Saturday, February 4, 2017

Guess Who’s Backing Scott Pruitt To Head The EPA? The Koch Brothers.





Guess Who’s Backing Scott Pruitt To Head The EPA? The Koch Brothers.

Even behind the Trump administration, the Koch Brothers use dark money to control environmental reforms.

By Elliott Negin | January 31, 2017

Oklahoma Attorney General and President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Capitol Hill January 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

The two dozen nonprofit groups and Senate committee members defending Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, have at least two things in common.

Like Pruitt, they’re climate science deniers. And, like Pruitt, most of them are funded by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who own the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries.

That funding helps explain why they all consistently misrepresent the scientific consensus on climate change. After all, money buys influence, and since 1997, Koch foundations have paid a network of think tanks and advocacy groups more than $88 million to spread climate science disinformation — more than twice what ExxonMobil, the second-biggest denier-network funder, has spent. Likewise, Koch Industries has contributed $38.5 million to federal candidates over the last 25 years and spent another $117 million since 1998 on lobbying.

The Kochs didn’t endorse Trump for president, but there’s no doubt they would consider a guy like Pruitt heading the EPA a dream come true. When David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket back in 1980, his party platform called for abolishing the EPA (and a number of other federal agencies, along with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). Although Pruitt won’t be able to go that far, his six-year track record as Oklahoma’s attorney general suggests he will do what he can — with the help of Koch-funded members of Congress and the rest of the Trump administration — to defund the agency and undermine its authority.


Activists hold a protest near the Manhattan apartment of billionaire and Republican financier David Koch on June 5, 2014 in New York City. The demonstrators were protesting against the campaign contributions by the billionaire Koch brothers who are owners of Koch Industries Inc. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Koch Dark-Money Operative Is Trump’s Liaison to Congress

BY Richard Eskow | January 24, 2017

In advance of Pruitt’s nomination hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 18, a coalition of 23 nonprofit groups sent a letter to the entire Senate urging his confirmation. “Attorney General Pruitt has consistently fought for Oklahoma families and communities,” the letter states, “and has been a stalwart defender against federal intrusion into state and individual rights.”

In fact, Pruitt has consistently fought for the corporate polluters that have financed his political campaigns, dismantling his office’s Environmental Protection Unit, halting efforts to reduce poultry manure in Oklahoma waterways, opposing a wind energy transmission line and suing the EPA 14 times to block stronger air, water and climate safeguards that would better protect Oklahoma families and communities.

But I digress. Let’s follow the money.

The groups that signed the letter endorsing Pruitt include such high-profile, climate-science-denier organizations as the American Energy Alliance (AEA), whose president, Thomas Pyle, is a former Koch Industries lobbyist; the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose top climate disinformer, Myron Ebell, oversaw the Trump EPA transition team; and Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage economist David Kreutzer, who maintains there is no justification for Obama administration climate policies, also served on the EPA transition team.

Those three groups and at least 15 other letter signatories have received generous support from one or more of the Koch brothers’ numerous foundations, including American Encore, the Charles Koch Foundation, Charles Koch Institute, the now defunct Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a de facto Koch bank that distributes contributions from wealthy conservatives to free-market, anti-government groups. A number of the organizations on the letter are also funded by Donors Trust, a secretive, pass-through money laundering operation that received more than $13 million from the Kochs’ Knowledge and Progress Fund between 2005 and 2014.

Eight of the signatories, including AEA, CEI and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, collectively received $30.2 million between 2010 and 2014 from American Encore, a “social welfare” nonprofit organization the Kochs established in 2009 as the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR). The organization has been one of the Koch network’s primary conduits for funneling dark money — private donations not subject to public disclosure — to conservative campaign funding groups.

American Encore is no fan of environmental protections. A December 2016 blog post on its website calls for slashing “excessive and burdensome regulations” on hydraulic fracturing, opening up the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil drilling, and canceling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to curb electric utility carbon emissions.

A significant chunk of the American Encore-CPPR budget came from Freedom Partners, which gave the organization a whopping $115 million between 2012 and 2013. From 2012 through 2015, Freedom Partners also donated nearly $38 million to five of the groups on the Pruitt support letter: AEA, American Commitment, Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the 60 Plus Association, which spent the bulk of its $16.5 million in Freedom Partner grants on political advertising.

