Alberta Politics
A screenshot from Google Street View of the building in Arlington, Virginia, that the Atlas Network lists as its business address.

U.S.-based Atlas Network, which has ‘reshaped political power in country after country,’ a ‘partner’ of Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Posted on June 23, 2018, 1:11 am
12 mins

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a self-described non-partisan tax watchdog and taxpayer advocacy group once headed by Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney, has always been tight-lipped about the sources of its own funding and support.

This may be mildly ironic, given its vocal demands for transparency in government policy, but as a private organization that aggressively fund-raises for small donations – it claims to receive about 30,000 individual donations yearly – it is certainly within its legal rights to do so.

Antony Fisher as a student at Eton (Photo: Found on the Internet, source not indicated).

However, given the CTF’s tight ties to Conservative Canadian political parties and its vocal advocacy of policies those parties support – often co-ordinated with Conservative candidates through public policy pledges – it is troubling that mainstream media never seems to press the organization on this issue, and continues to treat it as if it were a non-partisan authority on tax policy.

I have asked CTF operatives on more than one occasion if they have foreign donors and have always been informed the group’s policy is not to publish its donors’ names, addresses, or the amount or nature of their support.

You can read the CTF’s description of its privacy policy, wherein it claims to be protecting donors from being targeted by “government officials, petty politicians, agitated union activists and various other stalwarts of the entitlement state,” here.

As an aside, the CTF also has a page on its website devoted to defending the fact, first reported in this blog in 2013, that while it claims to be a large organization with more than 100,000 adherents, its only actual members entitled to see its financial reports are the people who sit on its board, usually five.

The late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

No one is asking the CTF to give up names of individual donors, of course. Most of them are doubtless sincere individuals of limited means who have been persuaded to part with a few dollars by the organization’s tireless fund-raising. However, the possibility an organization that plays an influential role in Canadian democracy is getting support from abroad is another matter.

So it was interesting while researching a recent post on the so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based organization that specializes in litigation supporting social conservative causes and headed by former CTF Alberta director John Carpay, to learn the CTF has a relationship described as a “partnership” with the Arlington, Virginia-based Atlas Network.

The Atlas Network – previously known as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation – was founded in 1981 by Antony Fisher. The wealthy far-right Briton bankrolled market-fundamentalist think tanks in several countries, including the Fraser Institute in Canada. Knighted by Margaret Thatcher’s government a month before his death in 1988, Sir Antony was one of the most influential figures in the establishment of the libertarian Internationale that now dominates conservative parties around the world.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

From its headquarters in the Washington suburb, the Atlas Network is an international conduit for right-wing cash and other forms of assistance, supporting 485 market-fundamentalist and social-conservative “partners” in 95 countries, according to its website. Atlas “partners” include a dozen entities in Canada.

Checking a reference that the JCCF was on the group’s list of Canadian partners, lo and behold, there was the CTF as well.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what the CTF receives from the Atlas Network, or whether it receives support from other foreign sources, but we can now say with confidence the CTF is supported by an influential right-wing U.S. organization that boasts it “inspires and incentivizes” like minded groups in 29 countries. Atlas says on its website in a page devoted to what it calls philanthropic effects to reduce poverty that in the past two and a half years it has “has invested $1,975,000 in reforms expanding economic choices” in those countries.

As for its partners, the Atlas Network says there are no costs to them, but “you will have access to apply for training, grants and award opportunities.”

When asked directly if the CTF has received grants, training, awards or other support from Atlas, the CTF President and CEO Troy Lanigan said, for the record, that he does not “share donor confidentiality.” Those who wish to deduce from this that Atlas is confirmed as a donor are, presumably, free to do so.

Since we are nowadays in a lather about the threat of Russian interference in North American and Western European democracy through the use of social media and domestic fifth columnists, not to mention the efforts of foreign environmentalists, perhaps we should also be looking at the pernicious influence on Canadian democracy of well-financed right-wing ideological support networks from other countries such as the Atlas Network.

According to a report last year in The Intercept, the Atlas Network “has reshaped political power in country after country,” and “has also operated as a quiet extension of U.S. foreign policy.”

