Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Americans For Prosperity Legislative Agenda Is Koch Industries Wishlist

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots organizing group founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, spent $125 million in the midterm elections last year. Now, they’re calling in their chips.

At the National Press Club yesterday, AFP president Tim Phillips and several officers with the group laid out their agenda. The group is calling for legalizing crude oil exports, a repeal of the estate tax, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, blocking any hike in the gas tax, a tax holiday on corporate profits earned overseas, blocking the EPA’s new rules on carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants, and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, along with a specific focus on the medical device tax.

The announcement was touted by NPR as a “conservative agenda for Congress.” But it’s also a near-mirror image of Koch Industries’ lobbying agenda. Koch Industries — the petrochemical, manufacturing and commodity speculating conglomerate owned by David and Charles — is not only a financier of political campaigns, but leads one of the most active lobbying teams in Washington, a big part of why the company has been such a financial success.

Koch Industries transports both crude oil and coal, making the AFP’s work to legalize crude oil exports and to block the EPA from rules that would diminish the coal market in the U.S. particularly important to Koch Industries’ bottom line. As multiple news outlets have reported, Koch also owns a substantial stake of Canadian tar sands, positioning the company to benefit from approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Indeed, on EPA and other issues, Koch Industries’ lobbying office in D.C. has instructed its influence peddlers to work many of the same issues as AFP.

And what makes the AFP agenda almost a self-parody is its focus on the estate tax, which it called the “death tax” during the press event yesterday. In reality, this tax only affects the wealthiest 0.15 percent of Americans because only those who stand to inherit from family members with $5.43 million in wealth are impacted. Couple this with AFP’s focus on a corporate overseas tax holiday, again only an issue that impacts wealthy global companies, and AFP’s purported goal of helping regular Americans loses all credibility.

Charles Koch has made headlines in recent weeks over his claim that he will devote significant energy to criminal justice reform. But curiously, no issues relating to such reforms — even though over-prosecution of petty crimes and abuses such as asset forfeiture clearly fall under the umbrella of economic concerns AFP purports to champion — will be addressed by Charles Koch’s marquee advocacy group, AFP. The issues that are part and parcel of Koch’s bottom line, however, appear to take priority.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Screenshot: YouTube

Blackwater Lobbyist Will Manage The House Intelligence Committee

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

After lobbyist-run SuperPACs and big money efforts dominated the last election, legislators are now appointing lobbyists to literally manage the day-to-day affairs of Congress. For the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees government intelligence operations and agencies, the changing of the guard means a lobbyist for Academi, the defense contractor formerly known as Blackwater, is now in charge.

Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the House reconvenes in January, announced that Jeff Shockey will be the new Staff Director of the committee. As a paid representative of Academi, Shockey and his firm have earned $80,000 this year peddling influence on behalf of Academi.

In previous years, the House Intelligence Committee has investigated Blackwater over secret contracts with the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. As Staff Director, the highest position on a committee for a staff member, Shockey will oversee the agencies that do business with his former employer.

Shockey also represents a number of other companies with business before defense agencies: General Dynamics, Koch Industries, Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance, Innovative Defense Technologies and Boeing.

The role reversal, for lobbyists to take brief stints in Congress after an election, has become a normalized. In a previous investigation for The Nation, we found that some corporate firms offer employment contracts with special bonuses for their staff to return to government jobs, ensuring the paycut they receive for passing through the revolving door to become public servants doesn’t have to alter their K Street lifestyle.

Other committees are also hiring lobbyists. Congessman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) replacement as chair of the Oversight Committee, just hired Podesta Group lobbyist Sean McLaughlin as his new Staff Director. McLaughlin’s client list includes the Business Roundtable, a trade association for corporate CEOs of large firms. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) also hired a new chief of staff, Mark Isakowitz, who represents BP.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Public Citizen via Flickr

At UN Summit, Businesses Back Climate Reforms While Quietly Financing Lobby To Kill Them

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

LIMA, PERU — Several fossil fuel interests are here at the United Nations climate negotiations, putting on their best public face in support of reducing carbon emissions. Despite the lofty rhetoric, with some pledging to lead the way in reducing carbon pollution, the same corporate actors are also fueling efforts to block any substantive reforms.

It’s been called the “Jekyll and Hyde Approach to Climate Change.” In other words, businesses are boosting their brand by appearing to support climate reforms, while working to block policies to achieve these goals at very same time.

Republic Report talked to several corporate lobbyists and business representatives at the summit this week about their ties to pressure groups working to block action on carbon reduction in the United States.

The Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group that represents utility companies, many of which rely on coal-based power plants, is indicative of this approach. The group claims that it is “committed to addressing the challenge of climate change” and says its member companies, including American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and others, “have undertaken a wide range of initiatives over the last 30 years to reduce, avoid or sequester GHG emissions.”

But EEI doesn’t just support both sides of the aisle, they support both sides of the moral spectrum on climate change. Brian Wolff, the executive vice president of the group, told us that his organization is a dues-paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that recently released a slew of anti-environmental template legislation to express support for abolishing the EPA, delaying greenhouse gas-related regulations, and undercutting the federal government’s ability to enforce climate change rules, including on power plants.

“There are benefits of having stakeholder engagement,” Wolff contends. “We’re involved with many Republican, Democrat organizations,” said Wolff at an event in Lima sponsored by the European Union pavilion. Wolff told us that he sent a staffer to a recent ALEC conference to see “what is going on there and the action coming up,” but said he could not recall if his representative voted to approve ALEC’s new bills focused on climate change.

Shell Oil plays from a similar script. Shell, also a member of ALEC, was revealed recently in a Bloomberg News investigation to be a donor to a campaign in California to attack the state’s landmark climate law, AB32.

At the same EU event, Marnie Funk, the vice president of communications at Shell, declared that her company is committed to climate reforms, telling the audience that her firm is “comfortable with a cap and trade approach.”

But when asked by Republic Report to reconcile her company’s pledge to support cap and trade with Shell’s efforts in California to attack cap and trade in California, Funk downplayed the effort, claiming that a Shell-supported trade group is simply asking for a two year delay of certain AB32 regulations. She did not respond to a question about supporting the rhetoric used by the campaign, known as the “California Drivers Alliance.”

