US elections, corporate money and “astroturfing”

As we reported back in March this year, after a Supreme Court ruling, it is now open house for corporate campaign finance in the US.

And with the November elections almost at hand, much of the media is reporting on corporate involvement in the political process.

Recently, the New Yorker magazine published a lengthy piece looking at the involvement of the Koch brothers in the rise of the Tea Party.

One Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity, is alleged to be a spin off “fake grass roots” group, among many others, who protest against almost any major Democrat initiative of any weight, using corporate cash to buy banners, BBQ’s and buses.

Whilst I would agree it appears Koch funding has played a major role, a study of the movement does show that it’s roots are perhaps a little wider than just the Koch’s direct sphere of influence.

Nevertheless, a new documentary, and some associated YouTube footage shows just how organised the Democrat opposition group Americans for Prosperity is, and how the Koch’s have got themselves in a muddle when claiming not to fund their widespread and co-ordinated protests.

You can watch the documentary for $2 online. It’s a flawed film, but very interesting.

Koch Industries aside for a moment, the New York Times published a piece yesterday that looked at the nearly notorious US Chamber of Commerce and corporate donations around political/business campaigns. It’s fascinating, and shows just how corrupted the US political and public campaigning process has become.

The NY Times writes:

“…while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.”

And notes that:

“More recently, the News Corporation gave $1 million to support the chamber’s political efforts this fall; Chairman Rupert Murdoch said it was in best interests of his company and the country “that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.””

To put all this in context, the Times points out that:

“…it is spending $200 million this year, and the chamber and its affiliates allocated $144 million last year just for lobbying, making it the biggest lobbyist in the United States.”

And yesterday the Guardian reported that:

“BP and several other big European companies are funding the midterm election campaigns of Tea Party favourites who deny the existence of global warming or oppose Barack Obama’s energy agenda, the Guardian has learned.

An analysis of campaign finance by Climate Action Network Europe (Cane) found nearly 80% of campaign donations from a number of major European firms were directed towards senators who blocked action on climate change.”

So if you believe the “liberal media”, the political opposition process is in many ways corporate funded, and it’s now not just US companies ponying up the cash.

Of course, much of this is not new, as we know. Corporate lobbying dates back at least 150 odd years in the US political process. (to the foyer of the Willard Hotel and Ulysses S. Grant)

The military-industrial complex that spawned the “what’s good for GM is good for America” line in the 1950’s has been well documented by the likes of Robert Reich.

What may be new here is the extent to which corporate cash reaches Congressmen and women, Senators, and those who vocally lobby them.

After all, there is not a single Republican senator that accepts man-made modern climate science.

That, and the fact that what has been dubbed “The Kochtopus” has become so powerful, is what really should worry us.

That’s not to say all lobbying is bad, as Mallen Baker points out.

But corporate responsibility will not make much credible progress until big companies sort out their position on the topic, and show some consistency in how they approach political influence.

That day may be a very long way off indeed on today’s evidence.

Meanwhile a new battlefront on fuel standards may be opening up. Expect some vociferous 2011 lobbying against energy efficiency from some groups.

Further reading:

More on how the banks have reacted recently around lobbying is everywhere in the media, and also in this article we published earlier this year: Regulation and reform – Resistance to rules

And CorpWatch has a long article detailing who funds whom, which is worth a look.

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