U.S. journalist Lee Fang (Photo: Thom Hartmann, Creative Commons).

The report by journalist Lee Fang, notes that the Atlas Network is financed, in turn, partly by foundations run by the notorious Koch Brothers. The Intercept journalist said think tanks in Latin America associated with Atlas have received “quiet funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a critical arm of American soft power.”

Atlas is said to have distributed about $5 million US to groups it supports worldwide in 2016, Fang wrote.

According to the Atlas website, it has accepted a dozen Canadian organizations as partners – half of them market-fundamentalist think tanks including the Fraser Institute, whose never-ending stream of press releases attacking public policy by Liberal and NDP governments shows up in uncritical mainstream news coverage virtually daily.

Two more are litigation groups specializing in right wing causes – both of which have appropriated the initials CCF. Another appears to be a society devoted to proselytizing the nutty cult-like beliefs of the so-called “Austrian School” of economics.

The final three are Preston Manning’s eponymous Calgary training centre for right-wing activists (whose former communications advisor now acts as the CTF’s Alberta director), the CTF itself, and an international organization of similar Astro-Turf groups that appears to be run out of the CTF’s offices in Regina and headed by Mr. Lanigan.

Most of the Canadian entities supported by the Atlas Network have been granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency.

As for Atlas, in Greek mythology, he was the Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity, although often portrayed holding up the Earth. His figure is a favourite of extreme market-fundamentalists, used in the title of the daffy far-right “philosopher” Ayn Rand’s unreadable novel, Atlas Shrugged.

It is the view of this blogger that it’s time for the left to take back the noble figure of Atlas, condemned by an unjust pantheon of the celestial 1% to bear the weight of the entire world while they use it as their playground.

Canadian Atlas Network ‘Partners’:

According to its website, the Atlas Network, a U.S. based funder of right-wing market-fundamentalist groups that exerts great influence on politics worldwide, has 12 Canadian “partners.” They are:

  • Atlantic Institute for Market Studies – a market-fundamentalist think tank based in Halifax; has charitable status

    Canadian Taxpayers Federation President and CEO Troy Lanigan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

  • Canadian Constitution Foundation – specialists in litigation in support of right-wing causes operating out of Calgary; has charitable status
  • Canadian Taxpayers Federation – a high-profile Astro-Turf organization based in Regina; does not have charitable status
  • Fraser Institute – a market-fundamentalist think tank in Vancouver; has charitable status
  • Frontier Centre for Public Policy – a market-fundamentalist think tank in Winnipeg; has charitable status
  • Institute for Liberal Studies – a market-fundamentalist think tank based in Ottawa; has charitable status
  • Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms – specialists in litigation in support of social conservative causes based in Calgary; has charitable status
  • Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada – a Toronto-based spin-off of the Alabama organization of the same name dedicated to the anarcho-capitalist teachings of Ludwig von Mises and other members of the so-called “Austrian School” of economics; has charitable status
  • Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy – a market-fundamentalist think tank in Ottawa; has charitable status
  • Manning Centre – former Reform Party leader Preston Manning’s Calgary training centre for right-wing operatives; does not have charitable status, although the related Manning Foundation for Democratic Education does
  • Montreal Economic Institute – bilingual market-fundamentalist think tank in Montreal; did not show up in the Canada Revenue Agency directory of charities but the organization states on its website it has charitable status
  • World Taxpayers Associations – an international alliance of self-described “taxpayer protection groups” listing London, England, as its headquarters but apparently run from the CTF’s Regina offices and led by the CTF CEO; there is no indication of charitable status

NOTE: This post has been modified from its original appearance in acknowledgement of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s assertion that a funding relationship cannot be proved based on its partnership with the Atlas Network. The CTF will not comment further, citing its policy of donor confidentiality.

24 Comments to: U.S.-based Atlas Network, which has ‘reshaped political power in country after country,’ a ‘partner’ of Canadian Taxpayers Federation

  1. Geoffrey Pounder

    June 23rd, 2018

    “[Atlas] helps finance a dozen Canadian organizations – half of them market-fundamentalist think tanks including the Fraser Institute, whose never-ending stream of press releases attacking public policy by Liberal and NDP governments shows up in uncritical mainstream news coverage virtually daily.”

