Acton Institute Powerblog

Religious Shareholders Want to Shut Down Political Debate

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Harvard students a century or so ago joked that Professor Irving Babbitt’s distaste for Jean-Jacques Rousseau was so fervent that he checked under his bed each evening to make sure the 18th century French philosopher wasn’t hiding there. In this humorous vein, one could apply the same fear held by progressive activists for the dreaded brothers Koch – Charles and David. Not only do activists check under their respective beds, but as well their closets, attics, basements, cookie jars and cupboards for signs the billionaire libertarians are funding candidates and causes with which liberals disagree.

The Koch brothers have endured their fair share of progressive brickbats, including from such religious shareholder groups as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment. However, the facts run counter to ICCR and TSCRI handwringing, according to OpenSecrets.org as reported by Mark Tapscott in The Washington Examiner:

OpenSecrets.org tallied the top donors in federal elections between 1989 and 2014. Koch Industries — privately owned by the Evil Koch Bros — is on the list, to be sure, but doesn’t appear until the 59th slot, with $18 million in donations, 90 percent of which went to Republicans….

So who occupies the 58 spots ahead of the Evil Koch Bros? Six of the top 10 are … wait for it … unions. They gave more than $278 million, with most of it going to Democrats.

These are familiar names: AFSCME ($60.6 million), NEA ($53.5 million), IBEW ($44.4 million), UAW ($41.6 million), Carpenters & Joiners ($39.2 million) and SEIU ($38.3 million).

In other words, the six biggest union donors in American politics gave 15 times more to mostly Democrats than the Evil Koch Bros.

OpenSecrets and Tapscott report that top-10 political donors also include AT&T ($56.4 million), the National Association of Realtors ($51.2 million) and Goldman Sachs ($44.8 million). The big No. 1 Kahuna? “Turns out it’s ActBlue,” writes Tapscott, “with just short of $100 million in contributions during its lifetime, which only started in 2004, 15 years after the Evil Koch Bros in the OpenSecrets.org compilation.” ActBlue, readers will note, is an Internet-based political action committee for Democrats. OpenSecrets full list can be found here.

Yet, ICCR places the Kochs behind a massive libertarian conspiracy – which also includes The Heartland Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – to spread denial of climate change to policymakers. In a 2013 The Corporate Examiner essay, “The Price of Denial,” ICCR asserts:

Not surprisingly, the most strident climate change deniers are those most directly responsible – the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists, who mount expensive campaigns to discredit global warming science and postpone serious discussion of the problem. Groups like the Heartland Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spend millions lobbying against climate change legislation and regulation. The Koch brothers alone have given $61.5 million to groups and political candidates that refute the existence of global warming.

As a former staffer and current policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, I wonder how it lobbies for anything much less climate-change “denial” when the think tank is anything but a lobbying group. Furthermore, it seems preposterous the Chamber and Koch brothers only donate to one-issue groups and candidates, but to those entities that support an array of issues they support. But I digress. ICCR continues:

ICCR members seek disclosure on lobbying efforts and political spending by energy companies because of a desire to ensure that the spending is used to further long-term shareholder value rather than the short-sighted obstruction of environmental reforms. ICCR members aren’t alone in their concerns; the proposals often garner more than 30 percent of the vote at shareholder meetings.

The ICCR, it seems, is attempting to prohibit businesses from protecting their own interests in the public sphere, thereby shutting down entirely one entire side of a highly contentious debate that is far from “settled science.” Shutting down the voices of the Kochs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would tilt the public policy playing field significantly in favor of the unproven theories of the left, which seemingly is the unstated goal of unions, the ICCR and TSCRI and other groups seeking to eradicate all dissenting opinion from under their beds.

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Bruce Edward Walker Bruce Edward Walker has more than 20 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Most recently, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. Prior to assuming that role, he served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. He is also a member of the marketing advisory committee of Tomorrow’s Child, a Lansing, Mich.-based research and education organization dealing with infant mortality issues. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich.

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