Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs? What Exactly is the Energy and Policy Institute?
Throughout the debate over Ohio House Bill 6, Ohio news media and clean energy groups frequently cited the work of an innocuous sounding organization called the Energy and Policy Institute. As recently as March 5, 2020 Dave Anderson, the policy and communications manager for the Institute, was the primary source of research for an article on FirstEnergy contributions to organizations supporting the bill.
“Powerful corporations, and utilities in particular, often fund groups to do their dirty work in an attempt to avoid accountability,” Anderson said. But research into the Energy and Policy Institute have borne out their own abject hypocrisy.
In fact, a well-sourced report from the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability reveals that the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) is just as secretive as the organizations it exposes. EPI is a dark money group: it does not appear to have nonprofit status, it is not registered with any relevant secretary of state, and no one admits to funding it. It appears that EPI may be simply the creation of a public relations firm. Nevertheless, journalists treat EPI as they would any other watchdog organization. 1
According to the Facebook Page for EPI, they were founded in October 2013. But the trail gets murkier from there. Neither their Facebook Page nor their website lists a physical address nor a telephone number. The only address reported is a Post Office Box for San Francisco.
Furthermore, the organization does not appear to be registered as either a nonprofit or for-profit company with any relevant state secretary of state. As part of their research into EPI, the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability searched corporation databases in California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
Researchers for Ohio Statehouse News searched corporate databases in Delaware, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Additionally, we utilized LexisAdvance business search tools and the Tax Exempt Organization search for the Internal Revenue Service. We found no record of this entity.
According to a response sent to the Washington Examiner, EPI claims to be funded solely by environmental foundations. But here’s the problem. Environmental foundations have to report the grants they make to other groups on their IRS 990 tax returns. And a multitude of searches both by the Campaign for Accountability and Ohio Statehouse News have not found a single recorded grant. Additionally, charitable organizations are usually not able to make donations to organizations that are not recognized as tax exempt by the IRS and EPI is not on that list.
Here’s what we think is really going on.
In November 2011, a 501(c)4 dark money nonprofit group called Renew American Prosperity, Inc. was formed in Washington, DC. As a 501(c)4 organization Renew American Prosperity, Inc. is not required to list its contributors.
Renew American Prosperity, Inc. has shared the same address over the years with a for profit limited liability company named Tigercomm LLC. In return most of the funds spent by Renew American Prosperity, Inc. are paid to Tigercomm LLC on an annual basis for management fees, according to their 990 IRS tax returns.
The founder of EPI, Gabe Elsner, first worked as a social media associate with Tigercomm before becoming deputy director for the Checks and Balances Project. The Checks and Balances Project is a similar group to EPI that is funded by Renew American Prosperity, Inc. and is serviced by Tigercomm LLC. 2
In 2015, the Checks and Balances Project was caught red handed when it was confirmed that they were funded by SolarCity, the leading residential solar installer. The public disclosure of this hypocrisy led to SolarCity cutting ties to the group.3
EPI would like Ohio legislators and the news media to believe that they are simply a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog that is exposing fossil fuel interests. But what the facts reveal is that they are simply political operatives, being funded by solar energy and other vested interests, utilizing even more duplicity than the groups that they supposedly expose.