In the run-up to the U.S. elections set to take place Nov. 2, the
amount of money being spent and eccentricities on display have reached
record levels. This has been particularly obvious in debates over
energy and climate change.
The U.S. will vote on candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of
Representatives as well as on numerous state governorships and other
issues next week. With a new court decision allowing unrestricted – and
unprecedented – spending by corporations and unions in this year's
election, one emerging trend has been the huge amounts of money
flowing from corporate interests – both domestic and foreign – to
candidates who deny climate change or oppose legislation to combat it.
stakes are high. The U.S. failed to pass to pass legislation to limit
its industrial greenhouse gas emissions prior to the climate conference
in Copenhagen last December and most expect strong legislative action
to be months or years away.
Meanwhile, the issue of climate
change is being used by conservative candidates to rally support from
right-wing voters, such as those affiliated with the Tea Party
No Republican running for a Senate seat openly supports
limiting greenhouse gas emissions, as the proposal for a cap and
trade system approved by the U.S. House but rejected by the Senate in
2009 would have done. Many candidates even actively deny the validity
of climate change and the science behind it.
In Virginia, for
example, incumbent Congressman Tom Perriello, a Democrat, has faced a
tough battle from his challenger, Republican Robert Hurt, who has used
Perriello's "yes" vote for the cap and trade bill in the U.S. House to
woo voters who buy the argument that the bill would have cost hundreds
of thousands of jobs.
The issue of climate change action has been used in a similar way in races around the country.
California, which has the country's toughest emissions restrictions,
the picture is slightly different, since those very restrictions are
themselves on the ballot. Next Tuesday voters in California will decide
whether or not to overturn the emissions limits that, if left in
place, are expected to be used as a model for emissions legislation in
other states and even at the national level.
The implications of
that vote have not been lost on U.S. corporate interests, which have
poured in money from other states. Texas-based oil and gas companies
Valero and Tesoro have combined to contribute about 7.5 million dollars
to getting California's climate change law suspended.
stakes even higher for the many nascent but fast- growing clean energy
companies in the state, though, this pro-suspension spending has been
dwarfed by campaign money spent in support of it by about a three to
Overall, this year's election season – called a
midterm election since there is no presidential campaign – have far
outstripped previous midterm elections in the amount of money raised
and spent. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which tracks these
figures on its website OpenSecrets.org, predicts the current
election's campaigns will end up costing 3.7 billion dollars or more,
surpassing 2006's then-record spending by about a billion dollars.
fundraising and spending figures are fairly close between Democrats
and Republicans, CRP notes, but "identifiably conservative" organizations are spending twice as much on advertisements and
communications than liberal ones. These funds largely come from
corporations which are able to avoid public scrutiny for their
endorsements through setting up and funding these organizations' work.
of millions of dollars of is now coming from organizations who, by
law, need not disclose their donors," says CRP's executive director,
Sheila Krumholz. "It's now more difficult than ever for voters to
determine whether the outside groups flooding their television and
radio airwaves with political messages are doing so for any reason
other than promoting their own, narrow set of special interests."
change regulation is one area where those groups are certainly
interested in promoting their special interests, and a recent report by
Climate Action Network Europe (CANE) shows that even foreign companies
are interested in the implications of these domestic elections.
report says some of Europe's top greenhouse gas-emitting companies –
the same ones, it says, that argue additional emission reductions in
Europe must wait for the U.S. to limit its emissions – have been
funding some of the most notorious climate deniers in the U.S. Senate
Nearly 80 percent of the $306,100 contributed by European
corporations Bayer, BASF, Solvay, Lafarge, BP, GDF-SUEZ,
Arcelor-Mittal and EON has gone to those who oppose U.S. action on
climate change, CANE says, amounting to what it calls a hijacking of
U.S. elections by foreign corporate interests and a hypocrisy in that
these companies often tout their green credentials.
disturbing that these European polluters fund anti- climate crusaders in
the U.S. while simultaneously fighting against strong climate
legislation in Europe," Tomas Wyns, senior policy officer at CANE, said
in releasing the report Monday.
The effect of all this spending
is still unclear. While California's climate regulations are expected
to survive, Republicans are widely expected to earn a majority of seats
in the U.S. House – and maybe even in the Senate.
If that happens, U.S. climate legislation – already a distant hope – becomes more distant still.
the still poor economy and hostile political environment, Eileen
Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, sees
the outcome of the elections as "likely to make advancing climate
policy an even tougher fight than we experienced over the last two
"I think I speak for most of those working on this issue
in Washington when I say the chances of passing a major climate bill
in the next two years are nearly zero," Claussen told an energy and
business convention in Tel Aviv last week.