A conservative Washington think tank that opposed a federal ban of trans fats has also actively campaigned against climate science and environmental regulation, and is funded by secret donors.

The government on Tuesday announced a ban of industrial partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of artificial trans fats, giving food manufacturers three years to remove them from their products. Food and Drug Administration acting commissioner Stephen Ostroff said the ban “is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

Five European countries already ban trans fats. California and several U.S. cities, including New York City, ban them in restaurant food.

But the federal ban had its opponents. The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which identifies itself as a “non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative” think tank, campaigned against it, calling it a “horrible idea.”

The NCPPR argued that the solution to minimizing trans fats in foods is to allow the free market to operate.

Senior Fellow Jeff Stier claimed that it was through “markets respond[ing] to consumer demand” that the amount of trans fats in foods has decreased in recent years. But according to a 2011 article in the British Medical Journal, it was the U.S. government’s 2006 mandate that corporations label trans fat content in food that led to the decrease.

Stier and the NCPPR also oppose mandatory food labeling.

Stier referred to organic food as “a detriment to public health” in 2007. And he calls the free market the solution to the obesity crisis.

He is also a climate change denier who warns of a conspiracy he calls “the global warming agenda.”

In its summer 2014 newsletter, the NCPPR harangued Apple for what it described as the company’s “radical environmental policies.”

So who are these people who defend what many would consider indefensible? And who pays for this stuff?

The NCPPR has operated since the beginning of the Reagan era. By its own count, its handful of staff reached the peak of their influence in 2005, with 8,046 media interviews, citations and op-eds. Amy and David Ridenour, its chairman and president, respectively — who together made almost $500,000 in 2013, according to the organization’s 2013 990 tax form — have a history of lobbying on behalf of tobacco corporations and against environmental regulations.

Non-profits that describe themselves as charitable organizations, as NCPPR does, are not required to disclose their donors.

In a late 2009 blog post on the NCPPR website, Ridenour claimed that global warming is the United Nations’ “established religion” and that the international community suffers from “blind adherence to an unproven premise.” Media Matters found tax records of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil showing that it and its foundation donated as much as $55,000 a year to the NCCPR last decade.

The NCPPR funneled money from former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that “Abramoff was using Ridenour’s National Center for Public Policy Research to hide the source of funding for trips and other ventures intended to boost the interests of his lobbying clients, e-mails show.”

Watchdog organization CitizenAudit discovered that the NCPPR gets funds for Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, two charities that bankroll right-wing organizations.

Although it has just five employees, Donors Capital Fund has an enormous impact. Mother Jones refers to it as the “dark-money ATM of the conservative movement,” explaining that the group “allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.”

Some of NCPPR’s money also comes from aggressive fundraising letters. Critics claim the organization acquires “the names of older people and mail them requests for donations. These requests are sent with letters intended to scare the recipient into donating. The NCPPR’s 2011 independent audit, the most recent available on its website, found that $8.2 million of its $10 million in expenses went to direct mailing fees.

A 1998 investigation by the San Francisco Examiner included NCPPR among what it called “the fear merchants.”

Stier previously worked as the associate director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a pro-corporate advocacy group that has received extensive funding from large multinationals, including McDonald’s.

Stier responded to an email inquiry by referring to his written work. Amy Ridenour did not return a request for comment.

(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)

Ben Norton is a freelance writer.

Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images