citizens united

The Koch Primary (and What It Means for Climate)

  • Posted on: 3 February 2015
  • By: Connor Gibson

Greenpeace's airship flying over a Koch brothers donor summit in January, 2011 near Palm Springs, California.

Written by Rachel Rye Butler, crossposted from Greenpeace.

News leaked this week that the Koch brothers’ billionaire network plans to spend nearly $900 million in fossil fuel and other corporate money to try to get their way in the 2016 election-- in other words, the Kochs and their cronies are planning to spend astronomically to prevent action on climate (as well as income inequality, voting rights, affordable healthcare, and many other issues of importance to the 99%).

The $889 million the Kochs plan to spend is more than the 2012 campaign budget for either the Democratic or the Republican party, and more than the Obama campaign spent in 2008, marking a shift in US politics that’s been underway since Citizens United.

Welcome to the Koch Primary

Candidates who want access to this giant hoard of campaign cash have to line up to protect the Kochs’ fossil fuel interests and prevent action on climate change. Some are calling this the Koch Primary, where candidates compete to show that the interests of the fossil fuel billionaires are at the top of their agenda.

Last weekend, the Kochs hosted the first of their twice-yearly secretive meetings for their corporate billionaire friends, during which they shared their $889 million election plans. A number of Republican presidential hopefuls-- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker-- attended the conference.

Hedging their bets against action on climate

So why would the Kochs and their network be motivated to spend so heavily in 2016?

Despite the fact that the Kochs are certainly a key piece of the Republican machine, helping the party elect candidates across the country, the Kochs aren't actually motivated by the interests of the Republican Party or any party. They are motivated by protecting their oil and chemical empire from regulation, no matter what.

When a supermajority of the public wants action on climate, it’s worth it for the Kochs to buy the allegiance of candidates who will walk the climate denial line, work to protect fossil fuel subsidies, and rubber stamp pet fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In outspending the party machinery, the Koch network is hedging their bets against the fact that the public wants action on climate while providing a major incentive to candidates and congressional allies to not only hold the line on climate denial but hamper any actions or proposals coming out of the EPA or the White House.

Meanwhile, the Republican party and fossil-backed Democrats will struggle to both please their super-rich donors and appeal to voters who aren’t buying the “I’m not a scientist” climate denial dodge.

The Koch strategy to destroy democracy

Looking beyond the headlines, the Koch Primary and their $889 million campaign budget is the result of the Koch strategy at work.

To protect their fossil fuel interests, which are at odds with the public’s desire for a safe climate, clean water, and healthy air to breathe, the Kochs have spent the last several decades radically changing the face of American democracy, and investing major amounts of money in think tanks and other outlets involved in climate denial.

They’ve also worked long and hard to tear down laws and protections that limit corporate control of our elected officials, dumping ever more money in politics, along with campaigns and strategic litigation designed to suppress or disenfranchise key groups of voters, especially low-income and people of color. The goal is a world where candidates serve the interests of oily billionaires and their super-rich friends rather than those of the people.

In the Koch strategy to protect their fossil fuel interests, democracy has to go, and what’s at stake is our climate, and our very ability to survive on this planet.

We the People

The people, however, know what’s going on. They know that Koch and other fossil fuel money are behind Congress’s votes to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and protect tax breaks for polluters. They can hear the “ch-ching!” of fossil fuel cash every time a candidate says the words, “I’m not a scientist,” or “Climate change is a hoax.”

The Kochs are hoping that the people won’t believe that it’s possible to take back our democracy from the super-rich and will simply give up. They’re hoping that the people won’t turn out to vote while at the same time they’re working to make it harder to do so (check out voter ID laws and other dirty tricks.)

They’re hoping that people will just accept this brave new world-- and this is where they’re wrong. Literally millions of people across the US are fed up with corporate control and are calling for our democracy to be returned to the people. Four hundred thousand marched at at the People’s Climate March in September 2014. Five million plus have called for Citizens United to be overturned. Organizations representing millions of members from environmental, civil rights, labor, and other organizations are banding together in a new coalition to take back our democracy. And we also know that to take back our democracy, we need all of us. (One way to start is to add your name to the 5 million calling for an overturn of Citizens United.

What if

The overwhelmingly majority of Americans don't accept the Koch takeover of democracy. The Kochs have a lot to lose, or they wouldn’t be spending so much to keep their candidates in line. Because for the Kochs, what would happen if millions of people got together to ask the question, “Who do you really represent?”

We might get the democracy-- and the climate action-- we deserve.

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The Anniversary of Citizens United

  • Posted on: 10 January 2012
  • By: JesseColeman

January 21st marks the two year anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the landmark Supreme Court case that removed limits on election spending by corporations and other moneyed interests, overthrowing 100 years of election laws. 

( For more background on CU v FEC, read this blog and watch the video from the Story of Stuff.)

