Monday, January 27, 2020

Corruption in Washington: The Money Trail Leads to the Fossil Fuel Industry

If you want to know why elected officials flout public interest and subvert democracy follow the money. The main reason that lawmakers fail to advance policies that are in the national interest is because they are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry controls academia, politicians and political outcomes. Although the tale of political corruption is as old as time, in the U.S. the situation took a tragic turn for the worse when the courts unleashed a floodgate of dark money with the Citizens United ruling.

According to a 13 month long investigation from Sludge, as of the end of last year, 134 members of Congress and their spouses were found to own as much as $92.7 million worth of stock in fossil fuel companies and mutual funds. House members own as much as $78.2 million in fossil fuel stocks, while senators have as much as $14.5 million invested in oil, gas, and coal interests.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) all own fossil fuel stock. Ritu Khanna, the wife of Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also own coal, oil and gas stocks. However, given their support for the fossil fuel industry it should come as no surprise that Republicans have twice the amount of dirty energy investments as their Democratic counterparts. (Republicans $60.4 million Democrats $32.3 million).

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), has over $4.8 million in fossil fuel stocks. Reps. John Carter (R-Texas), Van Taylor (R-Texas), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), are also invested in ExxonMobil. Republican Rep. Michael McCaul has as much as $19.1 million worth of stock in oil, gas, and coal interests. Fellow Texas Republican Rep. John Carter owns between $1.1 million and $5.3 million worth of stock in ExxonMobil. Members of Congress from Texas have the most fossil fuel stock (10 Republicans and four Democrats) and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, has as much as $35 million invested in dirty energy industries.

Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have introduced the Ban Conflicted Trading Act, which would prohibit members from buying and selling individual stocks and from serving on corporate boards, something that’s already banned in the Senate but not in the House.

As reported by NPR, in 2018, an organization called Issue One published a study that found the top 15 politically active nonprofits raised more than $600 million for GOP campaigns between 2010 and 2016. The top four spenders identified by Issue One are:

1. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
2. Crossroads GPS Donors
3. Koch's American's for Prosperity
4. National Rifle Association (NRA)

As reported by Chamber Watch, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). called out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for supporting big oil and opposing environmental protections. The Chamber is collectively receiving millions of dollars from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Philips, Occidental Petroleum, Philips 66, Hess, Apache, Tesoro Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Marathon Petroleum, and Noble Energy.

Citizens United prevents us from knowing anything about Crossroads GPS donors, but as reported by Mother Jones we do know that big finance and big oil bankrolled American Crossroads, the highest spending super Pac in the 2018 midterm elections. One of the biggest donors was Trevor Rees-Jones, the president and CEO of Chief Oil and Gas, based in Dallas. According to the Center for Responsive Politics he gave American Crossroads $2 million in 2018.

Americans for Prosperity is part of the fossil fuel powered network of the Koch brothers. They have a long history of disinformation and political interference. They successfully killed cap-and-trade legislation in 2010 and their political influence extended to GOP presidential contenders in 2011. The 2015 slate of Republican contenders were also linked to the fossil fuel industry.

The National Rifle Association is awash with fossil fuel money. The the oil and gas industry gives millions to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Issue One says that collectively, the four groups pumped at least $357 million into elections between 2010 and 2016.

In 2015, Donald Trump had millions in oil company holdings including ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. Trump is an overtly corrupt and unprincipled leader. This is not only about his efforts to use his office to invite interference from Ukraine to benefit his reelection campaign. His former attorney Michael Cohen, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, former adviser Roger Stone, former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates, former associate George Papadopoulos, all have been convicted of federal crimes. This is a president who who defrauded people with his Trump University scam which settled a $25 million fraud lawsuit. Trump's lawyers admitted their client misused his own charitable foundation’s money and as a consequence was ordered to pay $2 million. Under Trump Republicans have sunk to new lows, however, they were corrupt long before Trump occupied the oval office.

A 2018 Newsweek reports the Trump administration is lifting sanctions on Putin-linked Oligarch's Companies to benefit the bank linked to the Trump Tower Moscow project. According to a June 2019 report from Open Secrets, there is significant corruption in Trump's foreign business interests. In November the Washington Post called the president's corruption "mind-boggling".

Simply put the America is more corrupt under Trump. As reported by Yahoo News, the U.S. is ranked 23rd in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, slipping from 2018, according to a report published by Transparency International. Of particular concern in the U.S. is the correlation between money and politics, the watchdog said. Almost two thirds of countries that significantly improved their standings also strengthened campaign finance laws. Meanwhile, many of the low performers have lax regulations when it comes to wealth and power, according to the report.

"More than in any other major developed country, people in America believe that rich people buy elections," said Scott Greytak, Advocacy Director for Transparency International’s U.S. office. "When people think their government is for sale, they stop believing in its future."

Whether through campaign donations or using their power to protect their investments Republicans are on the take.  Dark money will be a factor again in the 2020 elections. A review of Republican campaign finance shows that cash is pouring in from anonymous donors. Money raised by Republicans continues to set records and you can bet that much of that money still comes from fossil fuel interests.

The Festering Rot that is Corruption in the Trump Administration
Trump's Corruption may be his Lasting Legacy and his Undoing
Republicans are the Leading Purveyors of the Fossil Fuel Industry's Climate Denial

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