    PM Harper directed the CRA to target (and hamstring) charitable environmental groups for audits for allegedly exceeding the 10% limit on political activity.
    Including The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists, a bird-watching group.
    No audits for the Fraser Institute and its numerous facsimiles.
    Arguably, the entire scope of their activity is political.

    Perhaps Mr. Climenhaga could explore the obvious double standard when it comes to the CRA, the definition of “political activity”, and the 10% limit on political activity vis-à-vis the web of neoliberal “charities” in this country.

    The extremely uncharitable Ethical Oil and Friends of Science groups call themselves “grassroots” organizations, but, like the CTF, are also loathe to reveal their funding.
    Meanwhile, the right-wing’s favorite conspiracy theorist Vivian Krause attacks environmental NGOs for foreign funding, but has nothing to say about the pipelines of foreign money flowing into Canada for less-than-charitable purposes.

    Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    June 23rd, 2018

    Thanks for more great research, David. I would assume that it is the 5 board members on the CTF that decide what causes to support. I wonder how its 30 000 individual donors would feel if they knew that their donation was used to support a court action that was going to cost taxpayers more money.

    There are a lot of fiscal conservatives (ie CTF supporters) out there that do not hold socially conservative views, and as a result are probably very supportive of the GSAs that started this whole kerfuffle.

    While you are correct that as a private organization the CTF does not need to make its books public, I do wonder how transparent they are to their actual supporters.

    This leaves me even more curious about CTF finances. Really, how much money do you need to run an ‘advocacy group’? Issuing a press release every few weeks to maintain the appearance of doing something seems to be enough to keep the donor base happy. With all the donors the CTF brags about having, it seems reasonable that they have a healthy amount of money on hand. What is being done with it? I read the link to the CTF page you provided, and they reported being audited, but who sees the auditor’s report? Just the 5 board members? I wonder if the loyal CTF supporters, who are angry about being fleeced by the government, are also being fleeced by their advocates.

    Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    June 23rd, 2018

    Jane Mayer in her latest book Dark Money reveals how the super-rich in the U.S. have become the country’s political gatekeepers — steering political discourse to the hard right, one conversation at a time.

    Mayer points out how philanthropy by the rich has become the chosen instrument to erase donor fingerprints, by donating to like-minded non-profits favourable to their political messages. This is because in the majority of cases, donor lists are not revealed — as Climenhaga noted in the case of Canada’s Astro-Turf organizations. This anonymity ensures organizations, like the “Koch network of donors” (who contributed over $800 million to political groups and politicians in the last election cycle) fly under the political radar and the public’s scrutiny to advance their radical ideas. In fact, the many-tentacled ideological machine the Kochs built came to be known as the Kochtopus.

    For the most part, the complicit right-wing media in Canada have failed to uncover these glaring intrusions into democracy. More transparency is vigorously required in order to unveil these feigned non-partisan actors of deceit and end their questionable charitable status — on both sides of the border.

    Reply
  4. Farmer Brian

    June 23rd, 2018

    I think the issue of foreign funding of right and left wing issues in Canada certainly occurs. If you go on fairquestions.typepad.com, Vivian Krause has many articles documenting funding from American groups such as the Tides Foundation and how their money has been funnelled into the anti tar sands campaigns to keep Alberta’s oil land locked. As a pro business person living in Alberta I appreciate organizations like the CTF that lobby for efficient use of my tax dollars and transparency in what my tax dollars are spent on. I don’t always agree that tax rates need to be lowered as there is no doubt that government provides necessary services but I don’t agree with continual deficit spending with no apparent end in sight. A good example of this is the present federal government under Justin Trudeau. Continual deficits, the apparent inability to fix the Pheonix pay system, the inept handling of the pipeline approval process that resulted in the outright purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, the indecision on acquiring new fighter jets and the refusal to reveal how much the newly implemented carbon tax will cost Canadians as the rate increases. I could go on and on. Certainly plenty of fodder for groups like the CTF. And if you go on Vivian Krause’s sight you will see that 10’s of millions of dollars have been spent by American groups trying to curtail Canadian oil production, is this not foreign interference? Enjoy your day

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      June 23rd, 2018

      Excuse, Mr. Brown, but you forgot to mention Soros.