The U.S. commitments to reduce carbon emissions are based on a patchwork of programs, most notably the EPA’s rules on coal-fired power plants, but also state-based plans such as AB32. For businesses that profit from practices that emit carbon emissions, it might make for effective public relations to pledge support for carbon reduction. But for the U.S. to achieve meaningful carbon reduction goals, policies from the EPA and California must succeed. For business groups quietly working to kill climate regulations, the high-minded language heard in Lima rings hollow.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Shell via Flickr

Obama Can Reform Dark Money With A Stroke Of A Pen

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

There’s a powerful solution for disclosing the secret money sloshing around in our political system. It does not require an act of Congress or action from any of the effectively toothless campaign finance watchdogs, like the Federal Elections Commission. In fact, this solution could be passed in an instant and the only requirement for action is political will.

President Barack Obama can issue an executive order today that requires government contractors to disclose their dark money campaign contributions.

Why doesn’t he? And why don’t campaign finance reform organizations push for such a fix?

In 2011, following the first wave of undisclosed campaign money in the 2010 midterms, the administration floated such an executive order. The idea provoked furious lobbying from business groups concerned that their donors would have to take responsibility for their electioneering.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest dark money group in the last two midterm elections, not so subtly threatened war with the White House over the order. “We will fight it through all available means,” one Chamber lobbyist told the New York Times, referencing the bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”

The order wouldn’t impact every dark money donor. Individuals and companies without contracts with the federal government would remain untouched.

However, the order would likely impact dozens of firms. General Dynamics, one of the largest defense contractors in the country, has told shareholders that it has directly funded political dark money groups, though they have declined to name them. As journalist Paul Blumenthal has pointed out, “JPMorgan Chase, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, and the aforementioned Koch Industries all hold government contracts.”

As Republicans prepare to focus narrowly on repealing the medical device tax in the next Congress, a measure that would increase the deficit by nearly $30 billion over 10 years, doesn’t the public have a right to know the full extent of medical device manufacturers’ campaign donations? There’s evidence medical device companies funded some of the largest dark money campaign organs, but we do not have a full picture. Given that major medical device firms hold federal contracts, an executive order could help reporters and members of the public understand what’s really motivating our policymakers.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have cried foul on the disclosure idea, claiming that the executive order would exempt unions. But that’s simply not true: several unions have contracts with the federal government and would be included in the rule with other federal contractors. Moreover, many unions already disclose dark money payments through reports filed with the Department of Labor. The union argument is really a red herring because the rule would not impact dozens of corporate and individual dark money donors.

When the idea was originally floated in 2011, congressional Republicans temporarily blocked any further consideration of the executive order with riders attached to the appropriations bills. “These riders have since expired,” says Public Citizens’ Craig Holman, “and with the pending Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, a significant amount of the president’s agenda will have to be achieved through executive action. Opening up the books on dark money is one such action.”

Holman, Public Citizen’s lobbying expert, emailed Republic Report to say that his organization “is renewing its call to the Obama administration to issue an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by government contractors.”

After initial floating the possibility of issuing the executive order, the administration backed down. The question is, will the failure to act on dark money be part of Obama’s legacy?

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

President Obama speaks at “A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House” on the South Lawn on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C. The president and First Lady invited music legends, members of the U.S. military, military veterans, and their families to the White House for a celebration of the men and women who serve the United States. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Gerrymandering Rigged The 2014 Elections For Republican Advantage

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

In the midterm elections, Republicans appear to have won their largest House majority since the Hoover administration. Republicans won on the weakness of Democratic candidates, a poor resource allocation strategy by Democratic party leaders, particularly DCCC chair Steve Israel, and an election narrative that did little to inspire base Democratic voters. That being said, in many ways, the game was rigged from the start. The GOP benefited from the most egregious gerrymandering in American history.

As Rolling Stone reported, GOP donors plowed cash into state legislative efforts in 2010 for the very purpose of redrawing congressional lines. In the following year, as the Tea Party wave brought hundreds of Republicans into office, newly empowered Republican governors and state legislatures carved congressional districts for maximum partisan advantage. Democrats attempted this too, but only in two states: Maryland and Illinois. For the GOP however, strictly partisan gerrymandering prevailed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Arizona, Tennessee and beyond.

Here’s an example from the election last night. In Pennsylvania, one state in which the GOP drew the congressional districts in a brazenly partisan way, Democratic candidates collected 44 percent of the vote, yet Democratic candidates won only 5 House seats out of 18. In other words, Democrats secured only 27 percent of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats despite winning nearly half of the votes. See the graph below:

 

A similar dynamic played in North Carolina, another state in which GOP control in 2011 created intensely partisan congressional boundaries. In the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats in North Carolina secured only 3 out of 13 seats (23 percent of NC’s congressional delegation) even though Democratic candidates in that state won about 44 percent of the vote:

 

In 2012, the first congressional election after the last round of gerrymandering, Democratic House candidates won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote — or 1.37 million more votes than Republican candidates — yet secured only 201 seats in Congress, compared to 234 seats for Republicans. The House of Representatives, the “people’s house,” no longer requires the most votes for power.

As the results from this year roll in, we see a similar dynamic. Republican gerrymandering means Democratic voters are packed tightly into single districts, while Republicans are spread out in such a way to translate into the most congressional seats for the GOP.

There are a lot of structural issues that influence congressional elections, from voter ID requirements to early voting access. But what does it matter if you’ve been packed into a district in which your vote can’t change the composition of Congress?

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

If GOP Takes Senate, Climate Change Deniers Will Control Key Committees

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

It wasn’t long ago that coal executives were openly discussing their dream of Republicans seizing the White House and making Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe — who believes climate change is a “hoax” concocted by greedy scientists — the head of the EPA.

Now, they have a second chance. As dark money groups and SuperPACs backed by millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry are propelling Republicans to a Senate majority, climate science-denying politicians are likely to seize control of key committee chairmanships, a coup for companies seeking to pollute the atmosphere with impunity. What’s more, Inhofe is slated to become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, with oversight of the EPA.

Republic Report took a look at how the U.S. Senate would likely change under GOP control:

Environment and Public Works Committee: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is in line to take control of the EPQ chairmanship, which would give him authority over the EPA. Inhofe, who has compared climate change activists to Nazis, has already signaled that he will go after regulators on a raft of issues concerning greenhouse gases, from methane leaks to the new rules over coal-fire power plants.

