One tactic liberals love to use in dealing with conservative or libertarian ideas is not to respond to an argument, but to say that you are advocating a position solely because you’d been paid off by some insidious entity. Offer some skeptical views about the notion that the world will inevitably be ruined by climate change, and well, obviously you’re the tool of energy companies, aren’t you?

George Zornick makes this claim in a blog entry for the Washington Post, “Climate denialists are aggressive and particularly well-funded,” Zornick charges. “Climate denialism is wrong, and it is largely funded by CEOs trying to protect profits.”

Curiously, Zornick says nothing about himself, so I had to Google him to discover that he is primarily a blogger for The Nation, which Henry Luce famously and accurately referred to as “a pulp-paper pinko weekly.” The Washington Post did not disclose Zornick’s connections, presumably because they assume that its few remaining readers are intimately familiar with The Nation’s staff.

(And I’d complain to the Washington Post’s ombudsman, except, oh, yeah, the Post fired their ombudsman as a cost-cutting measure.)

Zornick knows how to toe the liberal line when he refers to climate-change skeptics as “climate-change deniers.” This phrase is deliberately used to make people critical of environmentalist dogma seem as nutty as Holocaust deniers. But no such comparison can  or should be made, because Holocaust deniers try to explain away the historical fact that six million Jews died in World War II, while climate-change skeptics question forecasts about events that may or may not take place decades in the future. As former Australian Prime Minister John Howard forcefully noted in a speech before Britain’s Global Warming Policy Foundation on November 7, the phrase “global warming denier” is “increasingly offensive language…We are all aware of the meaning that word has acquired in contemporary parlance. It has been employed in this debate with some malice aforethought.”

According to Zornick, “climate-denial (sic) money has largely been driven underground to dark-money sources.” How does Zornick know this? Has he penetrated the secret lair where, after luxuriating in steaks, stogies, and cognac, the petroleum paymasters reward patient supplicants with a few precious dribbles of black gold?

No, Zornick is quoting a study by Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist. Brulle claims that there are 91 organizations in the “climate change counter-movement” which have an annual income of $600 million. He arrives at this substantial sum by counting the entire budgets of any organization that in some way dealt with critiques of climate change. Thus think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which probably have fewer than five percent of their staff dealing with environmental issues, are counted as every fellow did nothing but bash environmentalists. In addition, the entire grantmaking of foundations that give to free-market think tanks is counted.

Let me offer a personal example. The Bradley Foundation funded both the first and second editions of my book Great Philanthropic Mistakes. According to Brulle, all of the money spent on writing, editing, and promoting my book counts as part of the “climate change counter movement, “even though my book has nothing to do with environmental issues.

All that Brulle can show is general trends in funding to right-wing organizations. And here his primary finding is that in the first decade of this century, funding by ExxonMobil and Koch-affiliated foundations have gone down and funding by Donors Trust has gone up. Coincidence…or conspiracy?

I’ve had no dealings with the Kochs except as a journalist. One would hope they would be allowed to change their minds about which projects they want to back.

As for Donors Trust, I have received money from them three times. I have also known Whitney Ball for over 20 years. She is my friend and not my commanding officer. In my view, one reason why Donors Trust has grown as dramatically as it has is that this fund actually spends money on causes for which its donors prefer. There is no problem of donor intent at Donors Trust—which is one reason why the fund is steadily increasing market share.

Moreover, if you look at Donors Trust closely (which Brulle does not do) you will find it to be quite heterogeneous. Although most of its grants are to conservative and libertarian groups, some are to non-political charities. Moreover, the reasons why donors choose to remain anonymous are varied. Some may still believe the archaic notion that the gift matters more than the giver. Observant Jews believe the highest form of giving is anonymous poverty-fighting. Would Brulle deny devout Jews and Christians the opportunity to give according to the deepest principles of their faith?

Search the nonprofit world for entities like Donors Trust and you’ll find the Tides Foundation, which, like Donors Trust, is a donor-advised fund with many anonymous donors. As my colleague Scott Walter noted in a 2011 profile of Tides for the Capital Research Center publication Foundation Watch, “Pike’s concept of the concept of the donor-advised fund is supposed to have originated when a New Mexico couple asked him to help them make anonymous grants to several environmental groups.”

Any crusade to restrict or curtail donor-advised funds would have as much effect on the Tides Foundation and Tides Center as it would on Donors Trust. And should Brulle and Zornick’s crusade against “dark money” have any effect on Tides, I suspect they might be invited to Alberta for a time-honored ceremony involving a bubbling pot of bitumen and quite a lot of feathers. They will not enjoy themselves.

Foundations and donor-advised funds deserve careful scrutiny by serious journalists and responsible scholars. But given the sloppiness of Brulle’s paper, I am amazed it passed peer review.

 (Note: I am working on a book on the environment for the Heartland Institute.)