Fio­r­ina and her bil­lion­aire back­ers

Los Angeles Times - - Op - Ed - TIM RUT­TEN ti­mothy.rut­ten@latimes.com

Cal­i­for­nia, birthplace of the mod­ern en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment, re­mains one of the green­est of blue states, even while it strug­gles to cope with lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment un­seen since the De­pres­sion.

That makes the bud­ding re­la­tion­ship be­tween Repub­li­can sen­a­to­rial can­di­date Carly Fio­r­ina and bil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ists David and Charles Koch all the odder. The Kochs own and run Amer­ica’s sec­ond-largest pri­vately held com­pany, Koch In­dus­tries — an amal­gam of oil, gas, pipe­line, chem­i­cal, fer­til­izer and wood prod­ucts com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia-Pa­cific. Lump them to­gether, and the Koch broth­ers have the coun­try’s third-largest for­tune — $35 bil­lion — af­ter Bill Gates and War­ren Buf­fett.

Ac­cord­ing to a New Yorker pro­file, the Koch broth­ers’ fa­ther was one of the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the John Birch So­ci­ety, and his sons em­braced his con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics, ul­ti­mately drift­ing into the an­ar­chist-in­flected wing of the lib­er­tar­ian move­ment. They’re cur­rently ma­jor fun­ders of the “tea party” and of con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can can­di­dates across the coun­try.

Though one brother lives in Wi­chita, Kan., and the other in Man­hat­tan, they seem to be tak­ing a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics this year. They helped mount the cam­paign for Propo­si­tion 23, the bal­lot mea­sure that es­sen­tially would gut AB 32, the state law man­dat­ing lower car­bon emis­sions as a step to­ward ad­dress­ing global warm­ing. A Koch In­dus­tries PAC has also do­nated $5,000 to Fio­r­ina, and the com­pany was among the spon­sors of a Washington fundraiser for her Thurs­day night.

Af­ter a good deal of back and forth, Fio­r­ina — who also sup­ports off­shore oil drilling, an­other Koch fa­vorite — re­cently en­dorsed Propo­si­tion 23, just as the Koch broth­ers’ com­pany pumped $1mil­lion into its cam­paign. This month, Sacra­mento Bee colum­nist Dan Morain noted that, while the broth­ers’ oil com­pa­nies stand to profit might­ily from Propo­si­tion 23’s pas­sage, they also have an in­ter­est in see­ing that other states don’t em­u­late Cal­i­for­nia’s at­tempt to re­duce car­bon emis­sions.

Two years ago, this state adopted model air-qual­ity reg­u­la­tions curb­ing can­cer-caus­ing emis­sions of formalde­hyde in the for­est prod­ucts in­dus­try. Fed­eral in­ter­est in adopt­ing sim­i­lar curbs is caus­ing Ge­or­gia-Pa­cific no end of grief.

As the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote re­cently in the first de­tailed jour­nal­is­tic pro­file of the Kochs and their ac­tiv­i­ties, they “are long­time lib­er­tar­i­ans who be­lieve in dras­ti­cally lower per­sonal and cor­po­rate taxes, min­i­mal so­cial ser­vices for the needy and much less over­sight of in­dus­try — es­pe­cially en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion.”

Koch In­dus­tries was named re­cently in a study as “one of the top 10 air pol­luters in the United States,” the ar­ti­cle noted, and “Green­peace is­sued a re­port iden­ti­fy­ing the com­pany as a ‘king­pin of cli­mate sci­ence de­nial.’ The re­port showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly out­did ExxonMo­bil in giv­ing money to or­ga­ni­za­tions fight­ing leg­is­la­tion re­lated to cli­mate change.”

For years, ac­cord­ing to the New Yorker ar­ti­cle, the broth­ers and their com­pany funded or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing “en­vi­ron­men­tal skep­ti­cism,” in­clud­ing the no­tion that acid rain is “a myth.”

Charles Lewis, founder of the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity, told Mayer that when it comes to the amount of money they do­nate to pol­i­tics, “the Kochs are on a whole dif­fer­ent level.... They are the Stan­dard Oil of our times.”

Or­ga­ni­za­tions that monitor em­ploy­ment prac­tices also cite Koch In­dus­tries as one of the most ruth­less ex­porters of Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to for­eign coun­tries. Be­fore she was ousted as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hewlett-Packard, Fio­r­ina laid off 30,000 work­ers and out­sourced thou­sands of po­si­tions abroad, so per­haps the Kochs sense a kin­dred spirit.

It’s hard to see that many Cal­i­for­ni­ans will. Polls show that two-thirds of them sup­port AB 32. They un­der­stand the threat posed by global warm­ing, which — as En­ergy Sec­re­tary and No­bel physics lau­re­ate Steven Chu said in an in­ter­view last year — is a “lo­cal is­sue” here. With­out greater con­trols on car­bon emis­sions, Chu said, “you’re look­ing at a sce­nario where there’s no more agri­cul­ture in Cal­i­for­nia. When you lose 70% of your wa­ter from the moun­tains, I don’t see how agri­cul­ture can con­tinue. Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces 20% of the agri­cul­ture in the United States. I don’t ac­tu­ally see how they can keep their cities go­ing.”

That’s a lot to risk, though Fio­r­ina seems to be­lieve not too much to keep the Kochs happy — and win a Se­nate seat.

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