The Citizens United case has already begun affecting elections.  Spending on political television ads funded by anonymous donors is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago, according to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG.

An example of the kind of propaganda corporate polluters are flooding the airwaves with - thanks to Citizens United – is the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) new election cycle ad campaign, released last week.

The new advertising campaign is an attempt to hoodwink Americans into supporting Big Oil’s political agenda by faking grassroots support for the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, and offshore arctic drilling. Now that the Supreme Court has decided API can use Big Oil’s millions to influence elections, API, the Chamber of Commerce, and other industry fronts can relentlessly attack candidates that don't support the fossil fuel industry’s political agenda.

Greenpeace caught API in the act of creating this Astroturf campaign, when activists responded to a leaked casting email that invited “real people not actors” to share their views on energy.  When the activists showed up to the shoot, API tried to use them as puppets, feeding them lines and strictly controlling what people could say on camera.  

Greenpeace created a parody commercial and website called "vote 4 energy" to point out API’s manipulations, but without millions of dollars of oil and gas money for ad buys, API’s lies will likely reach many more people.
 
Therein lies the fundamental injustice of the Citizens United decision, it increases the power of the richest sectors of society, allowing those with the most money to have the biggest voice in elections.  Because of Citizens United, Groups like API now wield advertising dollars like a cudgel, threatening politicians with unrelenting attack ads if politicians dare to deviate from corporate approved policies.  API’s president Jack Gerard admitted this strategy when he unveiled his ad campaign, promising “Huge political consequences” if President Obama does not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

 

It is up to the people of America to beat back this corporate takeover of our government.  As the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision approaches, a growing and diverse movement has been building to pursue the only remedy that can overcome the entrenched Supreme Court majority’s distortion of the First Amendment: amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United and broadly ensure free and fair elections, uncorrupted by excessive corporate influence.                                                                               

We need to tell corporate manipulators this is not over.  Demand your right to democracy for the people and by the people by joining one of the many actions taking place to mark the anniversary of Citizens United, starting January 19.  The People for the American Way have set up a website that can connect you to an event in your area.  There are hundreds of events across the nation so get involved!!  

 

Those interested in how pro-corporate forces have plotted to hijack democracy for more than three decades, check out the report on the Powell Memorandum, a blueprint for corporate takeover of democracy written by former Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell.

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Citizens United v. FEC leads to more corporate power in government

  • Posted on: 10 August 2011
  • By: JesseColeman

Ever notice how people seem to listen to you more if you have a bag full of cash?  Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce sure has.  Politicians and corporations have as well.  But it used to be, prior to 2010, that giant multinational corporations couldn’t use their equally giant bags of cash to directly influence how people voted in elections.  Unfair for corporations you say? A travesty of justice perhaps?  Luckily for our favorite corporate interests the Supreme Court overturned hundreds of years of pesky electioneering laws in the 2010 landmark court case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.  The court ruled that corporations, because they are considered individuals under the law like you and me, are fully protected by the first amendment of the constitution, and therefore should be able to spend as much as they want on political attack ads during elections.  Now we all have free speech.  You have free speech, I have free speech, Monsanto has free speech, all are equal- just like the writers of first amendment intended hundreds of years ago.  And we can all freely spend our billions of dollars on political ads that support our own politics, thus bringing balance to the system.

But under this system it seems like some “individuals” have more free speech than others.  ExxonMobil for example made $30.46 billion dollars in profit in 2010.  That is a big bag of cash and thus, a lot of free speech.  And now, if a politician does something Exxon doesn’t like (forcing them to clean up an oil spill or curb carbon emissions for example), Exxon can bankroll millions of dollars in political ads in support of an opponent.  Most non-corporate “individuals” can’t do that.  Does that sound like a government for the people and by the people to you?

 

Speaking of Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce, he represents an important facet of the hazardous fallout from Citizens United.  It may be that Exxon doesn’t want to alienate consumers by picking sides in a contentious political match.  Instead, they funnel money to trade and advocacy groups, like Donohue’s Chamber or Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, who can then attack an offending candidate in any manner they choose, without impugning ExxonMobil’s www.exxonsecrets.org/maps.php">http://www.exxonsecrets.org/maps.php">good name.  In fact one of the most insidious and corrosive of all of the Citizen’s United case’s effects is to increase the funding (and therefore importance) of corporate front groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Chamber of Commerce, who do not reveal their funding and are not accountable to the public. 

In all seriousness the Citizens United v. FEC court case erodes the foundations of democracy in America. The decision has made it much easier for private interests with enormous wealth – like the now infamous www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwa...">http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/pol...">Koch brothers – to use their riches to align public policy with their business ideologies, to the detriment of social, economic, and environmental justice.

