Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy at RepublicReport.org.
This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
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 Super PACs 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 US Senate would likely change under GOP control:
— Environment and Public Works Committee: Senator 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, Senator 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: Senator 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: Senator 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 US 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 man-made 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 nonprofits. Senator 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 nonprofits, he has already sent investigative letters to some groups.
In an election that could propel Senator Mitch McConnell to become Senate majority leader—a position that would give him wide sway over climate change policy, including influence over the Environmental Protection Agency—, the Kentucky politician declined to respond to a question earlier this month about whether he believes climate change is a real problem. “I’m not a scientist,” McConnell responded in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board.
But earlier in his career, when McConnell played a pivotal role on behalf of the tobacco industry against increasing government regulation and taxes, the Republican leader believed he had enough scientific knowledge to question public-health officials.
“There clearly is insufficient science or logic to justify this extreme action,” McConnell said in 1993, at the time enraged that the government had proposed a ban on smoking in federal buildings.
Starting in the 1980s when he joined the US Senate, McConnell sent multiple letters to regulators to question the science behind efforts to curb indoor smoking. In 1995, citing a CRS report, McConnell joined with three other senators to call into question the claim that indoor cigarette smoking causes “increased cancer risk.”
The close working relationship between McConnell and tobacco firms is spelled out in detail as a result of litigation that forced the disclosure of thousands of company documents. E-mails and letters show that representatives of tobacco firms R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris guided McConnell behind the scenes, providing the senator with talking points that he later used to criticize the FDA for proposing anti-smoking rules. As the Lexington Herald-Leader reported, tobacco industry “attorneys helped draft a bill [McConnell] filed to protect their companies from lawsuits, as well as his correspondence to the White House to oppose federal smoking-prevention programs.”
In many ways, McConnell’s willingness to help big tobacco was rewarded. The Nation has identified twenty-two different notes from McConnell and his staff to tobacco lobbyists, thanking them for various gifts. “Thank you so much for sending me the beautiful ham,” wrote McConnell in one such note to a representative of the Tobacco Institute. Other letters thank tobacco reps for their gifts of “delicious pecan candies,” “luscious citrus fruit,” Ringo Starr tickets and other tickets to various theater performances and football games.
The biggest payoff for McConnell’s advocacy related to election money. After helping to “kill a proposal to curb youth smoking,” McConnell reportedly asked an R.J. Reynolds lobbyist for $200,000 in campaign money for Republican senators. Philip Morris later provided the senator with $150,000 for GOP campaigns, according to a report by the Herald-Leader’s John Cheves.
When McConnell provided his “I’m not a scientist” response, he was quickly attacked by critics for a feckless dodge, particularly given the fact that US senators must decide on a range of national policies regardless of professional experience.
Seen through another prism, McConnell’s reply echoes the overriding concerns of his new campaign benefactors: the fossil-fuel industry. Peabody Energy and Alliance Resource Partners, two coals firms, now rank among McConnell’s top campaign donors. Other campaign outfits designed to boost McConnell’s election prospects are funded by oil and coal interests. Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by the oil and gas billionaire Koch brothers, set up a Kentucky chapter this year to boost get-out-the-vote efforts. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a Super PAC set up to help McConnell’s campaign, also counts oil and coal companies as major donors.
“Money plays a role in almost every decision Mitch McConnell makes,” says David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, a campaign-reform group that is spending money in the election this year. “In the ’90s, he shilled for tobacco as the industry promised him and his colleagues protection and now, with energy billionaires and oil companies fueling his campaigns, he’s covering for them on climate policy.”
Read some of the letters between McConnell’s office and tobacco lobbyists here, courtesy of the University of California, San Francisco’s archives:
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
“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 Virginia, Colorado, North 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 that 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 nonprofit 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’s 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’s 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 post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
Louisiana Senator David Vitter made headlines on 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 close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats,” a cabal 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 elitist, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combatting global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.
If there is a conspiracy afoot, as alluded 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 to 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 the 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.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
In a move that smacks off censorship, Republic Report has discovered that a telecom industry-affiliated lobbying group successfully persuaded an African-American news website to remove an article that reported critically on the groups advocating against net neutrality. The order to delete the article came from the website’s parent company, a business partner to Comcast.
Last Friday, I reported on how several civil rights groups, almost all with funding from Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers, recently wrote to the Federal Communication Commission in support of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan, which would create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, an effective death of net neutrality. That piece was syndicated with Salon and The Nation, and several outlets aggregated the article. For a short period, NewsOne, a news site geared towards the African-American community, posted the piece along with its own commentary.
