Top officials with the donor network affiliated with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch this weekend sought to distance the network from the Republican Party and President Trump, citing tariff and immigration policies and “divisive” rhetoric out of Washington.
At a gathering of hundreds of donors at the Broadmoor resort here, officials reiterated their plans to spend as much as $400 million on policy issues and political campaigns during the 2018 cycle. Earlier this year, they announced heavy spending aimed at helping Republicans to hold the Senate. But in a warning shot at Trump and the GOP, network co-chair Brian Hooks lamented “tremendous lack of leadership” in Trump’s Washington and the “deterioration of the core institutions of society.”
Note the number: 400 million bucks right now on campaigns and policy rhetoric.
Washington, DC – Today, Monday, from 4:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., tomorrow, Tuesday, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and throughout the week,* 19 Senators will take to the Senate floor to call out Koch brothers- and fossil fuel industry-funded groups that have fashioned a web of denial to block action on climate change.
Despite polling that shows over 80 percent of Americans favor action to reduce carbon pollution, Congress has failed to pass comprehensive climate legislation. The Senators will each deliver remarks detailing how interconnected groups – funded by the Koch brothers, major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, identity-scrubbing groups like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, and their allies – developed and executed a massive campaign to deceive the public about climate change to halt climate action and protect their bottom lines.
As part of their effort to draw attention to the web of denial, Senators Whitehouse, Markey, Schatz, Boxer, Merkley, Warren, Sanders, and Franken are introducing a resolution describing and condemning the efforts of corporations and groups to mislead the public about the harmful effects of tobacco, lead, and climate. The resolution also urges fossil fuel corporations and their allies to cooperate with investigations into their climate-related activities. Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) is introducing the resolution in the House this week.
Use #WebOfDenial and #TimetoCallOut to follow the speeches on Twitter.
EVENT: Senators to call out Koch brothers- and fossil fuel-backed web of denial blocking climate action
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Senator Al Franken (D-MN)
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Senator Edward Markey (D-MA)
Senator Gary Peters (D-MI)
Monday, from 4:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Tuesday, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
*Several Senators will also deliver their remarks during the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Follow #WebOfDenial and #TimetoCallOut for specific times.
Here is my version of recent American political history:
Everyone in America knows that if you want to identify the people or corporations, and the motivations, behind politics, you follow the money. Americans have historically differed in the degree to which they formulate this concept in their own minds as conspiratorial end-times ranting or shrug it off as just the way things are. But in recent years, changes in the way that money is spent on politics have made the most extreme and paranoid-seeming views most likely to be correct.
Yes, in the old days, political parties were run by bosses and unions were often run by thugs, voting was often rigged and decisions about what the government should do about this or that thing were handed to the elected representatives by cigar smoking back room denizens. If you don’t know about this “Gilded Age” of American Democracy that is just because you haven’t read about it. (You could start here.)
But that was ancient history, and during the 1960s and 1970s numerous changes were made in the law, lots of nefarious actors rounded up and pushed out, transparency became a previously unspoken of concept, and the the government got cleaned up. Somewhat. A lot, really.
You might say, “yeah, right, cleaned up, like Watergate and the Pentagon papers.” You’d be right to point that out. But notice that when Watergate happened, America got pissed. That is in part because we were in the process of cleaning up the government over those decades.
And, part of this cleanup may have involved the strengthening and organization of a strong Liberal elite that thereafter tended to run things in certain states, certain cities, and now and then nationally. This elite probably arose from the marriage of Northeastern Intellectuals (including both Republicans and Democrats) with Hard Core non-Northeastern Democrats that didn’t happen to be crazy racist bastards like George Wallace.
In those days, in the 60s, various wealthy individuals started to organize a backlash against this, funding individuals who might be future elected officials, producing books and TV shows (like Buckley’s Firing Line, and later, The Bell Curve), and so on. This organization often involved the formation of secret (or nearly secret) societies, exclusive meetings or conferences, and a process of auditioning low level or would be politicians. The Family. Bohemian Grove. That sort of thing.
Over time two things happened. First, more of the wealth that was available was attracted to this effort, and second, with the concentration of wealth, there was simply more money to put into this effort. But, still, the laws of the lands, and the regulations of elections, those elements of reform that had tossed the bosses, cleaned up the unions, expanded voting rights, and so on, stood in the way of the would be puppet masters.
What are these people up to and what do they want? That is beyond the scope of this humble blog post, but if you are reading my blog, you probably know that one of the objectives is to stop policy action on climate change. Action on climate change means keeping the carbon in the ground. Keeping the carbon in the ground means assets will be stranded. Stranded assets means that people like the famous “Koch Brothers” will move from being nearly the wealthiest people in the world to being the 20th wealthiest people in the world. And that, dear reader, is a situation up with which they will not put.
