Businesses defend donations to anti-climate group

Environmentalists and members of non-governmental organizations hold banners during a protest to demand action to combat global warming as experts hold UN climate talks, on Dec. 3, 2011 in Durban.

Kai Ryssdal: On the better-than-even chance that you've never heard of the Heartland Institute based out of Chicago, it's a free market think tank that is opposed to environmental regulation. This week, somebody posing as a Heartland insider leaked a bunch of company documents.

Among other secrets, the paper trail listed Heartland's donors -- many of them well-known corporations. Corporations which are now on the environmental defensive. Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: A leaked fundraising plan lists Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, Comcast and AT&T among the Heartland Institute’s donors. The document says they funded the group’s technology and health care newsletters.

But Heartland is best known for its efforts to discredit climate science, says Joe Romm, a climate change activist with the Center for American Progress.

Joe Romm: If that’s their main mission, or a core mission, then, you know, I think people should think twice about supporting, you know, even ancillary work.

The Heartland Institute did not respond to Marketplace’s requests for information. On its website, the group said one of the documents was a total fake and that others may have been altered. But Heartland did apologize to its donors.

Curt Weeden consults companies on corporate philanthropy. He says the connection with Heartland could come back to bite those donors.

Curt Weeden: It’s a lesson learned. In the future, the implications of any commitment that’s made by a corporation to a nonprofit organization has to be thought through thoroughly.

Some companies tried to distance themselves from Heartland’s controversial work today. In an email, GlaxoSmithKline said, “We absolutely do not endorse or support their views on the environment or climate change.” Microsoft said its nearly $60,000 gift is the retail value of donated software. The free software program is open to any nonprofit. A spokesman said hundreds of environmental groups have received the same deal.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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