Independent Women’s Forum: Koch-Funded Group Promotes Pesticide, Oil, Tobacco Agendas

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The Independent Women’s Forum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has taken money from tobacco and oil companies, partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, denies climate science and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations.

IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group now says it seeks to “improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

A key message of IWF is to shift the blame for health or environmental problems away from corporations and toward personal responsibility — for example arguing that parents, not food companies, are to blame for America’s obesity problem.

Funding by right wing billionaires and corporations

According to data collected by Greenpeace USA, IWF has received over $15 million in funding since 1998, largely from right-wing foundations that promote deregulation and corporate free reign.

IWF’s leading contributors, with donations topping $5.3 million, are Donors Trust and Donors Capital Funds, the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement” connected with Charles and David Koch. The funds channel money from anonymous donors, including corporations, to efforts that champion corporate agendas, as a Greenpeace investigation established.

IWF’s top funder: dark money from undisclosed donors

IWF has also received $844,115 in combined donations from Koch family foundations. Other top funders include the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, Randolf Foundation (an offshoot of the Richardson Foundation) and Searle Freedom Trust — all are leading funders of climate-science denial, according to a Drexel University study.

ExxonMobil and Philip Morris are among IWF’s funders, according to documents from the UCSF Tobacco Industry Documents Library. Phillip Morris named IWF in a list of “potential third party references” and “those who respect our views.”

The book “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway described IWF as one of the “seemingly grass-roots organizations” funded by the Phillip Morris Corporation that focus on “Individual Liberties,” “Regulatory Issues,” or both.

Rush Limbaugh has donated at least a quarter of a million dollars to IWF, according to this report in The Nation: “Guess Which Women’s Group Rush Limbaugh has Donated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to? Hint: it’s the one that defends him whenever he launches into a sexist tirade.”

IWF leaders

IWF Board Chair Heather R. Higgins has held senior positions in numerous right-wing foundations, including the Randolph Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Kellyanne Conway, White House advisor and former Trump campaign manager, is an IWF board member. Directors Emeritae include Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney and Kimberly O. Dennis, president of the board of directors of Donors Trust and president and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust.

Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, left Koch Industries to become president of IWF in 2001 and she later served as Vice Chairman of IWF’s Board of Directors. She has a long history of promoting dirty energy and pushing for deregulation of polluting industries.

IWF’s agenda closely follows the lobbying and messaging agenda of tobacco, oil and chemical industry interests. Following are some examples:

Argues ‘standard Phillips Morris PR’ 

In August 2017, IWF lobbied FDA to approve Phillip Morris’ IQOS e-cigarettes, arguing that women need the products for various biological reasons to help them quit smoking regular cigarettes.

“Clearly, the FDA doesn’t intend to punish women, simply for their gender. Yet, that’s precisely what’s going to happen if women are limited to smoking cessation products that biologically cannot provide them with the help they need to quit traditional cigarettes,” IWF wrote.

In response to the IWF letter, Stanton Glantz, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said: “This is standard Philip Morris PR.  There is no independent confirmation that IQOS are safer than cigarettes or that they help people quit smoking.”

Denies climate science  

The Independent Women’s Forum is a “Koch Industries Climate Denial Group” that “has spread misinformation on climate science and touts the work of climate deniers,” according to Greenpeace.

Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker: “The (Koch) brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.”

Opposes teaching climate science in schools

A Denver Post story reported in 2010, IWF “thinks global warming is ‘junk science’ and that teaching it is unnecessarily scaring schoolchildren.” Through a campaign called “Balanced Education for Everyone,” IWF opposed climate science education in schools, which the group described as “alarmist global warming indoctrination.”

IWF President Carrie Lucas writes about the “growing skepticism about climate change” and argues “the public could pay dearly for the hysteria.”

Promotes toxic chemicals / Partners with Monsanto 

IWF is a leading messenger for promoting toxic chemicals as nothing to worry about, opposing public health protections and trying to build trust for corporations like Monsanto. According to IWF’s “Culture of Alarmism” project, sharing information about hazardous chemicals in consumer products leads to “wasted tax dollars, higher costs and inferior goods for consumers, fewer jobs … and a needlessly worried, less free American populace.”

