I’ve written about the “Rolodex factor” before, acknowledging that the Rolodex is outdated technology. I’ve also done a great deal of reading about the difficulties facing journalism these days. One of our goals at The Smokey Wire is to help journalists get the best unbiased information possible. This is not because any of us are unbiased, but rather, in discussing our different points of view, people get to read both sides in a fair manner.
Given all that, let’s explore the groups who are on journalists’ virtual Rolodexes, and find out more about them. One curiosity in this Administration is why the Interior Secretary tends to be such a target, while the Agriculture Secretary and the Forest Service (much) less so. Tomorrow is the hearing on the nomination of David Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior. Interior seems to attract its own well-funded environmental groups which got started in the past decade (before Trump), funded by the New Venture Fund and pretty much focused on oil and gas development.
Some environmentalists continued their criticism of Bernhardt leading up to Thursday’s confirmation hearing.
Chris Saeger, executive director of the Montana-based Western Values Project, said, “He’s spent the past two years at Interior doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists and special interests, and we can expect that to continue should he be confirmed as Interior secretary.”
The Western Values Project, an advocacy organization for protecting public lands, previously sued the Interior Department to obtain documents about Bernhardt’s tenure as solicitor for the Interior Department.
What do we know about the “Western Values Project”? It is linked to the New Venture Fund. Dave Skinner has written about this here in the Flathead Beacon, and we discussed it here. Dave also mentions “multiple “six-figure” advertising buys by WVP in multiple states the past few years.”
There’s an E&E story from January that says while it for transparency, it is not necessarily transparent itself. This whole E&E story is well worth reading:
Saeger, O’Neill and the rest of WVP’s staff are among the fund’s approximately 450 employees. They file time sheets to help New Venture ensure that the organization as a whole isn’t spending too much time engaging in lobbying and to keep track of how much time its project employees are spending on each of their projects’ activities.
“Maybe they have grants from different donors that are for different purposes and they’re required by the donors to track the time,” Bodner said.
Back in Montana, Saeger emphasized that donor secrecy is a strategic decision the group has made to protect benefactors from the blowback its work can trigger in today’s highly politicized culture. He also dismissed concerns that WVP could be seen as doing the bidding of companies like Patagonia.
“Our work really speaks for itself from that point of view,” he said. “We operate in a very fact-driven way and present reporters more with raw information to construct a story [rather] than trying to do something that’s geared towards creating an individual winner in the marketplace.”
Massoglia, however, believes WVP could have a bigger impact if the public knew who was ultimately behind the group’s efforts.
“No matter what message you’re trying to deliver, it’s important to do things the right way — in a transparent way — so that donors see how their funds are used and people know who’s funding certain messages,” the nonprofits researcher said. That’s especially true, she said, “with messages that are trying to influence policies.”
“It’s hypocritical to promote transparency as an organization and not have transparency about your finances,” Massoglia added. “It really doesn’t show that they practice what they preach.”