they coordinate further emphasize the fact that until today, the Billionaire’s Club operated in relative obscurity hidden under the guise of ‘philanthropy.’ The scheme to keep their efforts hidden and far removed from the political stage is deliberate, meticulous, and intended to mislead the public. While it is uncertain why they operate in the shadows and what they are hiding, what is clear is that these individuals and foundations go to tremendous lengths to avoid public association with the far-left environmental movement they so generously fund.

The report identifies the Bermuda-based Wakefield Quin law firm as a conduit between Russian kleptocrats and U.S.-based charities intent on hobbling the American energy sector, including shareholder activism by religious groups. According to the report, Nicholas Hoskins is current senior counsel at Wakefield Quin and is affiliated with Marcuard Holdings Ltd, which includes investment firm Spectrum Partners Ltd., holding company Spectrum Partners Ltd., Marcuard-Spectrum, which all operate from WQ’s Bermuda office.

The Environmental Policy Alliance, a Washington-based group that researches funding and agendas of environmental activist groups, reports that “one of the founders of Marcuard is also the chair of Russian-owned giant Rosneft.” Not only is Rosneft a “giant,” it also is the world’s largest oil company. Rosneft, readers will recall, benefited greatly from the Russian government’s auctioning of the privately owned Yukos oil company after Yukos’ billionaire owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested and placed in a Russian prison for 10 years. The chairman of Rosneft’s audit committee is Hans Jorg Rudloff, the aforementioned founder of Marcuard who also serves as its director and president. Additionally, Marcuard’s website lists Hoskins as a director and vice president.

Hoskins, writes Markay, is a hedge fund executive with “deep ties to Russian oil interests and offshore money laundering schemes involving members of President Vladmir Putin’s inner circle.” Hoskins and fellow WQ director Roderick Forrest also served as directors at the IPOC Group, which is owned by Putin friend and Russian minister of telecommunications Leonid Reiman. IPOC was convicted in the British Virgin Islands in 2008 for money laundering, resulting in the confiscation of $45 million. It should be noted Forrest also is a director of Spectrum Partners and serves as a corporate attorney at WQ.

Confused? There’s more: Hoskins is a director for Klein Ltd., a company with an unknown source of wealth that disbursed $23 million over two years to a U.S. nonprofit with a distinctly far-left environmental agenda. According to the CEPW:

Klein Ltd., a foreign corporation, has risen to prominence in the far-left environmental community – doling out tens of millions to favored charities via Sea Change Foundation. In fact, none of this foreign corporation’s funding is disclosed in any way. This is clearly a deceitful way to hide the source of millions of dollars that are active in our system, attempting to effect political change.

The San Francisco-based Sea Change Foundation, which is operated by the husband-and-wife team of Nathaniel Simons and Laura Baxter-Simons, is the sole recipient of the $23 million grant from Klein Ltd. CEPW reports that “Sea Change funnels tens of millions of dollars to other large but discreet foundations and prominent environmental activists who strive to control both policy and politics.”

Markay uses Sea Change’s Internal Revenue Documents to note that 40 percent of the $45 million to $55 million Sea Change grants annually to groups opposed to fracking and combating climate change derive from the Klein monies. The remaining 60 percent of Sea Change monies are donated directly by the Simons:

Nathaniel Simons and his wife run the foundation and are, except for Klein Ltd., its only donors. Simons, a hedge fund millionaire who commutes to work across San Francisco Bay aboard a 50-foot yacht, also runs a venture capital firm that invests in companies that benefit from environmental and energy policies that Sea Change grantees promote.

Simons himself has ties to Klein Ltd. Several Wakefield Quin attorneys are listed as directors of hedge funds that his firm manages, and in which Sea Change has assets.

Notably, Simon also has a considerable interest in such green technologies as wind and solar, two industries significantly impacted negatively by fracking and concomitant low natural gas and oil prices. The CEPW reports:

Nat also serves as CEO of Elan Management where he manages the early stages of clean tech companies with a focus on solar and wind energy sources. Similar to Sea Change, Elan is based in San Francisco. Elan also created Prelude Ventures in 2009, an investment firm dedicated to clean energies. Tim Woodward, Managing Director of Prelude Ventures, has made comments revealing Elan’s agenda: “we still believe that advancements in renewable from solar to wind will be important opportunities … Unfortunately, energy is still a very inexpensive resource in North America, and that can make it difficult for many customers to pay much attention.” … Only an affiliate of the Billionaire’s Club invested in renewable technologies would express disappointment in low energy prices….