– Subcommittee on Science and Space: As current ranking member of this subcommittee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has a good shot at becoming the chairman. This vital subcommittee oversees the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and issues relating to federally funded scientific research. Cruz is a proud denier of climate change science. When he ran for office in 2012, Cruz told reporters in Texas that global warming ceased in 1997. Earlier this year, in an interview with CNN, Cruz again questioned the science, claiming the “data are not supporting what the advocates are arguing.”

Homeland Security and Governmental Reform Committee: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), in line to take control of the Homeland Security Committee, would likely use his perch to continue to harass scientists. The committee is the Senate’s chief investigative and oversight body. Johnson has already distinguished himself with outbursts against Dr. James Hansen, using a hearing earlier this year as an opportunity to tell the award-winning NASA scientist that climate “science is far from settled.” Johnson, who claims that “sunspot activity” is responsible for any changes in climate, has also railed against groups pushing for reform, accusing one of “environmental jihad.”

Budget Committee: Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) has brushed aside the threat of climate change, calling the debate over the issue a “waste of money.” As the next possible chair of the Budget Committee, Enzi may have a chance to rewrite the budget and reduce funding for agencies attempting to regulate carbon pollution.  There has been talk about Republicans shutting the government down in a bid to defund the EPA over its climate change rules. Enzi has already criticized the EPA’s coal regulations, and could move such a strategy forward.

Should Republicans take a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate, the caucus would be led by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), two men who have refused to answer fairly simple questions about the threat of manmade climate change.

Moreover, the Senate Republicans have indicated that they will not only block the few and fairly weak proposals to deal with climate change, but are just as interested in using their power to intimidate environmental non-profits. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has recently published reports listing the American Lung Association and the National Wildlife Foundation as part of a nefarious environmental cabal. Though the Vitter reports fail to show any wrongdoing by the non-profits, he has already sent investigative letters to some groups.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Charles Koch Personally Founded Group Protecting Oil Industry Hand-Outs, Documents Reveal

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

“Lifestyles of the Rich Environmentalists,” produced by a group called the Institute for Energy Research, is a slick web video campaign designed to lampoon Leonardo DiCaprio and will.i.am as hypocrites for supporting action on climate change. The claim is that wealthy celebrities who oppose industrial-scale pollution supposedly shouldn’t fly in airplanes that use fossil fuels. The group, along with its subsidiary, the American Energy Alliance, churns out a steady stream of related content, from Facebook memes criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency, to commercials demanding approval of new oil projects like the Keystone XL, to a series of television campaign advertisements this year attacking Democratic candidates in West VirginiaColoradoNorth Carolina and Alaska. On Capitol Hill, IER aggressively opposes any effort to repeal tax breaks afforded to the oil and gas industry.

Documents obtained by Republic Report reveal for the first time that the group was actually founded by none other than Charles Koch, the petrochemical, manufacturing, and oil-refining tycoon worth an estimated $52 billion.

IER has no information about its founding members on its website, and only lists a board composed of seemingly independent conservative scholars and businessmen. Earlier reports revealed that IER/AEA has received grants from Koch-funded foundations, and its leadership includes several individuals who have at times worked for Koch or Koch-related interests. But this is the first time it has been revealed that Charles personally founded the organization.

In October of 1984, Charles, then using a Menlo Park, California address, founded a non-profit called the Institute for Humane Studies of Texas. That organization briefly lost its charter in 1989 for failure to pay the Texas state franchise tax. Four years later, incorporation documents reveal, the group rebranded as the Institute for Energy Research, or IER, which later formed a subsidiary called the American Energy Alliance.

IER/AEA’s advocacy contrasts sharply with Charles’ personal brand as a selfless libertarian activist. The industrialist has argued that he is resolutely against special government handouts, such as tax credits or subsidies that benefit one industry over another. “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them,” Charles wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal this year.

But Charles’ group, IER/AEA, has fought to protect special tax breaks that benefit fossil fuel producers. Along with issuing press releases against various federal efforts to eliminate oil and gas industry tax credits, IER/AEA commissioned a study claiming that such tax reforms would have an adverse effect on jobs and on oil production.

Charles and his brother David are personally responsible for founding and funding much of the modern conservative infrastructure. The popular libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, was in fact first named the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc before rebranding. The largest political organization in America outside the Democratic and Republican parties is Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-organizing foundation also founded by the Kochs.

The latest organs in the Koch political network have carefully guarded the sources of their funding and direction. There is the new youth group, Generation Opportunity, along with the new veterans-related campaign organization, Concerned Veterans for America. But IER/AEA’s true origin casts new light on its motivations.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Screenshot: YouTube

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Senator Vitter Report Claims Cancer Prevention, Wildlife Nonprofits Are Part Of Nefarious Cabal

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

Louisiana senator David Vitter made headlines with conservative websites in the last few days by releasing a report called “Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Below the lengthy title is a report that claims breathlessly that environmental and public health foundations are part of a cabal of “a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats” responsible for spreading “bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public.”

The report goes on to list groups such as the American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists as “agenda-driven far-left elites” obsessed with using “secretive backroom deals and transfers” to hide their agenda from the public. To shine a light on these organizations, the Vitter report details annual budget numbers and board membership lists scrubbed from annual tax forms that these nonprofits, like any nonprofit, are required to publish.

Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elite, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appears to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combating global warming as well reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.

If there is a conspiracy afoot, as eluded to in “Chain of Environmental Command,” perhaps Vitter himself is involved.

In 2009, Vitter co-sponsored the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act, legislation to require several federal agencies to work together on a comprehensive plan for reducing lung cancer mortality. The American Lung Association, one of the groups targeted by the Vitter report as a purveyor of “bogus propaganda,” helped pass the legislation, which was signed into law last year.

Or what about the RESTORE Act, which funds coastal restoration and economic recovery projects along the Gulf Coast using fines generated from the 2010 BP oil spill? The legislation was supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and the National Wildlife Federation. All four groups were named in Vitter’s report as members of the pernicious “Club of Billionaires.” Vitter regularly boasts that he was a champion of this environmental group-backed legislation, which was signed into law in 2012.

A request a comment from Vitter’s office was not returned.

