The Carbon Kingpins’ War on Democracy

by Charlie Cray

September 26, 2014

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt set off a rush to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) exit doors by other companies this week because, as he put it, ALEC has been literally lying about climate change and his company wants nothing to do with it.

ALEC claims Googles decision to drop out is based on misinformation from climate activists who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial.

Its a preposterous claim. ALEC regularly invites climate deniers from the Heartland Institute and other front groups to make presentations at its closed-door meetings. ALEC has also pushed model legislation written by climate deniers which suggests that global warming will be possibly beneficial.

Beneficial to whom? Perhaps to ALEC itself. ALEC has received strong financial support from big fossil fuel companies like Exxon, Peabody Coal and Koch Industries.

In recent years ALEC has been attacking renewable energy by pushing various bills, including one that would impose a fee on any homeowner who chooses to install solar panels on their roof. Thats ALECs free market policy perspective: Intervene in the market to dissuade homeowners from the many benefits of solar, including lower utility bills, less asthma-inducing coal pollution, and a community that is more more resilient to superstorms and other threats, including terrorist attacks on the electricity grid.

The New York Times summed it up pretty well: The Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally its a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.

Since Googles recent announcement, a bunch of companies have started to follow, including Facebook and Yahoo. Youd think thered be a lot more companies rushing for the door. Why would any self-respecting company side with habitual liars like the Kochs, who are probably the single biggest source of climate denier front group funding (at least $67 million since 1997)?

The Kochs’ lies are not just polluting the air, but the airwaves:

Non-partisan media analysts at Politicfact.com report that NONE of the statements made by Americans for Prosperity — the Koch brothers lead political arm are true or even mostly true. None. 86% are mostly false, outright false or deserving of a pants on fire rating.

Considering that Koch-connected non-profits ran over 43,000 mid-term TV ads between January and the end of August nearly one out of every 10 political ads aired in the entire country — if the sample analyzed by Politifact reflects the broader pattern, then the Kochs are basically carpet-bombing the country with all sorts of lies.

Thats the kind of political speech John Roberts and rest of his Supreme Court majority unleashed in their Citizens United decision. And the effect is so corrosive to the entire political discourse that as Rob Sisson, president of ConservAmerica (formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection) has said, Republicans are now afraid to even talk about global warming, fearing political repercussions of doing so. The only Republican running for Senate in 2014 to even mention climate change on his web site Jim Rubens fell silent after signing the Koch brothers pledge not to do anything about global warming.

Wheres the free speech in that?

Everyone but Congress understands the urgency.

Scientists get it. Health professionals get it. Companies with extended supply chains at risk from increasingly intense and frequent superstorms get it.

National security leaders get it and are saying it clearly and repeatedly: Both the 2010 National Security Strategy and the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review of 2014 describe global warming as a top national security threat. And yet, as Michael Chertoff and Leon Panetta suggest in their introduction to a Military Advisory Boards 2014 report on the national security risks of projected climate change, We are dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate.

The congressional climate deniers are way out of step with their own base, which suggests that siding with the Kochs and climate liars is a very big risk to take: According to a survey conducted for the League of Conservation Voters, over half of young Republican voters (i.e. under 35 yrs old) think politicians who deny climate change is happening as ignorant, out-of-touch or crazy.

If they win this fall, the Republicans in control of Congress will have a hard time convincing the American people that spewing a poisonous fog of lies about the global warming hoax and the Obama administrations reckless war on coal is real leadership.

In truth, its becoming clear that there IS a war — a war on democracy waged by the conservative billionaires like the Kochs who hailed Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at their secret retreat in June, when he vowed to destroy the EPA if Republicans win back the Senate this fall.

McConnell, who was coal baron Shaun McCutcheons co-plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that gave the assembled plutocrats the right to spend $3.6 million each election cycle, praised the Supreme Court during his speech for level[ing] the playing field for corporate speech.

We now have, I think, the most free and open system weve had in modern times, McConnell told the assembled plutocrats. The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government. It has nothing to do with overly political speech.

In other words, in addition to the $3.6 million they can give directly to candidates and party committees, they can give millions of dollars to the Kochs network of dark money groups and super PACs, which added up to about $400 million in 2012.

Although almost everyone has heard about the Kochs, not many of the other top donors are so well known. In our new report, “The Kingpins of Carbon and Their War on Democracy,” Greenpeace analyzed the list of top 2012 political spenders, identifying 88 individual top donors who are connected to the fossil fuel industry. Thats 88 Carbon Kingpins who (because of the McCutcheon decision) can now give up to $3.6 million each directly to candidates and party committees every two-year federal campaign cycle.

We also identified 67 top political donors who are also closely tied to the Koch brothers. Many of whom were no doubt in the room when McConnell praised the court for setting them free from the onerous regulations that restricted them to contributing just $123,200 i.e. twice the amount that an average American family makes each year.

This is what plutocracy looks like: The Koch brothers and their billionaire cronies have so oiled the Congress and many state legislatures (as well as some universities and colleges) that, in essence, they have set our ability to address climate change far back enough to become a national security threat.

(Speaking of national security — Koch Industries also put more lobbying muscle than any other company into killing proposed legislation to protect communities from chemical disasters caused by terrorist attacks or accidents like the one in West, Texas a few years ago. The company operates 57 facilities that put 4.4 million workers and nearby residents at constant risk from a catastrophic release of the poison gases they store on-site.)

Of course the Koch brothers are not the sole source of congressional climate denial. Together the dozens of other carbon kingpins (should we call them “pollutocrats”?), their corporate lobbyists, trade associations, think tanks and congressional sock puppets have, as the Union of Concerned Scientists puts it, dictated how the public understands (or misunderstands) climate science and how the national discussion on climate policy has progressed or not progressed. And these enormous political investments even pays them back in spades. Oil Change and the Sierra Club calculate that the subsidies, tax breaks and handouts the federal government gives to the fossil fuel industries each year is over 5,000 percent larger than their total political contributions and lobbying expenditures.

This kind of outsized influence and its destructive consequences for communities, businesses and the environment extends across the board to other issues, leading one to reach the reasonable conclusion that the Koch brothers’ club of billionaire cronies and other Carbon Kingpins and plutocrats have so stymied common sense and congressional action addressing so many issues of importance to the country that they pose a fundamental threat to the very future of American democracy.

Its no wonder that 54 Senators voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s destructive Citizens United decision and that unions, civil rights groups and environmental groups (including Greenpeace) have joined together through the Democracy Initiative.

Some, at least, understand the nature of the crisis and the need for real leadership.

Any honest, self-respecting leader regardless of his or her political affiliation has to agree with Schmidt that the Kochs and other Carbon Kingpins and front groups like ALEC who have effectively sabotaged every effort to pull the world back from the climate change cliff are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse placewe should not be aligned with such people theyre just, theyre just literally lying.

As children we learn the importance of standing up to lying bullies. When someone is courageous enough to do so, its everyone elses responsibility to back them up.

Charlie Cray

By Charlie Cray

Charlie Cray is a senior research specialist at Greenpeace USA. He specializes in corporations & democracy, GMOs, toxics and fracking.

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