Front groups with official and impressive name such as Medicine and Public Health at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) tend to lend an air of authoritative credibility to a given issue. It carries the impression of being an expert source.
To increase the “expert credibility” image, add someone with a few letters before and/or after their name to the staff.
But is the front group or its representatives really an expert and credible organization? It depends on their motives and funding sources.
The PennEast pipeline has been battling residents in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for about a year. Who is PennEast? The PennEast Pipeline is a proposed gas transmission project of six companies: UGI Utilities, AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Company, Public Service Enterprise Group, South Jersey Industries, and Spectra Energy.
Residents along the PennEast route have formed local real grassroots groups, (real Grassroots as opposed to industry backed Astroturf groups) and are volunteering their time to stop the pipeline from being built. More formal groups such as the Delaware Riverkeeper and to a lesser extent the Pennsylvania Sierra Club have lent assistance to the grassroots groups with organizing.
Opponents of PennEast have been labels as NIMBYs, “fractavist” fringe groups, tree huggers, a vocal minority among others in an attempt to downplay their importance to the issues surrounding the pipeline.
Calling Dr. Ross
A recent opinion piece appeared on NJ.com about the PennEast pipeline currently in pre-file status with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The headline read “Case against PennEast pipeline places anti-fracking sentiment over science” written by Gilbert Ross, MD.
If a reader takes the time to read the footer at the bottom of the opinion piece, Ross’s credentials along with the impressive association to the American Council on Science and Health the reader may feel this is a real unbiased opinion.
Gilbert Ross, M.D., is the senior director of medicine and public health at the American Council on Science and Health in New York. The Council accepts no-strings-attached, charitable donations from many individuals, companies, and foundations, including a small amount from companies with interests in oil, gas and energy. Ross and his wife live in Jersey City.
Who is Gilbert Ross, MD? Per Mother Jones 2005 article (emphasis added):
Although the biography posted on the organization’s website doesn’t mention it, Ross actually had to abandon medicine on July 24, 1995, when his license to practice as a physician in New York was revoked by the unanimous vote of a state administrative review board for professional misconduct.
Instead of tending to patients, Ross spent all of 1996 at a federal prison camp in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, having being sentenced to 46 months in prison for his participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York’s Medicaid program of approximately $8 million. During a three-and-a-half-week jury trial, federal prosecutors laid bare Ross’ participation in an enterprise, headed by one Mohammed Sohail Khan, to operate four sham medical clinics in New York City. For his scam to work, Khan needed doctors who could qualify as Medicaid providers, and Ross responded to an ad in the New York Times promising “Very, very good $$.”
After his release from prison, Ross answered another ad in the New York Times, this one for a “staff assistant” at ACSH. Ross told president Elizabeth Whelan that he’d been convicted of a crime, done time in prison, and no longer possessed a medical license. She hired him anyway, and in 1999 he was promoted to medical/executive director.
In 2000, while admitting his “unethical and criminal activity,” which he said was motivated by “greed,” Ross asked a state review panel to reinstate his medical license. The panel ruled against him. Ross finally got his license back in 2004, though he faces three years of probation should he ever choose to practice medicine again. Last year, in filling out a form for nydoctorprofile.com, an official state website, Ross faced a field titled “Criminal Convictions.” He left it blank.
His bio on the ACSH makes no mention of criminal convictions. Ross became Acting President in 2014 when ACSH’s founder and president, Elizabeth Whelan, passed away.
Ross admitted he was motivated by greed which led to his participation in the Medicaid scam, but a person has to make a living, right?
Behind The Curtain
Ross is hardly the man behind the curtain. A quick Google search will reveal he has taken the side of corporate interests on various topics. He’s just doing his job as dictated by the source of ACSH’s funding and donations.
To determine Ross’s opinion or ACSH’s position on any given issue it is necessary to find out where ACSH obtains it’s funding and donations.
Referring back to the footer on the opinion piece: “The Council accepts no-strings-attached, charitable donations from many individuals, companies, and foundations, including a small amount from companies with interests in oil, gas and energy”
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), founded in 1978, describes itself as “a consumer education consortium concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health.” Recent documents confirm that ACSH actively solicits funding from corporations on specific issues — anti-GMO labeling, for example — that benefit from it taking positions favorable to those corporations.
Numerous ACSH publications (that do not disclose the corporations that have funded the organization) take positions attacking public concerns about various corporate products and practices and have sought to downplay concerns raised by scientists and consumers.
Some of the products ACSH has defended over the years include DDT, asbestos, and Agent Orange, as well as common pesticides. ACSH has often called environmentalists and consumer groups “terrorists,” arguing that their criticisms and concerns about potential health and environmental risks are threats to society
ACSH stopped disclosing corporate donors early in the 1990’s. Corporate donors from its 1991 report can be seen here. Specific to the fossil fuel industry some of its funders have included:
- American Petroleum – $37,500
- Koch, David H. Foundation – $6,000
- Lambe, Claude R. Foundation – $95,000 connected to Koch Industries
- **DonorsTrust – $534,574.62 anonymous “donor directed” fund with Koch brothers and industry connections
DonorsTrust is considered a “donor-advised fund,” which means that it divides its funds into separate accounts for individual donors, who then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. Funds like DonorsTrust are not uncommon in the non-profit sector, but they do cloak the identity of the original donors because the funds are typically distributed in the name of DonorsTrust rather than the original donors. Very little was known about DonorsTrust until late 2012 and early 2013, when the Guardian and others published extensive reports on what Mother Jones called “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.”
The American Council on Science and Health received an aggregate of $624,074.62 in funding from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2005 and 2011.
A report by the Center for Public Integrity exposes a number of DonorsTrust funders, many of which have ties to the Koch brothers. One of the most prominent funders is the Knowledge and Progress Fund, a Charles Koch-run organization and one of the group’s largest known contributors, having donated nearly $9 million from 2005 to 2012. Other contributors known to have donated at least $1 million to DonorsTrust include the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, Donald & Paula Smith Family Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation.
Since its inception in 1999, DonorsTrust has been used by conservative foundations and individuals to discretely funnel nearly $400 million to like-minded think tanks and media outlets. According to the organization’s tax documents, in 2011, DonorsTrust contributed a total of $86 million to conservative organizations. Many recipients had ties to the State Policy Network (SPN), a wide collection of conservative state-based think tanks and media organizations that focus on shaping public policy and opinion. In 2013, the Center for Media and Democracy released a special report on SPN. Those who received DonorsTrust funding included media outlets such as the Franklin Center and the Lucy Burns Institute, as well as think tanks such as SPN itself, the Heartland Institute, Illinois Policy Institute, Independence Institute, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, South Carolina Policy Council, American Legislative Exchange Council, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the Cascade Policy Institute.
As with any issue it is necessary to not only look behind the curtain, but also to look at the curtain itself and ask who are these organizations, and where are they getting their money. Once that money source is known it is fairly easy to predict where the front group stands on a given issue. From there it’s up to each of us to determine the source’s credibility. Is it truth or spin? How objective are they? What are they saying and NOT saying?
As for Dr. Gilbert Ross, well, he’s just doing his job.
© 2015 by Dory Hippauf