In May of 2008, the Republican nominee for president John McCain broke with George W. Bush to support a cap-and-trade system for limiting greenhouse gases, a position that nearly every major Republican thinking about running for president supported at one time.
In 2014, there isn’t one major Republican who supports doing anything to stop the heating of the atmosphere that will create the sick irony of flooding oceans and unyielding famines across the globe. Not one Republican will even accept the ever-growing scientific consensus that climate change is man-made, thus can be averted by man. There isn’t any conservative willing to say that we ask our richest people to reduce their wealth somewhat in order to avoid a still somewhat avoidable disaster.
So what changed?
1. McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, embracing the base’s the “Drill, baby, drill” mentality of unfettered, consequence-free love of anything that produces carbon.
2. The economy crashed forcing most people to focus on immediate economic needs and fear anything that would raise energy prices.
3. In 2010, conservatives on the Supreme Court radically and unilaterally decimated our already invidious campaign finance system, unleashing unlimited donations by corporations along with unlimited anonymous donations to “social welfare” non-profits.
Suddenly you began hearing the word “Koch” a lot more.
These two brothers — who together are richer than Bill Gates — claim to be libertarian-minded, supporting same-sex marriage and drug legalization. However, the half a billion dollars they’ve spent or helped raise since 2010 has gone entirely to support anti-gay marriage, anti-drug legalization candidates who happen to share a passion for heating our atmosphere.
Their millions stoked the “Tea Party” movement and allowed their front-groups like Americans for Prosperity to systematically create the best “grassroots” movement any billionaire had ever bought.
The nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity described Koch Industries and its political agenda this way:
Oil is the core of the Koch business empire, and the company’s lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry’s tax breaks and credits, and to defeat attempts by Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.
The Kochs lost big in 2012 and they’ve changed their strategy in attempt to give Republicans control of Senate, hoping to block the president’s modest attempt to use the EPA to limit greenhouse gases.
Three candidates who represent the Koch’s best hopes for a GOP Senate — Rep. Tom Cotton, Rep. Cory Gardner and State Senator Joni Ernst — all paid tribute to the brothers’ power at a recent meeting of the Koch network in California. In audio exclusively released to The Huffington Post, you can hear Ernst, who doesn’t support any federal minimum wage, crediting the Koch network for plucking her from obscurity and making her the latest GOP Idol:
“I was not known at that time,” Ernst said. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”
“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” she said earlier in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”
Republicans mock the Koch campaign either as desperate or an attempt to keep private citizens from participating in politics. They make it a free speech issue, insisting that money is speech, while divorcing any accountability for that speech with completely anonymous donations. They insist Democratic billionaires like George Soros are doing the same thing.
Unlike other billionaires and millionaires, we know the Kochs are donating millions, even if we can never know for sure how many. And we know they benefit directly from Republican policies. Democratic donors may too see advantageous from having their allies in power. However, elected a president and a Senate majority who campaigned on raising taxes on the rich for the first time in a generation.
In 2012, Democrats attacked Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital to show that he would be willing to make the drastic cuts to our safety net along with tax cuts for the rich laid out in Paul Ryan’s budget.
In 2014, they’ve attempted to revive this theme by going after the Kochs. If anything, it’s more relevant now. Romney’s business record proved his willingness to prioritize profit over people. The Kochs literally make billions because the government has never held carbon polluters accountable to the damage they’re doing to our climate. Instead, they actually get tax breaks.
And it isn’t just about the Kochs, The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent explains:
They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states – become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.
But it’s about the Kochs, too.
Private citizens have a right to participate in politics — some, thanks to the Supreme Court, far more than others. And voters have a right to know what these private citizens get out of participating so eagerly.
At the same summit where Ernst spoke, the head of the Koch front Freedom Partners Marc Short said, “Michigan is a state that’s basically an uphill climb honestly.”
Republican Terri Lynn Land was leading in the race to replace Senator Carl Levin until Democrats began connecting her campaign to the Koch brothers, who had spent millions on her behalf.
So you can see why Republicans would rather not make their most prominent donors a little less prominent.
Photo: Gina Whang