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Heartland Institute Loses More Corporate Donors Over Global Warming Billboard

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In case you’re not already familiar with the story, allow me to paint a picture for you. Imagine driving down the highway and seeing a billboard picturing Hitler with the quote, “I was a Christian. Are you?”

Pretty inflammatory stuff, right? Well, that was the tack taken by the Heartland Institute, a conservative/libertarian think tank that studies, among other issues, free-market environmentalism. As part of an anti-climate change campaign, the institute put up a billboard in the western Chicago village of Maywood, Illinois last week that featured “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and the caption, “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

The aim of the ad was, of course, to not only undermine the credibility of the climate change argument, but to refer to those who acknowledge the melting of glaciers and mountain snows as psychopathic murderers.

But the approach didn’t sit well with some of the Heartland Institute’s corporate donors, as well as staff members, and, despite pulling the billboard, a sizeable exodus has begun to take shape.

The latest deserter, announced Wednesday, was the United Services Automobile Association, an insurance and financial services company for military families. State Farm withdrew support on Monday with a public message on its Facebook page reading simply, “State Farm is ending its association with the Heartland Institute. This is because of a recent billboard campaign launched by the Institute.”

“We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment,” Bast wrote in a statement on the institute’s website. “We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate.”

Last Friday, Brad Kading, president of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, whose organization has donated $125,000 to the Heartland Institute in the last two years, sent a letter to president Joe Bast last Friday and declared their relationship going forward “untenable.”   

XL Group (XL), Allied World Assurance (AWH), RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd (RNR), Diageo (DEO) can also be counted among corporations that jumped ship. And although Microsoft (MSFT) doesn’t seem to have officially defected, a statement on its blog read, “[The] Heartland Institute’s position on climate change is diametrically opposed to Microsoft’s position. And we completely disagree with the group’s inflammatory and distasteful advertising campaign.”

According to a Heritage Institute press release, the Kaczynski ad was to be the launch of a multi-billboard offensive that included using the images of “global warming alarmists” Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, gunman James J. Lee who held up the Discovery Channel (DISCA) headquarters in 2010, and last but certainly not least, Osama bin Laden.
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