May 4, 2012; Source: Washington Post

It didn’t take long for the Heartland Institute to realize that its ad campaign was a bit over the edge. Devoted to debunking theories of climate change, the Koch brothers-funded Heartland Institute put up a billboard with the message, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” If you’re a climate change skeptic, the message probably made sense, but the picture next to the message, which went up along the Eisenhower Expressway outside of Chicago, was Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Additional billboards were slated starring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden. HI’s argument, according to a statement on its website, was, “The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

Baaaaad idea!

The Kaczynski billboard was taken down within a day, as Heartland received massive blowback from its climate change skeptic allies as well as scientists who understand the reality of climate change.

Although the Koches haven’t disassociated themselves from HI, a number of other corporate funders have begun heading for the hills in a move that looks to be taking place even faster than the recent corporate exodus from the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), which drew criticism for its support of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and restrictive voter ID policies. Among the corporations looking to disassociate themselves from the Heartland Institute are the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) and the XL Group, State Farm insurance, Guinness- and Smirnoff-owner Diageo, Pepsi, and General Motors (though the latter two pulled out before the recent billboard incident). This exodus has occurred without a semblance of the kind of campaign that targeted funders of ALEC.

Of additional interest is whether other corporate and philanthropic funders will explain what they were/are doing with the climate change-denying Heartland Institute, which is willing to portray scientists that believe the facts on climate change as something akin to domestic or international terrorists. Looking through the Foundation Center’s online database of grants, we noticed HI grant support from the likes of the BB&T Charitable Foundation (in 2010), the General Motors Foundation (in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, long after GM had been bailed out by taxpayer money), the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation (2007), the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2006), the Chrysler Foundation (2006), and the Assurant Health Foundation (2006).

Heartland doesn’t reveal its funding sources voluntarily, and corporations that give directly rather than through corporate foundations don’t have to reveal their grant recipients either. However, due to leaked documents from the Heartland Institute, denied by HI as fakes but independently verified by the Associated Press, other corporate funders of the climate-denying think tank include Altria, Amgen, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Comcast, GlaxoSmithKline, Nucor, Pfizer, Reynolds American, Time Warner Cable, and Microsoft. ExxonMobil has also contributed, but the company is one of the biggest corporate funders of climate change denial worldwide, so there’s no point in asking why they might stick with the Heartland Institute.

Most of us can recall the various stupid messaging campaigns our nonprofits have bought into at one time or another—the embarrassing ad campaigns one later attributes to an extraordinary brain freeze. But we can’t recall ever trying to associate our ideological or policy opponents with the likes of Kaczynski, Manson, Castro, and bin Laden. Baaaaad idea.—Rick Cohen