“Following the Money” goes to Washington

If you aren’t familiar with “Following the Money: Donors and Activists on the Anglican Right,” drop in to the Diocese of Washington Web site, then read this exchange between Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and James Tonkowich, president of the right wing astroturf organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy that occured when Tonkowich visited Capitol Hill recently to give reliigous cover to the oil industry’s views on climate change.

Note the part where Tonkowich seems to say that he represents the views of everyone to whom he sends a piece of mail, but then adds that the IRD sometimes culls addresses from church directories.

Senator Whitehouse: Okay.

Now that my colleague has raised the question of funding, I am interested, Dr. Tonkowich, in IRD and where its funding comes from. According to a web site called Media Transparency, IRD received 89 percent of its support in its first two years from six conservative foundations. In an article entitled Follow the Money, which appeared in the Washington Window, Howard F. Amundsen, Jr., alone gave IRD $528,000 in 1991 and 1992, $460,000 in 2001, $150,000 in 2002 to 2003. My question is, are these figures accurate and what percentage of your total funding do those contributions represent?

Rev. Tonkowich: I do not know whether they are accurate or not. I can find out and get back to you. I have been with the organization just over a year. I don’t know what the funding was in 1991.

Senator Whitehouse: You say you represent constituents of so- called mainline Protestant churches who feel mis-represented by their denominational Washington offices and by groups like the National Council of Churches. How many constituents is that, approximately? Do you have a number?

Rev. Tonkowich: Our mailing list is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000 to 700,000.

Senator Whitehouse: And how do people get on your mailing list? I get stuff that I don’t want all the time, and I don’t consider myself to be a constituent of the groups that mail to me.

Rev. Tonkowich: Again, people send us their church directories at times, and ask to add their friends to the list. We do very little prospecting. So it is people who have opted on.

Senator Whitehouse: Where does the support for your organization come from?

Rev. Tonkowich: A combination of foundations and individuals.

Senator Whitehouse: Do you know how many foundations and how many individuals, approximately?

Rev. Tonkowich: I think there are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to ten, well, a dozen or so foundations.

Senator Whitehouse: I would be interested, to the extent you feel comfortable doing so, have you identify for the record who those are and who your major private donors are.

Rev. Tonkowich: I would not feel comfortable, certainly, revealing the names of private donors. In terms of foundations, most of them make us sign a waiver saying that we will not in fact reveal their names.

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