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Effort to repeal greenhouse gas law receives mysterious donation of nearly $500,000

April 19, 2010 |  2:26 pm

Adam Smith's invisible hand has found its way into California politics.

Last week, a nonprofit group called the Adam Smith Foundation, based in Jefferson City, Mo., gave $498,000 to the campaign to repeal California's greenhouse gas law. That's quite a contribution, considering the group reported just $30,000 per year in revenue the past two years.

What's more curious is how the donation fits in with the group's stated mission. According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service,  the Adam Smith Foundation describes itself as "an advocacy organization committed to promoting conservative principles and individual liberties in Missouri. The Adam Smith Foundation was created to defend judicial reform, government accountability, education reform, tax and spending reform and protecting private property."

So how did the fight to repeal AB 32 get on the foundation's radar? And who gave money to the foundation to give to the campaign in California? Unfortunately, federal records don't show us that. The phone number on their federal forms has been disconnected, and an e-mail sent through the group's Web site Monday was not returned.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and the person listed as the principal officer for the campaign to repeal AB 32, said he did not know much about the big donation.

"I was not aware that this is coming in, but we certainly are grateful for the support," he said. "I think what's happening is that other organizations are looking at California -- as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation. People are generally concerned about these regulations."

Moving money to political campaigns through nonprofits can mask the original source of funds, since nonprofits are not required by law to disclose where they receive their funding. The tactic has been used increasingly by conservative and liberal causes alike over recent years to skirt the spirit of campaign finance laws.

Other major donors to the committee include Occidental Petroleum ($300,000), Tesoro Companies ($200,000) and World Oil Corp. ($100,000). Coupal's group has also given $100,000 to the effort.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the campaign against the initiative, called the Adam Smith Foundation's contribution "just another sad example of Texas oil companies teaming up with out-of-state special interests to try to put a dirty energy proposition on the California ballot."

-- Anthony York in Sacramento

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