The change in tone from Vitter corresponds closely to his new perch as the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, a position he secured last year.  Since 2013, Vitter has positioned himself as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, attempting to block the confirmation of the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and going so far as to proclaim, “God bless the Koch brothers.”

Fossil fuel companies have leaned on congressional Republicans to block new environmental regulations. But with little influence within the Obama administration and without control of the Senate, lawmakers close to industry have lashed out at public health advocates and scientists. Just as Vitter is now targeting NGOs, the GOP on the House Science Committee has begun subpoenaing scientists that have researched air pollutants, a move widely condemned by observers.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Leading Civil Rights Groups Just Sold Out On Net Neutrality

by Lee Fang, Republic Report.

Last Friday, just before the Federal Communication Commission closed its comment period for its upcoming rule on “network neutrality,” a massive coalition of Asian, Latino and black civil rights group filed letters arguing that regulators should lay off of Internet service providers regarding Title II reclassification and accept FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original plan. In other words, something close to half of the entire civil rights establishment just sold out the Internet.

The civil rights group letters argue that Title II reclassification of broadband services as a public utility — the only path forward for real net neutrality after a federal court ruling in January — would somehow “harm communities of color.” The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that “we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened.” Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.

The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Urban League, the National Council on Black Civil Participation and the National Action Network. The other features the Council of Korean Americans, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Black Farmers Association, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, and many more.

Of course, the groups listed on these filings do not speak for all communities of color on telecom policy, and there are civil rights groups out there that actually support net neutrality, including Color of Change and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Joseph Torres with Free Press told VICE that communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission,” Torres says.

A number of K Street consultants have helped make this epic sellout possible.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti-net neutrality filings sent to the FCC last week. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions. For instance, the group attacked the Obama administration’s first attempt at net neutrality, while celebrating the proposed (and eventually successful) merger between Comcast and NBC.

Martin Chavez, the former Mayor of Albuquerque, now works with a group called the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) to corral Latino civil rights groups into opposing net neutrality. Last month, Chavez hosted a net neutrality event on Capitol Hill to call on legislators to oppose Title II reclassification. As Time recently reported, Chavez is on staff with one of Verizon’s lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group.

“HTTP is nothing more than an industry front group that is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally distorting facts as it actively opposes efforts to better serve the communications needs of Latinos,” says Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which strongly supports net neutrality. His group has filed its own letter to the FCC.

Still, telecom cash has become a vital source of funding for cash-starved nonprofits. OCA, the Asian-American civil rights nonprofit formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans, counts Comcast as a major donor and sponsor for its events and galas. Not only did OCA go on to sign the anti-net neutrality letter last Friday, the group wrote a similar filing to the FCC in 2010, claiming absurdly that Asian-American entrepreneurs would benefit from ISPs being able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, the League of United Latin American Citizens, better known simply as LULAC, has been a dependable ally of the telecom industry while partnering with Comcast for a $5 million civic engagement campaign. Here’s a picture of LULAC proudly accepting a jumbo-sized check from AT&T.

As VICE first reported, telecoms are desperate for third-party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti-net neutrality lobbying campaign.

Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishment have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti-net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Walmart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.

Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report

Photo: “kaje_yomama” via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

The Fracking Candidate: It’s All In The Family For Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

In May of last year, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, now considered the favorite to win West Virginia’s open Senate seat, stood on a small platform in Charleston, behind a row of tiny trophies in the shape of drilling rigs. She was there to congratulate the Energy Corporation of America, a major gas exploration and distribution company, on its plans to open a new building in the state capital. The company needed new space to accommodate over a hundred new employees in coming years. “I am honored to attend the groundbreaking celebration of the ECA’s new eastern headquarters,” Capito told the crowd, according to an ECA press release. “This privately held company has brought economic growth to West Virginia.”

Though there’s no record of her having acknowledged it publicly, among those hired by the growing firm is her own son, Arch Moore Capito, who was retained as in-house counsel by ECA after his graduation from Washington & Lee University’s law school in 2011.

The hiring of Arch, named after Capito’s father, the late West Virginia governor Arch Moore, highlights a growing trend. Major players in the  gas industry, which faces major regulatory hurdles relating to its extraction and distribution infrastructure, exports, and environmental issues, have taken to hiring the relatives of powerful politicians.

In May, Hunter Biden, the son of the vice president, made headlines when he joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas producer. Last year, Marty Durbin, the nephew of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), was named president of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the primary trade group representing fracking companies. Also last year, EQT Corporation—one of the largest natural gas producers in Appalachia—registered Robert Shuster, the brother of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)—as a lobbyist.

Other lawmakers have enjoyed largely unreported family ties to the industry for several years. In 2010, Teddy Carter, the son of Rep. John Carter (R-TX), became a lobbyist for a Texas trade group that represents independent drilling companies involved in fracking as well as traditional oil and gas extraction. Last year, Teddy Carter worked to influence Texas rules governing how water wells are used to supply fracking projects.

In some cases, politicians with family ties to the gas industry hold sway over decisions critical to the industry. Rep. Shuster, for instance, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which oversees pipeline safety regulations. Registration forms show Shuster’s brother was retained to work on “issues related to the regulation of shale gas production and pipeline safety initiatives” on behalf of EQT.

Capito is a member of the same congressional committee. As a member of the GOP’s House Energy Action Team, which is largely dedicated to promoting increased fossil fuel development, including fracking, she has been an outspoken advocate for expanded natural gas drilling. And back in 2007, before her son was retained by ECA, she read a statement of praise for ECA into the congressional record.

The League of Conservation Voters lists a number of votes in which Capito has sided with the fracking industry. Last year, she voted for a bill that would, in the name of states’ rights, prohibit the federal government from regulating fracking if a state has even minimal regulations or guidance of its own in place. And she voted against an amendment to the bill that would have allowed the Department of the Interior to limit methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands. The amendment was defeated, and the bill — known as the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act — passed in the House by a wide margin and awaits Senate action.

“It’s easier and less expensive [for corporations] to attempt to pursue favorable regulation at the state level,” says Mitch Jones, director of the Common Resources Program at Food & Water Watch, which opposed the bill. “The level of expertise is often lower at the state level than the federal level and the money industry brings to bear is often much more influential.”

