Maryland

Martin O'Malley's Dark Money Group has Secret Meeting with Fracking Lobbyists

  • Posted on: 28 May 2014
  • By: JesseColeman
Martin O'Malley at a newDEAL meeting

Last week in Washington DC, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political dark money group met with corporate funders at the DC headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is the lead lobby group for the fracking and shale industry, with a budget of $69 million in 2012. O’Malley’s group is called newDEAL, which describes itself as a “national network searching the country for state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives to help them share their innovative ideas.” I found out about the meeting when I was forwarded an invitation. When I replied to a RSVP, I was initially sent a welcoming “see ya there” from Lauren Wessler, the organizer for the event. Wessler works for Helen Milby, who runs HM&CO, a fundraising group that connects corporations with legislators. Her work has been described as “To communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.” O’Malley created newDEAL with Alaska Senator Mark Begich, and the group is co-chaired by democratic politicians Cory Booker, and CO Governor John Hickenlooper. They bill themselves as “pro-growth” democrats, but an expose by Lee Fang in Vice revealed that newDEAL was funded by some of the largest corporations in the US, the same corporations that provide the majority of funding to republican politicians. newDEAL funders include Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life, Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of Tuesday's event, ANGA. Given the corporate connection, the newDEAL is an attempt to grow O’Malley and company’s political war chests with corporate dollars, more “deal” than “new.” A few hours after receiving confirmation of my RSVP, another email buzzed into my inbox from Lauren. Apparently she had made a mistake. “The room seats less people than I originally thought…So sorry,” read her retraction of my RSVP. Sounds fishy, but OK. Maybe there just isn’t enough space at the largest fracking lobbyists’ headquarters for a researcher from Greenpeace. But there are always those people who RSVP and don’t show, so I went to ANGA the day of the event, just in case they could squeeze me in. The O’Malley connection to ANGA is particularly interesting given the battle the gas industry is waging in his state. Fracking is still being studied in Maryland, and drillers have not yet started exploiting the shale that lies under parts of the state. Maryland is also home to Cove Point, a proposed Liquified Natural Gas export plant. The plant will be the 3rd LNG export plant fully permitted in the US according to most analysis. Cove Point was just conditionally approved by FERC, which just released an Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s statement has been roundly criticized for missing key elements, such as climate impacts, community safety, marine impacts, and fracking.

Cove Point LNG

Cove Point has been particularly controversial because it would be located in a populated, residential area on the coast of Maryland. Assistant fire chief for the area Mickey Shymansky resigned after calling attention to the fire department’s inability to control a disaster at the plant. So, what does O’Malley’s financial relationship with ANGA change about the future of fracking and gas exports in Maryland? Alas, we were unable to find out. When I arrived at ANGA’s headquarters I told them my name and showed them my RSVP. The front desk person gave me a leery eye, and within minutes a large man named Pablo came out of an elevator bank and walked up to me. “You have to leave the premises.” he said. Why? I asked “They said that if you come in we aren’t allowed to let you up” He said. “Who is they?” I asked. “You know who” he said. “America’s Natural Gas Alliance?” “Yes” Pablo said “But I have an RSVP, did they say my name specifically” “yes” he said. O’Malley and company plan on using newDEAL to fund campaigns of like minded politicians, basically creating a money laundering dark money pipeline from corporate interests to campaign coffers. As Ruth Marcus said in her Washington Post editorial last week:

Big money is troubling; secret money is toxic. Having millions of dollars from outside groups pumped into elections distorts the democratic process. Not knowing what interests are behind those millions magnifies that distortion.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the 2012 election saw more than $250 million in political spending by nonprofit groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, up from $86 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2004. Wonder how many of those millions was from the shale industry, looking to open Maryland for drilling? Or Wal-Mart, trying to erode minimum wage? Or Wall Street making sure limits on risky banking will not be enforced?

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#UnKoch Campus! U.S. Students Resist the Corporitization of Education

  • Posted on: 4 November 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

As students in Michigan, Kansas and Virginia attempt to pin down evasive administrators to review grant contracts cut between billionaire Charles Koch and their universities, one campus is working to tie these regional movements together. Photos from across the U.S. are posted below.

