You’d think that a company making nearly $41 billion in yearly profit in 2007 would be profligate in its charitable giving. We don’t know yet what Exxon Mobil’s 2007 total was, but the company issues a yearly feel-good report on “community contributions.” The 2006 document says Exxon gave away $138 million in 2006, as it made its previous record profit of $39.1 billion. That comes to less than four-tenths of one percent of its profit, and about one-third of the $398 million that Exxon gave Chairman Lee Raymond as he retired in 2006.
Since regular citizens calculate charitable giving on the basis of their yearly pre-tax, pre-expenses revenue, known as income, add another zero to the front of that percentage: less than four one-hundredths of one percent of revenue given away.
But did Exxon really give even that pittance to what we’d think of as charity? A closer looks reveals dollars spent on the quirky, the murky and the blatantly self-serving.
Exxon’s “public policy” category draws perennial scorn, going as it does to neocon nonprofits that in return defend Exxon’s profits, its spurning of renewable energy and its efforts to deny global warming. The usual culprits include the American Enterprise Institute ($240,000, plus $55,000 in joint projects with the Brookings Institution) , Heritage Foundation and Pacific Research Institute. One of the bigger line items is $115,000 to the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, sponsor of a global meeting of climate change deniers coming up March 2-4 in New York
One of the supporters of this year’s March 2-4 Heartland meeting in New York is The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. This Tempe, AZ., group, which also received $10,000 from Exxon, sells videos on its website touting CO2 pollution as “an amazingly effective aerial fertilizer” and publishes studies denying the science of global warming.
Exxon last year said it would stop directly funding the authors of global warming denial articles who then popped up in newspaper Op-Ed pages as well as at Heartland-type conferences. It said nothing about pulling funding from the organizations that also sponsor the deniers.
The rest of Exxon’s contributions get less mainstream attention, though they are a window on how it operates as a corporate citizen.
Millions of dollars under Exxon’s "global health" “education” and "environment" categories are lumped under an unitemized line of foreign payments to unidentified NGOs, plus: "[S]ocial bonus projects required under agreements with host governments by Exxon Mobil Corporation, its divisions and affiliates; and, ExxonMobil’s share of community expenditures paid by joint ventures operated by other companies." Without itemization, it’s fair to consider this category as "dollars to despots".
Exxon operates in partnership with notoriously corrupt and often violent regimes in Kazakhstan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Angola, among others. "Social bonus projects" could mean anything from Swiss spa treatment for the prime minister to arms used to extend civil conflict.
The company’s reported contributions to global health total $19 million. Exxon’s report itemizes less than $4 million to U.S. organizations, mostly near its Irving, Texas, base; the other $15 million benefited "communities outside the United States" and nearly $4 million went directly to overseas groups and governments, with no itemization.
How about the $6.5 million "environment" category? There as well, about $2 million of the donations can’t be accounted for, because they’re under the foreign giving footnote. Most of the itemized contributions are in the tens of thousands, to mainstream nature programs. The only seven-digit contribution category, $1.3 million to "tiger conservation" was puzzling for a moment. But does the phrase "put a tiger in your tank" ring a bell? It’s the 1960’s slogan of Esso (Renamed Exxon in 1972). The only contribution to climate change study is $200,000 to MIT’s Global Change Program.
Exxon’s "civic and community giving" of $40.9 million is mostly bland and conservative: Scouting, Habitat for Humanity, zoos, job development–but what’s that $300,000 to the "Qatar Foundation Social Development Fund"? Oil hub Qatar is filthy rich, with a per capita income projected for 2007 http://www.ameinfo.com/143867.html at nearly $71,000—about twice the U.S per capita income. It’s reminiscent of the $1.5 million Exxon donated to a Saudi Arabian health research project in 2005.
Higher education gifts, at $35 million, are thinly spread around, $10,000 here, a few hundred thousand there, much of it to business schools and (petroleum) engineering programs. The single seven-figure gift is $2.5 million, given in the name of former Exxon chairman Lee Raymond (remember his nearly $400 million retirement package?). It’s to the little-known Teagle Foundation, which promotes "liberal education" with a trace of religiosity.
Ah, but here’s the click: The Teagle Foundation traces to Walter Teagle, first president of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which became Esso, which became Exxon. Teagle, after he was implicated in a scandal involving Standard Oil’s alliance with the German industrial giant I.G. Farben during World War II, established his foundation for "the betterment of mankind."
The K-12 education category, $18 million, drops $8 million into the un-itemized foreign contributions asterisk. Much of the domestic giving is to science teaching, including an Exxon-fueled curriculum project at the National Science Teachers Association. The NSTA gave Exxon a prize for "commitment to science education" in 2003, but in 2006 refused an offer of 50,000 free copies of Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" from its producer, Laurie David. David then ably pointed out the partnerships that made NSTA a classroom distributor of Big Oil’s viewpoint in return for corporate contributions.
Exxon is a global Scrooge, all right, but it’s a Scrooge with an agenda.