Citizens United Effect on Climate Change: Millions Spent to Support Denial

April 1, 2015

Ever wonder why Keystone XL, a pipeline that the developer TransCanada touted as creating less jobs than a new McDonald’s, has been lingering as a Congressional priority for so long? Or why certain republicans so vehemently deny climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence and international agreement?

Ben & Jerry's - Citizens United and Climate Change Denial

Here’s a hint: it’s green, but not in a very earth-friendly way. In a wrinkle on our Get the Dough Out initiative, it turns out that Citizens United also opened up the, ahem, pipeline for unlimited spending to influence political campaigns for fossil fuel companies.

And boy have they been digging for oil. In 2011-12 alone, fossil fuel companies poured $329 million into campaign finance contributions and lobbying expenditures. Over the same two years, fossil fuels received $33 billion in federal subsidies.

The notorious Koch brothers have been in this game for a long time. According to Greenpeace, they’ve spent $61.3 million since 1997 to support groups that attack climate science and policies designed to address climate change.

But lately, so-called “dark money,” or untraceable donations, has topped the coffers, supporting nearly 100 climate denial organizations to the tune of $558 million from 2003-2010. Just recently Wei-Hock Soon— the Harvard-Smithsonian Center scientist that had been a go-to source for politicians seeking an “expert” opinion against climate change— was exposed for accepting more that $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry. Not exactly an example of objective science.

The effect of all this is clear. Public discourse has been spoiled by misinformation; all to support the agendas of an ideological elite, and the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies whose own futures are shaky.

All this spending is not a new tactic. Corporations have been buying scientific opinion since the 1960s, when tobacco giants began seeding scientific doubt in the public’s mind to ward off legislation that would hurt the industry.

At this point, the story of big money’s influence on Capitol Hill is so full of twists and turns it might as well be a soap opera— “As the Dough Turns,” we might suggest. In terms of our representatives, and how fossil fuel agenda has influenced their public stances of climate change, over 56% of republicans deny or question the science. This incisive and ongoing tally tracks these politicians and the states they represent.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. A major fossil fuel company recently spent over $3 million to sway a mayoral race in the town of Richmond, California, where one of the oil giant’s sprawling refineries is based. The people of Richmond beat out the corporate-backed candidate, electing Tom Butt with 51% of the vote and landing progressive candidates on the city council, too.

Grassroots successes like Richmond’s are beacons of hope. But we still need to even the political playing field that Citizens United has stacked in favor of corporations and individuals that wield the biggest checkbooks. Check back in as we continue to support the fight to get the Dough Out.