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Billionaires secretly control the EPA: report

Shawna Ohm

Saving the environment is usually looked at as a positive thing, but a new report from Senate Republicans alleges a shady underbelly in the quest to save the forest (and other environmental causes).

The report – “How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” – is 92 pages. It looks at, “An elite group of left wing millionaires and billionaires, which this report refers to as the ‘Billionaire’s Club,’ who directs and controls the far left environmental movement, which in turn controls major policy decisions.”

The report alleges that billionaires are donating large funds to intermediaries, which then donate to tax-exempt nonprofits, which in turn lobby the government.

“These wealthy liberals fully exploit the benefits of a generous tax code,” the report says. “Instead of furthering a noble purpose, their tax deductible contributions secretly flow to a select group of left wing activists who are complicit and eager to participate in a fee-for-service arrangement to promote shared political goals.”

We asked Ken Vogel – who studies the money behind political campaigns and recently authored a book on the topic (Big Money: $2.5B, 1 Suspicious Vehicle & a Pimp)– about the report.

“There are, in fact, these very intricate complicated webs of outside groups on both sides of the aisle that are finding new ways to steer money into politics, often without the kind of disclosure that voters and reporters have come to expect,” Vogel said.

Not only that, it’s become a partisan talking point, even though everyone is doing it.

“Both sides are trying to make an issue of the other side’s big money support,” said Vogel. “The billionaires are becoming players in and of themselves.”

The issue of billionaires’ political capital isn’t new. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled against government restrictions on spending in support of (or against) a political candidate.

In April of this year, the Court made it easier still to spend big on campaigns – this time, by eliminating donation caps.

The trouble with this, according to Vogel, is that politicians start thinking about issues not in terms of what’s best for the country or their constituents, but in terms of what’s best for these big-money donors.

“If you need these billionaire benefactors [in order] to get reelected you’re going to do things that you think are in their interest,” he said.

Vogel sees irony in that, though. He says billionaires don’t always donate to causes with the intent of boosting their bottom line.

“Many of these folks, we should say, are motivated more by a political philosophy than by a desire to take advantage by gaming the system,” said Vogel.

But for average Americans frustrated by the money pouring into campaigns, change may be difficult.

“There have been efforts to clamp down on the flow of money into politics,” points out Vogel.

Democrats are floating a campaign finance amendment to the Constitution. The proposed 28th amendment would overturn the Supreme Court’s recent rulings. Amendments are traditionally approved by two thirds of both houses of Congress and then three quarters of the states.

“I’ve got to think it’s very unlikely that we would see a constitutional amendment,” said Vogel. “And I think that generally, the appetite for actually passing laws that restrict the flow of money is pretty limited in Congress; let’s not forget these guys got elected under the current system. It’s going to pretty hard for them to turn around and they say, ‘No, we don’t want the money.’”