ALEC and Exxon: A Long Legacy of Climate Backlash

In this piece we examine the long history of attacks on climate and renewable energy policy at the state level and specifically examine Exxon’s ongoing financial ties to ALEC and the return on that investment.

ExxonMobil Foundation reports annually to the IRS and publishes a Worldwide Giving Report for shareholders and other observers, as a means to show their philanthropy. With these reports, we have a unique window into corporate funding of ALEC, with line item descriptions for the grants sent to ALEC year by year.

We don’t have that for any other corporate donor to ALEC, as far as we know.

We found that one quarter of the traceable grants that Exxon has made to ALEC over the years were labeled with climate deliverables.

We have heard a lot of news recently about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), via The Guardian and other investigative reporting. We know much more than we did 10 or 15 years ago when they happily operated in the shadows, pushing legislation at the state level to either promote or attack federal policy.  We do know of corporate involvement on various ALEC Task Forces from recent research by the Center for Media and Democracy and other allies using ALECExposed – (the ALEC war chest of ‘model bills’ published two years ago, and the Guardian for publishing recent ALEC documents revealing their corporate fundraising strategy and their attacks on renewable energy and greenhouse gas regulations.)

ExxonMobil has supported ALEC for decades, and the company continues to be a sponsor of ALEC.  Exxon might well argue that it agrees with the broad principles of ALEC’s agenda or more precisely, as stated in its 2002 Worldwide Giving Report Public Information and Policy Research docket, ExxonMobil supports organizations that are

“dedicated to research on free market solutions to public policy problems” and “organizations dedicated to strengthening the foundations of freedom and to the principles of free enterprise”.

In fact, Exxon records collated by the ExxonSecrets project at Greenpeace reveal the corporation’s relationship with ALEC has at times been heavily focused on climate change policy.

ExxonSecrets analysis revealed that Exxon sought to conceal its climate work with ALEC in 2005, labeling the grants “Energy Sustainability Project” and “General Operating Support” in its corporate documents published for shareholders, while in documents submitted to the IRS, the similar grants are described as “Energy Sustainability Project (Climate Change) and “Climate Change Environmental Outreach.”

ExxonMobil 2005 Worldwide Giving Report


ExxonMobil Foundation 2005 IRS Form 990


ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody Coal are some of a very few stalwart corporate supporters of ALEC, an organization with a broad agenda that includes promotion of anti-regulatory, conservative, corporate-friendly policies on immigration, voter’s rights, labor law, privatizing schools and prisons and climate change.

What do energy corporations get for their money when they sponsor ALEC (companies like ExxonMobil, American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Peabody Coal and Cloud Peak coal)?    Is Exxon’s funding still tied to ALEC’s work on climate and energy, such as recent efforts to block EPA greenhouse gas rules at the state level and overturn renewable energy mandates? ExxonMobil doesn’t care about privatizing schools and prisons or immigration policy, do they?


Exxon’s legacy of climate meddling with ALEC

According to the ExxonSecrets database, Exxon has paid ALEC at least $1.6 million between 1998-2012. More than one quarter of that total, $428,000, was earmarked for climate change focused projects. We have these specific details from ExxonMobil, not ALEC, because the company runs a foundation that has to report its grants to the IRS. So again, fully one quarter of Exxon’s payments to ALEC over time were directly for counter-ops on climate change policy.  All these grants fell between 2003 and 2005; their titles include “Energy Sustainability Project (Climate Change)” and “Climate Change Environmental Outreach” (see year by year data below.)

What did Exxon get for its investment?  It’s hard to say.  The peak years of Exxon contributions to ALEC fell between 2002-2005, when, after Bush ditched the Kyoto Protocol, climate action started blossoming around the country.  Perhaps Exxon took this increased attention to climate policy as a threat and sought to tamp it down.

However, ExxonMobil continues to actively fund ALEC to this day and play and active role on energy issues as evidenced by the 2012 grant for $34,000 entitled  “Private Sector and Energy and Tax Task Force”.  This is confusing because ALEC doesn’t list a “Private Sector Task Force” nor an “Energy and Tax Task Force”.  Here is a list of ALEC Task Forces:

Exxon’s Cynthia Bergman on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council, which might be what “Private Sector” meant in their funding documents. It is understood that corporations have to pay to play on these Task Forces, where model legislation is drafted and approved.

It is not known whether Exxon was involved in drafting the recent anti-renewable energy standards resolutions or participates in their EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck strategy, which would be ironic as Exxon stands to make a lot of money selling natural gas if coal plants are regulated by EPA.


Year Amount ExxonMobil funding entity Stated purpose Source Climate specific grants IRS 990 ALEC grants reported
1998 $15,000 Corporate “Conference for freshman legislators” 1998 Exxon Education Foundation Dimensions report
2000 $70,000 Foundation “General Support” 2000 IRS Form 990
2001 $70,000 Corporate “Annual Conference” -$50,000

“Annual Summit” – $20,000

2001 Worldwide Giving Report
2001 $10,000 Foundation “General Support” 2001 Worldwide Giving Report
2002 $163,200 Corporate “Annual Conference” – $50,000; “General operating Support” – $80,000

“Membership” – $5,000

“Project support” – $25,000

“other” – $3,200

2002 Worldwide Giving Report
2002 $30,000 Foundation “General Operating Support” 2002 Worldwide Giving Report
2003 $78,000 Corporate “Annual Conference” 2003 Worldwide Giving Report
2003 $290,000 Foundation ”Energy and climate change”- $50,000

“General Operatiing Support” – $100,000

“Global Climate Change” – $140,000

2003 Worldwide Giving Report X
2004 $55,000 Corporate “Annual Conference” 2004 Worldwide Giving Report
2004 $167,000 Foundation “Energy and Climate Change”- $62,000

“Climate Change”- $75,000

“General Operating Support”-$30,000

2004 Worldwide Giving Report X
2005 $90,000 Corporate “Annual Conference” 2005 Worldwide Giving Report
2005* $151,500 Foundation “Energy sustainability project”- $80,000

“General operating support” – $71,500

2005 Worldwide Giving Report
2005* $101,500 Foundation “Energy sustainability project (climate change)” – $80,000 

“Climate change environmental outreach”

2005 IRS Form 990 X
2006 $56,000 Corporate  “Annual meeting host committee sponsorship” – $15,000

“Annual meetings sponsorship” – $31,000

”General Support” – $10,000

2006 Worldwide Giving Report

2006 $30,000 Foundation none 2006 Worldwide Giving Report

2007 $31000 Corporate none 2007 Worldwide Giving Report

2008 $56,000 Corporate none 2008 Worldwide Giving Report

2009 $47,500 Corporate “Annual Conference – $15,000

General Support -$31,000

other -$1,500

2009 Worldwide Giving Report

2010 $64,000 Corporate “General Support -$39,000;

“National Chairman’s Reception” – $25,000

2010 Worldwide Giving Report

2011 $86,500 Corporate none 2011 Worldwide Giving Report
2012 $59,000 Corporate “2012 Annual Conference” $25,000;

“Private Sector and Energy and Tax Task Force” $34,000

2012 Worldwide Giving Report

  $1,619,700 Total funding Exxon to ALEC 1998-2012
  $428,000 Total funding tied to climate change

*2005 discrepancy reported above.

More to come as we monitor Exxon’s funding of climate denial front groups.  Send us tips if you see anything we should see.

Posted by Kert Davies