Then, the NewsOne article with my reporting disappeared.
If you Google the term ‘MMTC NewsOne,’ the NewsOne article (“Civil Rights Groups Blocking Efforts To Keep Internet Fair?”) still appears in the result list, though if you click it, it’s been deleted from the web. Luckily, the Internet cache still has a copy.
According to discussions with several people at NewsOne, including an editor there, the decision to take down the article came from corporate headquarters. NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, “The company didn’t feel it was appropriate to have up and we were supposed to take it down.” NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company with a 50.9 percent stake in a business partnership with Comcast, known as TV One.
NewsOne was also contacted by a lobbying group called the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an organization that has gained infamy for frequently mobilizing black, Latino and Asian-American groups to advocate on behalf of telecom industry-friendly positions, including recent big media mergers. On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a “digital lynch mob.” Turner-Lee, who resigned her previous position at a nonprofit after allegations of financial impropriety, reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification—the only path for effective net neutrality after a court ruling in January—are not “true civil rights leaders.”
Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee’s comments from earlier this week. Asked about the “digital lynch mob” comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, “I stand with Dr. Turner Lee’s assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement.” Regarding the claim that no “true civil rights leaders” support reclassification, Honig replied, “she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification.”
In fact, many civil rights groups and activists support reclassification and strong net neutrality protections. Reached by Republic Report, the organizations were livid about MMTC’s insults and the decision by NewsOne to retract its story.
“MMTC is not the arbiter of who is and who is not a true civil rights group,” says Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which represents a broad coalition in support of net neutrality through reclassification. “For them to claim anyone who supports reclassification is not a true civil rights group is just laughable. We have gone to the mat for our community for decades.”
“It’s disturbing that an online news site would remove a story just because its owners and their allies might not like it,” said Joseph Torres of Free Press, the co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. “This smacks of corporate censorship. A news organization shouldn’t be hiding the facts about the Net Neutrality debate because its corporate owners and their allies disagree with a journalist’s reporting. This is exactly why we need Net Neutrality. We don’t want to live in a world where Comcast or AT&T gets to decide which side of the story you see.”
Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, wrote to Republic Report to say, “I’m scared for our journalists, especially those that use the Internet to share their stories. When corporate or 20th century civil rights organizations silence the voices of journalists trying to simply report on the biggest first amendment issue of the 21st century, it only clarifies why we need strong rules that prevent censorship and discrimination on the Internet.” Cyril’s organization is a national organizing and training center for media rights that counts organizations such as Color of Change, Presente.org and others in its advocacy network.
NewsOne was not the only outlet lobbied by MMTC. The blog Field Negro was also contacted by MMTC’s David Honig, a longtime pro-telecom industry operative who told Field Negro that “no one disagrees about the desirability of an open Internet,” and argued that net neutrality activists are somehow equivalent to white liberals who support gentrification.
In reality, Honig has waged a multi-year war against efforts to build an open Internet, and the groups in his network continually shift the goal posts to ensure ISPs are allowed to discriminate based on content. For instance, one of the groups that has collaborated with Honig, the Japanese American Citizens League, told the FCC in 2010 that net neutrality would “do more harm than good” and that they “remain unconvinced that there is a need for this type of regulation.” Well, in Honig’s latest letter on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, net neutrality is needed, but only if adopted through FCC Chairman Wheeler’s terms, which is to say, with Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.
The arguments keep changing. The only thing that stays consistent is the money and the ISP-friendly policy. Comcast, a major opponent of net neutrality, is a big sponsor of both the MMTC (which has received around $350,000) and the Japanese American Citizens League. Honig’s board of advisors includes Joe Waz, an executive who has led Comcast’s policy outreach.
Asked about the MMTC-organized civil rights group letters against net neutrality and ensuing controversy, Professor Todd Gitlin called them the “closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo,” explaining, “The evidence they offer on the proposition that minorities would benefit in employment, in access, in the rejection of reclassification is nil. It’s a lot of huffing and puffing built on the gullibility of the reader.”
He added, “the fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse.”
Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. “Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news.”
