Sun News host Ezra Levant recalls “wonderful” Koch foundation summer
Newspaper columnist and Sun News Network host Ezra Levant apparently remains the Chairman of EthicalOil.org, the country's leading pro-oilsands group, but the former tobacco lobbyist would not reveal his organization's donors or other members of its board of directors – or acknowledge his own position there.
Emphasizing his volunteerism at EthicalOil.org, Levant would not verify his leading role or duties in a group he regularly discusses and supports in Canada's news media.
“My role with EthicalOil.org has always been as an uncompensated part-time volunteer,” he told the Vancouver Observer. “My only employer is the Sun.”
- Tides Canada's Ross McMillan shoots back at Ezra Levant's "money launderers" slur
- “Charitable” Fraser Institute accepted $500k in foreign funding from Koch oil billionaires
However, last September, he revealed his leading position in a Sun News Network column: “I am the volunteer chairman of EthicalOil.org.” When the Vancouver Observer attempted to verify his continued role, and requested information on the group's funders and its board of directors, the Ethical Oil author turned the question around.
“Say, I'm curious: do you receive money from any charity?” he asked during an ongoing email exchange.
When asked about the increasingly polarized nature of Canadian politics, Levant replied: "I'm all for a healthy debate in politics (subject to applicable elections laws). That's one of the key differences between Canada as an ethical oil producer, and conflict oil dictatorships where criticism is outlawed."
The Vancouver Observer also asked whether EthicalOil.org receives money from Vancouver's Fraser Institute or the Koch family – US oil billionaires with a sizeable stake in the Alberta oilsands – whom VO revealed pumped at least $500,000 into the Fraser Institute, ostensibly for its international work.
“EthicalOil.org voluntarily chooses not to accept foreign money, in order to preserve some moral authority when fighting for Canadian interests, against ENGOs (environmental non-government organizations) that are funded by foreign interests,” Levant said, adding that he is not against all foreign funding for groups. “But that is a discretionary choice made for credibility.
“As for EthicalOil.org itself, as you know they accept donations via PayPal and cheque, but only from Canadians. Their policy is not to disclose the identity of particular donors, but obviously Koch would fall under the foreign exclusion rule.”
Levant – who won the National Business Book Award last year for his book arguing that Canada's oilsands offer the most ethical petroleum in the world – himself worked at the Fraser Institute in 1995, after completing an internship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation in the US.
The Koch family is well-known as the financial buttress of the ultra-conservative US Tea Party movement, as well as key funders and visionaries behind institutions such as the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute.
“It is true that I was a Koch Summer Fellow in 1994, when I was a student,” Levant said. “It was a wonderful summer internship where I learned the value of free market economics.
“I have never met the Kochs but I would love to one day.”
He told the Vancouver Observer that questioning conservative groups' funding sources – including EthicalOil.org and the Fraser Institute – is “missing the whole point here.”
Unlike the David Suzuki Foundation and Tides Canada Foundation – and the Fraser Institute – EthicalOil.org is not a registered charity, and therefore does not have to restrict its political or partisan work to 10 per cent of its spending.
“EthicalOil.org isn't a charity,” he said. “We don't pretend to be in the same moral category as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless – and so we don't get an exemption from the Income Tax Act like registered charities do.
“The problem with political ENGOs with charitable status is that they act like political advocates, and even partisans, but they expect the tax treatment of Mother Teresa.”
Last week, the Vancouver Observer learned that the Fraser Institute – a Vancouver-based national think tank which supports the oilsands and oil pipelines – not only accepted $500,000 from US Koch foundations, but in total more than $1.7 million from foreign sources (16 per cent of its revenues) in 2010 alone, the last year reported to Canada Revenue.
That is more than double the foreign funding for the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Club Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives combined. The two independent branches of Tides Canada -- Tides Canada Foundation and Tides Canada Initiatives -- combined have nearly 29 per cent foreign funding.
Prior to the formation of EthicalOil.org – which he founded with Alykhan Velshi, now Prime Minister Stephen Harper's planning director – the commentator was a lobbyist with several companies, including Rothman's Inc., a subsidiary of tobacco giant Phillip Morris International.
In an earlier Vancouver Observer article, Levant slammed the Tides Canada Foundation for alleged breaches of the law stemming from their support of environmental groups opposed to the oil sands and BC pipelines.
“They're money-launderers – renting out their charitable number to any anti-oilsands political group, and granting their donors anonymity,” he said. “They believe in opaqueness, not transparency.”
Tides' director, Ross McMillan, shot back that the group works within the law and that it welcomed the Conservatives calling it to defend itself before a Senate committee.
The Vancouver Observer also contacted EthicalOil.org's Executive Director for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.