“Charitable” Fraser Institute accepted $500k in foreign funding from Koch oil billionaires

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Alexis Stoymenoff
Billionaire oil barons David and Charles Koch contributed richly to “charitable” Canadian right-wing Fraser Institute

As the Conservative assault continues against Canadian environmental charities, The Vancouver Observer has learned that since 2007, foreign oil billionaires the Koch brothers have donated over half a million dollars to the “charitable” right-wing Fraser Institute.

According to U.S. tax documents, the Fraser Institute received $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation in 2008, $175,500 in 2009, and another $150,000 in 2010. The grants were purportedly for “research support” and “educational programs”.

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Prior to 2008, the Institute received another $25,000 in funding from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, which is under the umbrella of Koch Family Foundations.

It has long been known that the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers have been donors for the conservative policy think-tank—though this information is not listed the Institute’s Annual Reports—however, the extent of their funding in the past few years demonstrates the foundation’s more recent influence in Canadian politics.

Grants to the Fraser Institute are also among the highest amounts listed in the Koch Foundation’s tax records; apart from a few substantial grants to American universities, most of the other donations were under $10,000.

Charitable foundation conducting “intensely” political activity

The Fraser Institute, described by rabble.ca as “Canada’s most intensely political organization”, is a registered non-profit focused on economic and public policy research. The group’s work is often seen as controversial (which they boast about on the website), and is generally in support of conservative, small-government, free-market values.

While the federal government and pro-oil lobbyists have taken aim at environmental charities for allegedly violating the Canadian Revenue Agency’s legal limits for “political activity”, the Fraser Institute and its charitable status remain unquestioned. And as the Koch Foundation’s tax data shows, they’ve received a significant amount of “foreign funding” to help influence Canadian policy—which is precisely what environmental groups have been accused of doing.

The Fraser Institute claims to be “non-partisan and non-political”, and denies that it undertakes lobbying activities. However, critics cite examples of its blatantly political endeavors—like publicly calling on the government to change election spending laws, or pushing provinces to adopt “right-to-work” legislation.

Like other Koch-funded initiatives claiming that climate change fears are vastly overstated, the Institute has published a number of reports and commentaries about policy reactions to climate “alarmism”. The organization also received $120,000 from oil giant ExxonMobil in 2003, to help fund what they called “climate research”, according to Vancouver Sun reports from 2006.

Engineers of the Tea Party have interests in Canadian politics – and oil fields

As rulers of the oil and gas-based Koch Industries empire, Charles and David Koch have poured hundreds of millions of charitable dollars into lobby groups, advocacy organizations, educational institutes and conservative campaigns across North America. They have also been linked to extensive climate denial efforts in the U.S., and are often called the “financial engine” behind the Tea Party movement.

In addition, the Koch brothers have been said to have “substantial interests” in the Canadian oil sands and the building of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Though the two businessmen repeatedly claimed to have no connection to the proposed pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, Koch subsidiary Flint Hills Resources Canada was involved in the Canadian regulatory review process for Keystone as an intervenor.

In a submission to the National Energy Board, Flint Hills explained that it “is among Canada’s largest crude oil purchasers, shippers and exporters. Consequently, Flint Hills has a direct and substantial interest in the [Keystone XL] application”.

According to environmental news site InsideClimateNews, Koch Industries’ Calgary-based Flint Hills operation supplies about 250,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day to a Koch-owned refinery in Minnesota. Flint Hills also reportedly operates a crude oil terminal in Hardisty, Alberta, the starting point of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“Koch Industries is already responsible for close to 25 percent of the oil sands crude that is imported into the United States, and is well-positioned to benefit from increasing Canadian oil imports,” reads a 2011 InsideClimateNews article.

A tangled web

The Koch Brothers’ ties to Canadian politics and industry don’t end at the oil sands. In fact, there are a number of interesting connections between the Koch foundations, the Fraser Institute, the Harper government, and Canadian pro-oil lobby group Ethical Oil.

For instance, Sun TV host Ezra Levant (author of Ethical Oil) completed an internship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation in 1994, before heading to work at the Fraser Institute in 1995. Kathryn Marshall, Ethical Oil’s former spokesperson, worked at the Fraser Institute as well. And Reform Party founder Preston Manning, also founder of the conservative Manning Centre for Building Democracy, is currently a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.

With files from David P. Ball.