Democrats Decline Fossil Industry Donations as U.S. Mid-Term Elections Approach
The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) recent unanimous decision to refuse further campaign donations from Big Oil won’t hurt the party much in upcoming mid-term elections—but may add fuel to the partisan fire that surrounds climate change action in the age of Trump (and the Koch brothers), suggests the latest Greentech Media Political Climate podcast.
The issue is as big as the numbers involved: According to a recent Huffington Post article, “oil and gas companies spent a record US$7.6 million on Democratic races in 2016. But that figure pales in comparison to the $53.7 million in direct donations to Republicans, who received 88% of the industry’s contributions during that election cycle. Republicans have taken in 89% of the industry’s donations so far in 2018.”
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Against that backdrop, RL Miller, political director at the Climate Hawks Vote super-PAC and chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus, said she saw little risk to the party’s national fundraising in the resolution she co-authored to refuse fossil industry funds. Asked whether the move might “alienate” some voters by signalling a leftward swing in the party, she declared that “climate change is not a party issue: the science tells us the facts.”
On a more pragmatic level, while there might be some issues in “purple” states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New Mexico, she added that “most states that are fossil are red”, meaning that they vote consistently Republican.
While Miller and panelists Brandon Hurlbut and Shane Skelton all agreed on the science of climate change, they differed on the action that should result. When a listener asked whether the Koch brothers were the catalyst for Republicans’ resistance to climate action, Hurlbut, a former chief of staff to Obama-era Energy Secretary Steven Chu, chronicled the Kochs’ history of funding climate denial and co-opting elected officials. The “Koch empire may be more powerful than the Republican party,” he warned.
Skelton, a former energy advisor to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), agreed that the ongoing campaign of climate misinformation in the U.S. is something “sinister” which has “taken on a life of its own”, but cautioned against a narrative of “malicious” intent. He pointed to the Kochs’ recent record of lobbying against their own financial interests, while defending their ideological ones—most notably in their recent fight against solar tariffs.
Such ideological purity is cold comfort, replied Hurlbut, with a steady flow of misinformation continuing to poison non-partisan efforts for urgent action on climate change.
All the panelists agreed with session moderator Julia Pyper’s observation that, since the 2010 Citizens United decision, there’s just “too much money” in the “toxic” and “broken” American political process.
A case in point for Hurlbut and Miller was the recent decision by 22 Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus—a bipartisan group whose objective is to enable genuine action on climate change—to support a GOP amendment that, as reported in the Washington Examiner, sought to bar “any and all funds from being used under the bill to ‘prepare, propose, or promulgate any regulation that relies on the Social Carbon analysis’ devised under the Obama administration on how to value the cost of carbon.”
“This vote shows, once again, that the only endangered species congressional Republicans care about is themselves,” Miller said in the Examiner piece. Skelton responded that the Caucus vote was “childish”—but maintained that the subsequent outcry by Democrats was, too.
The social cost of carbon has “long been political,” he said, and “can be weaponized for cost-benefit analysis.” Hurlbut responded that, “over the last ten years, $65 billion in EPA regulatory costs have been more than recovered in $700 billion in benefits.”
Craig Preston, a conservative California member of the avowedly non-partisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told Pyper in a separate interview that he continues to be a strong supporter of the Climate Solutions Caucus, noting that its purpose was “getting people to the table,” to start the conversation in highly partisan times.
“If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu, and we’re tired of being on the menu,” he said. “We need to make it safe to come to the middle on this issue.”
As the podcast wound down, Hurlbut declared himself a “big fan on the optics”, adding that the DNC resolution on fossil funding would put his party “on the right side of history on this.” When he asked Skelton what forms of climate action Republicans might support, Skelton said he didn’t know. Despite some “really good ideas”, he admitted, “we are going nowhere.”
Which raises an important question for Republicans, he said: “Do you want to live in a world where the Democrats get to codify their preferences? Or are we going to work together to codify something that we can all live with?”