Peeling Back PRI’s Mask

After discovering the Pacific Research Institute’s existence (and heavy hand) in the “Spectator” story, I wanted to find out more about where the group gets their cash. Easier said than done.

Since PRI is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, it’s possible to review their financial statement (known as a Form 990) with a service such as GuideStar. But since they’re not classified as a private foundation, they don’t have to file the Form 990-PF variant which actually lists contributors.

It’s possible to find out where some of the money comes from by scouring the records of public corporations. For example, lists almost a quarter-million in contributions from ExxonMobil for PRI’s climate change programs. They also have an amazing/scary Flash tool that allows you to see the major “thinktanks” that get Exxon cash and shows how the key players are interconnected.

But you’re not getting the full story, because many of these organizations — themselves fronts for corporate machinations — are just fronts for other groups. For example, I selected one ExxonSecret-listed group at random, “United for Jobs.” (The site described them as a PRI “coalition partner,” whatever that means.)

A peek at the United for Jobs site shows that the group’s main issues are energy prices, carbon caps, CAFE standards, and mercury, an impressively narrow focuses for a site that’s all about jobs. And who’s “United”, anyway? A click on the mammoth “Take Action” banner hints at the answer: you’ll be dumped into a form letter decrying the proposed tax on windfall oil profits (and taxes in general.)

That’s getting closer to the story, but there’s more to learn. Where is this group based? The site gives an address of 1920 L Street NW, Suite 200, DC. Using the Amazon Yellow Pages trick from before, I punched in that address to see what else might call that building home. Amazon returned a few groups that shared the suite number, including the “Small Business Survival Committee” and the “Islamic Institute.” The real occupant, though, was what I assume to be “United’s” creator: Americans for Tax Reform.

ATR is a whole other rats’ nest, so I’ll leave it at that. But suffice to say it’s no easy matter to discover who’s really pulling the strings…

Hit Me With It