The developing scandal around Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s association with Adam Werrity has continued apace, as it becomes increasingly evident that Fox’s job is on the line. Slightly less of the media coverage has concentrated on the charity Atlantic Bridge, of which Werrity was the executive director.
According to the Guardian, Atlantic Bridge was established in 1997 to “strengthen the special relationship” between the US and the UK. Werrity was installed as “the executive director and sole employee of the charity” and Michael Gove, George Osborne and William Hague were on the advisory council. In 2003 it was registered as a charity, with the charitable aims:
“…..The furtherance of public education on both sides of the Atlantic, in areas of common interest, focusing particularly but not exclusively on free trade, economics, health and science. Research into relations between Europe and North America and their implications for the international community with the aim to raise cultural awareness and improve links’.”
In 2007, things get interesting. An apparently unconnected US-based lobby group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) set up a sister charity in the US – also known as Atlantic Bridge.
Most of ALEC’s website is currently down for maintenance, but through the magic of the wayback machine, we have been able to have a peek anyway. A press release by ALEC on October 24, 2007, states that
“Washington, DC-The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pleased to announce the launch of The Atlantic Bridge Project as the latest component of its International Relations Program. The project aims to foster positive relationships between conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, so that they may further the ideals exemplified by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
ALEC is proud to launch this project in conjunction with the Atlantic Bridge Group, a non-profit organization chaired by the British Conservative Shadow Minister for Defense, Liam Fox MP. The organization is supported by Lady Thatcher and ALEC Alumni Congressman John Campbell who serves on the Atlantic Bridge Advisory Board.”
Even though the Atlantic Bridge Project (USA) and the Atlantic Bridge Group (UK) were different organisations, it seems that they subsequently operated extremely closely together, promoting links between US and UK based conservatives, and paying for flights and expenses for Liam Fox and other senior Tories to take trips across the Atlantic. Accounts for 2007 for Atlantic Bridge Group state that “The two entities have been set up to mutually support each others aims”.
It took the tenacious blogger Stephen Newton to label Atlantic Bridge the “Tory Travel Club” and chase it down over a two-year period – including making a complaint to the Charity Commission. His blog tale is well worth a read. The final result of this was in July 2010, the Charity Commmission ruled that the charity had been undertaking overly political work – as it put it:
“Although it is legitimate for a charity to study, research or educate the public about the ‘Special Relationship’, it is not permissible for a charity to promote a particular pre-determined point of view.”
The ruling (removed from the Charity Commission’s website but obtainable from them on request) stated that “the Charity’s current activities must cease immediately” and that it needed to make a “clear separation” from Atlantic Bridge Inc (set up by ALEC) in the US.
ALEC are an interesting organisation. They have been described by Greenpeace as a “Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group” – (make of that what you will) – with Greenpeace using the US’s more transparent funding reporting to detail a total of $608,858 given by the Koch Foundation to ALEC between 1997 and 2009.
ALEC’s PR work on environmental issues has been extensively documented. They produced a short and accessible “Climate Change Overview for State Legislators” document – essentially a Q&A which systematically downplays the risks of climate change. They lobbied against Kyoto, adopting a model resolution for states to pass calling on the U.S. government to reject the Kyoto Protocol and banning states from regulating greenhouse gases. They are currently lobbying against the US Environmental Protection Agency, having produced a booklet entitled ” The EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck” with an accompanying policy summit and campaigning website.
PRWatch has extensively investigated ALEC’s activities opposing action on energy and climate change and there are two separate website – AlecExposed and Alecwatch – dedicated to tracking the organisation’s activities, both of which accuse it of acting as a front group for corporate lobbyists. Their board of directors is heavily dominated by corporate interests.
Accounts for 2007 for the the UK-based Atlantic Bridge Group, which we have seen, demonstrate the close affiliation between the US and UK based organisations. The accounts state that:
“In accordance with the special relationship which the Atlantic Bridge promotes, Atlantic Bridge Inc and the charity work together to carry out programme that allow us to reach our annual goals. Because our donor base and event audiences come from both the US and the UK, there is a need for two separate organisations.
When events occur in America, expenses are paid by the Atlantic Bridge Inc (US), run by Scott Syfert. If a British citizen wishes to attend an event in the US, and prefers to give a donation in GBP, the UK charity will accept the donations on behalf of Atlantic Bridge Inc. The two entities have been set up to mutually support each others aims”.
Last week a map created by two US-based Sociologists of the US ” climate change denial machine” was attracting attention in the blogosphere. No equivalent map exists for the UK – partly because our Freedom of Information laws require less transparency on funding streams.
The Guardian reported last week that Atlantic Bridge (UK) has now been axed – and also rasied questions as to who was funding the charity. Such questions – and those related to exactly how much political influence US think tanks are able to wield in the UK – are likely to continue.