April 24, 2018

VIDEO: Udall: Koch Brothers’ Web of Dark Money, Lobbyists, and Influence on the Trump Administration Threatens our Democracy

In a series of speeches, Senate Democrats reveal the #WebofDeceit influencing the Trump administration and public debate on issues important to the American people like climate change

VIDEO: https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/10156097185827870/

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined a group of Democratic senators for a series of speeches to reveal the influence of the Koch brothers and their network of front groups on the Trump administration. Led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the senators detailed the #WebofDeceit influencing the Trump administration and public debate on important policies in favor of advancing the Koch brothers and their allies’ special interests. Udall highlighted the need for campaign finance reform to prevent billionaires like the Koch brothers and corporations from having greater influence on public policy than the American people, particularly on action to reduce carbon pollution and stop global warming.

“The Koch brothers’ web of dark money, lobbyists, and infiltration into the Trump administration threatens our democracy. The influence of their hundreds of millions of dollars is pervasive, pernicious, and hidden,” Udall said in his speech. “At the bottom of the Koch labyrinth of 501(c)(3)’s, 501(c)(4)’s, 501(c)(6)’s, and their vast network of ultra-wealthy accomplices is their ability to hide their contributions and actions from public view. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision cloaks these networks under the guise of the First Amendment. Citizens United has damaged our democracy by allowing unlimited campaign contributions, PACS, and nonprofit organizations to secretly influence government decisions at the highest levels. I have been fighting to overturn Citizens United and for Congress to enact campaign finance reform for years now…. [My constitutional amendment] would end the misguided belief that spending money to elect politicians is the same thing as free speech – a belief that gives the Koch brothers a lot more speech than the average American.”

In his speech, Udall detailed the many ways in which the Koch brothers and their allies have infiltrated the Trump administration. President Trump has staffed the White House and federal agencies with key officials closely tied to the Kochs who are executing the Koch network’s energy policy agenda of discrediting renewable energy, promoting fossil fuels, and denying climate science. Udall highlighted two Koch groups in particular, the Institute for Energy Research and its lobbying arm, the American Energy Alliance.

“Although the [Institute for Energy Research] and [American Energy Alliance] were fringe, the Trump administration placed their staff in key energy positions – beginning with appointing their president to lead the energy transition team. Before that appointment, [former Koch lobbyist] Mr. Pyle had sent a fundraising letter touting the new administration’s positions. He predicted the Trump administration would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, repeal the Clean Power Plan, move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, increase oil and gas leasing on federal lands, lift the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, and turn back protection of our rivers and streams – among other initiatives. Mr. Pyle’s policy predictions have sadly come to pass,” Udall said. “My home state of New Mexico is right in the bull’s eye of climate change…. Pressing ‘stop’ on tackling climate change hurts New Mexicans.”

Udall also joined Whitehouse in a letter demanding answers from President Trump and cabinet officials about a recent report in which the Koch brothers detailed a series of policy wins that have benefitted their businesses and themselves since President Trump took office. According to the report, Trump has enabled the Kochs and their front groups to capture regulatory agencies and the judiciary, undermine democratic institutions and processes, and weaken regulations at the expense of public health, a fair economy, and the environment.

The full text of Udall’s floor remarks is below.

The Koch brothers’ web of dark money, lobbyists, and infiltration into the Trump administration – that truly truly threatens our democracy. The influence of their hundreds of millions of dollars is pervasive, pernicious, and hidden.

I applaud Senator Whitehouse’s work to focus public attention on this threat. And thank you to my colleagues for shining a spotlight on the murky tentacles of the Koch’s influence empire here in Washington. Especially their influence-- on the swamp that is the Trump administration.

And we must keep fighting for comprehensive campaign finance and electoral reform -- to get dark money like the Koch brothers’ out of our politics.
The Koch family business started in oil, and Koch Industries is still heavily invested in petroleum and petroleum products. Its subsidiary Flint Hill Resources owns three oil refineries. Koch Pipeline Company owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipeline that transport oil, refined petroleum, and natural gas throughout six states. Koch Industries is the largest foreign and American leaseholder in Canada’s oil sands – possibly leasing up to 2 million acres.

As well, each year Koch Industries markets, trades, and manages logistics for tons of coal and petroleum coke.

Koch Industries makes billions from oil, gas, and coal. And it’s no secret they are willing to spend millions to keep it that way.

Two organizations formed through the Koch brothers’ vast wealth are the Institute for Energy Research and its lobbying arm, the American Energy Alliance. Both Koch-funded groups are anti-renewable, pro-fossil fuel, and climate change deniers.

The Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization, formed in 1989, from a predecessor directed by Charles Koch and Robert Bradley Jr. Mr. Bradley led public policy for Enron, before its scandal and bankruptcy. He founded the institute and remains its CEO. He is also affiliated with the Koch-funded Cato Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The alliance is the institute’s political arm, a 501(c)(4) organization, founded in 2008.

501(c)(4)s are political organizations. They don’t have to disclose their donors. They can engage in all sorts of politicking and lobbying. And they can spend unlimited amounts of money.

The alliance shares office space and staff – including a president – with the institute. Their joint president is Thomas Pyle, who had previously lobbied for Koch Industries.

They receive funding directly and not-so-directly from the Koch brothers. Since, 2008 one or the other has received funding from:
• The Charles Koch Institute, an anti-government group formed from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation;
• Freedom Partners, called the Koch brothers’ “secret” bank -- a 501(c)(6) organization that gives tens of millions of dollars to extreme causes;
• The Wellspring Committee Inc., funded with Koch brothers’ help;
• DonorsTrust, a pass-through organization for the Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy donors trying to hide contributions;
• And many other like-minded anti-renewable, pro-fossil fuel groups that the Koch brothers fund or are tied to.

