Non-profit

American Conservation Coalition (ACC)

Website:

www.acc.eco

Location:

APPLETON, WI

Tax ID:

82-2038028

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Formation:

June 30, 2017

The American Conservation Coalition (ACC) is a nominally right-leaning environmental advocacy organization with financial and advisory board ties to left-wing environmentalist groups. The Wisconsin-based organization was founded and is headed by Benjamin “Benji” Backer, a student at the University of Washington. [1]

ACC says it is “giving conservatives a voice on the environment,” and aims to present environmental issues as a conservative policy concern, though it does not overtly offer specific conservative policy prescriptions. [2] Despite presenting itself as a center-right advocacy group, ACC proposed a policy of taxing carbon dioxide emissions in September 2017, but has since then deleted that issue from its platform. [3] [4]

American Conservation Coalition Campus (ACC Campus) is the 501(c)(3) fundraising and research arm of ACC. Conservatives for Environmental Reform (CFER) is the now-defunct PAC associated with ACC.

Background

ACC was founded in June 2017 by college student Benjamin “Benji” Becker to advocate within the Republican Party for environmentalist-aligned energy policy. [5] The ACC website had up until August 2018 indicated that it was part of a coalition with other environmentalist organizations including the left-wing Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), and Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund (OEC Action Fund), alongside the right-of-center R Street Institute and ConservAmerica. [6]

Environmental Activism

Carbon Tax

As of October 2018, ACC does not take a position on a carbon dioxide emissions tax as a policy solution to global warming. In September 2017, however, its website read: “There is a need to take action with a measure such as a carbon pricing policy that is noninvasive, fair for both businesses and citizens, and cuts costly and ineffective regulations.” [7] [8]

While ACC itself avoids taking explicit policy positions, other coalition members such as the center-right R Street Institute, which has received grants from prominent environmentalist foundations including the Hewlett Foundation and the Energy Foundation[9] as well as George SorosOpen Society Foundations, [10] has openly praised former Rep. Carolos Curbelo’s (R-FL) failed 20018 carbon tax bill in the House of Representatives. [11]

In a Washington Examiner op-ed written on August 8, 2019, Danielle Butcher, the Chief Operating Officer at American Conservation Coalition, wrote about the need to implement “immediate and tangible” strategies to reduce climate change and how the debate over the carbon tax drowns out viable solutions. [12] “Since its introduction in the 1990’s,” she continued, “a price on carbon has gained little traction […] a political consensus supporting carbon pricing has still not materialized, and it likely never will.” [13] Butcher recognized how carbon pricing, despite being branded as a “free market solution” by supporters, is still “the addition of regulation and extra costs in the market […] it’s still a form of government intervention.” [14]

Butcher also criticized those that would oppose a carbon tax and “their failure to showcase alternatives” and “instead cling to a tactic of denying any problem exists at all.” She offered an “All Of The Above” solution to reduce global emissions through lowered taxes and trade barriers, greater investment in battery storage and carbon capture, and reducing the government’s role in the marketplace. [15]

ACC’s Founding Coalition

ACC’s founding coalition consists of a number of right-leaning and left-leaning organizations.

Conservatives for Environmental Reform

Conservatives for Environmental Reform (CFER), the PAC affiliate of ACC also founded by Benji Backer, stated in 2017 that it supported a carbon pricing initiative promoted by Advocates for a Carbon Tax (ACT) Now in Washington state. [16] According to Backer, “As long as the carbon pricing initiative in Washington state is approached from the right perspective, we believe it is the best way to reduce emissions, all while promoting conservative values.” [17]

As of December 2019, the PAC appears to be defunct, with its website no longer live. [18]

Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund

The OEC Action Fund, a PAC of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC)—itself the Ohio state affiliate of the left-wing League of Conservation Voters—directly advocates for carbon taxes or other government-imposed anti-carbon regulations. [19]

ConservAmerica

A list of advisory board members on ACC’s website previously included Rob Sisson, the executive director of ConservAmerica, another nonprofit organization that aims to be a center-right environmentalist group. [20] Despite declarations that it is a conservative group, ConservAmerica also opposed the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline and has been generally critical towards natural gas exploration. [21] [22]

Leadership

President

Benjamin “Benji” Backer, the president of ACC, was formerly the co-chair for Young Americans for Mitt Romney in Wisconsin and has written for right-of-center websites such as the Daily Caller, RedState, and the Blaze. [23]

