It’s not just what #ExxonKnew, it’s what #ExxonDid next

In the wake of Inside Climate News and the Columbia University/LA Times investigations into ExxonMobil’s history on climate science, the company has been terribly busy telling the world that it stands by its scientific work.

cohen.pngIn a classic example of Public Relations 101, ExxonMobil’s lead spokes, Ken Cohen, has been huffing and puffing and standing up for climate science, pushing everybody’s focus onto the peer reviewed studies Exxon scientists published. 

But this isn’t the point.  Yes, it’s now clear that #ExxonKnew.  As Neela Bannerjee of Inside Climate News said this week about her investigation

“I came away with enormous regard for many of the Exxon scientists who researched climate change and for the managers and executives who gave them the resources and latitude to freely investigate a problem their own company was contributing to.”

 But it’s what #ExxonDid next is what we think the NY Attorney General should focus on in his investigation.   If Exxon had capable climate scientists on the case, and it knew all that it did, then how could it have done what it did next? 

Ken Cohen is, according to The Holmes Report, “a lifetime Exxon employee,”  having been with the company since 1977.  He’s Vice President for Public and Government Affairs, a role he stepped into in 1999 after having been Legal Counsel.   He was promoted into this role by Lee Raymond, company CEO and Chairman, who had long held skeptical views on climate change.

Cohen is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the ExxonMobil Foundation, a position he has held since 1999, and still holds today, according to the Foundation’s 2014 tax form, the most recent available document. 


And it’s the ExxonMobil Foundation that has doled out a total of at least $30.9 Million from 1998 through 2014 to think tanks running climate denial campaigns - blocking policy solutions and attacking the scientific consensus on climate change.

 Let us be clear:  contrary to media reports, ExxonMobil did not stop funding denial in 2008 – it might like you to think it did, but it’s still funding denial today.

According to Steve Coll in his book “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,”  

“Ken Cohen and his public affairs shop, in tandem with the K Street office in Washington, oversaw contributions to free-market advocates who published, spoke out, and file lawsuits to challenge policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or assess the long-term impact of global warming.”

To the public eye, Exxon’s “Public Information and Policy Research” section of its Worldwide Giving report, published every year on its website, looked like the company was just giving the usual cash to right wing think tanks that many corporations do.

In the early 2000s there are numerous grants that have descriptions indicating money dedicated to climate change work.  We saw this in the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 ExxonMobil Worldwide Giving reports. 

In 2003, ExxonMobil earmarked over $1 million dollars worth of grants for climate change. In 2004, Exxon listed over $1.6 million in climate specific grants among the $3.4 million given to groups who we know were engaged on the climate science and policy debate. 

By “engaged” in the debate, we mean running full on climate denial campaigns.  These were the ExxonMobil-funded army of climate deniers.

For example,  in 2003, the organization Frontiers of Freedom received two ExxonMobil grants, $95,000 for “Global Climate Change Outreach” and $50,000 for “Global Climate Change Activities”.

In 2004, there is a “Climate Change” grant for $10,000 to Steve Milloy’s Advancement of Sound Science Coalition – the “junk science” organisation set up by Philip Morris’s PR companies APCO and Burston Marstellar to challenge the science of second hand smoke. Milloy then moved to challenging global warming, ozone depletion, etc.

ALEC_logo.pngAlso in 2004, The American Leglislative Exchange Council (ALEC) got $222,000 from ExxonMobil,  $137,000 of which was earmarked for climate change issues.  ExxonMobil is still funding ALEC today.

Others who were funded for climate change work that year were the George Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT),  all organisations who are, to this day, running denial campaigns.  

CFACT,  Heartland and some of the CEI staff are planning to head to Paris this year, where they’ll be working with leading Republican - “global warming is a the biggest hoax perpetrated on the American People”  - denier, Senator James Inhofe.  

However, the following year, in 2005, things got strange.  The public version of Cohen’s ExxonMobil Foundation’s grants contained no descriptons – intead vague, anodyne explainations (e.g “General Support”), whereas the forms the Foundation submitted to the IRS contained more detail about the grants.  The public version is published in Exxonmobil’s Worldwide Giving Report, released each spring around the annual shareholders meeting, and officially filed with the IRS as a “990” form.   

The 2005 ExxonMobil Foundation 990 lists a total of $996,500 in grants described as specifically for climate change-related work.  The 2005 Worldwide Giving Report lists none.

Some examples:

George Marshall Institute

The 2005 ExxonMobil IRS 990 Form lists $90,000 for "Climate Change & Energy".  The 2005 Worldwide Giving report lists $90,000 as “General Operating Support”.


The ExxonMobil 990 for 2005 in the public Giving report lists $90,000 as “General Support” , whereas the 990 lists this grant as $90,000 for “Climate Change”.

C02-is-life.pngThe Competitive Enterprise Institute got $90,000 that year, listed as “General Operating support” in the public report, but specified as “environmental programs” in the 990.    The following year, the CEI produced a 1 minute TV commercial with the tag line, “Carbon Dioxide: They Call it Pollution, We Call it Life”  that caused such an outcry, we believe it triggered ExxonMobil to cut funding to CEI altogether.


The ExxonMobil Foundation 990 lists two grants to ALEC for climate, $80,000 for “Energy Sustainability Project (Climate Change)” and $21,500 for “Climate Change Environmental Outreach”

The 2005 Worldwide Giving report lists the $80,000 grant as “Energy Sustainability Project” without the climate paranthetical and another grant for $71,500 for “General Operating Support” which appears to be a sum of the $21,500 grant for climate outreach and  two grants totalling $50,000, listed in the 990 as “General Operating Support” and “Project Support.”

There is so much more. 

Information on all the Exxon-funded groups is available at ExxonSecrets

Check out all the ExxonMobil Foundation climate grants flagged in these Document Cloud files:

2005 Worldwide Giving Report

2005 IRS Form 990

2004 Worldwide Giving Report

2003 Worldwide Giving Report

We have all these records going back to 1998 filed on DocumentCloud.


But we must ask this question of Ken Cohen:

If ExxonMobil knew all the science, and you now claim Exxon never suppressed its scientists, why did the foundation you chair spend so much money on climate denial?

We have so many more questions:

  • Who, specifically, at the ExxonMobil Foundation solicited and approved these grants?
  • Who annually reviewed the deliverables and grant reports from the funded organizations?
  • Who was the point of contact at ExxonMobil for the grantees?
  • Did proposals come in unsolicited from NGOs like Heartland or Frontiers of Freedom?
  • Or did you select or conduct outreach to those groups to set up these projects?
  • Where are the ExxonMobil Foundation documents? the grant proposals, the grant reports back to ExxonMobil Foundation?

Coming next:  Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson









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Showing 4 reactions

commented 2015-11-13 09:58:01 -0800 · Flag
Many thanks for doing these deep dives—they’re exactly what’s needed to bring the truth to light
commented 2015-11-12 15:19:13 -0800 · Flag
Yep, I figured that, but figured a reminder would never hurt, and at least you’d know I’d read your post.
commented 2015-11-12 14:09:37 -0800 · Flag
thanks John – these were just examples, not the full list.
commented 2015-11-12 10:16:13 -0800 · Flag
Good stuff, but even more, and you mention FoF, but:
As a reminder: p.45 covers Exxon gigifts, which overlap with your list.

Note substanital money to FoF/CSPP, i.e., Rob Fergsuon, who went on to do SPPI, actually a branch of the Idso family business, CSCDGC. For it’s size FoF/CSPP got a lot of money, and was fairly specialized.

Then see pp.77-82 i (especially p.78 on finances)