Advocates for strong net neutrality argue that the rule is necessary so ISPs do not squelch out minority viewpoints with slower speeds. ISPs, on the other hand, say they can be trusted. If just the debate around net neutrality is any guide, large media corporations seem willing to suppress unfavorable news content. “If this happens now,” says Cayden Mak, the New Media Director of 18MillionRising.org, an Asian-American advocacy group, “imagine how difficult it will be to criticize internet providers and their allies without strong Net Neutrality rules.”
Update: Turner-Lee's colleague e-mailed Republic Report to say that her resignation from the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications was unrelated to the charges, which she says were false and which NAMIC found to have no basis.
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Last February, The Nation, with support from the Investigative Fund, published a broad look into the many failures of America’s lobbying disclosure system. Among several revelations in the piece, we reported that major aspects of lobbying law have gone completely unenforced. The Department of Justice, we found, has never brought an enforcement action against an individual or firm for failing to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The only LDA enforcement actions to date have been from individuals who do register but fall behind in their paperwork. But for the thousands of influence peddlers in Washington, DC, who go about their trade without registration and disclosure, law enforcement has turned a blind eye.
That may be changing.
According to a story posted on Friday by The Hill, “the Office of Congressional Ethics has for the first time accused an entity of lobbying Congress illegally. The complaint has been referred to the Justice Department, which enforces the Lobbying Disclosure Act, but few other details are available.”
Notably, the first law firm to receive notice of this referral was Covington & Burling, Attorney General Eric Holder’s previous employer. Covington’s Robert Kelner wrote:
For several years, we have been warning clients and others that it was only a matter of time before we would see criminal referrals against lobbyists who fail to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”). Until now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has focused exclusively—and rarely—on bringing cases against registered lobbyists who fail to timely file reports. This week, however, the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) of the U.S. House of Representatives mentioned in its quarterly report that during the second quarter of this year, “OCE voted to refer one entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for failure to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.” This is big news.
It’s not clear yet which “shadow lobbyist” is being targeted for investigation. But just the fact that the DOJ is finally taking a look into this problem, which includes prominent members of both parties, is indeed big news.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.
Among visitors to Freedom Fest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas, you might miss the aging Don Blankenship amid other middle-aged attendees and a swarm of college students in three-piece suits. Blankenship, wearing a bowling shirt and tan slacks, moves from panel to panel carrying a tote bag filled with free schwag—of which there was a lot to choose from, including this “water bottle” from the Charles Koch Institute—like anyone else. The former CEO of Massey Energy became the most feared man in West Virginia for his ruthless control over his mines and for busting unions throughout Appalachia. Now, he might be the most hated, after a 2010 blast at his company’s Upper Big Branch mine killed twenty-nine workers in one of the worst mining disasters in American history.
Blankenship, who retired from Massey after the tragedy at UBB, is now a political activist, and he’s in Nevada for several reasons. For one thing, he was there to attend the Heartland Institute’s conference on global warming denial, which preceded Freedom Fest. And in any case, he now resides in Sin City for tax purposes.
It’s the first time Blankenship has attended either event, he tells me, but he’s eager to gather intellectual fodder for a movie he’s creating on the US economy. “I’m basically looking for information and fresh ideas,” Blankenship says. “We’re in a reg-cecession,” he explains, which is a term he created for “a recession caused by excessive regulation, including many based on global warming.”
At the height of his power, shortly before the blast, Blankenship was already a powerful political player and served on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most influential business lobbying group in the world. After the mine tragedy, the Chamber and other coal-connected political groups successfully defeated congressional efforts to update the laws governing mine safety. Republic Report obtained a financial disclosure form that shows that under Blankenship his coal company donated $100,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that penned an op-ed after the mine collapse to warn against letting the tragedy be used by “anti-mining activists” for new regulations.
“Most people excuse their lack of involvement in politics as politics being dirty and politics causing problems,” says Blankenship, “but the only way to have good government is to have better candidates and elect better people and it’s why we have $17 trillion in debt and an economy that’s declining.”
Blankenship concedes that he is not as active in the political realm as he used to be, though he still gives an occasional phone call to his former colleagues. “I’ve spoken to the US Chamber and I’ve spoken to the coal associations. You can not just immediately have your hand out to compromise, you’ve got to have belief and you have to stand up for what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”
After listening to Blankenship’s short diatribe against the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, I asked Blankenship what should be done about these environmental groups. “You’ve got to fight them at every step,” he replies. “The environmental movement isn’t a great cause, it’s a great business.”