Sea Change’s IRS Form 990 also shows that in addition to funding by the Simons, the only other source of its contribution derives from a Bermuda-based company called Klein Ltd. It appears that Klein exists on paper only, as it does not have an internet presence, and was set up for the sole purpose of funneling anonymous donations to Sea Change. In 2010, Klein contributed $13 million to Sea Change, amounting to 49% of all contributions to Sea Change that year, and in 2011 Klein contributed $10 million to Sea Change, amounting to 33% of all contributions to Sea Change. Bermuda offer [sic] Klein government anonymity for the sources of their donations. As a practical matter, an overseas company contributing tens of millions to organizations dedicated to abolishing the use of affordable fossil fuels is highly problematic. This is only compounded by the fact it is deliberately and completely lacking in transparency. However, it is likely this lack of transparency shields Klein Ltd. from any responsibility to the American businesses and families it hurts.

Scrolling through the list of Sea Change grant recipients, one can see several large grants appropriated to groups thus identified in the CEPW reports: “Many far-left environmental foundations and groups have pledged to divest in fossil fuels and invest in renewable projects as well as ‘philanthropy.’”

According to CEPW, this untraced money finds itself channeled in 2011 and 2012 to such leftist nonprofits as:

  • League of Conservation Voters ($10,700,000)
  • Natural Resources Defense Council ($4,187,500)
  • Center for American Progress ($2,500,000)
  • Sierra Club ($6,950,000)
  • The Energy Foundation ($27,850,000)
  • The Environmental Defense Fund ($1,162,500)
  • World Wildlife Fund ($4,500,000)
  • National Wildlife Foundation ($3,400,000)

Farther down this list is Ceres, a Boston-based advocacy nonprofit that houses the Investor Network on Climate Risk:

INCR’s mission is to mobilize investor leaders to address climate and other key sustainability risks, while building low-carbon investment opportunities. Over the past 10 years, this handful of investors has grown to more than 100 members managing over $11 trillion in total assets. INCR now includes the largest institutional investors in North America as well as leading religious and labor funds, asset managers and socially responsible investment funds.

Ceres comingles donations from Sea Change with dues collected from Ceres’ members, which includes several ostensibly religious groups engaged in shareholder activism. From Cere’s website:

Ceres tracks shareholder resolutions filed by our investor network participants on sustainability-related issues that companies are facing, focusing on climate change, energy, water scarcity, and sustainability reporting. These resolutions are part of broader investor efforts encouraging companies to address the full range of environmental, social and governance issues. The resolutions are filed by some of the nation’s largest public pension funds, foundations, and religious, labor and socially responsible investors.

Ceres’ members submit proxy resolutions to U.S. energy companies to strand fossil-fuel assets in the ground, invest in costly renewable energy or curtail their emissions (sometimes all of the above) thereby furthering the bidding of Sea Change and its anonymous donor(s). Ceres’ website lists 586 climate-change related resolutions filed by INCR members in 2014 and thus far already filed for 2015.

Ceres’ 2013 IRS Form 990 form describes recent activities of the nonprofit and its coalition of likeminded nonprofits: “In 2013, Ceres extended its focus to the water impacts of hydraulic fracturing and issued a report entitled ‘Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water.”

INCR Working Groups offer investors the opportunity to engage with their peers to share updates on key research, develop strategies, share best practices and advance ESG issues on a variety fronts, from corporate disclosure and performance to sustainable policy and regulations. Working groups meet monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly via phone or web meeting and are supported by INCR staff.

Coalition and INCR annual dues accounted for nearly $2 million of Ceres’ $8.8 million total revenues and other support in 2013. The latest available financials for Sea Change indicate it donated $1.3 million to Ceres in 2012.

The following “religious” groups pay annual dues to Ceres:

  • As You Sow
  • Arjuna Capital
  • Boston Common Asset Management, LLC
  • Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc.
  • Domini Social Investments LLC
  • Friends Fiduciary Corporation
  • Green Century Capital Management
  • The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
  • Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Sisters of St. Dominic (Caldwell, NJ)
  • The Church Pension Fund
  • The Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • The Needmor Fund
  • Trillium Asset Management
  • Trustees of Donations to the Protestant Episcopal Church
  • Unitarian Universality Association of Congregations
  • United Church of Christ – Pension Boards
  • United Methodist Church General Board of Pension and Health Benefits
  • Veris Wealth Partners
  • Walden Asset Management

The above list, I suspect, is only the tip of the iceberg. Ironically – or perhaps hypocritically – many of the above groups also submit proxy resolutions demanding more transparency from companies regarding spending for political campaigns as well as lobbying and model legislation efforts.

Markay again:

‘The American public deserves to know whether environmentalists are attacking US energy companies at the behest of a Russian government that would like nothing more than to see their international competition weakened,’ Will Coggin, a senior research analyst at the EPA [Environmental Policy Alliance], said in an emailed statement.

Whether or not the undisclosed funds allocated by Sea Change derive from Russian sources, it’s clear the kleptocracy would benefit from the political work of climate-change activists in the United States. It’s also clear that Nathaniel Simon’s renewable-energy business interests would receive a substantial boost if the price of fossil-fuel products skyrocketed. Both theories warrant more investigation if, for nothing else, discerning whether Ceres and its religious shareholder activists are unwitting dupes or willful accessories to the “activism” of WQ, Klein Ltd., and Sea Change.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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