FirstEnergy Corp, an electrical company that relies heavily on natural gas, is one of the top five donors to her campaign committee, with $32,650 in donations from its employees. And employees of ECA and its subsidiaries, including chief executive John Mork, now rank among Moore Capito’s largest individual donors, with nearly $60,000 in contributions.

Capito did not respond to a request for comment.

“ECA’s relationship with Congresswoman Capito is cordial and respectful, although our contact with her office has been fairly limited in nature,” says Jennifer Vieweg, a spokesperson for ECA. “And, while John and Julie Mork are personal friends with Charlie and Shelley Moore Capito, this relationship has existed since the mid-1980s and long before she entered politics.”

ECA, a rapidly growing company that recently inked a $90 million partnership with Chinese state-owned Shenhua Energy Co. to drill the Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania, has had its share of regulatory violations. In Pennsylvania, the state environmental regulator has cited the company for at least 23 violations since 2008 related to discharging pollutants into public lands and water.

“Despite the abundance of natural gas and all of the good that comes with responsible development of this resource,” wrote James Flavin, an ECA business operations manager in a trade publication, “unnecessary regulatory and environmental burdens could restrict the industry’s ability to provide low-cost, clean energy for the State of West Virginia and the nation.”

“The fact that her son is on ECA’s payroll ought to require her to recuse herself from voting on bills to benefit the company which enriches her close family members,” says Lisa Graves, president of the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. “It’s certainly a conflict of interest.”

Durbin, Biden, and other Democrats have increasingly aligned with the natural gas lobby as both a geopolitical weapon against Russia and a so-called “bridge fuel” to wean the economy off of more high-carbon fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. In March, Durbin expressed support for fast-tracking liquefied natural gas exports—a key lobbying priority of the trade group where his nephew works, America’s Natural Gas Alliance—in response to the crisis in Ukraine, though he has since raised concerns about its impact on domestic natural gas prices. For his part, Biden traveled to Ukraine this April to announce a $50 million aid package that included technical support for increasing the country’s natural gas production—an investment that could bolster profits at Burisma Holdings, where his son is a director.

Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Eric Cantor’s Opponent Beat Him By Calling Out GOP Corruption

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

“All of the investment banks, up in New York and D.C., they should have gone to jail.”

That isn’t a quote from an Occupy Wall Street protester or Senator Elizabeth Warren. That’s a common campaign slogan repeated by Dave Brat, the Virginia college professor who scored one of the biggest political upsets in over a century by defeating Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary last night.

The national media is buzzing about Brat’s victory, but for all of the wrong reasons.

Did the Tea Party swoop in and help Brat, as many in the Democratic Party are suggesting? Actually, The Wall Street Journal reports no major Tea Party or anti-establishment GOP group spent funds to defeat Cantor. Did Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, lose because of his religion, as some have suggested? There’s no evidence so far of anti-Semitism during the campaign. Was Cantor caught flatfooted? Nope; Cantor’s campaign spent close to $1 million on the race and several outside advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, the National Realtors Association and the American Chemistry Council (a chemical industry lobbying association) came in and poured money into the district to defeat Brat. The New York Times claims that Brat focused his campaign primarily on immigration reform. Brat certainly made immigration a visible topic in his race, but Republic Report listened to several hours of Brat stump speeches and radio appearances, and that issue came up far less than what Brat called the main problem in government: corruption and cronyism.

Brat told Internet radio host Flint Engelman that the “number one plank” in his campaign is “free markets.” Brat went on to explain, “Eric Cantor and the Republican leadership do not know what a free market is at all, and the clearest evidence of that is the financial crisis … When I say free markets, I mean no favoritism to K Street lobbyists.” Banks like Goldman Sachs were not fined for their role in the financial crisis — rather, they were rewarded with bailouts, Brat has said.

Brat, who has identified with maverick GOP lawmakers like Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, spent much of the campaign slamming both parties for being in the pocket of “Wall Street crooks” and D.C. insiders. The folks who caused the financial crisis, Brat says, “went onto Obama’s Rolodex, the Republican leadership, Eric’s Rolodex.”

During several campaign appearances, Brat says what upset him the most about Cantor was his role in gutting the last attempt at congressional ethics reform. “If you want to find out the smoking gun in this campaign,” Brat told Engelman, “just go Google and type the STOCK Act and CNN and Eric Cantor.” (On Twitter, Brat has praised the conservative author Peter Schweizer, whose work on congressional corruption forced lawmakers into action on the STOCK Act.)

The STOCK Act, a bill to crack down on insider trading, was significantly watered down by Cantor in early 2012. The lawmaker took out provisions that would have forced Wall Street “political intelligence” firms to register as traditional lobbyists would, and removed a section of the bill to empower prosecutors to go after public officials who illegally trade on insider knowledge. And Brat may be right to charge that Cantor’s moves on the STOCK Act were motivated by self interest. Cantor played a leading role in blocking legislation to fix the foreclosure crisis while his wife and his stock portfolio were deeply invested in mortgage banks.

Most self-described Tea Party Republicans, including Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have railed against Washington in a general sense without calling out the powerful – often Republican-leaning — groups that wield the most power.

Not Brat.

“Eric is running on Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable principles,” Brat told a town hall audience, later clarifying that he meant the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest lobbying trade group in the country. He also called out the American Chemistry Council for funding ads in his race with Cantor, telling a radio host that his opponent had asked his “crony capitalist friends to run more ads.” Brat repeats his mantra: “I’m not against business. I’m against big business in bed with big government.”

Indeed, Cantor has been a close ally to top lobbyists and the financial industry. “Many lobbyists on K Street whose clients include major financial institutions consider Cantor a go-to member in leadership on policy debates, including overhauling the mortgage finance market, extending the government backstop for terrorism insurance, how Wall Street should be taxed and flood insurance,” noted Politico following Cantor’s loss. In 2011, Cantor was caught on video promising a group of commodity speculators that he would roll back regulations on their industry.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Cantor-Brat race. For one, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that not only did Cantor easily outraise and outspend Brat by over $5 million to around $200,000 in campaign funds, but burned through a significant amount on lavish travel and entertainment instead of election advocacy. Federal Election Commission records show Cantor’s PAC spent at least $168,637 on steakhouses, $116,668 on luxury hotels (including a $17,903 charge to the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows) and nearly a quarter-million on airfare (with about $140,000 in chartered flights) — just in the last year and a half!

