spending

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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Yes Men "Mourn" U.S. Chamber's dropped lawsuit against them

  • Posted on: 14 June 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

The Yes Men outside the US Chamber of Commerce, expressing disappointment over the dropped lawsuit against them.

Crossposted from Greenpeace's The Witness.

Shenanigans at the front door of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday reveal that the Chamber has dropped its lawsuit against the Yes Men, the activist duo famous for their elaborate prime-time pranks against Dow Chemical, Chevron, the World Trade Organization, and other giant entities known for putting their profit margins before people and the planet.

The Yes Men went to the Chamber yesterday morning in attempts to convince the business front group not to drop the lawsuit. Here's some footage of the announcement and confusion over who does and doesn't work for the Chamber:

That's right. The Yes Men want to be sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to their press release:

"Just as their case against us was finally heating up again, the Chamber decided to drop it," said former defendant Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men. "The Chamber knew this was our chance to challenge their silly claims and, since they claimed we had 'damaged' them, investigate the details of their finances through the discovery process. It's the height of rudeness to deprive us of this great opportunity." "The Chamber's lawsuit represented the only time in 17 years that anyone has been stupid enough to sue us," said former defendant Mike Bonanno. "This was the chance of a lifetime, and we profoundly deplore the Chamber's about-face."

Apparently, revenge isn't a strong enough reason for the Chamber to to cough up information on their secret financial backers or their obstruction on solving the critical issue of global climate change, the issue which sparked the original Yes Men parody press event and ensuing lawsuit. The Chamber sued the Yes Men in 2009 for holding a press conference at the National Press Club on the Chamber's behalf, announcing a reversal on the Chamber's efforts to block climate change legislation. The false event was interrupted by an actual Chamber official named Eric Wohlschlegal, who told attending press, "This guy is a fake! He's lying!" See this video:

The stunt threw the Chamber off balance as it had to clarify it would not stop obstructing national climate change policy. The following lawsuit was unprecedented for Yes Men hijinks. Even Dow Chemical didn't sue them, despite losing $2 billion worth of stock when Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum posed as a Dow official on a live BBC interview and took responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster (which Dow still won't own up to despite the death of 20,000 people). Yes Lab has a summary of the announcement at the Chamber's front steps in Washington, DC, including a list of questions the Yes Men wish the lawsuit's discovery process could have answered:

Some of the things we could have asked in court had they not withdrawn their lawsuit:
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber lie even more than the American Petroleum Institute about the number of jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline?
  • Why did the U.S. Chamber design a teaching program for US schools that favors coal over clean energy sources?
  • And who pays them to lie to children... and adults?
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber expend so much money to call into doubt the most mainstream climate science, and insult the most respected scientific bodies?
  • Why does the U.S. Chamber fight not only unions, but even just shareholder activists?
  • Why do they fight even tiny increases in the federal minimum wage?
  • Why has the U.S. Chamber's law firm hired spies in try to discredit anti-Chamber activists?
  • And finally, why is the U.S. Chamber fighting so hard to keep corporations from having to reveal their political spending?

PolluterWatch has more on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its anti-environmental practices.

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PR Watch on the Election's Fossil Fuel Advertising: Hurricane Sandy Endorses Obama

  • Posted on: 5 November 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Hurricane Sandy as seen from Space. From The Guardian.

This guest article was written by Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving of the Center for Media and Democracy, crossposted from PR Watch.

The fossil fuel industry has paid a hefty price for the privilege of framing the political discourse about America's energy future. Hundreds of millions have flowed into campaign coffers from energy companies attempting to purchase complete freedom to drill, frack, and burn. Huge "dark money" groups, the Koch's, Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, join dozens of oil and gas industry associations in pouring money into television ad campaigns demanding "energy independence," while trashing wind and solar.

Things were going great. Even though hurricanes had slammed into two Republican National Conventions in a row, no one seemed to notice, and Romney's only mention of climate changes was as a punchline. No reporter asked a single climate change question of Romney or Obama during the debates. Even though the U.S. now had 175,000 wind and solar jobs, pro-green energy forces were disappointed in Obama and were less active. For big oil and gas the White House and the Senate were within reach. Critically, they had to move fast before the majority of voters started to not only notice the changing climate patterns, but really started to worry about them.

Then something happened that completely scrambled the board.

Hurricane Sandy blew New Jersey out of the water and inundated New York. The massive storm threw the Romney campaign completely off-message. Not only did they have nothing to say about the serious issue of climate change and the potential for more frequent and more devastating monster storms, the Romney-Ryan message of "smaller government" and "fewer first responders" sank in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

In an unprecedented, last-minute move, Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw his support behind Obama yesterday. His statement "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change" lays out the seriousness of the situation. "In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable," Bloomberg states.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Polluting High Rollers Dominated the Airwaves

Until Sandy rolled in, the airwaves were completely dominated by the fossil fuel industry.

