One-third of the big donations funding the bloated presidential super PACs last year came from fossil fuel interests. That’s according to campaign finance research by Greenpeace, reviewed by The Guardian.
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and a subsequent lower court decision in 2010, corporations, unions, and individuals have been allowed to flood elections with unlimited cash.
Super PACs—political nonprofits that may expressly advocate for candidates’ election or defeat but are barred from coordinating with candidates and are required to disclose their donors—have become a dominating force in presidential races as well as in Congressional and state-level contests.
Individuals tied to oil, gas, and coal mining companies who donated $100,000 or more to super PACs supporting 2016 presidential candidates combined for $107 million in donations from January 2015 through January of this year. Greenpeace included in its data owners and board members of oil, gas and coal mining companies and firms that transport these fossil fuels, and people with major investments in the companies.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Republican candidate considered to have the best shot at defeating frontrunner Donald Trump, has benefited the most from fossil-fuel backed super PAC donations: 57 percent of the big money going to super PACs supporting Cruz came in the form of large donations from fossil fuel interests, according to Greenpeace. That’s $25.6 million, most of it coming from the Wilks family, which made its money in hydraulic fracturing technology, and oil and gas investor Toby Neugebauer.
Twenty-three percent of donations to the super PAC supporting Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who just dropped out of the race, came from fossil fuel interests, or $7.7 million.
While Republicans are generally the big polluters’ favorites, Hillary Clinton has received considerable fossil fuel money as well. Only 7 percent of her super PAC’s haul came from fossil fuel interests, but that amounts to a sizeable $3.25 million.
Trump benefited from only one $100,000 super PAC donation last year, but the real estate mogul is personally invested in fossil fuel companies, with amounts of $500,000 or more invested in companies such as Chevron, Energy Transfer Partners, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada Pipelines.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t have a dedicated super PAC, do not owe thanks to any super PAC megadonors linked to fossil fuels, according to Greenpeace.
But the super PACs of former candidates Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Chris Christie, among others, received millions more from individuals connected to the industry.
While super PACs are playing a major role in the presidential race, they are by no means the only way the fossil fuel industry exerts its influence on politicians. As DeSmog detailed in February, oil, gas and coal mining employees and PACs have given millions to present and past campaigns of the presidential contenders. Through January 2016, fossil fuel industry employees and PACs donated over $1.6 million to the campaigns of the remaining five presidential contenders plus Rubio.
And again, the industry heavily favors Ted Cruz, whose campaign eclipses the rest with almost $933,000 received from fossil fuel interests, more than triple that of Rubio or Clinton’s campaigns.
Clinton has reported receiving donations from fossil fuel industry-linked campaign bundlers—lobbyists who collect campaign donations—as well as donations given directly by fossil fuel lobbyists. Of the rest of the field, only Rubio has filed bundled contribution reports with the Federal Elections Commission. The Florida senator has received bundled donations from an American Petroleum Institute lobbyist.
Like Trump, Cruz has major investments in fossil fuel companies. According to his financial disclosure statement, the Texas senator has between $365,000 and $850,000 invested in oil and natural gas extractors, processors, transporters and investors including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Oneok, One Gas, Enterprise Products Partners and Plains GP Holdings.
Unsurprisingly, Cruz is the most vociferous climate change denier remaining in the presidential field, although Donald Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax.
Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have acknowledged climate change but offer no real proposals to address it, and Rubio denies humans’ role in global warming.
Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders do believe in man-made climate change. Sanders has a long record as an environmental advocate, and while Clinton supports clean energy and has some robust proposals to address climate change, she has a history of supporting offshore oil drilling and tar sands oil pipelines.
Now that the Obama administration has canceled plans to approve Atlantic oil drilling off the southeast coast, fossil fuel companies could ramp up their elections spending even more in hopes of having a friend in the White House to open up offshore drilling and deregulate the industry.
Photo credit: Steve Marcus | Greenpeace