But on the policy issues and political ramifications of this race, it’s not easy to box Brat into a neat caricature of an anti-immigration zealot or Tea Party demagogue, or, in Time’s hasty reporting, a “shopworn conservative boilerplate.” If Brat ascends to Congress, which is quite likely given the Republican-leaning district that he’ll run in as the GOP nominee, he may actually continue taking on powerful elites in Washington.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

AFP Photo/Jay Paul

Want more political analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

GOP Senate Candidate Gillespie Made $3 Million ‘Advising’ Big Oil And Gas Lobbyists

You won’t find Ed Gillespie, the likely Republican nominee to challenge Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) this fall, on the official list of lobbyists maintained by the Secretary of the Senate’s database. That’s because Gillespie isn’t registered. But not being registered doesn’t mean he doesn’t help big corporations and lobbying firms advance their interests in Washington.

As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, Gillespie’s recently filed ethics forms show that he made $2,958,800 over the last year from his consulting firm, aptly named Ed Gillespie Strategies.

Though Gillespie was for many years a registered lobbyist, through his previous firm Quinn Gillespie, he dropped off the rolls when he departed to pursue other ventures. Indeed, veteran lobbyists have deregistered en masse in recent years. In a recent investigation for The Nation, I reported on this latest trend against transparency, with thousands of lobbyists dropping their registrations — owing to a lax enforcement regime and the growing realization in Washington that the current lobbying registration law is largely a joke.

Because of his non-registered status, however, most voters probably have little idea what Gillespie has been up to. Using bankruptcy filings, I found one recent client paying Ed Gillespie Strategies several years ago: Washington Mutual, the bank that failed in 2008.

The ethics forms filed this month provide a new window into Gillespie’s business, which represents not only some of the largest corporations in America, but also works with several of the largest lobbying entities inside the Beltway: American Petroleum Institute, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, AT&T, Bank of America, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Broadband for America, DCI Group, Facebook, Microsoft, RATE Coalition, The Brunswick Group, U.S. Telecom, Univision, and Walgreens.

Notably, the DCI Group is itself a lobbying firm, while the American Petroleum Institute and America’s Natural Gas Alliance are trade associations that lobby heavily on their respective issues (API, which represents ExxonMobil, Chevron, and other oil majors, lobbies on fossil fuel subsidies, the Keystone XL, and expanded drilling access; ANGA , which represents the largest hydraulic fracturing companies in America, lobbies on fracking regulations, natural gas exports, and other liquefied natural gas regulations). Other Gillespie clients are essentially lobbying groups. The RATE Coalition, for example, is a coalition of firms such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin seeking lower corporate tax rates.

For Gillespie, formerly a White House Communications Director for George W. Bush, the revolving door has swung many times — and with each swing, his clout and wealth have climbed. If he wins election this year, his stock among the Beltway bandits on K Street is sure to rise for any future venture in the private sector.

The new disclosure of Gillespie’s clients also provides a new focus on the candidate’s issue platform. Gillespie opposes the Affordable Care Act’s regulatory mandates, and has made the effort to repeal the law a central part of his campaign. How much of that opposition, one must wonder, may relate to his work for insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield? On energy, Gillespie has attacked efforts to address climate change. In light of this new client list, voters may be scratching their head when they try to distinguish Gillespie’s policy platform from the goals of his Big Oil benefactors at the American Petroleum Institute.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

VIDEO: Chief Coal Industry Lobbyist Won’t Say If Coal Causes Climate Change

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

Does burning coal, one of the most carbon-intensive fuel sources on the planet, contribute to climate change?

That simple question stumped the industry’s most prominent advocate, Robert “Mike” Duncan, at a Colorado mining conference last week. Asked twice by Republic Report, Duncan first said that a “lot of people believe” that coal causes climate change, before replying, “I’m not answering your question.”

Duncan, the president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), gave a talk to a room filled with mining industry executives about the dangers of new EPA rules concerning greenhouse emissions. ACCCE, which represents the largest coal companies in the nation, has pushed back against the administration’s coal power plant rules. In an interview with E&E TV in January, Duncan said that instead of the EPA rules, his industry could take a gradual approach to reducing emissions with carbon capture sequestration, which he claimed can “make coal even cleaner.”

With Duncan’s support for carbon sequestration in mind, we asked him about the very pollutant he hopes to prevent. Watch the video below:

Critics argue that carbon sequestration technology — which is designed to store carbon from coal plants underground — is untested and unlikely to ever safely contain carbon pollution in perpetuity. As DeSmogBlog notes, “a 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes that even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making ‘large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.’”

In a letter to The New York Times editor last year, Duncan argued that coal regulations would have “no meaningful impact on global climate change” because “closing down our entire coal fleet would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by just 3 percent.” Such a small change, Duncan wrote, would only reduce global average temperatures by about .03 degrees Fahrenheit. Such a statement, one might infer, would suggest that Duncan understands that burning coal contributes to climate change.

ACCCE has been less than upfront about its policy positions in the past. During the 2009 debate over cap-and-trade legislation, a subcontractor to the ACCCE was caught sending fake letters, using the letterhead of a local NAACP chapter and other civil rights groups, to lawmakers. The letters expressed opposition to the legislation. At a hearing concerning the scandal, ACCCE again misled lawmakers, claiming falsely that the group never took a position on Waxman-Markey, the cap-and-trade legislation.

ACCCE represents Alpha Natural Resources, American Electric Power, Arch Coal, BNSF Railway, Consol Energy, CSX, Peabody Energy, Southern Company, and other coal-related corporations.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Bread for the World via Flickr

Last Remaining Populist House Republican Faces K Street’s Own Wolf Of Wall Street

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican who represents a wide swath of eastern North Carolina, might not strike you as a populist. But as a lawmaker, the veteran politician with a slow Southern drawl has become a gadfly in his own party for thumbing his nose at powerful political interests. He is the only GOP co-sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, a measure to reveal the donors of dark money campaign advertisements. He is among the loudest critics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling an audience once that “Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.” And Speaker John Boehner removed Jones from the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street. His sin? Bucking leadership and supporting many bills to further regulate the financial sector, along with serving as the last remaining House Republican to have voted for the Dodd-Frank reform package.