In 2017, Backer received $45,000 in compensation from ACC. [24] In 2018, he received no compensation from either ACC or its 501(c)(3) affiliate, ACC Campus, organizations that he is president of. [25] [26] According to the founding documents of its 501(c)(3) affiliate, ACC Campus, filed with the IRS (Form 1023), Backer is an uncompensated volunteer. [27]

However, ACC’s initial filings with the IRS indicate that Backer’s reported compensation for 2017 was $45,000; $50,000 in 2018; $70,000 in 2019; and $100,000 in 2020. [28]

Board of Directors

In 2018, ACC’s board of directors consisted of six individuals; ACC president Benji Backer was the group’s sole officer. [29]

Brent Fewell is founder of Earth & Water Law Group, an environmental law firm. Fewell was previously principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA Office of Water in the George W. Bush administration. [30]

Heather Reams is executive director of the right-leaning environmental advocacy group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES). Reams has a background in public affairs and education policy.

Todd Myers is director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, a right-leaning think tank based in Washington state. [31]

James “Jim” Connaughton is president and CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies, a for-profit firm that develops waterborne data centers. Connaughton is the former chairman of the George W. Bush administration’s White House Council on Environmental Quality (2001-2009) and later directed environmental and energy policy for the natural gas company Constellation, a subsidiary of the oil and natural gas producer Exelon. [32] [33] He is also an adviser to the right-leaning environmental advocacy group ClearPath Foundation. [34]

Holly Fretwell is the director of research and a research fellow for the Property and Environment Research Center, a center-right conservationist think tank based in Montana, and a former economics professor. [35]

Key Staffers

Danielle Butcher is the chief operating officer of ACC and is responsible for the group’s national strategy. She previously worked as an outreach coordinator for Future Female Leaders. [36]

Nicholas Lindquist is ACC’s national policy director. His responsibilities within ACC include creating and implementing strategic visions for the organization. [37]

Funding

Financial Overview

The American Conservation Coalition is a 501(c)(4) advocacy nonprofit formed in 2017. The group describes its mission as “to change the conservative narrative on the environment through innovative education, activism and outreach.” [38]

In 2018, ACC reported total revenues of $224,043, total expenditures of $130,329 (including grants paid totaling $6,583), and net assets of $107,095. [39]

The IRS reports that in 2017, ACC reported revenues less then $50,000 in gross receipts. [40]

However, according to its IRS filing for recognition of tax exempt status (Form 1023), ACC expects to earn $2 million in contributions between 2017 and 2020. [41]

According to those initial filings, in the event that ACC is dissolved all of its assets are to be distributed “exclusively to National Audubon Society.” The National Audubon Society is a center-left environmentalist organization. [42]

American Conservation Coalition Campus (ACC Campus) is the 501(c)(3) fundraising and research arm of ACC. In 2018, neither group reported any paid staffers; ACC only paid $652 in salaries and compensation while ACC Campus paid $0 in salaries and compensation. [43] [44]

Donors to ACC

Few donors to ACC are known as of December 2019. ACC is not required to disclose its donors under IRS rules.

In 2018, ACC reported total contributions of $223,564. [45]

The Capital Research Center obtained a redacted copy of ACC’s 2018 Form 990 containing its list of donations, but not contributors’ names (archived here): [46]

  • $90,000
  • $60,000
  • $50,000
  • $5,000

The center-left Hewlett Foundation reported a $100,000 grant to ACC’s Clean Energy Program in October 2018. [47]

However, many of ACC’s founding coalition members are funded by left-wing nonprofits.

A number of ACC’s founding coalition members, including R Street, receive grants from the environmentalist Energy Foundation and the left-wing Open Society Foundations. [48] [49] Furthermore, the OEC Action Fund receives grants from the left-wing Joyce Foundation, Energy Foundation, and Rockefeller Family Fund. [50] [51] [52]

Financial Documents

ACC’s IRS Form 990 filing for 2018, including its redacted Schedule B (containing donation amounts but not contributors’ names) is available here.

ACC’s Form 1023 application for IRS recognition of tax exempt status is archived here.

