The Koch Primary (and what it means for climate)

by Rachel Rye Butler

January 30, 2015

The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates with a banner reading "Koch Brothers: Dirty Money" flies over Rancho Mirage, California on January 28, 2011. The flight took place as oil billionaires David and Charles Koch convened their latest secret political strategy meeting. The aerial message to arriving attendees of the meeting highlighted the Koch BrothersÕ ongoing use of their vast oil profits to push a polluter agenda through campaign contributions, lobbying, and funding fronts groups and think tanks. Photo by Gus Ruelas/Greenpeace

©Gus Ruelas/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 thats 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, its 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 arent buying the Im 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 publics 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. Theyve 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 whats at stake is our climate, and our very ability to survive on this planet. We the People The people, however, know whats going on. They know that Koch and other fossil fuel money are behind Congresss 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, Im not a scientist, or Climate change is a hoax. The Kochs are hoping that the people wont believe that its possible to take back our democracy from the super-rich and will simply give up. Theyre hoping that the people wont turn out to vote while at the same time theyre working to make it harder to do so (check out voter ID laws and other dirty tricks.) Theyre hoping that people will just accept this brave new world-- and this is where theyre 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 Peoples 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 wouldnt 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.
Rachel Rye Butler

By Rachel Rye Butler

Rachel Rye Butler leads the Democracy Campaign at Greenpeace USA. She writes frequently about people power, voting rights, and money in politics.

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