This week, the EPA granted a hardship waiver to CVR Energy, a profitable refinery company owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, which will allow it to avoid purchasing roughly $23 million in renewable fuel credits. Icahn was a special regulatory advisor to the Trump administration who immediately lobbied for changes to the renewable fuel program that would have benefited CVR. He didn’t get the regulatory changes, but he did get the waiver—which we only know about through media reports, because the EPA keeps the recipients secret.
Also this week, George Mason University’s president called for an investigation into new evidence that the Charles Koch Foundation had been given unusual input into the hiring and firing of professors. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by a George Mason student found agreements between the Koch Foundation and the Mercatus Center, an in-house university think tank, giving “donors some participation in faculty selection and evaluation.” The Koch Brothers gave George Mason $48 million between 2011 and 2014, and academic research from the university routinely favors the Kochs’ libertarian worldview. In a statement, the Koch Brothers said that receiving input from donors on hiring “is still something that many universities do today.”
On Thursday, the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability asked two congressional ethics committees to investigate 14 members of Congress for taking official actions in support of the payday-lending industry while at the same time accepting campaign contributions from that industry. Their actions included voting for legislation to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, payday lending’s chief federal regulator, writing op-eds in support of payday lenders, and sending letters defending the industry to the CFPB and Justice Department. A report from progressive organization Allied Progress details the $137,450 received in contributions before and after those actions.
There are different stories, but they’re all fundamentally the same. They’re about corruption, and the ways in which big money influences policymakers: through direct means, like campaign contributions, and indirect ones, like funding “independent” academic research into policy matters and lobbying federal agencies to take desired actions. Corruption is at the heart of much of the political and economic strife we see today. Concentrated economic power begets concentrated political power, with big business rigging the game in its favor. And self-dealing and corruption have become a new normal, both for personal gain and as favors to some corporate interest, which may turn out to be a federal employee’s next employer. This saps trust in government institutions and paves the way for demagogues.