In February 2017, Monsanto partnered with IWF on an event titled “Food and Fear: How to Find Facts in Today’s Culture of Alarmism,” and an IWF podcast that month discussed “How Monsanto is Vilified by Activists.”

IWF pushes the talking points of Monsanto and the agrichemical industry: promoting GMOs and pesticides, attacking the organic industry and opposing transparency in food labels. Examples include:

  • Vermont’s GMO labeling law is stupid. (The Spectator)
  • Sinister GMO labeling will cause grocery costs to skyrocket. (IWF)
  • Anti-GMO hype is the real threat to the well being of families. (National Review)
  • General Mills caved in to the “food police” by removing GMOs (USA Today)
  • Chipotle is stuffing their non-GMO burritos with nonsense. (IWF)
  • Reasonable moms need to push back on the mom shaming and guilt tripping organic food narrative. (IWF podcast)
  • GMO critics are cruel, vain, elite and seek to deny those in need. (New York Post)
  • Educates celebrity moms about GMOs with Monsanto’s talking points (IWF)

Champions corporate-friendly “food freedom”

IWF attacks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “government nannies,” for example describing the agency as “food Marxists” and “completely out of control” for issuing voluntary guidance to food manufacturers to cut sodium levels.

A June 2017 IWF event tried to stoke fears about public health guidance

In 2012, IWF launched a “Women for Food Freedom” project to “push back on the nanny state and encourage personal responsibility” for food choices. The agenda included opposing “food regulations, soda and snack food taxes, junk science and food and home-product scares, misinformation about obesity and hunger, and other federal food programs, including school lunches.”

On obesity, IWF tries to shift attention away from corporate accountability and toward personal choices. In this interview with Thom Hartmann, Julie Gunlock of IWF’s Culture of Alarmism Project argues that corporations are not to blame for America’s obesity problem but rather “people are making bad choices and I think parents are completely checking out.” The solution, she said, is for parents to cook more, especially poor parents since they have a worse problem with obesity.

Attacks moms for trying to reduce pesticide exposures 

IWF pushes industry messaging, using covert tactics, in attempt to ostracize moms who are concerned about pesticides; a prime example is this 2014 New York Post article, “Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia” by Naomi Schafer Riley.

Under the guise of complaining about “mom shaming,” Riley – who is an IWF fellow but did not disclose that to readers – attempts to shame and blame moms who choose organic food.

Riley’s article relied on information from industry front groups that she falsely presented as independent sources:

  • Riley described Academics Review – a front group funded by the agrichemical industry and started with the help of Monsanto to attack the organic industry and critics of GMOs – as “a nonprofit group of independent scientists.”
  • Riley used the Alliance for Food and Farming, a food industry front group, to counter “the most common mommy worry — pesticides” with the message that pesticides are nothing to worry about.
  • A key source, Julie Gunlock, was identified as an author but not as an employee of IWF and Riley’s colleague.

Partners with chemical industry front groups

IWF partners with other corporate front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health, a leading defender of toxic chemicals with deep ties to Monsanto and Syngenta. ACSH is funded by chemical, pharmaceutical, tobacco and other industry groups.

  • In a February 2017 IWF podcast, ACSH and IWF “debunked Rachel Carson’s alarmism on toxic chemicals”
  • ACSH was “fully behind” IWF’s “culture of alarmism letter” opposing efforts to remove hazardous chemicals from consumer products.
  • IWF events attacking moms who are concerned about toxic chemicals, such as this “hazmat parenting” event, featured ACSH representative Josh Bloom and chemical industry public relations writer Trevor Butterworth.

As many journalists and articles have pointed out, IWF also partners with many other Koch-funded activist groups that deny climate science and push the deregulatory agenda of corporations.

