Checks and Balances Project Welcomes New Senior Fellow Joel Francis

Joel A. Francis, Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project

Joel A. Francis, C&BP Senior Fellow

I am excited for this opportunity to continue my earlier work advocating for a healthier climate future. Much has changed since my last foray when I challenged the Koch Brothers to debate the merits of California’s landmark AB 32, the law aimed at reducing California’s carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.

One thing remains the same: the reality that our dependence on fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

The science is settled and clear and demands we take steps to secure a healthier environment. We must push back against the bought and paid for propaganda of the fossil fuel industry. Just as no one who believes that the world is flat would be taken seriously, so too should we rebuke those who claim that the jury is still out on climate change or that it would be too damaging to our economy to address now.

I look forward to working with the Checks and Balances Project to further expose these modern-day flat-earthers and the significant impact they and their financial largesse have on our nation’s policy discussions around climate change.

Joel A. Francis

Senior Fellow, Checks and Balances Project

Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel Welfare

This week the American Energy Alliance and its President Thomas J. Pyle released a slanted poll meant to deliberately deceive the public by forgetting about 150 years of subsidies paid to the oil, gas, and coal industries. Its questions were carefully written to manufacture public opposition to tax credits that would spur the growth of the wind energy industry, as well as the EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

“The federal government has been giving special treatment to green energy for decades either directly through handouts like the wind [Production Tax Credit] or indirectly through red tape like EPA’s proposed power plant rule,” Pyle wrote in an email to The Hill.

Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel WelfareI sent an email to Mr. Pyle and asked him about the poll. Nearly half of the 30 questions asked directly or indirectly about clean energy policy support. “I’m curious why you spent so much time on these types of questions when you didn’t ask any questions directly about welfare checks for fossil fuel companies?” I asked. I eagerly await his response.

Lavish subsidies

As a former lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and for Koch Industries, Pyle should be intimately aware of the lavish subsides given to the fossil fuel industry. A report issued in April 2014 by Oil Change International shows that subsidies to oil, gas, and coal exploration and production companies continue to grow and totaled some $21.6 billion in 2013 alone. In fact, the fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies have increased by 45 percent since 2009.

Koch… Again?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that Koch Industries co-owner and CEO Charles Koch founded AEA’s parent organization, the anti-clean energy Institute for Energy Research (IER), according to documents recently uncovered by Republic Report.  Most of the Koch fortune comes from the oil and gas industry.

As for the poll itself, it was conducted by MWR Strategies, a company that also lobbies for the fossil fuel industry. According to, MWR Strategies was paid $470K from Koch; $570 from American Electric Power, and $770K from Southern Company. That, together with the nature of the poll questions themselves, calls into question the validity of the poll.

Why are they all so afraid of clean energy? We’re curious.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks & Balances Project , a watchdog group that holds government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Koch Bros, Getting Richer While the World Burns

Authored by David Halperin of Republic Report & designed by Wake Coulter


The Maine Players Attacking Renewable Energy: The Koch Brothers

In a new report, the Maine Conservation Alliance asks: are we debating renewable energy, or the Koch brothers’ profits?”

Maine RPS StudyMaine’s renewable energy standards have been the prime target of the Koch Machine – front groups, think tanks, and legislators with financial ties to Koch Industries and its two billionaire owners: the Koch brothers.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to provide 30% of their energy through renewable sources, has led to $2 billion in investment and over 2500 local jobs. It has proven to be great for Maine’s economy – but it threatens the profit margins of fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries, which pumps 300 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.

To dismantle the RPS, the Koch brothers have been extending influence through a legislative front group – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). ALEC has contributed over $750,000 to political action committees, candidates, and parties in Maine. Senator Mike Thibodeau, one of the anti-RPS bill’s co-sponsors, has received over $15,000 from ALEC-affiliated organizations.

It is the civic duty of Mainers to decide for themselves what is best for the state’s environment and economy, not an out-of-state corporate interest. The Maine Conservation Alliance affirms that the economy is not for sale.

Tobacco, Tea Party, and Dirty Energy: Lobbyist C. Boyden Gray


As someone with deep ties to right-wing political circles, and strong financial ties to the tobacco industry, C. Boyden Gray fits the bill as the ideal lobbyist for the dirty energy industry. Dirty energy in many ways is the successor to the tobacco industry, given how it uses front groups and pundits to avoid public health regulations.

With impending EPA regulations for coal and gas, Gray and other lobbyists are getting busy trying to block progress on rules that would curb pollution and global warming.

C. Boyden Gray is an heir to the RJ Reynolds tobacco fortune – his grandfather was CEO of the company – and the co-chair and board member of the Tea Party powerhouse FreedomWorks Foundation.  Gray is also a lobbyist for one of the worst coal corporations in America – FirstEnergy – and an outspoken critic of reforms that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Those three groups – tobacco, tea party, and dirty energy – have become inextricably tied together. Through fossil fuel-funded front groups, the dirty energy industry has copied tactics from Big Tobacco’s infamous operations to manufacture doubt about clear scientific evidence, with pundits and lobbyists like Gray fueling climate change denial and attacking environmental and health regulations.