The Republican establishment has attempted to remove Jones from office by dispatching a number of primary challengers over the years. For this cycle, a former Bush administration aide named Taylor Griffin is the party favorite to finally wipe out Jones.

Several outlets, such as Bloomberg News, have reported that Griffin’s candidacy is being heavily promoted by the financial industry. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks helped fuel the $114,000 fundraising haul Griffin reported in his first campaign disclosure report. Earlier this week, a SuperPAC financed in part by hedge fund titan Paul Singer went on air with a negative ad against Jones.

What hasn’t been reported, however, is that Griffin himself is a longtime political consultant for the biggest predators of Wall Street.

Republic Report has obtained a disclosure report that shows that Griffin’s client list reads like a who’s who of financial interests that have preyed upon North Carolina families for short term gain.

Griffin, whose career includes a stint on the the Bush election campaign team and Treasury Department, is a co-founder of Hamilton Place Strategies, a “policy and public affairs” firm that boasts of its team of former government officials. Like many companies that work to influence policy within the Beltway on behalf of corporate interests, Hamilton Place Strategies does not register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, though it advertises its ability to shape the regulatory environment. The company, which specializes in public relations, is located a stone’s throw from K Street and the White House in a corridor of Washington favored by many influence peddlers.

Griffin touts himself as a conservative small businessman. His campaign website “About” section only makes a passing reference to his prior position with Hamilton Place Strategies, noting obliquely that he founded a “leading public policy consulting firm, quickly growing it to a business that included over 20 employees on its payroll.” Before launching his campaign in October, Griffin sold his share of the firm and moved to New Bern, a city within North Carolina’s third congressional district.

Griffin’s client list has never before been reported. But a mandatory candidate filing, disclosed by the House Clerk last week, opens a window into his business operation.

Griffin worked for Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), the infamous company that forged foreclosure documents on behalf of the big banks. In a practice that became known as “robo-signing,” LPS created over “1 million fraudulently signed and notarized mortgage-related documents with property recorders’ offices throughout the United States.” Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial allegedly used robo-signing to engage in unlawful foreclosures. The robo-signing tactics were reportedly used extensively in North Carolina.

Though Griffin revealed his LPS work on his disclosure form, he also refused to list other clients, noting that “certain confidential clients are not reported due to terms of agreement into at the time services were retained.” But public statements from his company, including from Tony Fratto, another co-founder of Hamilton Place Strategies, shows the firm has been working for Magnetar Capital, a hedge fund famous for helping inflate the housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

In a Pulitzer Prize-winning article for ProPublica, reporter Jesse Eisinger revealed that Magnetar helped create “arcane mortgage-based instruments, pushed for risky things to go inside them and then bet against the investments,” a scheme that earned them hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, according to reports, Magnetar is back in the housing business, taking advantage of low prices to buy up homes and rent them out.

As part of their strategy to dupe investors, Magnetar allegedly enlisted the rating agency Standard & Poor’s to provide a high-level A-grade listing for Magnetar’s synthetic financial products. Though it’s not clear what he did for the firm, Griffin lists McGraw-Hill Financial, the parent company of Standard & Poor’s, as one of his clients (the firm has been accused of engaging in other fraudulent rating schemes that led to the financial collapse).

Another Griffin client, according to his ethics form, is an interest group that is actively lobbying to hike property insurance rates on North Carolina families, including those in the Outer Bankers region Griffin hopes to represent.

Griffin works for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a trade association for property insurers. This year, the PCIAA promoted a state property insurance hike as high as 35 percent on homeowners in North Carolina beach communities. In Washington, the PCIAA’s team of 10 registered lobbyists worked to oppose the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, recently passed legislation designed to “freeze premium increases on most homes governed by flood-insurance rate maps.”

As the Charlotte Observer reported, without this legislation, some coastal families faced flood insurance rate hikes from $850 a year now to as high as $21,000.

Griffin’s campaign did not respond to Republic Report’s request for comment about his personal finances. The forms, however, have other revelations.

Griffin has told reporters that he sold his shares in Hamilton Place Strategies, suggesting that he is no longer affiliated with the firm or in public policy consulting. However, the disclosure reports show that he has continued to earn a living from Hamilton Place Strategies — at least in excess of $5,000 — and this year earned income (likely through his other consulting firm, Sulgrave Partners) from PCIAA, McGraw-Hill Financial, Huron Healthcare, Motorola Mobility, and other clients.

In his first television advertisement that began airing this month before the May 5 primary, Griffin says that he is the “clear conservative choice for Congress.” In a spot that is clearly biographical in natural, Griffin references his consulting work for the financial sector interests thusly: “I’ve also owned my own business, so I know what it means to make a budget and stick to it.” Left unsaid, the $406,000 a year he earned promoting the very worst of Wall Street.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Staffers Managing Gardner’s LNG Export Hearing Are Former Gas Lobbyists

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

On Tuesday, the congressional subcommittee on Energy and Power is scheduled to hold a hearing on Rep. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) bill to force the Obama administration to approve all application for new liquefied natural gas terminals used to export natural gas. A close look at the staffers involved with this particular subcommittee reveals that several have close ties to the LNG industry.

– Energy and Power staff counsel Patrick Currier is a former lobbyist for gas and energy companies, including the Gas Processors Association, FirstEnergy Corp, and the CCS Alliance.

– Energy and Power chief counsel Tom Hassenboehler is a former lobbyist for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, one of the most vocal trade groups pushing to build more LNG export capacity.

The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), also has a stake in this debate. The most recently available personal finance disclosures show Whitfield holds between $250,000-$500,000 in stock with ExxonMobil and holds between $250,000-$500,000 with Chevron — two companies that would gain substantially from new LNG export terminals. ExxonMobil is heavily invested in expanding into the LNG industry, and last week, posted an item on its company blog criticizing the Department of Energy for its “go-slow approach to processing [LNG terminal] applications.” Earlier this month, Chevron chairman John Watson told a crowd in Houston that there’s “no question that sufficient gas exists in the U.S. and Canada to export globally.”