For further reading: 

The Intercept, “Koch Brothers Operatives Fill Top White House Positions,” by Lee Fang (4/4/2017)

The Nation, “Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work,” by Joan Walsh (8/18/2016)

Center for Media and Democracy, “Most Known Donors of the Independent Women’s Forum are Men,” by Lisa Graves (8/24/2016)

Center for Media and Democracy, “Confirmation: the Not-so-Independent Women’s Forum was Born in Defense of Clarence Thomas and the Far Right,” by Lisa Graves and Calvin Sloan (4/21/2016)

Slate, “Confirmation Bias: How ‘Women for Judge Thomas’ turned into a conservative powerhouse,” by Barbara Spindel (4/7/2016)

Truthout, “Independent Women’s Forum Uses Misleading Branding to Push Right Wing Agenda,” by Lisa Graves, Calvin Sloan and Kim Haddow (8/19/2016)

Inside Philanthropy, “The Money Behind the Conservative Women’s Groups Still Fighting the Culture War,” by Philip Rojc  (9/13/2016)

The Nation, “Guess Which Women’s Group Rush Limbaugh has Donated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to? Hint: it’s the one that defends him whenever he launches into a sexist tirade,” by Eli Clifton (6/12/2014)

The New Yorker, “The Koch Brothers Covert Operations,” by Jane Mayer (8/30/2010)

Oxford University Press, “Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics,” by Ronnee Schreiber (2008)

Inside Philanthropy, “Look Who’s Funding This Top Conservative Women’s Group,” by Joan Shipps (11/26/2014)

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Conservative Women are Right for Media Mainstream; Media Have Finally Found Some Women to Love,” by Laura Flanders (3/1/1996)

The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group

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The American Council on Science and Health is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and other industries.

A leaked ACSH financial summary, released in 2013 by Mother Jones, revealed that the American Council on Science and Health receives funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the messaging ACSH promotes. The internal document further revealed that ACSH solicits corporate donations for specific product-defense science messaging campaigns. For example, the document outlines:

  • plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”;
  • plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling, and cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures”; and
  • efforts to court tobacco and electronic cigarette (e-cig) companies.

Personnel

  • ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” was Dr. Gilbert Ross.[2] In 1993, according to United Press International, Dr. Ross was “convicted of racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy,” and was “sentenced to 47 months in jail, $40,000 in forfeiture and restitution of $612,855” in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system.[3]
  • ACSH’s Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for ten years.[4]
  • Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from convicted felon Dr. Gil Ross in June 2015. Campbell is a former software developer who started the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his book, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left” (2012), Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet” and, “Six years ago, with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.”

Funding

ACSH has often billed itself as an “independent” group, and has been referred to as “independent” in the press. However, according to the internal ACSH financial documents obtained by Mother Jones:

  • “ACSH planned to receive a total of $338,200 from tobacco companies between July 2012 and June 2013. Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were each listed as expected to give $100,000 in 2013, which would make them the two largest individual donations listed in the ACSH documents.”[5]
  • “ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald’s ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000). Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH has pursued for financial support since July 2012 are Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust.”[6]
  • ACSH has received $155,000 in contributions from Koch foundations from 2005-2011, according to Greenpeace.[7]

ACSH features prominently in a July 11, 2017 article in the Progressive by Paul Thacker detailing the chemical industry’s PR campaign to spin journalists on GMOs and discredit environmental health concerns.  Although Monsanto denied funding other groups, Thacker reported, “Monsanto ignored repeated questions about their financial support for the American Council on Science and Health.” ACSH Director Hank Campbell responded with this comment about his corporate funding, “I don’t care. If a large food corporation, like Whole Foods, or a smaller one, like Monsanto, wants to buy an ad here, they can. We will cash that check.”

Ties to Monsanto

A 2017 Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” describes the American Council on Science and Health as a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying network.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a May 2017 brief that:

  • “Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the “Genetic Literacy Project” and the “American Council on Science and Health,” organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.

According to emails obtained by US Right to Know, Monsanto tapped ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors and assigned by Monsanto.

  • In an August 2013 email, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.” The papers were eventually published and merchandized by Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project.

Ties to Syngenta

In 2011, ACSH published the book “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health,” by Jon Entine, a longtime PR messenger for chemical industry interests. Entine’s book defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.

