Billlionaire David Koch: 25 Years of Disinformation Campaigns and Polluter Front Groups?


Photo via Forbes

News broke earlier this week that the privately owned, multi-billion dollar Koch Industries has outspent even ExxonMobil on climate and clean energy disinformation campaigns--over the last ten years or so, the company spent nearly $50 million. The recent revelation is far from an isolated incident, however. In fact, it gives us a good reason to highlight the billionaire David Koch's 20+ years of funding anti-science campaigns designed to confuse the public about such issues as acid rain and climate change. Here's a little timeline of the notorious man's adventures: Taking a closer look at the chronicles of Koch, Wonk Room's Lee Fang has compiled a record of his activities over the last 25 years or so. Here are some highlights:

- David Koch, along with political operative Richard Fink, founds Citizens for a Sound Economy to create grassroots support to for deregulation, corporate tax cuts, and other right-wing, corporate causes. Fink, who also serves as an executive at Koch Industries, goes on to direct Koch charitable foundations and the Koch-funded academic center (known first as the Center for Market Processes, later renamed as the Mercatus Center) at George Mason University. Mercatus provides thousands of scholarships to students around the country to study Koch's free market beliefs, and trains hundreds of academics in those same ultralibertarian theories.

- A market-based cap and trade program to regulate sulfur dioxide is proposed as an amendment to the Clean Air Act to eradicate acid rain.

- Koch's Citizens for a Sound Economy creates a spinoff front group called "Concerned Citizens for the Environment" to battle proposed regulations to deal with acid rain. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the group "has no citizen membership of its own," but produced studies arguing that acid rain was a myth and that deregulation would benefit the environment.

[Note: Calling acid rain, a myth? Sound like a familiar strategy? Hmmm. Also, the 'market-based cap and trade program' was one of the most successful environmental programs in history--it's all but been eradicated in the US]

- President Clinton calls for a BTU tax on fossil fuel-based energy.

- Koch's Citizens for a Sound Economy, along with another Koch-funded group, American Energy Alliance, works closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the oil lobby to coordinate a campaign to kill the BTU tax. Citizens for a Sound economy commissions polls, takes full page newspaper advertisements, television advertisements, and sends operatives into Oklahoma and Louisiana to organize rallies against the tax.

- After months of ads, Koch's Citizens for a Sound Economy organizes rowdy anti-tax protests to ensure the BTU tax is killed. NPR noted that one CSE-sponsored rally outside of the House of Representatives was "designed to strike fear into the hearts of wavering Democrats." Angry protesters surrounded a man on a hunger strike in favor of the energy tax and shouted him down. Among the gimmicks of rallies were timed releases of balloons to represent dollars families would supposedly pay under the tax. After Sen. David Boren (D-OK) and Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) collapsed to the pressure, the tax died.

- A Koch pipeline spill at Corpus Christi, Texas, led to a $10.5 million class-action settlement for people in the fishing industry. Almost 100,000 gallons were spilled, causing a twelve-mile oil slick in Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay.

- Court documents reveal that Phillip Morris and the tobacco industry rents Citizens for a Sound Economy for a campaign against proposed tobacco regulations. A memo outlines that the tobacco industry's $2 million in contributions to CSE paid for a campaign to "educate and mobilize consumers, through town hall meetings, radio and print ads, direct mail, patch-through calls to the Capitol switchboard, editorial board visits, polling data, meetings with Members and staff and the release of studies and other educational pieces."

[Okay, let's fast forward a bit . . .]

- Koch pours $800,000 to Bush and Republicans for the 2000 election, funnels up to $20 million into various conservative think tanks and organizations.

- In the months preceding the presidential elections, the Koch faced a 97-count federal indictment charging it with concealing illegal releases of 91 metric tons of benzene, known to cause leukemia, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. After Bush took office in 2001, 88 counts were dropped. Two days before the trial, then-Attorney General Ashcroft agreed to a plea bargain. Koch pled guilty to falsifying documents, all major charges were dropped and the company settled the lawsuit for $20 million, a small part of the possible $350 million in fines. This was the fifth largest ever settlement for criminal environmental prosecutions.

- A report finds that Koch is the largest funder of climate science denying organizations in the world, outpacing even ExxonMobil. Nearly $25 million in Koch money has flowed to various anti-climate science think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Tax Foundation, among others.

Whew. And that's just a small sampling--head over to Wonk Room for the full rundown of how large a role David Koch has played in shaping the resistance to clean energy and rallying support for fossil fuel industries.

More on Clean Energy and Climate Disinformation Campaigns
The 8 Dirtiest Tricks Played by Foes of Clean Energy Reform
Clean Energy Reform Opposition Bankrolled by Oil-Rich Nations

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