I worked on Capitol Hill for a long time, and I do not consider myself naive about the inner workings of Washington. But even I was surprised by two revelations this week exposing the amount of money the oil industry is spending to buy political influence.
The first eye-opener came from recently released lobbying numbers. The OpenSecrets blog reported that the oil and gas industry poured $174 million into the political system in 2009. That's eight times more than the green groups.
What did the oil and gas industry get for its money? A handful of Senators who blocked all attempts by the Senate to pass a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that would have made fossil fuel industries start cleaning up their global warming pollution.
This week's second revelation made that difference abundantly clear. Jane Mayer wrote aninvestigative piece in the New Yorker about the brothers David and Charles Koch who run Koch Industries -- the biggest corporation you've never heard of -- and who have spent more than $100 million on anti-government causes.
Koch Industries owns oil refineries and 4,000 miles of pipeline, and was named one of the top 10 air polluters in the nation in a 2010 UMass-Amherst report. The Kochs' political donations are often aimed at promoting their libertarian views, but they also directly benefit their own profit margins. They have donated millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that fight environmental regulation and seed doubt about climate science. In fact, a Greenpeace report called them a "kingpin of climate science denial." And though green groups tend to paint ExxonMobil as the worst of the worst when it comes to lobbying against climate legislation, Koch outspent even ExxonMobil.
One of David Koch's pet projects is the group Americans for Prosperity, a group he founded and funds but positions as a grassroots movement. An ad for one of its training sessions for Tea Party activists says, "The voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests. But you can do something about it."
But when Americans for Prosperity hosts at least 80 events protesting climate legislation, is it really acting in the interest of average Americans or the interest of oil industry donors?
When it funds an attack ad against Representative Betsey Markey from Colorado because she supported climate legislation last summer that would have brought 30,000 jobs to her state, who is it benefiting?
And when the group pledges to spend an additional $45 million before the midterm elections, is that money really coming from grassroots activists, or from deep corporate pockets? These fat cats pretend to fraternize with the ordinary folks who dangle tea bags from their tri-cornered hats, but, in fact, they are just using activists to put a populist face on their industry agenda.