References

  1. “Benji Backer – 20 Year-old Conservative Speaker and Blogger.” Benji Backer. Accessed October 22, 2018. http://www.benjibacker.com/. ^
  2. “Giving Conservatives A Voice on the Environment.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/. ^
  3. Lauer, Daniel, and Hayden Ludwig. “The Myth of the Conservative Carbon Tax: A Who’s Who of the EcoRight.” Capital Research Center. October 12, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-myth-of-the-conservative-carbon-tax-part-4/. ^
  4. “The ACC Platform.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/platform/. ^
  5. David, Javier E. “Advocacy Group Teams with Young Republicans to Get the GOP to Embrace Its Inner Tree-hugger.” CNBC. November 18, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/13/college-republican-group-acc-aims-to-persuade-gop-to-embrace-environment.html. ^
  6. Lauer, Daniel, and Hayden Ludwig. “The Myth of the Conservative Carbon Tax: A Who’s Who of the EcoRight.” Capital Research Center. October 12, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-myth-of-the-conservative-carbon-tax-part-4/. ^
  7. Thompson, Ronnie. “Let’s Stay Away from the Carbon Tax Debate.” American Conservation Coalition. August 13, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/blog/2018/8/13/lets-stay-away-from-the-carbon-tax-debate. ^
  8. Lauer, Daniel, and Hayden Ludwig. “The Myth of the Conservative Carbon Tax: A Who’s Who of the EcoRight.” Capital Research Center. October 12, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-myth-of-the-conservative-carbon-tax-part-4/. ^
  9. Data compiled by FoundationSearch.com subscription service, a project of Metasoft Systems, Inc. from forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Queries conducted 1 November 2018. ^
  10. Lehrer, Eli. “Keep Kids Off the Sex Offender Registry.” Open Society Foundations. October 6, 2015. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/keep-kids-sex-offender-registry. ^
  11. Phelan, Ann. “R Street Commends Rep. Curbelo for Introducing Carbon Tax Legislation.” R Street. July 23, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.rstreet.org/2018/07/23/r-street-commends-rep-curbelo-for-introducing-carbon-tax-legislation/. ^
  12. Butcher, Danielle. “Ditch the Carbon Tax and Embrace Less Divisive Climate Change Solutions.” Washington Examiner, August 8, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/ditch-the-carbon-tax-and-embrace-less-divisive-climate-change-solutions. ^
  13. Butcher, Danielle. “Ditch the Carbon Tax and Embrace Less Divisive Climate Change Solutions.” Washington Examiner, August 8, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/ditch-the-carbon-tax-and-embrace-less-divisive-climate-change-solutions. ^
  14. Butcher, Danielle. “Ditch the Carbon Tax and Embrace Less Divisive Climate Change Solutions.” Washington Examiner, August 8, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/ditch-the-carbon-tax-and-embrace-less-divisive-climate-change-solutions. ^
  15. Butcher, Danielle. “Ditch the Carbon Tax and Embrace Less Divisive Climate Change Solutions.” Washington Examiner, August 8, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/ditch-the-carbon-tax-and-embrace-less-divisive-climate-change-solutions. ^
  16. Boyd, Bill. “Advocates for a Carbon Tax NOW.” Advocates for a Carbon Tax NOW. June 13, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://actnow662.wordpress.com/. ^
  17. “Conservatives for Environmental Reform Statement on ACT NOW.” CFER―Conservatives for Environmental Reform. May 22, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.cferusa.org/updates/2017/5/22/conservatives-for-environmental-reform-statement-on-act-now. ^
  18. Search conducted December 13, 2019. See archived homepage: https://web.archive.org/web/20180110064232/http://cferusa.org/ ^
  19. “Climatechangepredictions.Org – Dud Predictions About Global Warming”. Climatechangepredictions. 2016. http://climatechangepredictions.org/. ^
  20. Lauer, Daniel, and Hayden Ludwig. “The Myth of the Conservative Carbon Tax: A Who’s Who of the EcoRight.” Capital Research Center. October 12, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-myth-of-the-conservative-carbon-tax-part-4/. ^
  21. Walker, Paul. “ConservAmerica Statement on The Dakota Access Pipeline.” October 28, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2018. http://conservamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ConservAmerica-DAPL-Letter.pdf. ^
  22. “Board of Directors.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/board-of-directors/. ^
  23. “Leadership Team.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/leadership-team. ^
  24. IRS Application for Recognition of Tax Exempt Status (Form 1023). American Conservation Coalition. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/American-Conservation-Coalition-Form-1023.pdf

