Heritage Scholar Gives a Masterclass in Responding to Sheldon Whitehouse’s Attacks

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A Heritage Foundation economist called out Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., for his membership in a whites-only club in response to the senator’s attack on the conservative think tank.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the Center For Energy, Climate, and Environment at The Heritage Foundation, also made clear fossil fuels played a larger role in Whitehouse’s personal wealth than the budget of Heritage. (The Daily Signal is the multi-media news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

“I don’t have the benefit of being able to rely on a family fortune made in the Minnesota gas business, or having my spouse’s family fortune come from United Gas,” Furchtgott-Roth said. “And The Heritage Foundation is a club that anyone can join, not just white people. During 2021, it had hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate supporters representing every state in the United States.”

Whitehouse, a liberal firebrand known for conjuring conspiracy theories in his Senate floor speeches and in committee hearings, talked about the funding from fossil fuel companies to Heritage and other think tanks where Furchtgott-Roth worked.

Furchtgott-Roth, who previously held senior level economist positions in the Treasury Department, the Labor Department and the White House Council of Economic Advisors, made only a subtle reference to Whitehouse’s membership in the Bailey’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island. She also made direct references to Whitehouse’s own financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Whitehouse began by listing the various economic topics about which Furchtgott-Roth has testified before congressional committees, in an almost mocking tone. “Is that a pretty fair summary of the breadth of your testimony across various congressional committees?”

Furchtgott-Roth replied, “I’m fortunate to have been able to write six books, hundreds of articles. I’ve been chief economist of the Labor Department, the equivalent to chief economist of the Treasury Department, and chief of staff to the Council of Economic Advisors.”

Whitehouse noted that in the private sector, she worked for the American Petroleum Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and now The Heritage Foundation.

“Every single one of those groups is funded by the fossil fuel industry. Is that not true?” Whitehouse said.

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Furchtgott-Roth responded by referring to Whitehouse’s own wealth from the gas industry and membership in the white beach club.

Whitehouse has a net worth of $7.4 million, according to Open Secrets, which tracks money in politics.

Whitehouse has come under scrutiny in recent years for his membership in the whites-only Bailey’s Beach, a club and beach in Newport, Rhode Island. The Washington-based Capital Research Center first reported on Whitehouse’s club membership in 2019, and it gained more coverage in local media in 2021.

Members of the organization Black Lives Matter Rhode Island called for Whitehouse to cut ties with the club. 

“It doesn’t matter, you know, what type of black people he brings in,” Mark Fisher, a founding member of BLM Rhode Island, told ABC 6 in Providence. “This club is a proven racist club with exclusive ties to supremacy and exclusion, and that’s something that’s not going to be tolerated by me, by my associates, my affiliates, or my organization.”

One of Whitehouse’s predecessors, the late Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., declined an invitation to join the Bailey’s Beach club because of its whites-only policy. When Whitehouse first ran for the Senate in 2006 against Chafee’s son, Republican incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee, he said he would quit Bailey’s Beach club. However, Rhode Island media determined that Whitehouse was still a member in 2021. 

“I think it would be nice if they [Bailey’s Beach club] changed a little bit, but it’s not my position,” Whitehouse told a reporter in 2021.

During the hearing Wednesday, Whitehouse asked, “Do you know how much funding it [Heritage] received from the oil and gas baron Koch Industries’ political operation?”

Furchtgott-Roth said the corporate funding, including fossil fuel firms, make up a small portion.

“The top five corporate givers provided The Heritage Foundation with only 1% of its 2021 income,” she said. “Individuals contributed 82%, foundations 12%, corporations 1%, program revenue and other income 5%.”

Whiteouse stretched back to the 1990s to show that Heritage received donations from oil-related entities.

“The answer is its over $5 million from the Kochs’ various foundations since 1996, from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which are the great pass-throughs for the fossil fuel industry to obscure their role,” Whitehouse said. “Heritage has received over $2 million. It has received three-quarters of $1 million from Exxon since 1998. In 2019, Heritage reported on its tax return that its various direct mail telemarketing and fundraising efforts were responsible for $19 [million] of the $117 million it received. Can you explain where the other $98 million came from?”

Furchtgott-Roth answered his question with the same data she provided earlier.

“As I said, we have hundreds of thousands of individual donors, and I have been writing, as you point out, the same things throughout all my career as a professional economist beginning in 1985,” she said. “And what I write doesn’t depend on where I work.”

Whitehouse, who has consistently pushed climate change legislation and subsidies for renewable energy, pivoted to climate matters.

“You wrote, for instance, in a Forbes column last year that renewables actually increase global emissions. Do you stand by that comment?” he said.

Furchtgott-Roth explained the piece.

“Yes. Because they’re made with coal-fired power plants in China. I did explain that if renewables were the wind turbines and solar panels are made and batteries are made with coal-fired plants in China,” she said. “I did explain that if these were made with emissions-free energy such as nuclear power, then the benefits to the environment would be much greater. But many environmentalists who are in favor of renewables are against dense emission nuclear power, and therefore making these renewables often raises emissions.”

Whitehouse followed: “In addition to stating that renewables actually increase global emissions, have you also agreed that recent data, and I quote here, ‘Calls into question the conclusion that humans are the dominant cause of recent climate change?’”

Furchtgott-Roth replied, “I’m an economist, not a scientist.”

Whitehouse asked if she stood by the 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which she made the claim.

“Yes. Scientists disagree on the human component of global warming,” she said. “And in this book, “Unsettled” by Steve Koonin, who was under secretary of energy under President Obama, and who taught for 30 years at CalTech and has a PhD in physics from MIT, he says that, ‘It is uncertain how much human activity affects global warming. The case is unsettled,’ and I’m no better scientist than he is.”

Whitehouse seemingly without comeback concluded, “Well, thank you very much. It’s notable that that is the position that the Republican Party intends to stand by. With that, the hearing draws to its conclusion.”

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