As we watch the 2012 drought cover one-third of America and Arctic ice recede to record lows, we must remind ourselves that the barriers to climate progress are not technological but political. By far the biggest barrier that climate campaigners face is the undue influence of David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers whose fossil fuels fortune now ranks them third wealthiest in the world after Carlos Slim and Bill Gates.
Processing one-quarter of current tarsands imports, refining billions of barrels of crude oil, and creating the fracking chemicals that poison our water provides much of the cash they use for derivatives trading, which has quintupled their combined net worth from $10B in 2005 to $50B in 2011. It is increasingly impossible to imagine meaningful progress on US climate policy—as well as defending voters’ rights, collective bargaining, and social programs—without some strategy to deal more directly with Koch Cash, the symbol of a system corrupted by “money in politics.” But how?
Put a Face on Big Oil
Despite the excellent exposé of Exxon in Steve Coll’s new book, “Private Empire,” no fossil fuel company commands more political power over every aspect of our policymaking process—from media manipulation to campaign contributions to legions of lobbyists—than Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company. Big Oil needs a face and the Koch brothers are the top two.
The Kochs not only outspent Exxon in 2009 to kill climate legislation, they also contribute more money to Congressional campaigns than any other oil company, and personally founded and funded the Tea Party takeover that both polarized and paralyzed the climate debate. Now they are bundling over one billion dollars to unseat Obama, seize the Senate, and gerrymander a permanent majority of hardliners.
To truly grasp the Kochs’ death grip over our democracy, see here our online mapping of the money, structure, and unprecedented scale of their national influence network. It shows how ALEC is but a single sucker on one tentacle of the larger Kochtopus (the nickname given by White House staffers for the Kochs’ influence network).
Call Out Koch Cash this Fall
Make no mistake, the Kochs are motivated by more than mere oil profits but also by an ambitious “economic freedom” agenda, a scary ideology long-embodied by Ryan and now embraced by Romney.
Despite the Kochs’ own scientific research now showing that earth surface temperatures are undeniably increasing due to greenhouse gas emissions, and their home state of Kansas suffering the highest percentage of acreage of any state under “D4 drought conditions,” they are spending more than ever to increase their political influence. In politics, perception is reality, and the perception of too many Koch-funded legislators remains skeptical of climate science and ideologically opposed to government regulation. Indeed, the more convincing the evidence of climate change becomes, the more the Kochs spend to control the policy making process, which is precisely what they are doing this election.
The Bigger Fight Before Us
No silver bullet exists since today’s corruption is systemic, any answer must involve climate campaigners’: 1) uniting now with other social movements fighting the same forces; 2) calling out elected officials this fall who accept Koch Cash; and 3) changing the rules about who makes the rules in order to deal with money in politics.
As the Kochs become increasingly effective at mobilizing angry voters to elect ultra-conservative candidates, climate campaigners must help transform this political reality through collaborative efforts to:
-Unite with other constituencies fighting Koch Cash: It’s the common enemy of almost all progressive constituencies today, from labor leaders calling to keep collective bargaining rights, communities of color fighting for their voting rights, and all Americans facing cuts to social services due to austerity budgets.
- Taint, Target, and Tag those who accept Koch Cash: Donor events and candidate appearances offer extraordinary opportunities to call out Koch Cash at the scene of the crime. Independent voters—who may have a positive perception of the Kochs due to their donations to cancer research and public broadcasting—must be informed how the Kochs’ philanthropy often acts as an effective investment in undermining regulation of their polluting activities. Even Tea Party territory could become a testing ground for exposing how the Kochs line their own pockets by picking the pockets of Middle America through energy market manipulation, which adds 10-20% to prices at the gas pump.
- Deal directly with “money in politics”: Too few groups are engaged in these essential efforts. IFG’s recent survey of climate campaign groups shows that almost none are addressing the issue. Worse, too few funders of climate campaigns are currently willing to support such efforts. Indeed, climate campaigners are wasting their supporters’ money by claiming to meaningfully deal with the climate crisis without also dealing with the corruption of our democratic policymaking process.
Even if it takes two, ten, or twenty years to crack the nut of official corruption, movements must merge to exert their collective power over the money in politics.