Gray is a founding partner of the lobbying firm Boyden Gray & Associates, where he advocates for the fossil fuel corporation FirstEnergy Corp., named one of the top 10 worst corporations in America in 2006, among others. Prior to the founding of his firm, he was a lawyer and lobbyist at Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering (now WilmerHale), where he represented clients facing federal sanctions for violating environmental laws. Many of his clients faced significant federal criminal prosecutions under the Clean Water Act. He counseled the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Liability Fund in litigation from the Exxon Valdez and American Trader oil spills, and he lobbied against the REACH bill, which required manufacturers to test industrial chemicals and to gather health and safety data.

Gray’s influence on environmental regulations extends beyond his days as a lobbyist.  Gray served as legal counsel to Vice President Bush from 1981-1988 and White House Counsel in the Bush’s presidential administration from 1989-1993.

His position in the White House, and later as chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE – predecessor to FreedomWorks), gave him power and influence, which he put to work for Big Tobacco.

In a letter found on the Tobacco Archives, Horace Kornegay of the Tobacco Institute wrote a hand-signed letter to Gray in 1981, asking for regulatory relief from “wasteful programs such as the annual reports on cigarettes and cigarette advertising.” Kornegay also urged Gray to “deal with” problems they were facing with antitrust litigation. Kornegay wrote to Gray again in 1982 to thank him for his advisement on the progress of the Presidential Task Force on Residential Relief.

In 1995, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) began drafting legislation for the “FDA Rule” – proposed tobacco regulations to prevent and reduce tobacco use by children. The intended regulations, finalized in 1996, would have been the strongest tobacco controls to date. The proposed controls included prohibiting non-face-to-face sales of tobacco products, prohibiting outdoor advertising of tobacco products near schools or playgrounds, imposing more stringent advertising regulations, and prohibiting brand name sponsorships.

During that year, Gray, as a Wilmer Cutler lawyer, testified on behalf of CSE to attack increased funding for the FDA before the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. Consequently, CSE lobbied hard against the FDA, calling Congressmen, meeting with allies, and advertising aggressively to emphasize problems with the FDA. Full-page ads were placed in the Washington Times and the Congressional Monitor, among other outlets.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that the FDA needed authority from Congress to pass the tobacco control bill, which didn’t become law until 2009, when President Obama finally signed the Tobacco Control Act.

After long partnership and deeply embedded ties with Big Tobacco, Gray has certainly picked up a few tactics on manufacturing doubt at the expense of the public welfare.

Currently, Gray writes a monthly column in The Washington Times, which he has used as an outlet to criticize environmental regulations, e.g. “Reducing Ozone Could Kill Jobs.” And, he recently warned of dire consequences in the case of stronger clean air regulations.

C. Boyden Gray, coal lobbyist and Tea Partier with Big Tobacco roots, is not alone. A recent academic study from UCSF confirms the connection between Big Tobacco and the Tea Party. The Tea Party’s anti-tax movements were traced back to the 1980s, when the tobacco industry fought taxes and regulation by way of third parties, such as CSE.

Climate change deniers and fossil fuel advocates are not only using the same tactics as Big Tobacco to promote skepticism, in many cases, like C. Boyden Gray, they are same people. These pundits and lobbyists know how to manufacture doubt around scientific consensus and convince Americans that public health protections are unnecessary. And when it comes to climate change, there’s no time to wait. Every delay makes it harder to prevent catastrophe. 

Donors Trust: The Secret Group Funding Attacks on Clean Energy & Climate Science

New research shows almost $120 million flowed from two secretive groups, called “Donors Trust” and “Donors Capital” to 102 groups denying climate science and attacking clean energy. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg reports that “the funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing ‘wedge issue’ for hardcore conservatives.”

Greenpeace research (.pdf) into the tax records of these organizations shows that publicly-disclosed funding for climate denial groups from foundations connected to the Koch Brothers began to decrease in 2006. But, funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund soared from less than $20 million per year to almost $35 million per year from 2006 to 2009. Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace said to the Guardian, “These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There’s no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them.”

Many of these organizations funded by Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are also working to attack clean energy. Goldenberg notes in a companion article that recipients, including groups like the Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have received millions from the two secretive organizations.

AFP, which received $7.6 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund in 2010 (43% of its budget), drove anti-wind efforts last fall, leading a coalition of fossil fuel-funded groups to write a letter calling on Congress to block tax credits for wind energy. The Washington Post reported in November 2012 that the Heartland Institute, which received $1.6 million from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund in 2010 (27% of its budget), joined with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push model legislation to state legislators in an effort to eliminate state clean energy standards across the country. In addition, organizations that are part of the State Policy Network (SPN), which received $4.8 million from Donors Trust in 2010 (36% of its budget), published reports bashing clean energy standards that are now likely being used to attack clean energy policies in states across the country (like Kansas and Ohio).

Furthermore, the Guardian revealed in a third story that Donors Trust bankrolled the Franklin Centre for Government and Public Integrity, a newly established organization founded in 2009, which is running a campaign to “stop state governments moving towards renewable energy.” The Franklin Centre has strong ties to American’s for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers, including former staff members of both AFP and a Koch Family Foundation according to a PR Watch investigation.

Are these attacks ideological? Or are other fossil fuel interests like the Koch Brothers funding these efforts to stop a potential market threat? We know that fossil fuel corporations that have a financial incentive to stop the growth of the clean energy industry and their benefactors and foundations have funded many of these groups over the years. With an ability to hide the money trail through groups like Donors Trust, I would bet fossil fuel interests continue to fund fake grassroots campaigns and front groups to attack clean energy.