The Kochs Come Calling, and the Party Reverses Its Two-Month-Old Ban on Fossil Fuel Donations
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) just reversed its ban on donations from the fossil fuel industry, saying it now welcomes donations from industry workers and employers’ political action committees – a stark turnaround to a stance the organization took just two months ago when it adopted a ban on donations from fossil fuel companies’ political organizations. And it comes less than two weeks after Charles Koch, leader of Koch Industries, the top-ranked political donor of the fossil fuel sector, and the powerful Americans for Prosperity political action committee, said he is open to backing Democrats in the midterms.
This latest announcement by the DNC has many Democrats up in arms because it goes against the organization’s platform to combat climate change. Though DNC Chairman Tom Perez characterized the move as a commitment to organized labor, it’s hard to see it as anything but a cash grab.
Christine Pelosi, a DNC member who co-authored the June resolution, offered an amendment that would remove the words “employers’ political action committees” to discourage donations from corporate PACs, saying it would reaffirm the party’s “commitment to overturning Citizens United and banning corporate PAC money” while still accepting employee donations. But she was outvoted, 4 to 28, on Friday, Aug, 10.
Koch, who is heading the political front of the Koch brothers fortune, since brother David Koch retired due to illness earlier in June, said the group plans to pour some $400 million into this election cycle, on policy issues and political campaigns, according to a recent article in The Washington Post.
Koch’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity, recently put out ads thanking Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for co-sponsoring legislation rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations. It also put ads out attacking Trump’s pick for Senate Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) for his vote to increase federal spending.
The Koch political network spans 700 donors who contribute at least $100,000 annually to groups aligned to Koch Industries. In the 2016 election cycle, the super PAC spent $13.3 million supporting Conservative candidates and causes. To date, Americans for Prosperity has spent just shy of $3 million on the 2018 election cycle.
And while Charles Koch himself has been critical of Trump’s policies, from the zero tolerance immigration debacle to the White House’s trade policy, don’t expect the oil and gas magnate to stop funding the GOP anytime soon. In January, the Koch political-spending strategy was to use that $400 million to help the Republicans keep hold of the Senate.
In early March, Koch Industries donated $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Since March, it has contributed a total of $135,000 to the conservative super PAC 35th Inc. and then sunk another $25,000 into the PAC in May. In June, it donated $50,000 to the conservative super PAC Tennesseans for a Better Tomorrow.
So far this election cycle, the fossil fuel sector has contributed a total of more than $50 million, mostly to Republican candidates and Conservative causes. Koch Industries tops the list with $5.7 million spent in contributions to candidates.
Four states are holding primaries on Tuesday. Here’s what to watch for in each state.
Connecticut: The 5th Congressional District is a race that is expected to stay with the Democrats after Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D) announced she would not seek re-election following criticism for mishandling a scandal in her office. The state could elect its first African-American representative if candidate Jahana Hayes, a progressive newcomer with the backing of Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) takes the primary and the election in November. Her biggest challenger is Democrat Mary Glassman. On the Republican side, Ruby O’Neill is the frontrunner, followed by Rich DuPont.
Incumbent Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is also up for re-election but is expected to retain his seat. His lead challenger on the Republican side is Dominic Rapini, an Apple executive.
Minnesota: The big race to watch is the special election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken (D), who stepped down amid sexual harassment accusations. Sen. Tina Smith (D) was appointed to fill his vacancy and is now running. High-profile third-party candidate Richard Painter, who left the GOP and has become an outspoken Trump critic, is expected to be a tough opponent. He served as an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush Administration. On the Republican side, state Sen. Karin Housley has the endorsement of the GOP. She’s married to Phil Housley, the head coach to the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Vermont: Not much is expected to change in Vermont. Despite running for the Democratic endorsement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may not accept it and may remain Independent.
The one race that is garnering attention is the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And that’s because there’s a 14-year-old candidate, Ethan Sonneborn.
Wisconsin: The interesting race here is the one for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) seat in the 1st Congressional District. Democrats are backing frontrunner Randy Bryce, an ironworker, also known as the “Iron Stache”. He’s up against a local school board member Cathy Myers and has significantly outraised her. But he’s a controversial candidate, due to past arrests and a recent claim by Myers that he converted campaign funds for personal use.
On the GOP side, Ryan has endorsed Bryan Steil, his former staffer, a University of Wisconsin regent and lawyer for a manufacturing company. Four other Republicans are vying for the seat.
Featured image: A Koch subsidiary testing flare technologies to combust flammable gasses or liquids. (Koch Industries Instagram)