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Opinion

Senator to Harper Government: Stop 'Slandering' Charities

Saskatchewan's Sen. Bob Peterson sticks up for advocacy by Suzuki Foundation, and the Fraser Institute, too.

By Robert W. Peterson 7 Jun 2012 | TheTyee.ca

The Honourable Senator Robert W. (Bob) Peterson was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005 and sits as a member of the Liberal party. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan and he has been a member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Saskatchewan since 1964.

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Senator Bob Peterson: 'I believe in including dissenting voices.'

Over the last few weeks the government has been intent on slandering charities and their foreign funders. Ministers have even publicly labelled foreign donors as "radicals," and the Canadian charities that receive their donations, "money launderers."

As directors of charitable organizations hold their ground, and as the Conservative hit list continues to grow, one has to ask the question that no one seems willing to ask -- what about the Fraser Institute? Further, why does the government seem intent on labelling one section of foreign donors as radicals but not another? If the government is actually concerned about foreign donors influencing public opinion, shouldn't they be worried about ALL foreign donors?

As a disclaimer, I believe in an open and engaged democracy; I believe in including dissenting voices; and I believe in groups attempting to sway public opinion -- because after all, that's what democracy is. I draw the line when a government picks and chooses which voices it wants to hear, while silencing those it disagrees with. That, after all, is not what democracy is.

Perfectly legal

According to Canada Revenue Agency rules, a charity is legally permitted to receive money from American foundations and use a portion of that money to conduct political advocacy. Opposing pipeline construction, for example, is legitimate political advocacy. Just as rallying against abortion laws, or protesting against any other piece of government legislation is also considered acceptable political advocacy.

So what is the government worried about? If the act of political advocacy is itself legitimate, it must be that foreign organizations that provide funding to environmental groups are exceptionally questionable.

The Fraser Institute is a think tank that produces research for public consumption. It is also a registered charitable organization, meaning that donors receive tax breaks from the donations they give. The Fraser Institute receives funding from a number of foreign sources.

Foreign funding on the far right

One of the Fraser Institute's biggest funders is the Koch brothers, two U.S. billionaire oil tycoons whose wealth in the United States is surpassed only by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. They control thousands of miles of pipeline, have given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and have been called the "financial engines" behind the Tea Party movement. They have helped fund projects undermining work on climate change, destroying environmental legislation, taxes, trade unions and anything related to health care reform. They also have interests in the Keystone XL pipeline as an intermediary in the environmental review process.

Since 2007, the Koch brothers have donated over half a million dollars to the Fraser Institute and, prior to 2008, the institute received funding from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, an umbrella of Koch Family Foundations. Documents released from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California, San Francisco, also list no less than 209 documents involving the Fraser Institute. They reveal years of funding from major American tobacco companies totalling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to the Fraser Institute's 2010 tax return, funding from all foreign sources amounted to nearly 16 per cent of their total funding -- more than $1.7 million in 2010 and $2.9 million in 2009. These figures can be compared to the combined total of $1.1 million in foreign funding that the David Suzuki Foundation received in 2009 and 2010.

The Fraser Institute has, in the past, released reports criticizing anti-smoking legislation, a report questioning the evidence between second-hand smoke and lung cancer, as well as multiple reports questioning climate science and global warming. The Suzuki Foundation has, in the past, released reports criticizing pipeline construction, reports promoting the idea of man-made climate change, as well as reports dealing with carbon tax.

In the interest of balance

If money from American billionaire oil tycoons can be used to advocate against the science behind global warming, surely foreign money should be allowed to inform the public of the potential environmental impacts of a pipeline. If money from American tobacco companies can be used to question the science behind second-hand smoke and the legislation that prohibits smoking in public, surely foreign money should be allowed to be used to question the basis for restructuring environmental legislation and the environmental review process. Should it not?  [Tyee]

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