According to The New York Times, by mid-September there had already been a $153 million spent on TV ads that promoted the fossil fuel industry. The analysis showed that energy topics were mentioned more frequently than any other issue besides jobs and the economy. This figure is four times what clean energy advocates were spending.

The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the last presidential election in which the green energy industry and other forces spent $152 million compared to $109 million spent on fossil fuel interests.

Broadly, the ads promote fossil fuels in the context of jobs, domestic security, and energy prices. Combined, they try to convince Americans that "energy independence" should be the nation's top priority. Yet they neglect to point out that solar and wind also create high-wage jobs and energy independence too. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas campaign contributions are at historic highs and are more lopsided than ever before with 90 percent of the funds going to Republican candidates. Top contributors include William Koch's Oxbow Corp, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Koch Industries, who have already contributed $59 million to federal candidates. Leading coal mining corporations, such as Alliance Resource Partners, Cumberland Development, and Murray Energy, have kicked in $11.6 million to federal candidates.

But the money does not stop there. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has opened the door to unprecedented spending by "dark money" nonprofits, SuperPACs and new constellations of trade associations that are on track to spend over $1 billion to "educate" voters about the issues, including the urgent need to extract and burn every last bit of fossil fuel.

  • Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, a "dark money" group and his American Crossroads SuperPAC, pledged to spend $300 million in this election, a large percentage on fossil fuel spin. There are dozens of ads in the presidential race and in Congressional races. One Crossroads ad blames Obama for higher gas prices. Another slams Obama for putting the Keystone Pipeline on hold. While Crossroads GPS does not disclose its donors, American Crossroads PAC does and it is loaded with fossil fuel contributors, including Alliance Resources Partners CEO Joe Craft who has given the group $1.25 million, Petco Petroleum which has given the group $1 million, and over $2 million from TRT holdings, which controls Tana Exploration, a Texas-based oil and gas company.
  • David Koch's Americans for Prosperity "dark money" group, pledged to spend over $100 million this year in support of Republican candidates. The group's ads also attack Obama and clean energy when talking about Solyndra and the stimulus bill which allegedly sent some clean energy jobs overseas. More recently they have pushed pro-coal "Stand with Coal" ads in Ohio and Virginia.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an industry association and dark money group, has pledged to spend more than $50 million on the election and has fielded energy ads in key races such as Ohio with a messages like "Shale Works for Us," in promotion of expanding drilling for shale oil and gas.
  • The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front group, has pledged to spend some $40 million on coal related ads. One ad, targeting Ohio's Sherrod Brown, criticizes the Senator for endorsing "higher energy taxes" linking him to "Washington's costly energy policies."
  • The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade association, has pledged some $40 million this campaign season on efforts to push the expansion of oil and gas drilling. Two of their primary campaigns, "Vote 4 Energy" and "Energy Citizens" attempt to exert the aura of a grassroots base pushing for fossil fuel development. Their ads feature "energy voters" parroting fossil fuel talking points.
  • The American Energy Alliance, a "dark money" group run by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, is spending millions alleging that Obama's policies would lead to $9 a gallon of gas and a recent ad airing in Ohio and Virginia harps on Obama for comments he made about coal industry in 2008.

Rarely are voters seeing any counter-narrative. Alternative energy forces have spent only $2 million, and some environmental groups are weighing in with modest resources. New ads by the League of Conservation Voters saying U.S. Senate Candidate Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will stop the offshoring of U.S. jobs and "will end big oil subsidies" -- with cheerful Wisconsin windmills and pumpkins in the background -- started only in the final days of the campaign. Is it any wonder that candidates have been able to ignore the serious issues?

"To ignore a global crisis that has been fully understood for over 15 years and is quickly slipping out of control shows just how far coal and oil money have drowned out constituents all the way from the Statehouse to the White House," said Greenpeace's Connor Gibson.

What Does the Fossil Fuel Industry Want?

Although environmentalists are not happy with what they perceive as Obama's timidity, the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic about the steps he did take as president. They have leveled blistering criticism about Obama's efforts to slow down the Keystone Pipeline; they don't like his new auto emissions standards; they are unhappy with new EPA mercury emissions rules for boilers; and they don't like the fact that permits for drilling and fracking on federal lands have slowed.

