Koch brother funded think tank is behind Utah’s anti-monument push

Millions of Koch-linked funds were funneled to a conservative think tank that helped spearhead the attack on the monument.

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File
Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

A Utah resolution calling for the elimination of Bears Ears National Monument turns out to have been authored by a conservative think tank that is largely funded by the Koch brothers, according to documents and IRS filings.

Emails obtained by the Western Values Project and reported by E&E News on Wednesday show that the Sutherland Institute — a conservative Utah think tank — wrote the resolution that Utah lawmakers approved in January. That resolution, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Hughes (R) and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R), urged President Trump to rescind Bears Ears national monument, a 1.35-million acre national monument designated by President Obama in December of 2016.

In May, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Bears Ears monument for a tour alongside Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R) and political operative Matt Anderson, a senior policy fellow with Federalism in Action and a policy analyst with the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of the Sutherland Institute. According to the newly released emails, Anderson was asked to “provide language” for the resolution.

Both the Sutherland Institute and Federalism in Action receive funds from the State Policy Network, a tax-exempt group dedicated to helping conservative think tanks around the country. The State Policy Network has deep ties to the Koch brothers, receiving millions in donations from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.


Moreover, according to IRS filings, the Sutherland Institute itself received at least $1.6 million between 2010 and 2015 from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, two related funding organizations linked to the petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch.

Between 2007 and 2010, Koch and his wife Liz gave $4.5 million to Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund through a third-party organization known as the Knowledge and Progress Fund. In 2013, Mother Jones reported on how Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund has funneled hundreds of millions to conservative think tanks and foundations, effectively serving as the “dark-money ATM of the right.”

This is hardly the first time the Koch brothers have funded campaigns to dismantle federal protection for federal lands. In 2016, during the 40-day militant takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, Federalism in Action disclosed to members that it would begin directly funding Utah State Representative Ken Ivory (R), largely considered the leader of the conservative movement to transfer public lands to the states.

The future of the Bears Ears monument is still up in the air. In June, Zinke released a recommendation calling for Bears Ears to be downsized, which came as part of a larger review of all national monuments designated since 1996. The public comment period for the monument review closed earlier this week — according to initial analysis of submitted comments conducted by the Center for Western Priorities, 98 percent were supportive of maintaining or expanding current national monument designations.