Florida State University (FSU) students affiliated with the group FSU Progress coordinated various student groups at 20 campuses across the U.S. to push back against corporate donors who use money to weave their interests into the mission of universities: educating students. For FSU Progress, this not only means resisting the efforts of Charles Koch to capture colleges to wage his long-term political campaigns--at the expense of academic freedom--but protesting the rigged process by which a Koch-backed politician is poised to take FSU's presidency. Inside Higher Ed explains:

"Monday’s event, though, focused on the wider issue of "corporatization of higher education" and homed in on state Sen. John Thrasher’s appointment last month as president. He was approved despite strong objections from students and faculty members.

"Student activists with the FSU Progress Coalition are asking the state Board of Governors to reject Thrasher’s appointment at its meeting this week. About 80 students walked from campus to the Old Capitol Monday as part of a rally protesting the selection of Thrasher. There’s also a walkout and occupation of the president’s office planned for Thursday while the Board of Governors meets, said Lakey, a graduate student at Florida State who only goes by one name. [...]

"Thrasher also was chosen multiple times as legislator of the year by the conservative, Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council, Lakey said. And Allan Bense, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, is also chairman of the board of directors of the James Madison Institute, a Koch-funded think tank.

"Thrasher has denied any sort of relationship with the Koch brothers, although he has received modest campaign contributions from Kansas-based Koch Industries."

In solidarity, other campuses took action in solidarity with FSU student organizers.

George Mason University is by far the largest university benefactor of Koch money, receiving $24 million from 2005-2012, excluding tens of millions of dollars from Koch to two Koch-governed think tanks on campus. GMU student protestors petitioned their fellow students to help grow pressure on the GMU administration, which has so far failed to provide the transparency needed to prove to it students and professors that Koch money isn't exerting influence in the classroom. Photo below.

University of Virginia students hosted a teach-in on the student debt crisis that was conducted in solidarity with the FSU protests. Photo below.

Michigan State University students filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain any grant agreements signed between MSU and the Charles Koch Foundation. MSU was Tweeting its support yesterday. Photos below.

Students at University of Kansas are awaiting the results of an open records request submitted in September, which their administration charged them $1,800 for. After making their case in a public op-ed in the Lawrence Journal-World, public supporters helped KU students raise the money needed to get documents relating to former Koch-lobbyist Art Hall who now runs a project in KU's business school with Koch grants. University of Maryland is being criticized by members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). SLAP member Chris Bangert-Drowns noted the shady history of Koch Industries, which has faced a range of multi-million dollar fines, lawsuits, criminal and civil penalties for chemical leaks, oil spills, stealing from American Indians and wrongful death due to corporate negligence. Given Koch's history of profiting from such bad business conduct, Bangert-Drowns noted,

"In accepting the donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, this university is condoning the historically criminal, destructive and treacherous behavior of Koch Industries and its leaders."

As with UMD, students have questioned what Koch's six-figure grants are buying at George Washington University, a private school in Washington, DC. Last spring, Freshman student Kinjo Kimea wrote:

It’s impossible to tell whether strings are attached to this donation. The University has declined to disclose if there were any conditions that came with accepting the money. That should raise red flags. Students deserve to know whether politics play a role in these decisions. Donors can be outspoken Republicans or Democrats, yes, but fundraising requires transparency.

Koch is now noticing this nationwide revolt. In response to student protest, the Charles Koch Foundation just created "academic giving principles" that aim to gloss over the documented cases in which academic freedom took a back seat to Mr. Koch's preferences. This is consistent with the activities of Mr. Koch: micromanage the things you fund, and use fancy words to obscure what you're actually doing - in this case meddling with the education of high school and college students.

Charles Koch cannot hide his assault on academic freedom with words. Mr. Koch is attempting to buy a constituency which is actively developing its ability to think critically. Students and professors are asking the right questions, and Koch-funded university administrations aren't helping by behaving in secretive ways.

The primary suspect in examining nationwide attacks on academic freedom is billionaire Charles Koch. Greenpeace has documented that what little is known about the $50 million Koch sent to universities from 2005-2012 puts Mr. Koch's corporate ideologies ahead of the ability for faculty to teach concepts freely.

Resources: Day of Action against the Corporitization of Education.

Photos from FSU and solidarity protests across the country:

GAU UnKoch

University of Oregon Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation

 

GMU UnKoch

George Mason University students

 

Temple University UnKoch

Temple University (PA) Students

 

UVA students UnKoch

University of Virginia students

 

MSU Grad Employee Union UnKoch

 

Michigan State University Graduate Employees Union

Michigan State University students and Grad Employees Union

 

AU UnKoch 2

AU UnKoch 3

American University student

American University students

 

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