After several months of New York Times angst over the supposed racist turn of the Republican Party, the front page of Monday’s New York Times featured a hostile report on a Koch brothers public relations campaign appealing to black voters, business reporter Hiroko Tabuchi’s “Koch Strategy Mixes Gospel And Oil Policy.” The online headline provided the inevitable Trump linkage: “Sensing Gains Ahead Under Trump, the Kochs Court Minorities.”
Beyond the “ultraconservative” labeling on the front page ("libertarian" would be more accurate for the Koch brothers, who also support judicial reform and gay marriage), Tabuchi found a left-wing environmentalist to smear as “racist” the effort by industrialists Charles and David Koch to convert minorities to their viewpoint on energy issues. Meanwhile, left-wing billionaires like George Soros manage to escape similar hostile scrutiny for their giving to media outlets -- a far more direct way to influence public opinion.
The crowd that thronged a gospel concert last month in Richmond, Va., was in for an unusual Christmas treat.
“Your energy bill’s paid!” the M.C. declared between soaring numbers from recording artists like VaShawn Mitchell and Charles Jenkins, calling to a young woman from the audience, who shrieked and started twirling on the floor.
Though few in the crowd knew it, the concert had a powerful sponsor: Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group for fossil fuels funded by Koch Industries, the oil and petrochemicals conglomerate led by the ultraconservative billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch. About halfway through the event, the music gave way to a panel discussion on how the holidays were made possible by energy -- cheap energy, like oil and gas.
The concert flier was adorned with a red car bearing Christmas gifts. “Thankful for the fuels and innovation that make modern life possible,” it read.
It’s not enough for the NYT to call the Koch Brothers, who made their fortune in energy, climate skeptics – they are deniers:
The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.
Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.
The Kochs’ public relations drive takes a page from minority outreach by other industry lobbies, like those representing tobacco and soft drinks. Those industries have long argued that stiffer regulations or taxes on cigarettes or sodas would disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities.
Tabuchi found an accommodating leftist to call the campaign racist.
Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.
In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire -- which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year -- and the wider fossil fuel industry.
In recent years, the industry has increased its sway among Republicans, supporting a rightward shift toward sharp cutbacks of Social Security and Medicare and the rollback of environmental protections. And the Kochs find themselves well positioned to influence the Trump administration, with many allies in important cabinet and transition posts.
Tabuchi went vague when she claims red state support for wind and solar power – even if that should be the criteria when evaluating energy efficiency claims.
But numerous polls show that a majority of American voters continue to support many environmental regulations, including those that govern carbon dioxide emissions. And there is significant support among voters, even in red states, for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which the Kochs have long worked to quash.
Fueling U.S. Forward seeks to narrow that schism by courting public support. The group is set to air ads in Virginia and Indiana, the news site Environment & Energy reported in September. The ads portray fossil fuels as the driver of human progress.
It remains unclear who else, apart from the Kochs, is financing Fueling U.S. Forward. It is registered as a nonprofit business association, a designation that allows its involvement in both lobbying and political activities. But because it is so new, it has not yet made public filings detailing its financial and other activities.
She even flyspecked little op-ed pieces that appeared on the websites of other publications (as if the NYT has a perfect record of disclosures).
On Dec. 14, Mr. Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, got an article published on The Atlantic’s website that promoted fertilizers made from natural gas, a product made by a Koch subsidiary. Mr. Fitzsimmons, who wrote the article, was initially described only as an energy policy analyst based in Washington.
After being contacted by The New York Times, The Atlantic said that though Mr. Fitzsimmons had disclosed his affiliation with the group, it had not been aware of his role as spokesman, and it appended an editor’s note to the article. Fueling U.S. Forward has featured the article prominently on both its Facebook page and Twitter feed, emphasizing that it appeared in The Atlantic.