As you know, eventually, the law was changed mainly in the courts, the regulations obviated, a new and more effective effort to repress or control voting emerged, the unions effectively attacked, and the newly dubbed “1%” who were really the “0.1%” in most cases took over. And now, they are in charge. Or nearly so. To the extent that they are not, they will be in a few years.
And so, right now, I am faced with the task of getting you to read this book. I will do two things that I’m sure will work. First, I’ll tell you, truthfully and with enthusiasm, that this book is very well written, well documented, highly credible, very important, and while you read it you will probably have to be restrained at several points. Just. Go. Read. It.
Second, I’ve selected a handful of excerpts to give you a flavor. I normally don’t use a lot of excerpts in a book review, but since I imposed my own personal version (I was in some of those back rooms, and fought in the streets against the old guard more than a few times) recent history of American Politics, I’d like to give Jane Mayer a chance to enthrall, inform, and entice you with her own words.
So, from the book:
In a 1960 self-published broadside, A Business Man Looks at Communism, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat [sic] and Republican Parties.” Protestant churches, public schools, universities, labor unions, the armed services, the State Department, the World Bank, the United Nations, and modern art, in his view, were all Communist tools.
That was Fred Koch.
By the time Barack Obama was elected president, the billionaire brothers’ operation had become more sophisticated. By persuading an expanding, handpicked list of other wealthy conservatives to “invest” with them, they had in effect created a private political bank. It was this group of donors that gathered at the Renaissance. Most, like the Kochs, were businessmen with vast personal fortunes that placed them not just in the top 1 percent of the nation’s wealthiest citizens but in a more rarefied group, the top 0.1 percent or higher. By most standards, they were extraordinarily successful. But for this cohort, Obama’s election represented a galling setback.
Keep this in mind. Obama’s election set them back, because the were already at the gates. Not covered in so much in this book is the fact that Clinton was a setback as well, years earlier, in its own way (though not nearly to the same degree).
in a stunning turnaround in 2008, Scaife met with Hillary Clinton, who had fingered him as the ringleader of what she called a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to torment the Clintons. … After a pleasant editorial board chat, Scaife came out and wrote an opinion piece in his own paper declaring that his view of her as a Democratic presidential contender had changed and was now “very favorable indeed.” The rapprochement testified both to Hillary Clinton’s political skills and to Scaife’s almost childlike impressionability. Repeatedly in his memoir, he changes his political views after meeting antagonists in person, whether the liberal Kennedy family member Sargent Shriver or the Democratic congressman Jack Murtha. “Like many billionaires, he lived in a bubble,” concluded his friend Ruddy
That was Richard Scaife, a banking and oil magnate.
During a catered lunch at the summit, [early Tea Party leader Peggy] Venable introduced Ted Cruz [at an Americans for Prosperity conference] who told the crowd that Obama was “the most radical president ever to occupy the Oval Office” and had hidden from voters a secret agenda—“the government taking over our economy and our lives.” Countering Obama, Cruz proclaimed, was “the epic fight of our generation!” As the crowd rose to its feet and cheered, he quoted the defiant words of a Texan at the Alamo: “Victory, or death!”
Not an original idea of Cruz, but you get the point.
For the Koch network, Walker’s improbable rise was a triumph. Koch Industries PAC was the second-largest contributor to Walker’s campaign. More important, the Kochs were an important source of funds to the Republican Governors Association, which Republicans used in Wisconsin and elsewhere in 2010 to work around strict state contribution limits. The Kochs’ PAC had also contributed to sixteen state legislative candidates in Wisconsin, who all won their races, helping conservatives take control of both houses of the legislature and setting the stage for Wisconsin’s dramatic turn to the right…Walker had also benefited enormously from the philanthropy of two other archconservative brothers, the late Lynde and Harry Bradley…
Bradley funded the publication of the infamous “Bell Curve” by Herrnstein and Murray.
By 2009, the Kochs had indeed succeeded in expanding their political conference from a wonky free-market swap fest to the point where it was beginning to attract an impressive array of influential figures. Wealthy businessmen thronged to rub shoulders with famous and powerful speakers, like the Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Congressmen, senators, governors, and media celebrities came too. “Getting an invitation means you’ve arrived,” one operative who still works for the Kochs explained. “People want to be in the room.”
The new smokey back room, but probably with better food.