A 2012 Mother Jones article about Entine describes the circumstances leading up to the publication of the book. The article, by Tom Philpott, is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with this release:

“The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and highly regarded science journalist … ACSH compiled this resource book and position to educate legislators, industry, media, consumers and parents on the actual risks of chemical exposure and use in everyday products.”

Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

Indefensible and incorrect statements on science 

ACSH has:

  • Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.”[8]
  • Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming. The climate change predictions are based on computer models that have not been validated and are far from perfect.”[9]
  • Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.”[10]
  • Claimed that “The scientific evidence is clear. There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.”[11]
  • Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.”[12]
  • Argued that the exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.”[13]

ACSH in the Media 

February 2017 letter to USA Today: Thirty health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today expressing concerns that the paper is publishing science columns by members of the American Council on Science and Health without identifying  them as a corporate front group. The editors have so far declined to stop publishing the column or provide accurate disclosures about ACSH’s ties to corporations.

Footnotes

[2]Meet the ACSH Team,” American Council on Science and Health website.

[3]Seven Sentenced for Medicaid Fraud.” United Press International, December 6, 1993. See also correspondence from Tyrone T. Butler, Director, Bureau of Adjudication, State of New York Department of Health to Claudia Morales Bloch, Gilbert Ross and Vivian Shevitz, “RE: In the Matter of Gilbert Ross, M.D.” March 1, 1995. Bill Hogan, “Paging Dr. Ross.” Mother Jones, November 2005. Martin Donohoe MD FACP, “Corporate Front Groups and the Abuse of Science: The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Spinwatch, June 25, 2010.

[4] Department of Health and Human Services, Departmental Appeals Board, Civil Remedies Division, In the Cases of Gilbert Ross, M.D. and Deborah Williams M.D., Petitioners, v. The Inspector General. June 16, 1997. Docket Nos. C-94-368 and C-94-369. Decision No. CR478.

[5] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[6] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[7]Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Greenpeace. See also Rebekah Wilce, “Kochs and Corps Have Bankrolled American Council on Science and Health.” PR Watch, July 23, 2014.

[8] Richard Craver, “The Effects of the Smoking Ban.” Winston-Salem Journal, December 12, 2012.

[9] Elizabeth Whelan, “’Global Warming’ Not Health Threat.” PRI (Population Research Institute) Review, January 1, 1998.

[10] Elizabeth Whelan, “Fracking Doesn’t Pose Health Risks.” The Daily Caller, April 29, 2013.

[11]TASSC: The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition,” p. 9. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, University of California, San Francisco. November 21, 2001. Bates No. 2048294227-2048294237.

[12]The Top 10 Unfounded Health Scares of 2012.” American Council on Science and Health, February 22, 2013.

[13]The Biggest Unfounded Health Scares of 2010.” American Council on Science and Health, December 30, 2010.

Top Findings of the U.S. Right To Know Investigations

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Documents obtained by USRTK offer a rare look into the secrets of food and chemical corporations

Since 2015, U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer and public health watchdog group, has obtained thousands of pages of documents revealing – for the first time – hidden industry payments and secret collaborations that undermine our nation’s scientific, academic, political and regulatory institutions.

The USRTK investigations have unearthed important documents about Monsanto and the agrichemical industry and Coca-Cola and the beverage industry — along with the PR operatives, front groups and third-party allies that assist these industries. Together, these documents demonstrate the strategies and tactics these organizations employ to maximize industry profits at the expense of public health.

Here are some of key findings and articles from the USRTK investigations so far.

Undisclosed collaborations between academics and the agrichemical industry:

Corporate influence on journalists, science and regulatory institutions:

Breaking news about chemicals in our food:

Reporting on glyphosate:

USRTK is also posting the “Monsanto Papers on our website, including court documents, news and analysis of the litigation against Monsanto by people alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Third-party messengers/front groups that lobby and write propaganda for the food and chemical corporations:

To receive updates on the US Right to Know investigation, you can sign up to receive our newsletter. Please also consider making a donation to keep our investigation cooking.