    Obtained by the Capital Research Center in January 2020. See page 6 (PDF). ^

  25. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. Part VII (Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees…). ^
  26. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990-EZ). American Conservation Coalition Campus. Part IV (List of Officers, Directors, Trustees…). ^
  27. “Form 1023: Volunteer Officer Agreement.” American Conservation Campus Coalition. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/ACC-Campus-Form-1023.pdf

    Obtained via public records request by the Capital Research Center. See page 32 (PDF). ^

  28. IRS Application for Recognition of Tax Exempt Status (Form 1023). American Conservation Coalition. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/American-Conservation-Coalition-Form-1023.pdf

    Obtained by the Capital Research Center in January 2020. See page 12 (PDF). ^

  29. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. Part VII (Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees…). ^
  30. “Brent Fewell.” Earth & Water Law Group. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://earthandwatergroup.com/about-us/brent-fewell/ ^
  31. “Todd Myers.” Property and Environment Research Center. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.perc.org/people/todd-myers/ ^
  32. “ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT: New Chu can’t win.” The Washington Times. February 24, 2009. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/24/energy-environment-new-chu-cant-win/ ^
  33. “James L. Connaughton | Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality.” Bush Administration Archives. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/government/connaugton-bio.html ^
  34. “Jim Connaughton.” ClearPath. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://clearpath.org/about-us/jim-connaughton/ ^
  35. “Holly Fretwell.” Property and Environment Research Center. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://www.perc.org/people/holly-fretwell/ ^
  36. “Leadership Team.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/leadership-team. ^
  37. “Leadership Team.” American Conservation Coalition. Accessed October 22, 2018. https://www.acc.eco/leadership-team. ^
  38. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. 2018. Part I. Line 1. ^
  39. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. 2018. Part I. Lines 12, 13, 18, 22. ^
  40. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990-N, E-Postcard). American Conservation Coalition. 2017. Accessed October 10, 2019. Filing available: https://apps.irs.gov/ ^
  41. IRS Application for Recognition of Tax Exempt Status (Form 1023). American Conservation Coalition. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/American-Conservation-Coalition-Form-1023.pdf

    Obtained by the Capital Research Center in January 2020. See page 12 (PDF). ^

  42. IRS Application for Recognition of Tax Exempt Status (Form 1023). American Conservation Coalition. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/American-Conservation-Coalition-Form-1023.pdf

    Obtained by the Capital Research Center in January 2020. See page 15 (PDF). ^

  43. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. Part VII (Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees…). ^
  44. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990-EZ). American Conservation Coalition Campus. Part IV (List of Officers, Directors, Trustees…). ^
  45. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax (Form 990). American Conservation Coalition. Part I. Line 8. ^
  46. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax. American Conservation Coalition. 2018. Schedule B. Archived: https://www.influencewatch.org/app/uploads/2020/01/American-Conservation-Coalition-Form-990-2018.pdf ^
  47. “American Conservation Coalition Campus: For the Clean Energy Program.” Hewlett Foundation. October 29, 2018. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://hewlett.org/grants/american-conservation-coalition-campus-for-the-clean-energy-program/ ^
  48. “Grant Visualizer: The Energy Foundation.” Foundation Search. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.foundationsearch.com/FindFunders/GrantVisualizer.aspx?searchid=4141527 ^
  49. “Grant Visualizer: Foundation to Promote Open Society.” Foundation Search. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.foundationsearch.com/FindFunders/GrantVisualizer.aspx?searchid=4141544 ^
  50. “Grant Visualizer: Joyce Foundation.” Foundation Search. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.foundationsearch.com/FindFunders/GrantVisualizer.aspx?searchid=4141562 ^
  51. “Grant Visualizer: The Energy Foundation.” Foundation Search. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.foundationsearch.com/FindFunders/GrantVisualizer.aspx?searchid=4141575 ^
  52. “Grant Visualizer: Rockefeller Family Fund Inc.” Foundation Search. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.foundationsearch.com/FindFunders/GrantVisualizer.aspx?searchid=4141579 ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Heather Reams
    Board Member
  2. Alex Dwyer
    Employee
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: February 1, 2018

  • Available Filings

    No filings available.

    American Conservation Coalition (ACC)

    520 E SONGBIRD LN
    APPLETON, WI 54913-6806