      Reply
    • June 24th, 2018

      Hi Farmer Brian

      What are you saying here? That right wing organizations that you like should get a pass on foreign funding, but organizations with objectives you don’t approve, they should be prosecuted for accepting funds from foreign sources? Well, I guess that’s an example of right wing pragmatism. 😀

      cheers, DB

      Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      June 24th, 2018

      Phoenix, pipeline problems, fighter jets, and deficits were all hallmarks of Stephen Harper’s government as well. Let’s be fair here.

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      June 24th, 2018

      Hey Brian,

      You haven’t posted for a while, and I was afraid we had lost you. I am glad that is not the case.

      I think it is pretty safe to say nobody wants to see the government wasting their tax dollars, and in that sense I agree with you on your point about the value of the CTF.

      Another point you and I have agreed on in the past is that, since Alberta’s oil revenue has taken a hit a tax increase of some sort is necessary to make up the downfall, if we are to prevent deficits. Economists have said the same thing.

      This, I believe, is where the CTF and right wing commentators are doing Alberta a serious injustice. I am sure they have found that when they expose some legitimate waste their donations (CTF) or ratings (media) go up. Thus, if they can’t find real waste, they twist something until it looks like waste, and manipulate their followers so they won’t even consider a tax increase. Look how readily people accepted the manta ‘We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem’ when the price of oil falls.

      Sadly, these rating/donation driven ideas then find their way into public policy. On the Global website yesterday I read a column where the author pointed out how badly needed repairs to the Prime Minister’s residence are gong undone because of the optics of it, and how opposition parties (both Liberal and Conservative) have made political hay by criticizing any government efforts to do the repairs. I would argue the fighter jet purchase you mentioned would fall into the same category.

      Glad you’re back.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        June 25th, 2018

        Bob, spring is a very busy time on the farm, seeding the crop, get the cows out on pasture hence less time to spend on the computer.

        You do raise a good point, Alberta imo needs a sales tax to get us closer to a balanced budget and the CTF has certainly lobbied against this in the past. Let’s be realistic though there is rarely a time when a person agrees 100% with outlook of any organization. Enjoy your day!

        Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      June 24th, 2018

      And wouldyou care to estimate the relative magnitude of the dread Tides Foundation subsidies to the amounts that have been invested in the netwrork of right wing “foundations” and astroturf groups that among subversive actions, created Conservative Party of Canada out of whole cloth?

      The bulk of your text is litany of standard, official, Conservative grievances thatr the subsersive flood of black foreign money could be said to oppose. The clear fact is, you are fine with foreign intervention as long as it serves your political agenda. There used to be good words for this sort of thing…”Quisling”, for example.

      Reply
  5. Andrew Struthers

    June 23rd, 2018

    Great reporting David. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. tom in ontario

    June 23rd, 2018

    The Canadian Taxpayers Federation purports to represent the interests of Canadian taxpayers. But many of its major contributors ably researched by DJC enjoy charitable tax status. Since the individual contributors to these organizations enjoy the benefits of claiming their contributions on their tax returns, they pay less federal and provincial income tax. Who makes up the difference?
    “Tax Fairness” CTF style.

    Hey Postmedia, you read Alberta Politics. Treat what’s left of your empire’s readers to an investigative story. You may be short staffed in the newsroom and your opinion columnists are overworked telling us what to think, but not to worry, Climenhaga’s done it all for you.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      June 23rd, 2018

      I suspect, Tom, that many of the CTF’s 20,000 or so individual and group givers of the 30,000 or so donations they say they get think they are doing God’s work, no matter what they do. I’m not really a researcher. Just a Googler whose memory is reasonably sound. Any underpaid, pension-free Postmedia reporter could do the same. … Actually, now that I look at your point again, it seems to me that I was commenting on Bob’s. I’ll let it stand this way anyway. DJC

      Reply
  7. Murphy

    June 23rd, 2018

    The Mounties have devoted enormous resources to monitoring the non-existent left in this country for over a century while the citizenry is inculcated with right-wing clap-trap from every corner. The funny thing about the Drumpf is that he is entirely correct about mainstream media being fake news. Drumpf is correct about half the time as he takes contradictory positions on subjects depending on the day, but there is no question that our “news” is to a great extent generated by far-right propaganda machines.

