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Right Rebuffs Senate Bid for Climate Funding Info

Top conservative think tanks and advocacy groups are attacking the inquiry by three Democrats.

Several of the Beltway's most prominent conservative groups have a message for Senate liberals investigating whether they're funding research that disputes human-induced climate change: Go away.

The Heritage Foundation is not planning to reply to a request for information from Democratic Sens. Edward Markey, Barbara Boxer, and Sheldon Whitehouse, according to a spokeswoman. Nor is the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity Foundation will respond with a letter to be delivered Friday stating, "AFP Foundation has no information to provide that is responsive to your request," according to an excerpt provided to National Journal.

"We favor encouraging debate and the opportunity for citizens to hear different viewpoints and decide among them, rather than using the power of the government to limit precisely the activity at the core of the First Amendment's protections," the letter will state.

The Democrats sent letters to 100 companies and groups in late February seeking detailed information on scientific research they may have funded over the last 10 years, after it was revealed that climate skeptic Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon, who is affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, failed to disclose research funding from Exxon, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, utility giant Southern Company, and elsewhere. Soon's work splits with the scientific consensus that human activities, notably burning coal and oil, are the main driver of global warming.

Asked whether the Foundation's letter will reply specifically to the Democrats' request for information on funding for climate-related research, a spokesman for the group said: "Our letter will remind lawmakers that any grants made by AFP Foundation are reported publicly each year on our form 990s."

Two other affiliated groups within the Koch orbit—the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research—said they plan to tell the lawmakers that their probe is inappropriate.

"Nonprofits and all Americans have a right to express their views without being subjected to intimidation tactics by their elected officials. It's unsettling that these senators are attempting to use their positions of power to silence public debate," said Chris Warren, a spokesman for the two groups.

That criticism is similar to the response last month from Koch Industries. And the Cato Institute struck the same tone in rebuffing the request, telling the senators in a March 13 letter that the request is an affront to the First Amendment and an "obvious attempt to chill research into and funding of public policy projects you don't like."

Markey defended the Democrats' letters in a statement to National Journal Thursday, arguing that the request for information is "intended to increase transparency and disclosure, not stifle free speech.

"We seek information to ensure that policymakers and the public know who may be funding scientific studies used in the ongoing policy debate surrounding cutting carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists have failed to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators. Disclosure of funding relationships leads to the open debate that is necessary for responsible legislation," Markey said.

The Democrats' letters cast a wide net, seeking information on climate-related "research efforts" in the form of grants, fellowships, scholarships, consulting contracts, other contracts, honoraria, and speaking events. They asked for responses by April 3.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, meanwhile, is also seeking to counterpunch with an inquiry of its own.

The group filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to compel a response to a public-records request it sent to the Environmental Protection Agency. The group is looking for correspondence between EPA's Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs and the offices of Markey, Boxer, and Whitehouse.