October 29, 2019

Special Committee on the Climate Crisis Holds Hearing on Dark Money and Climate Change

Senate panel hears from top experts at universities and government watchdog groups on how secret industry funding helps to block climate action

Washington, DC – On Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) led a hearing of Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis entitled, “Dark Money and Barriers to Climate Action.”  Leading academics and good government watchdogs testified to special committee members about the effect of anonymous funding of climate obstruction and what can be done to fight it.  Witnesses touched on how congressional oversight could be used to uncover the ultimate sources of the hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous donations that flow to front groups, outside political spending groups, and trade associations to obstruct climate action.

***Watch the full video of the hearing here***

“Since the disastrous Citizens United decision let corporations spend unlimited secret money to influence our politics, dark money has played a big role in blocking climate action in Congress.  Exposing polluter misinformation campaigns is an important step in setting the conditions for victory on climate legislation,” said Whitehouse.  “This testimony will help Congress show how the worst adversaries of climate action in Washington, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, do this polluting industry’s dirty work.  Thank you to all the witnesses for sharing their insights with the committee.”

For decades, giant corporations – from Big Tobacco to lead paint manufacturers to Big Oil – have used secret channels of influence to block action to protect the public from the harms caused by their products.  Scientists, activists, and watchdog groups have tracked those corporate misinformation campaigns, including how anonymous funding of corporate front groups and trade associations can be exposed and neutralized.  Witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing discussed the latest research on dark money climate obstruction and what lessons can be learned from past efforts to combat corporate deceit, including how amenable dark money is to congressional oversight.

Witnesses at the hearing included Professor Justin Farrell of Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Professor Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University; Morton Rosenberg, a Congressional Scholar at the watchdog Project on Government Oversight and formerly of the Congressional Research Service; and Dylan Tanner, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the watchdog group Influence Map.

Copies of witnesses’ opening statements are available here:

Joining Whitehouse and Schatz for the hearing were special committee members Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tammy Smith (D-MN).  Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) also took part in the hearing.

The Special Committee on the Climate Crisis seeks to prioritize oversight and investigation of the efforts of special interests to foster climate denial; convene meetings and conduct outreach with frontline communities impacted by climate change, as well as experts from the environmental, national security, and finance and economic development communities; and hold a series of hearings through 2019 and 2020, including expert witnesses and testimonials.




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