    Reply
  8. Death and Gravity

    June 23rd, 2018

    CTF, The Manning Institute for Ratfucking Democracy, the Fraser Institute and all its shifty little friends that you indentify in this article are knowing agents of foreign interests engaged in a now 40-year plan to subvert the realm. This is — and always has been — a problem for countintelligence. This groups must be shut down, their funding sources identified, their assets confiscated, and their “leaders”, the local compradores acting for the foreign billionaires need to spend the rest of their lives in jail. The government of Canada has all the power it needs to stop this….that power simply needs to be directed at real enemies, not imaginary ones.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      June 23rd, 2018

      Well, you’ve made a liar of me, Death. I just wrote one of the subjects of my recent posts to say no one is suggesting throwing them all in jail. DJC

      Reply
      • Death and Gravity

        June 23rd, 2018

        Just calling as I see it. These people are not engaged simply in political activism…this is subversion directed by foreign interests. It’s not free speach, it’s a criminal conspiracy.

        Reply
  9. brett

    June 23rd, 2018

    We take whatever the CTF dishes out with a grain of salt. Nothing about their financial backers would surprise me.

    They lost their credibility with us years ago.

    As for the Manning Institute….well that name speaks for itself. Have to wonder if they are doing any soul searching based on the advice an direction that they provided to certain candidates in the last provincial election and more recently in the Calgary municipal election. If they were the group providing advice to Bill Smith then they did an abysmal job of it.

    Reply
  10. FCS

    June 24th, 2018

    The Atlas Foundation has sponsored organizations that promote democracy, equal rights, poverty alleviation, and yes, free market advocacy in many poor countries that need such things to happen so that they don’t keep being poor. They also sponsor grass-root advocacy against violent religious militancy in Muslim-majority countries that has become dangerously intolerant to many peaceful Muslims but especially to minorities. You, what have you done besides writing inane, slanderous commentaries?

    The Koch brothers are hated through and through by the most retarded of the Left and the Right. They are probably doing some things right. They publicly lobbied against Trump’s presidential bid, as well as Trump’s Muslim ban and hardline war against undocumented immigrants.

    Your accusation about the corruption of Canadian democracy by foreign money might also carry a bit more weight had you at least mentioned that a large amount of Leftist foreign money also flows to Canadian “charities” (Tides, anyone?). Alas, none of such concern is even remotely said or implied.

    Keep it up with the self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      June 25th, 2018

      Actually, donations like those of the Tides Foundation are briefly discussed in Paragraph 13. So it is not strictly true that “none of such concern is even remotely said or implied.” DJC

      Reply
  11. Expat Albertan

    June 24th, 2018

    “government officials, petty politicians, agitated union activists and various other stalwarts of the entitlement state.”

    Wow! This statement on the CTF website officially exposes the lie that they are in any way non-partisan. Great work, Dave.

    Reply
  12. Scotty on Denman

    June 24th, 2018

    You say Liberatarian Internationale now “dominates conservative parties around the world.” I would say that conservative parties so-dominated have become something different than traditional Tory conservative parties—especially because neo-liberal usurpers of Tory parties aim for a kind of stateless corporatocracy antithetical to the democratic sovereign state. Or, put another way, that traditional Tory parties put national patriotism and holism in a superior position to international trade.

    Yes, yes, I don’t doubt that international trade is important, but the undermining of our sovereignty by way of various investor-protecting trade deals is undemocratic in the final analysis.

    I’d ask you: are there any traditional Tory conservative parties remaining in the world these days that haven’t been usurped by neo-liberalism?

    Reply
  13. Lars

    June 24th, 2018

    Various typists from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy frequently contribute opinion pieces to the Globe & Mail – in fact, they seem to be more frequent contributors than denizens of the Fraser Institute these days. Never a mention of foreign funding, of course.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)