With Ryan declining to run, the Kochs and their operatives searched anxiously for an alternative…. The search for a more promising candidate set off a torrid courtship of Chris Christie, the tough-guy governor of New Jersey. David Koch invited Christie to his Manhattan office, where the two spent almost two hours bonding over Christie’s brawls with the unions and other liberal forces. The governor’s scrappy blue-collar style, combined with his plutocrat-friendly economic policies, made him an almost irresistible prospect. By June, the Kochs had given Christie the keynote speaker slot at their seminar, where he could audition for his party’s leading role in front of the people who could pay his way.
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, who preceded Christie as a speaker, provided a perfect foil. In a prelude to Perry’s later “oops” moment during the Republican debates, the governor made a poor impression on the numerically minded businessmen in the audience by displaying five fingers to illustrate a four-point plan, only to be left with one digit still waving in the air, programmatically unac- counted for.
The rich and powerful interviewing the prospective puppets.
Let me start off by saying something you may not know. The big corporations and the 1%ers you have learned to hate fund many of the projects you’ve learned to love. I have not checked lately, but Murdoch and FOX corporation for several years in a row funded at a 50% or 60% level virtually all of the National Geographic specials produced. Major museums known for their great exhibits are often funded by the very corporations or individuals that the people who love those exhibits are (often justifiably) suspicious of. The great importance of private corporate or individual funding is also a factor for art museums, cultural entities like the Opera or Symphony, and of course, sports teams.
This is also true of educational institutions. You see this most obviously at schools of business or management. Say you want to visit the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. It is named after Curtis Carlson, who was Chair of the Carlson Companies (Radisson). Curt also owned TGI Fridays. You might park in the Toyota Parking lot. Perhaps you are going to a meeting at the Medtronic Dining Room followed by a lecture at the Honeywell Lecture Hall. Later, for entertainment you might catch a game at Target Field, or Target Center, or the Xcel Energy Center. Or perhaps you’ll visit the Opera or Symphony. While you are there, be sure to check out the Wall of Donors to see the numerous large companies (mostly Minnesota based) or wealthy individuals who make big donations there.
Well, OK, you probably already knew that large corporations and wealthy individuals are footing the bill for many of the trappings of our civilization, including educational enterprises, and ranging from academics to high culture to sports.
We’ve seen the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as a conduit for moving money from Big Fossil (large corporations that depend, we presume, on the rejection of climate change science) to scientists who produce roundly criticized work used by climate change denialist in Congress (via the mechanism of Congressional testimony) to avoid implementing science-sound energy and environmental policies.
Recently there has been a move to ask natural history museums to reduce or eliminate funding from Big Fossil, and to ask folks like the Kochs to not be on their boards of directors. This makes sense because of the potential conflict of interest, but it could also be a form of institutional suicide if the funding from those sources is both very important and irreplaceable.
How much of the science done by major academic institutions is influenced by funding? It makes sense, for example, for Big Ag to fund laboratories, graduate fellowships, and research at these institutions because they benefit from the training and research. But it might also make sense for Big Ag to influence what research is done, perhaps who gets the results, and most importantly perhaps, what research (or results) is NOT funded, or repressed. Same with Big Fossil. Same with Big Pharm. Same with Big Whatever.
And, of course, the same can be said of large museums. I can name one large museum (but I won’t) that totally avoids human evolution (but not necessarily evolution in general) because there are private donors who don’t think humans evolved. The aforementioned human evolution exhibit funded by Koch is probably a mild example of bias. I’ve seen a lot of human evolution exhibits, and so far the few that are quite willing to challenge visitors’ religious or other anti-science beliefs were entirely state funded, as far as I know.
I think it is appropriate to ask the Smithsonian to dump the Kochs and their ilk as donors and board members, because such stark request can form the core of an activist approach that could cause positive change. But I also think we need to recognize the difficult position these institutions are in. We need not only to tell them to change how they do things, but to suggest alternative approaches and facilitate those approaches. Big educational exhibits at museums should routinely be funded by public money, as many already are. Perhaps private donations should be funneled through third parties that are devoid of nefarious intentions and shady ties. One approach in the US might be to tie tax benefits to such a thing. You can get a tax benefit from donating to a museum to produce an exhibit, but you get a better tax benefit if you donate to the NSF or NIH museum exhibit and educational endowments, which are in turn distributed via the usual mechanism of carefully developed requests for proposals with peer review. That would let the Kochs have part of their cake and we (the citizens) get to eat the other part.
The way research, education, and public engagement is funded has become a problem. What do you think? How should we solve this problem?