Like American Encore, Freedom Partners’ goal is to roll back consumer, public health, environmental and workplace safeguards. It recently posted A Roadmap to Repeal, a list of Obama administration initiatives that can be repealed in the new administration’s first 100 days and others that would require a longer term strategy.

David Koch listens to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addressing the "Defending The American Dream Summit" organized by Americans for Prosperity in Washington, DC on November 4, 2011. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Five Myths About the Koch Brothers — And Why It Matters To Set Them Straight

BY Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Theda Skocpol | March 10, 2016

In the short term, Freedom Partners calls on the Trump administration to rescind the moratorium on new federal land coal leases, abandon the Paris climate agreement and block any proposed EPA programs related to the Clean Power Plan. It also recommends that Congress repeal a number of regulations finalized during the last 60 legislative days of 2016, including rules that protect streams from coal mining, cut heavy-duty truck carbon emissions and reduce methane leaks from oil and gas operations on public lands. Over the long term, Freedom Partners wants the administration and Congress to kill the Clean Power Plan and the “Waters of the United States” rule, which extends federal protection to headwaters and wetlands that feed drinking water supplies.

Koch-Funded Senators Fawn Over Pruitt

How much impact could Freedom Partners and the rest of the Koch network have? Quite a bit, actually. They are planning to spend $300 million to $400 million over the next two years to influence politics and public policy, and Marc Short — Freedom Partners’ president up until February 2016 — was just named the White House director of legislative affairs. Formerly Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff when Pence was in the House of Representatives, Short likely will find a receptive audience on the Hill — at least from one side of the aisle.

The welcome Pruitt got at his Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing two weeks ago may be an indication of things to come. Republican committee members fell all over themselves to praise Pruitt and attack the EPA for, as Chairman John Barrasso put it, creating “broad and legally questionable new regulations [that] have done great damage….” Democratic committee members, conversely, pressed Pruitt on his financial ties to fossil fuel interests, his efforts to weaken environmental safeguards, and his scientifically indefensible claim that the role human activity plays in causing climate change is “subject to continuing debate.”

Why were Republican EPW Committee members so hospitable to Pruitt?

Like Pruitt, most of them are on the Koch gravy train and their campaign coffers are flush with fossil fuel industry cash. Nine of the 11 Republicans on the committee together received $368,000 in campaign contributions from Koch Industries over the last five years. Even more telling, the company was among the top 10 donors for seven of those nine beneficiaries and the top donor for two — Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is in line to become the Trump administration’s attorney general.

In addition to the Koch funding, the Republican committee members received more than $1.5 million since 2011 from a veritable Who’s Who of energy companies, including coal giants Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, Murray Energy and Peabody Energy; oil and gas titans BP, Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil and Valero Energy; and electric utilities American Electric Power, NextEra Energy and Southern Company. Pruitt, meanwhile, received $62,500 since 2010 from Koch Industries and eight other companies listed above, including Devon Energy, ExxonMobil and Valero Energy.

By contrast, none of the 10 Democrats on the committee received Koch money, let alone any coal or oil and gas industry support. The only energy-related businesses that contributed to their campaigns in the last five years were three diversified electric utilities that are heavily invested in nuclear power: Dominion Resources, Entergy and Exelon.

Donald Trump campaigned as a populist who promised to stand up to Washington lobbyists and “drain the swamp.” The back story on Scott Pruitt — and the vast sums spent by the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests to promote their agenda — tell a very different story.

Still, one may fairly question what any of this actually proves. Does money really dictate the positions that a nonprofit think tank or US senator takes, be it on climate change or any other policy issue?

As it turns out, none other than David Koch addressed this very question in an interview with Brian Doherty, author of the 2007 book, Radicals for Capitalism: The Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. Koch was talking specifically about funding think tanks and advocacy groups, but what he said could easily be applied to elected officials as well.

“If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our interest,” Koch told Doherty. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding. We do exert that kind of control.”

I rest my case.

