April 15, 2016
The Clinton Foundation is being judged by the company – and the money — it keeps. In this case, the company is ExxonMobil. The money amounts to at least $1 million. Yesterday, a coalition of environmental, health and faith leaders called on Bill, Hillary and Chelsea’s family philanthropy to give back the donations it has received from the fossil fuel giant — because #ExxonKnew.
ExxonMobil “has been fighting efforts to address the climate crisis for over 25 years,” an open letter to the Clintons said. “This includes spending $30 million to support groups whose basic purpose is to encourage doubt and denial about the facts of climate change. These ExxonMobil-funded groups question whether climate change is happening at all or they question the role of human activity as the primary cause.”
The coalition also set up a website, www.clintonsdivest.org
“ExxonMobil, your profits come drenched in our suffering,” said Lise Van Susteren, convener of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and a signer of the letter. At a news conference announcing the letter, she said that as a psychiatrist and former CIA profiler, she sees the threats to national security and a “growing sense of dread” from the physical and psychological damage caused by climate change.
“We have this to say to ExxonMobil: You are not donors, you are liars,” she said. “Your own scientists told you that fossil fuels would destroy the planet, and you engaged nonetheless in a decades-long deliberate campaign to deceive. You are not donors, you are thieves. You have stolen our safety, our future. You have stolen our peace of mind.”
To the Clinton Foundation, Van Susteren said, “We call on you not only to wash your hands of Exxon but to denounce them for trying to buy your silence and complicity.”
The letter singles out ExxonMobil because of ongoing investigations that indicate the company’s scientists knew full well in the 1970s about climate change and the devastating consequences of continuing to unearth and burn fossil fuels. Instead of using that information to help forge a rapid transition to clean energy, the company poured money into organizations that cast doubt on climate science while figuring out how best to take advantage of the melting Arctic it was helping to cause. Seventeen attorneys general, including from Maryland, New York, California, Massachusetts, and the Virgin Islands, are investigating Exxon for possible fraud and deception of investors. This week, ExxonMobil sued to block the Virgin Islands attorney general’s subpoena of climate change documents. The Center for International Environmental Law also released documents this week showing that fossil fuel companies knew in the late 1950s about climate change. To deal with air pollution and climate change, the industry’s aptly named Smoke and Fumes Committee opted to “promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary.”
The signers of the open letter to the Clinton Foundation include Mike Tidwell of the CCAN Action Fund; Bill Snape, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity; and 13 other nonprofit groups, as well as climate activists Tim DeChristopher and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood and actors Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo and Ed Asner. The signers “represent millions of people who support strong action on the climate crisis,” Tidwell said.
The letter calls on the foundation to disclose the dates and amounts of Exxon’s donations, to return them and to refuse them in the future. The Clinton Foundation website, which reports donations only in ranges, indicates ExxonMobil has given between $1 million and $5 million. The Wall Street Journal reported that ExxonMobil contributed about $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative. (After Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rivals, called for investigations of Exxon, she said she too supported a federal inquiry. Yet she has been criticized for accepting campaign contributions from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. )
The letter urges the foundation to return donations from other fossil fuel corporations as well. Others listed on the Clinton Foundation website include Cheniere Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Chevron.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, also called for a congressional investigation into Exxon and the fossil fuel industry. “When future historians pass judgment on the 21st century, Exxon will be at the top of the list, committing the worst crimes against the Earth and its inhabitants,” she said. She urged the Clinton Foundation to “sever all relations with Exxon and dirty energy interests” and to use its resources and prestige to seriously address the causes of climate change.
The problem with the Exxon donations is at least twofold: The Clinton Foundation’s funding priorities are what Hauter called “soft” and nowhere near what would be required to address the climate crisis. And second, climate change is simultaneously undoing projects that the foundation undertakes.
Catherine Thomasson, a physician and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the foundation has done commendable work in Kenya, for example, helping people whose drinking water and land have already been damaged by climate change. Yet the foundation “is undercutting benefits of its own work,” because Exxon’s actions cause climate change that exacerbates drought, spreads disease, floods coastal communities, and sends saltwater into farmlands.
Tidwell said the letter has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions and everything to do with the Clinton Foundation showing leadership: “A leading philanthropy should be a leader on climate change. It can’t be a leader and take money from ExxonMobil,” Tidwell said. “Because of the influence they have, I and others find it highly disappointing that the foundation doesn’t do more on climate change … and also that they would ever consider taking money” from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. “It’s time for them to do the right thing.”