Solar energy is one of the best and most easily implemented options to reduce our use of fossil Carbon based fuels. Never mind that the sun is only up and strong for part of the day, and is often covered by clouds. If you put a few square meters of solar panels on the roof of a residential or commercial building, you get clean and free (after the investment into the system) electricity thereafter. Clearly, this is an underutilized technology. In recent years there has been a precipitous drop in the cost of implementing solar energy, so it is now economically kinda dumb to not put solar panels on your roof. Worked out over the long term, a properly done implementation of solar can save a home owner hundreds of dollars a yearafter accounting for the cost of the equipment, installation, maintenance, and permitting fees. And, since part of your energy is coming from non-Carbon based sources, by implementing solar you also save money on those Survivalist Training Courses you might otherwise have to buy for your grandchildren if you expect your progeny to continue to exist in the not-too-distant future.
But every dollar that you save by using solar energy is a sum of money not earned by utilities and the owners of the energy production system, which generally translates into Your Power Company + The Koch Brothers.
So, naturally, the Koch Brothers and various energy utilities have been investing money to make sure that solar is not worth it. One way to reduce the viability of solar to the home owner or small business is to reduce or eliminate the payments that utilities make back to the owner of the solar energy system in the purchase of excess energy produced during those bright sunny days when your solar panels are at home doing their job while you are off at work doing your job.
A Sunday Review editorial published over the weekend in the New York Times discusses this strategy. The Koch Brothers and others have, over the last few months, ramped up their spending to reduce or eliminate renewable energy incentives. Since for the most part utilities are regulated state by state, this is being done at the state level. At present, owing to grassroots organizing combined with a bit of rare common sense in state legislatures, most states require utilities to pay for energy fed back into the system by homeowners with small power plants. But, there are moves to reduce these paybacks or to charge homeowners a surcharge so the utilities actually make money on your electricity, to the extent that for many homeowners, installing solar may not be worth it. This is a kick in the groin for homeowners and small businesses who have already installed systems with certain expectation of cost and benefit, and it is a kick in the groin for the planet, and our future, because the shift to solar for some of our energy will be slowed down by these nefarious changes in regulation.
Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.
But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.
In some contexts, the utilities and their lobbyists are making the simple, straight forward, and correct, argument that wanton installation and use of domestic solar will hurt their profits. But we all know that the number one problem with our energy system at present is that it is driven by profits of the few at the cost (often through externalities, such as everybody dies etc. etc.) all others. Energy utilities should be viable, not profitable, and everyone knows and agrees with that. (Except the energy utilities.) And, of course, the Wealthiest People In The World need to keep their Mega Yachts well appointed, so that’s a consideration that most common people take into account … and ignore, resent, and get mad about.
So, as the NYT points out, Koch and friends have an alternative strategy to gain the hearts, minds, and monies of the American people.
Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.
Here’s the ad that blames Obama for wanting to harm old people:
Here’s the ad that links Solar Energy and Obama Care to Solar Energy:
Do you find this annoying? Of course you do. But there is something you can do about it.
Since this battle is being fought at the state level in the US, if you are a US citizen and voter, just contact your state reps and tell them that you do not appreciate what the Koch Brothers and various utilities are doing. Send them a link to the NYT editorial …
… and tell them that you support home owners and businesses that want to use solar and that you don’t want to see any hint of legislation to interfere with that effort. Not sure who your state representatives are (or is, in some states, you have only one)? CLICK HERE to find out.
You might decide to not do this for one of two reasons, and in both cases you are wrong so please consider. Incorrect reason 1) “I live in a state that has already implemented good laws and regulations and I see no evidence that the Koch Brothers and Kin are coming after us, so why bother?” The reason this is wrong is that they are coming after your stat, you just don’t know it yet. Your letter, phone call, or email to your reps are a form of inoculation, imperfect, but potentially effective, against this. Incorrect reason 2) “My particular legislators are cool. They won’t vote in favor of any such Koch Sponsored Legislation (KSL).” That is wrong because your legislators are embedded in a complex system of give and take. It’s called “Politics.” They need a record of having been contacted by numerous constituents about this. That only happens if you contact them. So just do it.
Shawn Otto, in his book “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America,” reports that he once asked a legislator (at the federal level) what constituted a “groundswell” of support for a particular issue. I don’t recall the exact number, but Shawn was told something to the effect and of the magnitude of “a dozen or so” letters from constituents. Note, I said letters, not emails. A letter looks like this:
It’s a tremendous amount of work. You have to print it out, find an envelope somewhere, get a “stamp” which costs several cents, and put the object in one of these:
… but it is worth it. Every one of those is probably worth hundreds of emails, because emails can be automated. But just to be sure, you can send the same text as an email and as a “letter” and while you are at it, send a tweet or two. When you send a tweet to your representatives, be sure that the tweet does not begin with the @ sign because if it does, it will not be generally viewable to others who follow your Twitter account. Put a “.” or something (not a space) first, then others will see what you are up to and perhaps join in. (See this for how to use Twitter more effectively.)
OK, that’s all for now. Imma go tweet my reps. See you later.