The industry is looking for a victory in the battle over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry heavy tar-sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, exporting some portion of the oil overseas. Construction of the pipeline was confronted by an active movement of citizens concerned about the impact that the pipeline would have on communities and on the threat burning the tar sands posed to the planet. Burning all the available tar sands would be "game over" for the climate, according to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, one of the nation's most respected climate change experts. Romney has vowed to give the project clearance on his first day in office, while Obama has approved a portion of the segment, and has allowed for further environmental impact study of the northern portion.

The industry also wants carte blanche to use federal lands for the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources and foul both air and land -- in addition to spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process.

The industry is calling for a streamline on the permitting process for fossil fuel development on all lands. While industry's ads have argued that increased drilling will decrease gas prices, global gas prices largely follow international trends.

The industry is also keen to hold onto to the billions of fossil fuel subsidies it receives each year from the federal government. According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel subsidies from the government are 12 times greater than renewable energy.

No matter who wins the presidency, there will be major battles on each of these issues. The question is, after years of fossil fuel propaganda, how engaged will the American public be in the effort to save the planet from the fossil fuel industry?

The Price of Fossil Fuel Propaganda

According to author and activist Bill McKibben, "This will be the warmest year in American history. It came with the warmest month in American history, July. It featured a statistically almost-impossible summer-in-March heat wave. It brought us a drought so deep that food prices have gone up 40 percent around the world. It brought us this completely unprecedented mega-storm, the biggest storm, as one weatherman put it yesterday, to hit New York since its founding in 1624," McKibben told Time.

The problem according to McKibben is that "there's been a 20-year bipartisan effort in Washington to accomplish nothing, and it reached its comedic height this summer when our presidential candidates, despite barnstorming through the warmest summer in American history, seemed not to notice. The reason is the incredible power of the fossil fuel industry. Until we can diminish that power, I imagine nothing very large will be done to deal with climate."

Hurricane Sandy has launched a full frontal attack on fossil fuel industry propaganda.

It is up to us to follow in her path.


Will Dooling contributed to this article.

Polluter Congress Ignores $53 billion in Offshore Drilling Handouts During Spending Cuts

  • Posted on: 20 February 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

In a move that exposes the repeated and predictable habit of Congressional polluter allies, House Republicans have ignored a $53 billion handout over the next 25 years to oil companies that are not required to pay royalties when obtaining leases for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. This year alone, according to House Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), $1.5 billion in absent lease royalties will benefit oil companies seeking to expand offshore drilling.

The leases, which give oil giants access to public property for their own profit, is another slap in the face to taxpayers who have already watched their land (and for many, their fragile livelihoods) become poisoned by industry abuse and maintained by federal incompetence.  As fiscal conservatives in the U.S. House selectively look for government spending to trim, the main targets seem to be social programs instead of unncecessary billions doled out to the world's largest oil companies.  As Congress scratches the back of Big Oil, fresh reports emerge of continued devestation on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a direct result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Noting the twisted irony, Rep. Markey stated, "Republicans once again sided with BP, Exxon and the oil companies, not with the American taxpayer and the poorest Americans most in need of help. This legislation focuses on just the kind of special interest loophole that should be closed before we open attacks on programs for the poorest Americans.”

This failure to save wasted taxpayer money is but a small portion of the sickening annual handouts to the oil industry through subsidies. Oil Change International explains, "Estimates of the value of US federal subsidies to the domestic oil and gas industry alone (not coal) range from 'only' $4 billion a year, to an amazing $52 billion annually.  Coal subsidies are roughly another 10 billion annually."

Through its DirtyEnergyMoney tabulation website, Oil Change International reports that the 111th House of Representatives has some powerful allies to the oil industry across party lines. From 2009-2010, thirteen House members were each awarded over $100,000 by oil companies alone:

  • Roy Blunt (R-MO) -- $269,400
  • Dan Boren (D-OK) -- $205,750
  • Chet Edwards (D-TX) -- $176,130
  • Joe Barton (R-TX) -- $150,870
  • Mike Ross (D-AR) -- $135,350
  • K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) -- $132,600
  • John Sullivan (R-OK) -- $125,800
  • John Fleming (R-LA) -- $123,550
  • John Boehner (R-OH) -- $119,400
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS) -- $113,600
  • Eric Cantor (R-VA) -- $110,600
  • Charles Boustany (R-LA) -- $109,000
  • Harry Teague (D-NM) --$100,300

Top givers to the 111th Congressional Representatives of Oil were Koch Industries ($616,513), ExxonMobil ($553,950), Chevron ($373,100) and Valero Energy ($311,250).

More information on all of these companies can be found on our PolluterWatch profiles for each company, as well as in-depth looks at their Congressional funding through DirtyEnergyMoney.com

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