The US House Oversight and Reform Committee kicked off its investigation of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long climate change disinformation campaign last fall by inviting top executives from BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell to testify about their role and subpoenaing their companies for internal documents.
The committee followed up that hearing — during which the executives disingenuously denied funding such a campaign — with another hearing on February 8 focusing on the oil companies’ inadequate plans to cut their carbon emissions. The next round is slated to feature board directors from the same four oil companies testifying on their companies’ climate pledges, followed by testimony from social media companies and advertising agencies about the part they have played in manufacturing doubt about climate change.
But before the committee wraps up its investigation, it would be sorely remiss if it didn’t haul in libertarian industrialist Charles Koch, the Daddy Warbucks of climate disinformation, for questioning.
The 20th-richest person in the world with a net worth of $58 billion, Koch, 86, is the longtime CEO of Koch Industries, a conglomerate that owns oil refineries and pipelines; markets crude oil, coal, chemicals, wood pulp and paper; trades energy derivatives; and boasts annual revenues of $115 billion. The second-largest privately held company in the country, Koch Industries is one of the top 25 US corporate water and carbon polluters, is a defendant in a climate accountability lawsuit brought by the state of Minnesota, and is continuing to operate its businesses in Russia while Koch-backed groups oppose US sanctions imposed on the Kremlin after it invaded Ukraine.
Koch family-controlled foundations donated more than $145 million to a network of 90 think tanks and advocacy groups from 1997 through 2018 to disparage climate science and block efforts to address climate change. Since the death of Charles Koch’s brother David in 2019, the Charles Koch Foundation has continued to finance this disinformation campaign, giving more than $17 million to 23 groups in 2019 and 2020, pushing the Koch grand total north of $162 million. By contrast, the second-largest funder of climate disinformation, ExxonMobil, spent $39.2 million on some 70 denier groups from 1998 through 2020.
To maintain leverage on Capitol Hill, Koch Industries’ political action committee (PAC), affiliates and employees also contribute significantly more to federal candidates, party committees, outside groups, leadership PACs and 527 groups than their counterparts at BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil, or Shell. In the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, Koch Industries’ total outlay of $26.7 million was more than the $21.7 million the four oil and gas companies contributed collectively.
In addition, Koch Industries spent more than $38 million on its Washington lobbying operation during the last two full election cycles, from 2017 through 2020. That’s slightly less than ExxonMobil’s $40.98 million and Chevron’s $39.47 million, but the company enjoyed a distinct advantage over the two oil giants besides outspending them on campaign contributions: President Donald Trump’s transition team head, Vice President Mike Pence — a longtime Koch network veteran who played a key role in promoting the Koch-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax” pledge when he was in the House — tapped at least 50 Koch network alumni to work inside the Trump administration. They included Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short. Egged on by Koch devotees both inside and outside the government, the Trump administration rolled back at least 260 regulations, including more than 100 environmental rules.
The Biden administration cleared out the Koch disciples when it took office and is in the process of rolling back the Trump rollbacks, but Koch and his donor network still hold considerable sway over the Republican Party. They will continue to spend hundreds of millions on Capitol Hill and, looking ahead to 2024, a number of Koch network stalwarts are considering a run for president, including Pence, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Florida Sen. Rick Scott. The Koch network, with its toxic anti-government bias, will likely cast a long shadow over Washington for years to come.
Decades of Disinformation
For more than two decades, the Koch network has been diligently spreading disinformation to sabotage efforts to transition to a clean energy economy, more often than not by attacking proposed climate policies on economic grounds. Examples of its malfeasance are legion: