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Lee Fang

Lee Fang

Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy at RepublicReport.org.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Could Choose the Next House Majority Whip

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Eggborough Power Station emissions, October 2007 (John Giles/PA Wire URN:7165395)

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.

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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.

 

Read Next: Would the Tea Party Welcome Jeb Bush? Or Vice Versa?

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

Eric Cantor

House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio, left, listens as Representative Eric Cantor, R-VA, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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.

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 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.”

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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

How Is This Corporate Flack Running for Congress As an ‘Outsider’?

Matt Miller

(Photo courtesy of Matt Miller for Congress)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Note: An earlier version of this article contained factual errors that have since been corrected — see below.

Out of a crowded field of candidates hoping to replace retiring Representative Henry Waxman in Los Angeles, Democrat Matt Miller has attempted to distinguish himself by touting a variety of experiences. Miller’s campaign advertisement lists his various positions as a radio show host, education expert, former Clinton administration official, and business adviser. As he announced his candidacy, Miller took a leave from The Washington Post and NBC, where he was a columnist and contributor. What hasn’t been reported is his other breadwinning job: PR consultant.

Ethics forms filed by Miller to the House Clerk’s office, a standard procedure for any candidate for Congress, reveal that Miller received $239,099 from Burson-Marsteller, the influence and public relations firm, in 2013.

The ethics forms show a laundry list of other corporate clients, including American Express, General Electric, Linder & Associates, RLM Finsbury and Walmart. The New York Times’s Mark Leibovich, in his write-up of the race, described Miller as a former consultant to McKinsey & Company. The ethics forms show that Miller continued to receive a salary at the firm up until announcing his run: $295,927 in 2013 and 2014, and $318,721 in the previous year, 2012. Many of Miller’s clients continued to pay him up until he announced his candidacy, including RLM Finsbury, which bills itself as a public affairs firm that helps influence lawmakers and regulators. RLM Finsbury says Miller left the firm as he launched his campaign.

For an insider with deep ties to the lobbying community, it may seem surprising that the Los Angeles Times, in endorsing Miller, counted him as outside the flock of candidates who are “embedded members of the system.”

The many corporate consultancy gigs held by Miller may cast his policy and pundit positions into question. For instance, when Miller penned a column for the Post defending corporations that take full advantage of the tax code to dodge paying billions in corporate income taxes, he did not disclose at the time that he was being paid by GE, a company that has become a symbol of this problem. Miller has endorsed cutting entitlement programs such as Social Security. As PR Week reported, Miller’s Burson-Marsteller was retained by billionaire Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt campaign to help advocate for spending cuts to reduce the national debt.

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Miller, in response to a query from Republic Report, says he has “always kept my editors and producers at my various outlets informed about my business activities, and have routinely made disclosures on air or in print where a reader or audience member should know of such work to avoid any conflict.” On KCRW radio, where Miller has hosted the popular show Left, Right, and Center, Miller says he has mentioned on air that he is an adviser to GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt. ”I advised on strategy, policy and communications, and helped lead work on two reports issued by McKinsey’s education practice on the achievement gap and on elevating the teaching profession in the US. At Burson, I advised clients on external communications and reputation matters, and helped with client development,” Miller says.

As Republic Report has reported, several lobbyists and consultants working in the world of corporate advocacy have made the jump to run for Congress this year. In Virginia, we revealed that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has been quietly consulting for oil and gas lobbying groups, while also advising firms such as AT&T and Bank of America. In North Carolina, we disclosed the many financial industry clients of Taylor Griffin, an establishment backed candidate who failed in his primary bid against Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC).

This post has been updated to correct and clarify information about the timing of Miller’s income from certain clients, in particular to clarify that Miller stopped working for the above-cited clients by the time he launched his campaign. We regret the error. Miller also says that his payments from GE and American Express related to his work advising President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The two companies, Miller says, shared expenses for his services. After publication of this article, Miller contacted Republic Report but would not reveal the identity of his Burson-Marsteller clients.

Read Next: Peter Van Buren on the success of the rich

Pro-Keystone XL Consulting Firm May Have Violated Ethics Laws

Alberta tar sands

An aerial view of Alberta tar sands development (Chris Evans, The Pembina Institute)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.

One of the many consulting firms retained to build support for the Keystone XL, a controversial pipeline to bring oil sands in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, failed to disclose its activities as federal law appears to have required. Through a records request, Republic Report has found that the Alberta government hired a public relations company called Feverpress to promote the pipeline last year.

Feverpress, run by Hilary Lefebvre and David Press, was retained for $65,000. In a memo to David Manning, Alberta’s lobbyist in Washington, DC, Feverpress said they had reached out to “producers and reporters to gauge the level of interest in the Keystone issue and to introduce the premier as a spokesperson to speak on behalf of Canadian efforts to secure approval of the pipeline.” The invoice shows a payment titled “Public Relations Services Relating to Keystone Pipeline.”

The firm pledged to reach out to “bigger targets” in the media, including Charlie Rose and Piers Morgan. “We have devised a strategy to focus interest on Alberta as a contributor to the US economy and environmental sustainability, to take advantage of ongoing media interest in energy security, seasonal interest in gasoline prices, and responding to increased efforts by the environmental community to portray Keystone’s impact in a very negative way,” wrote the firm to their clients in Canada.

The final decision on the Keystone XL will be made by President Barack Obama. To influence the process, a number of interest groups that stand to gain from approval of the pipeline have conducted a multi-year promotional campaign.

Critics say approval will drastically boost carbon emissions because the pipeline will vastly accelerate high-carbon tar sands production. NASA scientist James Hansen has declared that the pipeline is a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

The Alberta government has gone to great lengths to build public support for the Keystone XL. Last year, Alberta retained consulting firms Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to help with Keystone XL outreach among reporters and public officials. As DeSmogBlog’s Brendan DeMelle noted, both firms are led by former staffers to political leaders central to the Keystone XL approval process, including Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to her website biography, Feverpress’ Hilary Lefebvre is a former “communications official in the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.”

But Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti were reported last year as Alberta clients because both firms registered and disclosed their activities as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Feverpress did not.

“If Feverpress was hired on behalf of the government of Alberta or any foreign political party to conduct a public relations campaign in the United States to affect public policy, Feverpress would be required to register under FARA and disclose its compensation, clients and lobbying activities,” says Craig Holman, an ethics expert with Public Citizen.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act was adopted in 1938 after reports that the Nazi government was attempting to influence American public opinion to not intervene in World War II. The law requires registration and disclosure of foreign principals attempting to influence American public policy through public relations campaigns as well as direct lobbying.

The contract with Alberta states Feverpress was brought on to devise “media strategy” regarding “the Keystone XL and oil sands development…to ensure continued and expanded market access to the US for Alberta oil sands resources.” The communications obtained by Republic Report show that Feverpress attempted to book former Alberta premiere Alison Redford on media programs including Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell Reports, Piers Morgan Live and The Lead with Jake Tapper.

Contacted by Republic Report for comment, Kevin Armstrong, a public affairs officer with Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations, said consultants retained by his agency register on their own under applicable laws. “We expect the companies we contract with to abide by the law,” said Armstrong.

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Feverpress could not provide a comment when reached by Republic Report.

A copy of the Feverpress contract and invoice with Alberta can be found here.

Earlier this year, Republic Report revealed that other interest groups have been working behind the scenes to promote the pipeline. In February, we reported on a group of oil refinery companies that have spent millions of dollars to finance pro-pipeline grassroots organizations and campaign ads. We also reported that a prominent economic analysis firm that had produced a report downplaying environmental concerns regarding the Keystone XL had been quietly retained by Alberta for a lucrative consulting contract.

 

Read Next: Rand Paul defends voting rights.

How Wall Street Money Is Driving Out the Last Populist House Republican

Walter Jones

Representative Walter Jones meets with military families in his Capitol Hill office in Washington, DC. (Reuters/Mannie Garcia)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

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 war in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling an audience one 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. JPMorgan 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 Super PAC 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 on 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 makes only 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 more than “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 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 ten 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.

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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, McGrawHill 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 nature, Griffin references his consulting work for the financial sector interests thus: “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.

 

Read Next: Senator Joe Manchin defends the law firm accused of concealing black lung medical evidence.

Senator Manchin Defends Law Firm Accused of Concealing Black Lung Medical Evidence

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Only one day after the Center for Public Integrity’s reporting series on denials of black lung benefits to coal miners was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) defended the controversial law firm at the center of the investigation.

As he stepped to the podium of the National Western Mining Convention in Denver on Tuesday, Manchin heaped praise upon Jackson Kelly, a sponsor of the event and the law firm implicated in unethically concealing medical evidence of miners dying of black lung.

“I want to thank my dear friends at Jackson Kelly,” exclaimed the senator. In his remarks, Manchin also noted that his former staffer, Kelly Goes, is now an employee of the firm.

In a brief interview with Republic Report after his speech, Manchin was asked about Jackson Kelly’s conduct regarding black lung cases. He brushed aside criticism of the firm.

The Center for Public Integrity story revealed that Jackson Kelly has systemically denied coal miners black lung benefit claims by withholding unfavorable evidence and shaping the opinions of doctors called upon in court. CFPI Reporter Chris Hamby’s investigation “suggests that there has been a pattern and practice by lawyers at the Jackson Kelly law firm which has compromised the integrity of the black lung benefits program and potentially tainted numerous decisions adversely affecting coal miners and their survivors,” wrote Representatives George Miller (D-California) and Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut) in a letter to the Department of Labor last year.

“If the law firm is doing their job and we don’t like it, we’ve got to look at the rules and laws we have on the books,” said Manchin, after being asked by Republic Report about his praise of Jackson Kelly. “They’ve been a prestigious law firm for a long time in West Virginia. There’s good people that I know that work there and if there’s something that’s wrong and needs to be fixed or changed, it will be,” he continued.