On August 11, 2011, www.storyofstuff.com/">http://www.storyofstuff.com/">The Story of Stuff Project has planned an online day of protest against the landmark Supreme Court Case http://storyofstuff.org/citizensunited/">Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.  To mark the occasion, the 11th has been named “http://storyofstuff.org/dollarsordemocracy/">the Day when $$ equals speech."  Check out the www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5kHACjrdEY">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5kHACjrdEY">short film explaining Citizens United and add your voice to ours and tell our government that it serves real people, not corporations.

 

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The State of the Nation [as Arranged by Polluters, Inc.]

  • Posted on: 9 December 2010
  • By: Connor Gibson

The fossil fuel industry knows that its time is running out.  While their influence and profits are still enormous, we can see from increasing shifts to unconventional extraction methods--hydraulic fracturing, deepwater drilling, tar sands mining, and other examples--that easily accessible fossil fuels are dwindling.  That's a pretty clear indicator that they will not last indefinitely, before even considering how burning dirty fuel to the last particle will cook the Earth, not to mention the casualties along the way.  You know, like the Gulf of Mexico, or the people of the Athabasca watershed, or those whose wells are now full of poisoned [PDF] or flammable water.

Unfortunately, for people who care about the future of humanity and the vast variety of species were are dragging to extinction [PDF] through the climate crisis, profit is the key factor for fossil fuel barons and their influence peddlers.  With time running out and industry insiders well aware of it, Big Fossil is focusing on how to preserve itself for as long as possible.  Creating a public relations war over the seriousness of global climate disruption has been the keystone tactic in this process. 

Companies recognize the benefits of investing in public doubt, and unfathomable sums have been dumped into this effort across the board, whether through the grossly unapologetic Koch Industries or ExxonMobil, or more slyly by the likes of Chevron or Duke Energy.  Industry misinformation is then pushed to the public through astroturf front groups (like the Koch-funded and -founded Americans for Prosperity), through advertising campaigns (like those run by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity), and by hiring "scientists" or "experts" with that special lack of integrity and credibility that allows a person to earn money at the expense of a far, far broader population.  As this happens, Congress and federal offices are constantly being filled with polluter servants instead of public servants, taking massive campaign donations or cutting career deals in order to further enrich Polluters, Inc.


As if the battle wasn't uphill enough, we now have witnessed the first round of elections post-Citizens United, in which powerhouses like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raised tens of millions of dollars from the corporate titans it serves and funneled the money into attack ads, sending a warning message to politicians who aren't bending over backwards for big business, if not delivering a crippling blow to their election campaigns. 

Now wouldn't be a bad time to look up the definition of "democracy."  Google it now, before net neutrality is a thing of the past.

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Oil Lobbyists Ecstatic Over Supreme Court's Corporate Giveaway of Our Democracy

  • Posted on: 5 February 2010
  • By: admin

This week the inimitable Raw Story released some terrific investigative reporting about how big corporations have spent the past several years funneling money to their trade associations so they can dump their corporate profits into influencing our elections:

The Supreme Court’s seismic January ruling that corporations are free to spend unlimited amounts of their profits to advertise for or against candidates may have been the latest shakeup of campaign finance – but gaping holes already allow corporations to spend enormous sums without leaving a paper trail, a Raw Story investigation has found.

Campaign finance experts confirmed that though disclosure rules remained intact in the new Supreme Court decision, there are effective methods to circumvent them.

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an attorney and campaign finance expert at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said corporations already effectively end-run campaign finance law by shuffling money through trade associations.

“One of their favorites right now is spending through trade associations,” Torres-Spelliscy said.

Trade associations are considered tax-exempt non-profit organizations under US law. While they must report contributions received from other corporations to the Internal Revenue Service, the document itself remains confidential and is not made available to the public.

Of course, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people too, Big Oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron can use their foreign oil proceeds to run unlimited TV advertising against pro-clean energy legislators.

And as if campaign propaganda wasn't enough to influence the debate, this report from Anne Mulkern of Greenwire breaks the news that the oil and gas industry, led by top climate denier, propagandist and influence peddler Jack Gerard, spent $154 million on lobbying Congress last year, setting a new record:

Oil and gas companies spent at least $154 million on lobbying last year, potentially besting a field of rivals battling to shape climate and energy policies and setting a new record for the industry.

Influence efforts by the oil and gas sector grew at least 16 percent in 2009 from the $132 million spent in 2008, according to an early analysis of new lobbying disclosures by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The total reflects spending for the first nine months of 2009 plus 80 percent of reports filed for the past three months.

The electric utility industry, meanwhile, spent at least $134.7 million on lobbying last year. Combined, the two traditional energy sectors paid out nearly 10 times the $29 million that alternative energy companies allocated for lobbying efforts. Environmental organizations spent at least $21.3 million last year on lobbying.

ExxonMobil and Chevron spent a combined $12 million on lobbying last year, leading the pack of terror-funding oil multinationals in gutting clean energy legislation as it limps through the Senate.

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