Finally, Mathias asks Taylor for a private meeting. This is the moment we have been working for over the past few weeks. Taylor sits relaxed in the armchair, his white shirt unbuttoned at the top, with a glass of red wine in his hand.
From the start, Mathias directs the conversation towards the possibility of donating to groups that deny climate change anonymously. His client, he says, is interested in a long-term investment — but requires that under no circumstances can he be linked to the transactions.
If the donor does not want to be named, there are some groups in the US, Taylor says. “One is Donors Trust.” You can tell them which group the money should go to – Donors Trust will then channel the funds.
Donors Trust’s activities are not illegal, but they do bypass the otherwise quite extensive transparency regulations in the US. Both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Trust are tax-exempt foundations that redistribute corporate donations to conservative and market-liberal think tanks. US tax law requires them to disclose to whom the funds are given. However, they are allowed to keep the name of the donor undisclosed on the grounds of anonymous. In practice, this means oil and coal companies can support anti-climate campaigns via Donors Trust or Donors Capital without having to reveal their financial support.
In the past, big players in the fossil industry like Exxon Mobil and Koch brothers were among Heartland’s major donors — but they withdrew public support a few years ago. We checked this by looking at tax returns, which are largely public in the US.
Now, Donors Trust is now one of the association’s biggest donors. The American magazine “Mother Jones” described Donors Trust in 2013 as a “Black Box ATM”. You could say that the foundation lends its name to the actual donors. Taylor confirmed this during the conversation.
Donors Trust is now directing between two thirds and three quarters of its budget to Heartland to support its climate-skeptical positions, says Taylor. He sells this as his personal doing.
Soon after, Taylor starts to speak about the German YouTuber sitting at the table a few meters away.
“We’re looking to bring her on board,” says Taylor, pointing in her direction.
Mathias asks: “The young lady?”
“To do some videos for us. Presenting to young people.”
The young influencer is to start forming new groups. She should be a dropout from mainstream society, with whom as many as young people as possible should identify. According to a Facebook post by the Rhineland-Palatinate Association of “Junge Alternative” (Young Alternative), she is a member of the AfD’s youth organization. The AfD and its members regularly distribute her videos. Taylor says the fight against climate protection measures needs a better image, to move away from old white men and instead showcase a younger generation. The YouTuber is going be the new face of the movement. She is Taylor’s media strategy for the masses.
Taylor also knows how to reach those who are not on YouTube but do vote in parliament. For a long time, he published a monthly brochure that the Heartland Institute sent to politicians.
He says it was specifically written “We do it as if it were for The New York Times or any other leftist newspaper.”
He explains that the rule for their editors is to write it as if they were news stories. They cannot write anything that looks like it is opinion. “You present our angle on it, but you do it by who you decide to quote”, he says”.
Taylor’s team uses supposedly journalistic standards to raise doubts about human-induced climate change. What he is not interested is rigor and balance.
And he succeeds at that, or at least that’s what he says. There are people who will realise it is Heartland how is writing these articles, he explains, but others feel it is something they could use, and this is how they get to them.
Taylor repeatedly emphasizes the good work done by EIKE. He says it is amazing what they can do in a year with such a small budget, and claims that the organization has 200,000 euros available. They help each other, he says, by participating in each other’s conferences. Heartland also gave EIKE a small sum of money for the Munich conference in late November. When asked about EIKE’s budget, the organization’s representatives said that their “donation volume” per year is “significantly below the stated amount”.
But whenever Mathias steers the conversation toward our client’s possible investment, Taylor brings his own institution into play — even though Mathias emphasizes several times that the client wants to donate to EIKE because he is mostly concerned about the European market.
“Then he tries to convince me to give my client’s money directly to Heartland, instead of EIKE“, Mathias recalls. Taylor politely adds that EIKE could, of course, use it much better in Europe. Then, a few seconds later, he talks about the benefits of Heartland establishing and disseminating specific information at the request of the client in exchange for money.
A half hour has passed. Taylor and Mathias promise to stay in touch before returning to the other conference goers. Mathias writes down the conversation so he can jog his memory later.
This is far more than we had hoped for. Taylor has given us a deep insight into the business of climate change deniers. We now know about some of the strategies they use to disseminate disinformation.
But we want to have it in writing.