Corporate America Pays to Send Global Warming Deniers to Capitol Hill

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The price of Goldman Sachs stock is shown at a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. January 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Goldman Sachs has donated $1.76 million to climate change deniers on the hill since 2008. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

If you wonder why so many members of Congress are in denial when it comes to climate change, follow the money. This week, Forecast the Facts and SumOfUs, two grassroots groups working to sway public opinion about global warming, took a step toward holding legislators accountable with the release of a new report exposing the companies that since 2008, according to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, have bankrolled the “Climate Denier Caucus” to the tune of $641 million in campaign contributions.

Many of these companies claim to be working to fight global warming,  even as their dollars help send climate change “skeptics” to Capitol Hill. The report not only names names, but also highlights the apparent disconnect between political spending and corporate public relations efforts. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told an audience that gathered to laud the company’s efforts to build “a better web that is better for the environment” that “you can lie about the effects of climate change, but eventually you’ll be seen as a liar.” At the same time, the company whose motto is “do no evil” has kicked in almost $700,000 for Congressional climate deniers since 2008.

That was far less than the $3.3 million AT&T has showered on the science deniers in that same period, a figure that represents “more than 25 percent of its total campaign funding” during that time. The company’s Climate and Carbon Emissions Policy says that AT&T is “committed to operating in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner …[and] to working with our suppliers to limit environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions in our supply chain.” UPS promises its customers that the company “will be part of the solution to discover more opportunities for improvement with our industry partners and other thought leaders. It will take determination and collaboration…to create a sustainable transportation infrastructure that will minimize environmental impact.” But that ethos didn’t spill over into their campaign spending — since 2008, UPS has donated close to $2 million to the campaigns of climate change deniers on Capitol Hill.

Other companies that made the list despite “strong rhetorical commitments to climate action” include Microsoft, Ford and eBay.

The study doesn’t capture all of corporate America’s support for the anti-science caucus; the authors point out that the report doesn’t include “contributions from corporate-friendly advocacy groups, such as the Club for Growth, which has given $3.7 million to climate deniers since 2008.”

Many of the companies bankrolling these politicians would say donations were made because the legislators support corporate tax breaks, financial deregulation or myriad other business-friendly policies. While that may be true in a narrow sense — firms in the energy sector were only the third biggest contributors to the denial caucus — when companies support politicians along their career paths, they are ultimately responsible for what they do once in office.  With new research finding that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” and with corporations, business groups and deep-pocketed donors calling the shots, that responsibility is especially pronounced. That’s why corporate disclosure of political spending enjoys broad appeal with the American public and is vitally important for democracy.

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