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Rauner again taps Munger as Dep Gov


Rauner again taps Munger—making her $135K-a-year deputy gov

Leslie Munger is shown with Gov. Bruce Rauner last year. Munger lost an election bid to hold onto the comptroller's office, but on Friday was named a deputy governor by Rauner.  | Associated Press file photo

Leslie Munger is shown with Gov. Bruce Rauner last year. Munger lost an election bid to hold onto the comptroller's office, but on Friday was named a deputy governor by Rauner. | Associated Press file photo

Tina Sfondeles



When he tapped Leslie Munger to serve as comptroller two years ago, Bruce Rauner predicted “she will do everything within her power to help fix our state’s broken finances.”

On Friday, about three months after Munger lost her bid to hold that job, the governor appointed the Lincolnshire Republican to another top post, so she can “add her voice to the state’s budget discussions.”


Rauner’s newly minted deputy governor will earn $135,000 — the same salary she made as comptroller.

In her new job, Munger will serve alongside Deputy Gov. Trey Childress. The money for her salary was made available after the departure of the state’s chief operating officer Linda Lingle in 2016, who made $198,000 a year, according to the governor’s office.

The former business executive will “assist in addressing financial challenges facing the state and its nonprofit organizations,” the governor’s office said on Friday. She will “add her voice to the state’s budget discussions,” and also work with nonprofit leaders.

“Leslie’s vast business, human services and government experiences make her uniquely qualified to serve in this important role,” Rauner said in a statement. “We are thrilled that she has agreed to return to public service and bring people together to find long-term solutions for our state and its residents.”

State Sen. Andy Manar, who is mulling a run for governor, took a jab at the $135,000 salary — arguing in a statement that the money could have been used to help fund a Downstate public school instead.

“Rather than recite all of the obvious reasons why it’s wrong for our wealthy governor to clout his wealthy friend into a state government job at a lucrative salary when we have no budget after she lost her bid for election in November, I’ll simply note some of the many ways a rural downstate public school could put $135,000 to use,” the Bunker Hill Democrat said.

That list included the hiring of three teachers at a salary of $45,000 per year; 270 iPads for students; 450 laptops and 1,800 scientific calculators.

In political ads last year during a harsh election cycle, Munger was painted as a politician beholden to the governor, and Democratic challenger Susana Mendoza was dubbed a “trusty sidekick” to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. More than $12 million was poured into the campaign.

The animosity didn’t end after the election.

In December, Munger rebuked Mendoza’s accusations that Munger left offices that appeared “looted,” with little furniture, locked desks and missing documents.

Munger rejected those claims, saying she’d sue Mendoza personally if she continued to “damage” her image.

Now it appears the two will be working together in some capacity.

Rauner appointed Munger to serve as the state’s new comptroller when he first took office in 2015, after the death of Judy Baar Topinka.

But former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, had already signed legislation triggering a special election. The result was a big-money race for an obscure office that has at times been targeted for elimination.

Mendoza’s win concluded a highly contentious race between the women, which many framed as a proxy war between Rauner and Madigan. Each candidate spent six-digit sums with firms specializing in political campaign ads.

The candidates themselves decried the proxy war narrative while also playing into it, accusing each other of operating in “lockstep” with their political captains.

Mendoza at one point told the Chicago Sun-Times: “I don’t feel like I’m running against Leslie Munger any more,” but rather against Rauner.

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Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied to His Empire


Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied to His Empire



Among the Trump family, Donald Trump Jr., right, is one of two named trustees who have broad legal authority over President Trump’s assets. The elder Mr. Trump can revoke the trustees’ authority at any time. Credit Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Just days before his inauguration, President-elect Donald J. Trump stood beside his tax lawyer at a Midtown Manhattan news conference as she announced that he planned to place his vast business holdings in a trust, a move she said would allay fears that he might exploit the Oval Office for personal gain.

However, a number of questions were left unanswered — including who would ultimately benefit from the trust — raising concerns about just how meaningful the move was.

Now, records have emerged that show just how closely tied Mr. Trump remains to the empire he built.

While the president says he has walked away from the day-to-day operations of his business, two people close to him are the named trustees and have broad legal authority over his assets: his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Mr. Trump, who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time.

