February 12, 2018

Time to Wake Up: U.S. Chamber

Mr. President, in that event, let me commence my 196th ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ climate speech.

The last year has been a lousy one for environmental policy in the United States. While the rest of the world began implementing the Paris Agreement to reduce the carbon emissions that are changing our climate and our oceans, this proud body, the U.S. Senate, sat on its hands. When President Trump handed the keys to his administration over to what I call the three stooges of the fossil fuel industry—Pruitt, Perry, and Zinke—the Senate sat on its hands. The recent interview with British journalist Piers Morgan shows Trump willing to make a scientific fool of himself on the question of climate change to please the general managers pulling the strings of his administration, the Koch brothers. This record puts them all way out of line—way out of line—with most Americans. Overwhelming numbers of younger Americans demand climate action and plan to hold politicians who stand in its way accountable. Faith groups, universities, State and local governments, and businesses have stepped up their climate leadership. Businesses hear from their customers and know the American people want action, but if corporate America is serious about climate action in Washington, corporate America needs to explain why the Big Business lobby groups in this town—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers—stand so resolutely in the way of climate action. These three industry groups have been instrumental in blocking climate action, using lobbying, dark money election spending, and threats of dark money election spending.

Today, I want to take a look at the biggest and swampiest of the three, the so-called U.S. Chamber of Commerce. First, let’s clear up some common misperceptions about the chamber. It is not a government agency, and it bears almost no relation to your hometown chamber of commerce.

Instead of representing the interests of small businesses, the chamber represents the interests of giant corporations, international corporations, and the ultra-rich. The chamber president, Tom Donohue, admitted as much in a letter to the tobacco company Philip Morris. He wrote that small businesses ‘‘provide the foot soldiers, and often the political cover, for issues big companies want pursued.’’ Why this service to giant corporations and the ultra-rich? Easy answer: They pay the bills. The vast majority of the chamber’s $275-million-per-year budget comes from just a handful of donors. For instance, in 2014, just 119 donations accounted for over $160 million of the chamber’s fundraising haul.

Who are these donors? Well, the chamber doesn’t want you to know. It does all it can to resist transparency, but thanks to voluntary disclosures by some corporations and the tax filings of some nonprofit groups, we know that its donors include many of America’s biggest corporations as well as political front groups run by the billionaire Koch brothers and Karl Rove. The chamber took in at least $5.5 million from Koch-backed groups between 2012 and 2014, and a Karl Rove-affiliated group gave the chamber $5.25 million in 2014 alone. It would be interesting to know how much of the Karl Rove money is actually Koch money laundered through the Karl Rove front group.

What does the chamber do with all of this money? It lobbies, it litigates, and it runs political attack ads on television, radio, and the internet.

Let’s start with the lobbying. The chamber spends far more than anyone else in lobbying the Federal Government. It spent more than $80 million last year alone—far more than any individual company. Over the last 20 years, the chamber has spent more than $1.4 billion—that is billion with a ‘‘b’’ and the nine zeros after it—in lobbying the Federal Government. That is three times more than the next largest lobbying spender—a swamp monster, indeed.

Much of this lobbying is against environmental policies, with the chamber’s lobbying Congress, the White House, the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior on behalf of—yes, you guessed it—the fossil fuel companies. The chamber champions the fossil fuel agenda. It opposes limits on carbon emissions and supports drilling and mining on public lands and in offshore waters. The chamber champions only the fossil fuel energy agenda and attacks renewable energy despite that industry’s being responsible for more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. In 2016, for instance, the chamber lobbied the Federal Government on at least 14 separate issues in favor of the oil and gas industry and on at least 7 issues in favor of the coal industry. On renewable energy, there were zero—not one. It was the chamber that paid for the debunked study that claimed the Paris Agreement would kill jobs and weaken economic growth, which Trump cited as justification for withdrawing from that agreement.

The chamber also spends a lot of effort in importuning the courts. In a recent 3-year period, the chamber was involved in roughly 500 cases as either a plaintiff or an amicus curiae—an interested party deemed a ‘‘friend of the court.’’

Once again, the chamber fronted for the fossil fuel industry. In just 3 years, it sued the EPA 15 times and filed amicus briefs against the EPA in another 11 cases, making the EPA the chamber’s most frequent target in court. The chamber sued against the Clean Power Plan and has consistently opposed the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The chamber also wrote an amicus brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down limits on election spending. It got its wish in the Citizens United decision. Citizens United allowed dark money groups—outside groups—to spend unlimited sums in corrupting our elections. The chamber and the fossil fuel industry have been the biggest beneficiaries—the biggest users—of this horrible decision. Over the last 10 years, the chamber has spent more than $150 million in dark money on Federal elections, and we don’t know how much it has spent on State elections other than we know it has contributed millions to other outside spending groups that are active at the State level.