Bill Cooper, president of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a pro-LNG export association, said he is “happy” about the wave of political support. “We didn’t gin up the Ukrainian crisis. We didn’t gin up the idea that it ought to be connected in some way to LNG exports. But Congress did, obviously, and a lot of editorials, experts and geopolitical analysts have all jumped on that. We appreciate the attention that LNG exports are receiving, and if it does provide a catalyst to make something happen that heretofore has not, then we’re going to be very happy with that,” Cooper told NGI Daily.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) held her own hearing on the topic of LNG exports. “Landrieu is expected to make the case that an increase in liquefied natural gas exports would create high-paying jobs and turn the U.S. into an energy superpower,” buzzed The Hill’s Overnight Energy before the hearing.

As Republic Report has noted, pundits and politicians closely aligned with the LNG industry have used the crisis in Ukraine to demand more LNG exports, even though doing so would not hamper Russia’s dominance over the market or affect the price of gas in the region.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

Pundit, Politician Demands To Solve Crimean Crisis Fueled By Gas Lobby

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

A small group of pundits and politicians with close ties to the fossil fuel industry is using the crisis in Crimea to demand that the United States promote natural gas exports as a quick fix for the volatile situation. But such a solution, experts say, would cost billions of dollars, require years of development, and would not significantly impact the international price of gas or Russia’s role as a major supplier for the region. Rather, the move would simply increase gas prices for American consumers while enriching companies involved in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade.

On Capitol Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) was among the first to use the crisis in Ukraine to demand that the Department of Energy speed up the approval process for new LNG terminals. “Now is the time to send the signal to our global allies that U.S. natural gas will be an available and viable alternative to their energy needs,” said Upton in a statement. As we’ve reported, Upton’s committee is managed in part by Tom Hassenboehler, a former lobbyist who joined Upton’s staff last year after working for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the primary trade group pushing to expand natural gas development and LNG exports.

Paul Bledsoe, in an opinion column for Reuterswrote that the U.S. should expedite natural gas exports to “bolster transatlantic solidarity and help to form a united U.S.-EU response to Russian intervention in Crimea.” He was identified in the piece as a member of the “White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.” What wasn’t disclosed, however, is that Bledsoe is an official with a pro-fossil fuels think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, which is funded by the American Gas Association and energy companies with a financial stake in promoting the natural gas industry. (Although he’s not listed on the website, a representative with BPC told Republic Report that Bledsoe continues to work there.)

Groups created and funded by Charles Koch, chief executive of Koch Industries, have also demanded that America should respond to the crisis in Crimea with LNG exports. “A serious president would also fast-forward permits on new liquefied natural gas terminals that could ship to Europe,” claims a column posted by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-run advocacy group. A similar argument is advanced by the Koch-founded Cato Institute.

What’s left undisclosed, however, is the huge financial stake in the debate for Koch Industries. A brochure for the company shows that Koch has deeply expanded its footprint into the natural gas market, and is now actively engaged in shipping, sourcing, and marketing LNG, in addition to becoming a leader in developing financial instruments related to natural gas. “To complement existing North American activities from Houston and to optimize their global portfolio, KS&T companies are expanding a Europe-wide natural gas business from Geneva and an LNG trading business from offices in Houston and London,” reads the document. Further, Koch federal lobbying disclosures show that the firm has pushed a bill to expedite LNG exports from America to NATO countries.

In perhaps the most ironic twist of this public debate around how to respond to Russia’s incursion into Crimea, American lobbyists with ties to Russia are calling for a solution that would not only shield Russian gas oligarchs, but enrich them. The National Association of Manufacturers has opposed tough sanctions on Russia. Instead, NAM has used the crisis in Ukraine to “urge speedier approval of liquefied natural gas exports, arguing that the move would weaken Vladimir Putin’s control over Europe’s energy supply.” NAM’s chief lobbyist Jay Timmons told Politico that an LNG-export response would “send a strong signal to the Russian Federation, our NATO allies, our trading partners and the rest of the world that energy exports matter and are a critical tool of American foreign policy.”

What Timmons did not mention is that ExxonMobil is a leading member of his trade association, and that ExxonMobil has extensive ties to Russian gas giants, including partnerships to develop natural gas in the United States and around the world. (For more on the business ties, see Kert Davies and Steve Horn’s recent reporting on the Putin-sanctioned alliance between ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned oil and gas giant Rosneft.) In short, Timmons’ strong signal to Russia would help Russian gas businesses.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

CHART: Koch Spends More Than Double Top 10 Unions Combined

by Lee Fang, Republic Report

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel either has no understanding of campaign finance, or is willfully misleading her readers. In either case, her column today about the Koch brothers’ political spending — which parrots a meme that has bounced around conservative blogs and websites like a bad chain email — gets the facts about Koch spending versus union spending completely wrong.

In her column, “The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs,” Strassel cites a Center for Responsive Politics list to claim that unions “collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries” on political races. Of course, if you actually visit this page on the CRP website, the list runs below a disclaimer noting that it does not include certain SuperPAC spending or most undisclosed dark money spending, the preferred route for the Koch brothers for decades. In fact, the CRP site notes that union spending might appear inflated since unions’ traditional PAC spending is coupled with outside SuperPAC spending. For the purposes of this chart, union spending is inflated compared to the giving of companies like Koch or SuperPAC donors like Sheldon Adelson.

For the last election, Koch PAC spent $4.9 million in disclosed contributions (figures that appear on the chart referenced by Strassel). But they also spent over $407 million on undisclosed campaign entities, which does not show up in the CRP chart.

Republic Report broke down the figures for the last election and found that Koch groups alone spent more than double the combined political spending (including to undisclosed group) for the top 10 unions combined. The chart includes union spending on dark money Democratic groups and Koch spending on dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity. See below:

kochspending

 

This undisclosed campaign system is nothing new for the Koch brothers. In 1995 and 1996, Koch set up a shell company called Triad Management to spend millions in secret money to help the Republican Party. Of course, this type of spending never shows up in databases like the one cited by Strassel.

All NRLB-regulated unions, on the other hand, disclose every outside payment. Payments that cannot be found through the FEC can be found on a database maintained by the Labor Department. Individuals and corporations are under no such similar disclosure rules. The Koch money identified recently by The Washington Post, the $407 million, relates only to the money filtered through foundations and nonprofits. The money Koch spends as a corporate entity, which it has in the past, may have gone unreported.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report

Photo: dpmshap via Flickr