Art Pope turns up in climate disinformation exposé

Documents obtained from a think tank at the center of the climate disinformation campaign confirm the important role played in financing that campaign by leading conservative North Carolina benefactor and discount-retail magnate Art Pope.

This week the website DeSmogBlog posted internal documents obtained from the Heartland Institute, a conservative Chicago-based think tank that has been deeply involved in efforts to discredit climate science. The leak occurred after Heartland emailed the documents to an outside party.

Among the revelations is that Heartland is planning to promote a K-12 school curriculum to cast doubt on the scientific understanding that fossil-fuel emissions are warming the planet. In addition, the documents raise questions about whether Heartland has engaged in partisan political activity, which is prohibited by law for nonprofits, the New York Times reports. For example, the documents describe a plan to spend over $600,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections in Wisconsin.

The documents also reveal that Heartland is gearing up for a big fundraising year, projecting it will raise a total of $7.7 million -- a 70 percent increase over 2011.

Among the major donors it's depending on to meet its financial goals? Pope's family foundation.

Heartland's 2012 fundraising plan includes a table of anticipated contributions by donors who've previously given $10,000 or more. Listed among the major corporations and foundations is the John William Pope Foundation, headed by Art Pope and named for his father, who founded the North Carolina-based Variety Wholesalers corporation where Pope serves as chair and CEO.

The Pope Foundation is listed as having given Heartland $25,000 in 2010 and $15,000 in 2011 -- with a projected 2012 gift of $15,000 for general operations. The Pope Foundation has given a total of $115,000 to the Heartland Institute, all of it since 2007, according to a Facing South analysis of tax records.

Pope's political network in North Carolina has partnered with Heartland in the past to spread disinformation about climate science. In September 2007, for example, the John Locke Foundation -- a conservative Raleigh think tank that was founded by Pope, gets most of its money from his foundation and has played a leading role in casting doubt on climate science in North Carolina -- hosted a conference call with Heartland that aimed to discredit the Center for Climate Strategies, a science-based nonprofit that works with states to reduce global-warming pollution. Among those who participated in the call was a lobbyist for Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company.

Soon after that call, Heartland and Locke jointly launched Climate Strategies Watch, a website focusing on the Center for Climate Strategies. The site's main page warned of the Center's funding by "wealthy liberals" and featured the image of a man looking through a magnifying glass at cockroaches emblazoned with the names of major foundations including Rockefeller, Heinz and Turner.

While scientists in general -- and climatologists in particular -- have reached a scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and is mainly due to human activity, Pope either remains ignorant of that fact or is intentionally trying to mislead people about it. During a radio debate last month with Facing South publisher Chris Kromm, for example, Pope wrongly claimed that "there is not a firm consensus" on the effect of increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. In fact, scientists agree that when CO2 and other heat-trapping emissions are released into the atmosphere, they act like a blanket to warm the planet.

Also on tap to provide funds to Heartland is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which is expected to increase its support for Heartland's climate efforts by 800 percent in 2012 to $200,000. The foundation is headed by billionaire Charles Koch of the Kansas-based Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate, who along with his brother David is a major funder of right-wing causes, including climate disinformation efforts.

Pope is a close associate of the Kochs as one of four national directors at Americans for Prosperity, the national corporate-interest advocacy group founded and funded by the Kochs. Pope has also attended secret political strategy meetings organized by the Kochs.