From left, Lee Lull of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, David Hyde of Move to Amend, Daniel Lewkow of Common Cause, and state Rep. Peter Buckley took part Thursday in a panel discussion moderated by Jeff Golden, host of "Immense Possibilities" on Southern Oregon Public Television.
Led by Common Cause Oregon, a group of local activists warned Ashlanders on Thursday how the oil industry is dumping “dirty money” into attack ads, lobbying and political campaigns to try and block climate change bills at the state level.
The oil industry and its allies donated $265,000 to six legislators, including $120,500 to the House Republican leader — and spent $2.2 million on lobbying against the 2015 Clean Fuels Bill, which is 10 times what environmental groups spent, said Daniel Lewkow, political director of Common Cause Oregon, at the Thursday gathering at Unitarian Church.
The fiercely-contested bill passed into law. It lowers carbon in transportation fuels by 10 percent over the next decade, in an attempt to cut greenhouse gases causing global warming. It was projected to raise gasoline 4 to 19 cents in that time.
Lewkow faulted Oregon for being one of the few states with no contribution limit for a single donor, adding that “dark money” is regularly passed through “multiple shell organizations” so the original donor is not known. Common Cause, he says, sleuths out such donors. Contributors to the $2.2 million fight against the bill, he says, include Associated General Contractors, Oregon Loggers, Farm Bureau and Associated Oregon Industries.
“This time, big oil lost,” he said, adding that it’s imperative to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that essentially regards corporations and unions as people, whose contributions cannot be limited by laws.
State Rep. Peter Buckley said only The Oregonian is providing thorough coverage of the legislature and other media need to step up to the job. That newspaper opposed the bill and tried to tie it to fallen Gov. John Kitzhaber and his girlfriend Cylvia Hayes, who worked on similar legislation, he notes.
Voters backing environmental and climate progress need to create “sustained increasing pressure,” Buckley adds, because that’s what the oil lobby is doing.
Public funding of elections, possibly with tax-paid vouchers which voters can give to the candidate of their choice, is a critical step to get big corporate money out of elections, says Lewkow. Buckley suggested it might help to avoid such a “toxic reaction” from the right if Gov. Kate Brown focused on selling carbon credits to the industry as they move to cleaner fuels.
Lobbies for the environment and social justice in Salem are “overwhelmed and outnumbered,” he adds.
Panelist David Hyde of Move to Amend decried the “rampant inequality” between corporations and people — and the loss of civil liberties — because of the “personhood” granted via Citizens United. He called for education, organization and action to end the cycle of “wealth-power-legislation-wealth … in this oligarchy we live in.”
Panelist Lee Lull of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now warned that global warming is “accelerating much faster than science expected and we need massive government intervention if there’s to be any hope for the environment.” She called the present legislative system “legalized bribery,” with climate change deniers armed in Congress with twice the funding as environmentalists, yet 97 percent of science believe the planet is warming and it’s human-caused. The industry is able to fund a huge campaign of “disinformation” about climate change, she said, persuading the public to its view by the simple act of repetition of its message.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling [at] jeffnet.org.