Charitable Fraser Institute received $4.3 million in foreign funding since 2000
The Fraser Institute, Canada's leading right-wing think tank, received over $4.3 million in the last decade from eight major American foundations including the most powerful players in oil and pharmaceuticals, The Vancouver Observer has learned.
In May, it was found that the US oil billionaire Koch brothers gave the Fraser Institute half a million dollars since 2007. But further investigation shows the insitute received funding from other major US foundations.
The issue of foreign funding of progressive Canadian charities has been under scrutiny since Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter last January accusing "environmental and other radical groups" of influencing Canadian politics.
He said that these groups "use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest."
The rhetoric from Ottawa came amidst increasing opposition nationally to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said is "of vital interest" to Canada.
The government focused on environmental charities being funded by Tides Canada, and also targeted the David Suzuki Foundation, which opposed the pipeline.
In June, the government passed Bill C-38, an omnibus bill which included an additional $8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities suspected of receiving foreign funding to finance political advocacy beyond the accepted 10% of overall activities allowed under CRA codes.
"Basically, they (government authorities) are trying to undermine the anti-pipeline wing of the environmental movement by associating it ... with radicalism,” said Laurentian University sociology professor and national security expert Gary Kinsman.
But the Fraser Institute apparently has not been the subject of scrutiny, despite the fact that, according to U.S. tax documents, from between 2000 and 2010, the charitable orgainization received substantial money from American foundations.
"The Fraser Institute gets taxpayer's money as a write-off and they do nothing but influence public policy," Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell told The Vancouver Observer.
Foreign funding: for which projects?
The Fraser Institute received $1.7 million from "sources outside Canada" in one year alone, according to the group's 2010 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) return.
Fraser Institute President Niels Veldhuis told The Vancouver Observer that the Fraser Institute does accept foreign funding, but he declined to comment on any specific donors or details about the donations.
The Fraser Institute describes itself as an "independent non-profit research and educational organization". It advocates for policies to support free enterprise and small government. Critics have cited endeavors such as publicly calling on the government to change election spending laws, or pushing provinces to adopt “right-to-work” legislation.
U.S. funding for the Fraser Institute supported projects ranging from "general operations" to "the economic freedom index."
The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company Foundation most recently gave $25,000 for "general health policy funding."
The Fraser Institute and conservative public figures
The institute has also been an incubator for Canada's leading conservative public figures. Ezra Levant, a Sun media television host, columnist and author of Ethical Oil, interned at the Fraser Institute after a fellowship with the Koch Foundation. Levant is now one of the most outspoken proponents of big oil projects in Canada, having given numerous presentations on economics, as well as a special three-part presentation called "Ethical Oil: Ezra Levant and the Case for Canada's Oil Sands."
Former Ethical Oil spokesperson and political commentator Kathryn Marshall was a development associate at the Fraser Institute.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith interned at the Fraser Institute during her twenties, an experience which “imbued her with a passion for Ayn Rand and charter schools”, according to The Walrus Magazine.
The institute's considerable funding from US foundations have stirred no criticism from Ottawa.
Liberal Senator Robert W. Peterson criticized the government for unbalanced treatment of charities. "You have to be fair to all, not just pick on one group that doesn't share your views.There has to be a level playing field," he said.
Last 10 years of foreign funding for The Fraser Institute
1. Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Lilly Endowment Inc.
Eli Lilly and Company is a global pharmaceutical corporation, with offices in 17 countries.
The company is no stranger to political and medical ethics controversies.
It is the sole manufacturer of Posilac (also known as Bovine Growth Hormone, or BGH) a controversial hormone used to boost milk production in cows.
BGH was banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and all European Union countries with reports linking an increased risk of cancer with the hormone. Lilly bought the rights to BGH from Monsanto, a multinational corporation widely condemned for its unethical business practices.
2. Charles G. Koch Foundation, Claude R. Lambe Foundation
2010 donation: $150,000
Total combined contributions since 2001: $500,500
Source: Foundation Center.
David and Charles Koch are U.S. oil billionaires whose philanthropic spending aims to propel a far right Republican agenda. Their company, Koch Industries, owns 25 per cent of Canadian oil sands imports.
The Koch brothers' enterprises in the Athabasca oil sands produce roughly 250,000 barrels of oil imports a year.
The Fraser Institute has published a number of reports and commentaries about policy reactions to climate "alarmism”.
Al Jazeera reporter Bob Abeshouse wrote that the Kochs are "radical libertarians" who have "poured millions into think tanks and academia to influence the battle over ideas."
“The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it [The Tea Party.] It’s like they put the seeds in the ground,” a Republican campaign consultant who worked for the Koch brothers told The New Yorker.
They fund the climate denial machine through the Cato Institute, which they founded and funded to the tune of $14 million.
3. Searle Freedom Trust
2010 donation: $100,000
Total combined contributions since 2001: $200,000
Source: Foundation Center.
The Searle Freedom Trust was founded in 1998 to "foster research and education on public policy issues that affect individual freedom and economic liberty."
Among its chairs is Christopher DeMuth, former president of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) -- one of the most influential pro-business and conservative think tanks in the United States.
DeMuth currently holds the D.C. Searle Chair there, researching government regulation, culture, and American politics.
6. The John Templeton Foundation
2010 contribution: $0
Total combined contributions since 2001: $500,000
Source: Foundation Center
Minister of National Revenue Gail Shea stated that she could not comment on any specific cases, including the Fraser Institute's political activities.
"Our Government understands that registered charities are an important part of our society, and encourages Canadians to donate generously, but also to do their homework," she wrote in an email to The Vancouver Observer.
"In order to protect Canadian interests we have a duty to ensure that these organizations are operating properly and in compliance with federal laws. In cases where the activities of a charity are suspect CRA will conduct a review and take action as appropriate under the Act."
With files from Jenny Uechi