In 2016, the chamber was the largest dark money spender in congressional races. It often ran vicious attack ads in races across the country. Many of these ads supported the fossil fuel agenda. Here is one from the 2016 Senate race in Pennsylvania. The chamber was again the largest dark money spender on this race in its having spent over $6 million. It ran a series of attack ads against Katie McGinty and slammed her for supporting legislation to reduce carbon emissions. Here is the ad:

A couple of moms are watching their kids, and the kids are playing on the playground. One is complaining that McGinty supports taxing energy from fossil fuels, and the other mom remarks as to how much energy their kids have, to which the first replies: Oh, if McGinty finds out about that, she will tax the kids. Right on cue, an actor who is supposed to represent McGinty, the candidate, arrives—of course in a chauffeured black sedan— ready to tax the energetic kids. The ad ends with one mother screaming at her son, Jimmy, to run away.

So that is what we get—the chamber as the enforcer for the fossil fuel industry. Dare to support climate action or oppose fossil fuel interests, and the chamber will go after you with everything it has. It is actually worse than that because there is one thing more insidious than spending millions of dollars on attack ads, and that is the threat of spending millions of dollars on attack ads. You see, once Citizens United allowed the chamber and other outside election spending groups to spend unlimited funds, the corollary was that it could threaten to spend those unlimited funds. All the chamber and other outside election spending groups now have to do is threaten to fund a challenger in order to bring many candidates and elected officials to heel. This Citizens United-sanctioned intimidation explains why we cannot make good climate policy in Washington, and the chamber is its leading proponent.

Several big American companies have stopped funding the chamber over its anti-climate agenda. Apple, PG&E, Costco, Hewlett-Packard, Starbucks, Mars, and others have all left. Yet plenty of other corporate climate champions still fund the chamber. It is unbelievable but true.

Here is an ad that was run last spring by several big companies that urged Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement. These companies—Facebook, Gap Inc., Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Salesforce— signed this full-page ad that supported the Paris Agreement. At the same time, they were donors to the chamber, which was out attacking the Paris Agreement. How do you publicly support the Paris Agreement while funding the swamp monster that attacks the Paris Agreement?

The Trump administration is also seeking to cut funding for renewable energy research by 72 percent. America’s business leaders should want to maintain U.S. technological leadership and create millions of high-paying, clean energy jobs in the future, but the chamber’s so-called Global Energy Institute’s website is promoting Keystone XL, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and offshore drilling. I kid you not— offshore drilling. Facebook, Gap Inc., Google, Intel, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Salesforce—offshore drilling? What do you bet those companies won’t take out full-page ads to support offshore drilling? They do come to Washington to lobby, but when Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Salesforce came to lobby Congress through their trade association TechNet, they didn’t even mention climate change. They didn’t even make clean energy a priority. Instead, they fund the biggest, baddest opponent of climate action and clean energy.

Why do companies that are so committed to increasing their own use of renewable energy not lobby Congress in favor of renewable energy? It is a battle here, folks. Where is the corporate cavalry?

As long as pro-climate companies do nothing in Congress and allow fossil fuel front groups like the chamber to be their voices here in Washington, how do they expect to make progress? The Chamber of Commerce they fund throws around hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and elections to ensure that Congress will not take the climate action they seek. What are Facebook, Gap, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Salesforce waiting for? Do they expect some kind of immaculate political conception of a climate bill—climate action that suddenly floats magically down from the clouds? It is not like they don’t lobby themselves. For Pete’s sake, they know how the game is played. They just don’t lobby for this. They just don’t lobby for climate action.

Look, good corporate policies on climate are important. They are very important. I get that, and I appreciate that. But we know well that good corporate policies will not reach those Paris climate goals. To reach those goals, you have to pass a bill. You have to do something on climate here in Congress. When the fossil fuel industry’s blockade stopping such a bill is right here in Congress, this is a battlefield you have to show up on. It is great to take out ads—it helps—but it would really help to be present here in Congress and accounted for.

Fighting for climate action in Washington is indispensable in order to finally break the stranglehold of the chamber and its dark money allies. So please, corporate America, show up. I yield the floor.