What’s more, the purpose of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is to hold assets for the “exclusive benefit” of the president. This trust remains under Mr. Trump’s Social Security number, at least as far as federal taxes are concerned.


Since his election, there have been widespread calls for Mr. Trump to sell his assets and put the proceeds in a blind trust. He has resisted those calls, stressing that the president has no legal obligation to do so.


The most immediate test of Mr. Trump’s legal moves to separate himself from his company involve the ownership of the new Trump International Hotel in Washington. Credit Chad Bartlett for The New York Times

While the trust structure, outlined in documents made public through a Freedom of Information Act request by ProPublica, may give the president the appearance of distance from his business, it drew sharp criticism from experts in government ethics.

“I don’t see how this in the slightest bit avoids a conflict of interest,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a trust and estates lawyer from Virginia who examined the documents at the request of The New York Times. “First it is revocable at any time, and it is his son and his chief financial officer who are running it.”


It is not uncommon for people to place assets in a trust with themselves as beneficiaries for estate-planning purposes. But Mr. Trump’s situation is unprecedented because it involves a wealthy president acting to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

The Trump Organization declined to comment for this article.

The most immediate test of Mr. Trump’s legal moves to separate himself from his company, the Trump Organization, pertains to the ownership of the new Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington.

The trust documents, which were prepared last month, argue that “all beneficial ownership in the licensee previously held by Donald J. Trump, personally, now is held derivatively and beneficially by The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust,” which is legal language intended to suggest that Mr. Trump no longer has a personal tie to the hotel lease.


As Trump Takes Office, Many Conflicts of Interest Still Face His Presidency

By continuing to own the Trump Organization, conflict of interest accusations will persist.

OPEN Graphic

A provision in the 2013 lease for the building, held by Mr. Trump and his three oldest children, appears to prohibit a federally elected official, including the president, from benefiting from it.

But lawyers who specialize in federal contracts say the trust arrangement simply creates an additional legal step between Mr. Trump and the hotel — meaning he will still profit from it.

Robert H. Sitkoff, a professor at Harvard Law School, said the new details in the trust documents were unlikely to resolve the apparent legal problems with the Old Post Office site.

“Formally he is no longer the owner, but functionally he still is,” he said.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, the ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who has called for a congressional investigation into the lease, said he remained unsatisfied that Mr. Trump had addressed his conflicts. “This is smoke and mirrors,” he said of the new documents.

While Mr. Trump may have to take additional legal steps to avoid violating the terms of the Old Post Office lease, he is exempt from laws that prohibit federal employees from participating in government matters that will directly affect their own financial interests.

At the Jan. 11 news conference in which she outlined the plans for Mr. Trump’s assets, Sheri A. Dillon, his tax lawyer, called the steps he had already taken significant, adding there was an agreement governing the president’s trust that “sharply” limited the amount of information about his company that he could access.

“The president-elect will have no role in deciding whether the Trump Organization engages in any new deal,” she said, “and he will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV.”

Ms. Dillon added that an asset sale by Mr. Trump would also be fraught with issues. “Whatever price was paid would be subject to criticism and scrutiny,” she said. “Was it too high? Is there pay for play? Was it too much pay to curry favor with the president-elect?”


The Trump Organization, which is privately held, has also released a list of 488 Trump companies that Mr. Trump has held positions at, saying he resigned from all of them. Public records show that he has severed ties from some of these entities.

The Trump Organization has pledged not to pursue new business deals overseas, though it plans to expand within the United States. Last month the company named Bobby Burchfield, a longtime Republican Party lawyer and corporate litigator, as an “independent ethics adviser.”

The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust has existed since at least 2014, records show. By 2016 it was the only shareholder in DJT Holdings, one of Mr. Trump’s main limited liability companies, according to documents filed by Mr. Trump as part of his bid for president and released by the Federal Election Commission. That company holds some of Mr. Trump’s largest assets, including his Old Post Office lease, golf courses and residential properties including a house in Beverly Hills, Calif.

New York City property records show that in recent weeks Mr. Trump has transferred several residential condominiums he owns into the trust.

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