A Jackson Kelly attorney named Douglas Smoot had his law license suspended in 2011 for one year after being accused of hiding evidence in a black lung case. Other Jackson Kelly attorneys have faced investigations over their conduct in regards to black lung cases. One retired judge who handled black lung cases reviewed documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity investigation and said the firm had been “really misleading the court.”

Manchin is a close ally to the coal industry. At the conference, he touted his new legislation that would block the EPA from implementing new regulations on coal power plants. Jackson Kelly, according to its website, has represented the coal industry since the mid-19th century.

As Public Campaign noted, Manchin has “received $50,825 from Jackson Kelly employees during his time in Congress, his seventh-largest donor.”

Manchin did not sign on to the letter from other congressional Democrats asking the Labor Department to investigate claims that Jackson Kelly improperly concealed medical evidence of black lung claims.

Yet Manchin told us that he is confident that any potential wrongdoing will be worked out.

“You can’t find people guilty before they go through the process. Are you accusing them of being guilty?” said Manchin. Asked again about the Center for Public Integrity report, Manchin replied, “I’m just saying, let’s see where it unfolds.”

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Watch the interview below:

Read Next: The tax breaks that are killing the planet

Why Is a Congressional Hearing on Natural Gas Being Organized by Former Natural Gas Lobbyists?

Natural gas pipeline

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Today, the congressional Energy and Commerce committee's  subcommittee on Energy and Power is scheduled to hold a hearing on Representative Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) bill to force the Obama administration to approve all applications 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, Representative 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 US and Canada to export globally.”

Bill Cooper, president of the Center for Liquified 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.

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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 liquified natural gas exports would create high-paying jobs and turn the US 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.

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on what's wrong with Putin's approach to relations with America.

How the Gas Lobby Is Using the Crimea Crisis to Push Bad Policy and Make More Money

Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, which has ties with Russian gas giants (Photo courtesy of Michael Wuertenberg, CC 2.0)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

A small group of pundits and politicians with close ties to the fossil fuel industry are 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 liquified natural gas (LNG) trade.

On Capitol Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Representative 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 US 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 Reuters, wrote that the United States should expedite natural gas exports to “bolster transatlantic solidarity and help to form a united US-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.

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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 liquified 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’s strong signal to Russia would help Russian gas businesses.

Read Next: How to avert another Cold War over Crimea.

Jon Kyl, Barred From Lobbying, Offers to Assist Clients with Tax Reform

Jon Kyl

Former Senator Jon Kyl speaking in Phoenix, Arizona in 2012. (Reuters/Joshua Lott)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Need help navigating the proposal federal tax system overhaul? Covington & Burling, a major law-lobbying firm in Washington, DC, sent out a client alert recently announcing that former Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stands ready to assist businesses seeking the best outcome of the legislative proposal led by Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

If enacted, the tax overhaul expected this year will change billions of dollars in tax credits and rates.

Kyl, however, is barred from lobbying because he left the senate last year and is still within the “cooling-off period.” The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act extends the ban on former senators engaging in lobbying from one to two years, leaving Kyl off the market for lobbying until January of 2015.

But as we’ve covered, lobbying law is poorly enforced and ambiguously defined. Former staffers and lawmakers prohibited from engaging in lobby activity often flout the law by engaging in meetings with officials, often with the cover that they’re just doing so in order to collect intelligence, rather than “lobby.”

Shortly after he retired from office, Kyl joined the lobbying team of Covington & Burling, euphemistically titled the “Public Policy and Government Affairs”division. And the tax reform alert, which is embedded below, notes that Kyl is part of a team that is actively communicating with government officials on legislation now debated in Congress (emphasis added):

Covington’s Public Policy and Government Affairs and Tax practice groups—which include Senator Jon Kyl, former top Republican on the Senate’s Finance Subcommittee on Taxation; former senior Treasury officials; and Ed Yingling, former President and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA) — are conversant with the details. Many of our team members are in regular consultation with senior Members of Congress, Treasury and IRS officials, and staffs of the Congressional tax-writing committees and are able to explain the hundreds of pages of proposals.

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See the alert below:

Hot Topic Tax Reform

Read Next: Lee Fang on Congressional candidate David Jolly’s winning millions of dollars in contracts for his clients through connections to his old boss

The Koch Brothers Spent Twice as Much on the 2012 Election as the Top Ten Unions Combined

Koch spending

(Chart courtesy of RepublicReport.org)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

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 e-mail—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 Super PAC 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 Super PAC spending. For the purposes of this chart, union spending is inflated compared to the giving of companies like Koch or Super PAC donors like Sheldon Adelson.

For the last election, Koch PACs 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.

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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 ten unions combined. The chart includes union spending on dark money Democratic groups and Koch spending on dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity.

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 money filtered through foundations and nonprofits. The money Koch spends as a corporate entity, as it has in the past, may have gone unreported.

 

Read Next: Lee Fang investigates DC’s shadow lobbying complex.

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