The Western Values Project: Who Funds For What Ends?

I’ve written about the “Rolodex factor” before, acknowledging that the Rolodex is outdated technology.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.

Here’s a story in Colorado Politics:

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.”

5 thoughts on “The Western Values Project: Who Funds For What Ends?”

  1. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Environmental Policy Alliance, which produced a report critical of Western Values Project and other groups:

    Speaking of transparency, the Environmental Policy Alliance website says nothing about its sources of funding.

    According to SourceWatch (, “The Environmental Policy Alliance is a front group operated by the PR firm Berman & Co. The firm operates a network of dozens of front groups, attack-dog web sites, and alleged think tanks that work to counteract minimum wage campaigns, keep wages low for restaurant workers, and to block legislation on food safety, secondhand cigarette smoke, drunk driving, and more.”

    SourceWatch is funded by the Center for Media and Democracy, which is reportedly funded by left-wing groups….

    In short, it’s a war of words, backed by a range of big money.

    • I looked up Center for Media and Democracy on the Media Bias Fact Check Site and it says they “These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes. ”

      As we experience in our own humble way here, it takes money to do reporting. So someone’s going to pay for it. It used to be people who needed to run classified ads. Now it’s people who want to influence our views, are unknown and have unknown agendas, and don’t care as much about accuracy and fairness as advocacy. Not a pretty picture.

      • We’ve already seen this trend in mainstream groups (on both sides). The Sierra Club, which purported that the Trump Administration was going to clearcut the Giant Sequoia National Monument, used those same tactics, and offered no correction on the widespread confusion and concern from its potential donors. Sponsoring such claims on Facebook is a clear attempt at misinforming public opinions. Again, both sides are using these techniques, pretending to be authorities on such subjects.

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, Sharon. I am concerned that corporate environmentalism has overtaken most of the old grassroots environmental groups. When a grant from REI or Patagonia can save hours normally spent in fundraising efforts, why not take the money? But the group becomes beholden to larger and larger financial interests and no longer represents its membership. Collaboration becomes more difficult because there’s less room for on-the-ground compromise.

    • I don’t know that they are financial interests or simply ideologues with deep purses (or wallets, I wonder how many of these are run by women). I think the people who run all those groups think they are doing the Right Thing.. but end up potentially spewing untruths, demonizing those who disagree, and so on. The problem then is that we can’t get the straight story from either side.. but we don’t even know who is feeding us the information.

      My experience has been that local environmental groups and people like to talk about things (hey did you notice that fuels treatment project is in a roadless area?) and others like the Sierra Club are more ideological (no timber sales on national forests, coal is bad, natural gas is good, oh whoops did we say that? We really meant natural gas is bad too.) And I suppose it’s also about who sits on their Boards and their on-the-ground experiences (or if they believe everything they read..) and so it goes…


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