To Blankenship, the EPA’s coal power plant regulations and the mine safety crowd all represent the same ideology. “The actual UBB explosion was partially the result of the war on coal,” he says.
A minute later, after mentioning that he is going to be late to meet his date for lunch, he makes the connection even more explicit. “UBB is just another example of how willing the far left is to outright lie and of course when I was CEO of Massey I was coached to say ‘untruthful,’ but really it’s a lie. The reason you know they will lie about the science of global warming is because they lied about the very science of UBB. Their willingness to lie about that solidifies in my mind their willingness to lie about the science of global warming.”
Over the last year, Blankenship has tried to clear his name over the UBB mine disaster. He created a short video and has told almost any reporter willing to listen that the disaster was a freak accident relating to the buildup of natural gas. Reports from workers and subsequent investigations have made clear that Massey Energy’s mines had skirted safety rules and were infamous for allowing a dangerous build-up of methane and other flammable gas. A study from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University showed that Massey’s corner-cutting had led to the worst safety record of any coal mining company for ten years prior to the disaster.
Blankenship continues to expound on his worldview. “Here’s where I get into answers that are very unpopular.” A wry grin creeps Blankenship’s otherwise expressionless face. “You’re basically seeing, well, I don’t want to use the word, but the way I describe fascism is the control of people’s lives by the combined efforts of big business and big government.” He rattles off several examples: GE’s getting sweetheart deals from the Obama administration, the bank bailouts, Warren Buffet. Publicly traded companies are increasingly making their money overseas, so they don’t have to comply with domestic regulations, Blankenship says. That’s why they support the Obama administration.
Before he has to go, he reminds me that his movie on regulation will come out on Labor Day. Its argument, he claims will even sell with union workers, who have been duped by their bosses into supporting anti-mining politicians like Obama and Joe Biden.
Who would better lead our country?
“I love Ted Cruz’s courage with the Obamacare filibuster,” he says. “I don’t like Rand Paul as much as father Ron Paul. Like what Rubio’s been saying. Ben Carson.” If he had his druthers, who would he pick for the White House? “I’d reincarnate Ronald Reagan.”
With that, he smiled for the second time in the conference, waddled into his seat and disappeared into a crowd of other libertarian activists.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.
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 groups 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 groups 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 sell-out 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 the staff of 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 having ISPs able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, 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 establishments 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.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
Eric Cantor’s surprise defeat in the Republican primary, and subsequent decision to step down as majority leader, has set off a scramble within his party. The current whip, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), is widely perceived as the next majority leader, while Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) are rounding up votes to take McCarthy’s place as whip.
Though there are negligible policy differences between the candidates, particularly on energy issues, one candidate is particularly close to the fossil fuel lobby: Steve Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of likeminded conservative members, who represents an area of the Gulf Coast with a large concentration of offshore oil jobs.
A number of former Scalise staffers are now employed as lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Megan Bel, Scalise’s former legislative director, now works for the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore oil drilling companies. Stephen Bell, Scalise’s longtime spokesperson, joined the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association—a group that represents largely coal-fire power plants and has lobbied aggressively against the EPA’s new carbon rules—in April.
Scalise has cultivated political support from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and Halliburton as part of the Republican Study Committee’s business outreach effort, according to a report in Politico. Notably, a Republican Study Committee outreach meeting with lobbyists occurred in the office of Shockey Scofield Solutions, Koch’s lobbying firm registered to defeat new carbon tax proposals.
Politico Influence also reports that Scalise counts several lobbyists among his inner circle. Jim McCrery, who held the same Louisiana district seat in Congress before retiring, is close to Scalise and now represents Koch Industries and Hess Corporation, among other clients. Rhod Shaw, another lobbyist reportedly close to Scalise, works at a firm that represents nearly a dozen fossil fuel interests, including BP, the coal-dependent utility company Duke Energy, and Murphy Oil.
Will the fossil fuel lobby leverage its considerable pull within the House GOP to ensure Scalise has enough votes to become House majority whip? The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy dropped previous support for wind energy tax credits as he moved to run for majority leader—a move perceived as a bid to build support among oil and coal interest groups.
Leadership elections, which are conducted by a secret ballot, are scheduled for June 19.
This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org
“All of the investment banks, up in New York and DC, 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 than less 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 DC 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.
“Eric is running on Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable principles,” Brat told a town hall audience, later clarifying that he meant the US 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 last night. 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 out raise 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.
Read Next: George Zornick ties Eric Cantor’s defeat to immigration reform