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Policy: Environment & Energy

CitizenAudit exposes the funding behind Big Green's Colorado 'netwar'

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Ron Arnold,Columnists,Colorado,Climate Change,IRS,Analysis,Energy and Environment,Fracking

Second of two parts. See Part One here.

Another salvo was fired last week in the Great Colorado Fracking Netwar.

It was a TV buy of anti-fracking attack ads by a phantom “engagement center” unknown to the Internal Revenue Service, led by a political flack and funded by an obscure philanthropy strategist, all based in Washington, D.C.

For the naive who may still believe that Colorado’s anti-hydraulic fracturing turmoil is a local fight by Frack-Free Colorado and friends, let me tell you about netwar.

That's a new word coined to describe a new kind of conflict, coined and developed by RAND researchers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt.

You can’t expect the attackers to know the word or technology of netwar, so don’t be surprised by their denials — to them, it’s just what they do. Google can explain things to them.

Netwar is a form of low-intensity conflict waged by ideological activist groups and socio-political movements that employ decentralized, flexible network structures.

The networks in netwar consist of like-minded individuals and groups linked by communication and cooperation, each with its own methods and leaders, but networks have no single leader or set of leaders.

That’s a little general and a lot highfalutin. Just to be perfectly clear, Netwar is a battle strategy used by Big Green environmental activists to destroy the fossil fuel industry for the sake of climate change.

I selected one particular phantom engagement center not just for its timeliness, but also because it is a suitable example to illustrate a new information tool that strips away the secrecy that veils the nonprofit tax-exempt money funnels that finance netwar in Colorado and a lot of other places, as well.

It is a gigantic database of IRS Form 990 annual reports of all federally registered exempt organizations (and not just Big Green, as the NFL's foundation is included, too).

The database makes those 990s easily searchable and connectable for the first time ever using optical character recognition software. It's called CitizenAudit and the guy behind it is my Washington Examiner colleague Luke Rosiak.

The phantom engagement center we will track first has a name, a website and social media pages, but no address, phone or IRS tax-status recognition: It’s the Center for Western Priorities.

The CWP's executive director is a former Senate staffer and campaign communication director, Trevor Kincaid. Its fiscal sponsor is the New Venture Fund (2011 revenue $36.5 million), whose president is philanthropy strategist Eric Kessler.

The NVF provides fiscal sponsorship for new project ideas inspired by philanthropists and foundations. Kessler also gives millions to stop Canada’s oil sands production, and is the founder and managing director of Arabella Advisors, a strategic management firm for nonprofits.

To explore all that, go online to the CitizenAudit page and enter “New Venture Fund” in the Search box — “Center for Western Priorities” won’t give you anything because it is a project of NVF with no independent existence (yes, that’s legal — sneaky, but legal).

Be sure to use quotation marks before and after your search term or you’ll be inundated with everything in the IRS files containing any of the words you use.

The results section appears and shows you links to New Venture Fund information by year, name, place, assets, contact and purpose.

Click the item you want to examine and CitizenAudit will take you to a new section where you can view or download actual Form 990s in PDF format, which will show you everyone NVF gave grants to that year.

More remarkable, back under the results section that we saw first, is “Matches found inside text of PDF.” There you will find the list of NVF’s own donors, with dollar amounts and purposes.

You can click on any donor name and get their Form 990s, too. For those besieged by the Big Green netwar or any other movement's netwar, this can be a formidable tool.

Now, go back to Colorado’s netwar attack groups and enter their names one by one into CitizenAudit. Just looking at income only for the most recent year, you’ll find:

– Food and Water Watch: $11.5 million

– Clean Water Action: $9.3 million

– Sustainable Markets Foundation, which sponsors Water Defense: $4.1 million

– WildEarth Guardians: $1.9 million

– Earthworks: $1.7 million

– Environment Colorado: $1.6 million

– EcoFlight: $514,647

The database is a network for netwar that expands indefinitely. CitizenAudit can find it all.

These netwar groups have resorted to exploitation, deceit and outright lies for their ideology, self-satisfied that they fight not for selfish ends, but for a worthy cause.

Unfortunately, what they cannot -- or will not -- see is that their cause is itself a selfish end.

Ron Arnold, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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