Between 2010 and 2014, the institute and alliance received more than $5 million dollars in Koch-related funding.

The institute and alliance are in the business of discrediting renewable energy, promoting fossil fuels, and denying climate change – under the guise of providing independent analysis.

Their staffs have appeared before state regulatory commissions giving “expert” testimony claiming that renewable energy is too expensive and unreliable, that states’ should not increase their renewable portfolio requirements, and that fossil fuels – even coal -- are more economical.

In 2013, for example, their Director of Regulatory and State Affairs, Daniel Simmons, claimed in a Michigan regulatory hearing that the electricity rates of states with renewable requirements is 27 percent higher than states without renewable standard.

But, that same year, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the incremental rate of renewable portfolio standards was two percent. And a report by the Michigan Public Service Commission found that the cost of renewable sources is declining and is cheaper than new coal-fired generation.

Also in 2013, Mr. Simmons attacked a federal Clean Energy Standard bill, introduced by my fellow New Mexican, Senator Jeff Bingaman, that I co-sponsored. Mr. Simmons had the audacity to claim that carbon dioxide emissions from power plants should not be counted as pollutants, arguing, and I quote “that carbon dioxide itself is not dirty.” Mr. Simmons’ cynical attack on climate science is frightening.

In 2015, the alliance called on Congress to eliminate the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The office’s mission is to support transitioning to “a global clean energy economy.” Something we know is supported by many, many people.

That year, both Koch brothers’ organizations received $3 million from the web of Koch donors.

Although the institute and alliance were fringe, the Trump administration placed their staff in key energy positions – beginning with appointing their president to lead the energy transition team.

Before that appointment, Mr. Pyle had sent a fundraising letter touting the new administration’s positions. He predicted the Trump administration would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, repeal the Clean Power Plan, move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, increase oil and gas leasing on federal lands, lift the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, and turn back protection of our rivers and streams – among other initiatives.

Mr. Pyle’s policy predictions have sadly come to pass.

My home state of New Mexico is right in the bull’s eye of climate change. Snowpack was at a low point this year. Parts of the Rio Grande are dry now. We have a methane cloud in the Four Corners area the size of Delaware. Pressing “stop” on tackling climate change hurts New Mexicans.

Meanwhile, institute/alliance staff landed three plum positions within the Department of Energy.

Last May, Mr. Simmons -- who we’ve already heard about -- was actually placed to lead DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – the same office the Alliance advocated to eliminate. Talk about the fox guarding the chicken coop.

Institute/alliance policy analyst, Alex Fitzsimmons, was also placed in the same office as a senior advisor. He has steadily beat the Koch brothers’ drum against wind and solar energy – writing numerous articles about their alleged unreliability and high costs. How can he possibly contribute to the office’s mission of transitioning toward a clean energy economy?

Predictably, the president proposed slashing the office’s budget for 2018 – by 69 percent. Congress did not do his bidding. He now seeks to cut over 70 percent of its budget for 2019 – including fully eliminating the Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program.

According to DOE, since 2010, New Mexico has received $10.4 million dollars from these two programs. This investment has resulted in:
• Weatherizing 1,300 homes,
• Creating or retaining 340 jobs,
• Training 19,500 New Mexicans in energy efficiency, and
• Retrofitting 240,000 square feet of building space.

These two programs aid my state and the global battle against climate change, and should not be on the chopping block.

Another institute/alliance policy analyst, Travis Fisher, was tapped by DOE to oversee an evaluation on whether renewables are hurting coal and nuclear power and increasing grid unreliability. Mr. Fisher had also authored many pieces on the evils of renewables – even calling clean energy policies “the single greatest emerging threat” to the power grid. There was wide concern the report would be politically skewed.

However, a draft of the report – prepared by an independent contractor and DOE career staff – got out. That draft concluded renewable energy had not decreased grid reliability. The final report then concluded the same. Mr. Fisher has since left DOE.

The good news is the American people continue to support renewable energy. A Pew Research Center poll found that 83 percent of Americans think expanding renewables is a “top” or “important” national priority.

Wind and solar are expanding exponentially and their costs have decreased dramatically. 29 states, Washington, D.C., and three territories have renewable portfolio standards, and eight states and one territory have renewable goals.

A clean energy economy is the future.

But the Trump administration is fighting against the tide.

Before the Trump administration, the institute and alliance were small, fringe organizations promoted by the Koch brothers’ web of secret organizations and veiled allies. They now sit at the center of our government.

At the bottom of the Koch labyrinth of 501(c)(3)’s, 501(c)(4)’s, 501(c)(6)’s, and their vast network of ultra-wealthy accomplices is their ability to hide their contributions and actions from public view.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision cloaks these networks under the guise of the First Amendment. Citizens United has damaged our democracy by allowing unlimited campaign contributions, PACS, and nonprofit organizations to secretly influence government decisions at the highest levels.

I have been fighting to overturn Citizens United and for Congress to enact campaign finance reform for years now.

My constitutional amendment would not only overturn Citizens United, but all the previous bad decisions going back to Buckley v. Valeo. It would end the misguided belief that spending money to elect politicians is the same thing as free speech - a belief that gives the Koch brothers a lot more speech than the average American.

And last fall I re-introduced the We the People Democracy Reform Act that would enact comprehensive electoral reform. The dark influence of the Koch brothers in this administration only underscores the pressing need for this legislation -- to right our democracy, and restore integrity, accountability, and transparency to our political system.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.