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The GOP’s New War On Divestment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 8:31pm in

The GOP’s New War On Divestment

Republican state and federal lawmakers, their campaign coffers filled with fossil fuel donations, are quietly building a nationwide effort to pass anti-divestment bills that would punish financial institutions that consider the climate crisis in their business deals or try to do something about it by not working with fossil fuel companies.

The effort began last December, when a model bill written by former Texas state Rep. Jason Isaac (R), now director at the Charles Koch-funded think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, was unveiled at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s major gathering of conservative lawmakers. The model legislation, titled the “Energy Discrimination Elimination Act,” calls for states to identify and divest from financial institutions that boycott or otherwise penalize energy companies for falling short of environmental standards.

Since then, several states have introduced bills based on the model language, with two versions already becoming law. The push has also made its way to the national level. A federal bill proposed last month by the U.S. House’s top recipient of coal industry money would prohibit financial advisers from considering ESG — environmental, social, and corporate governance — factors⁠ when making investment decisions.

Now the fight against ESG considerations is spilling out of the halls of Congress and state legislatures. Last week, Utah’s Republican governor and its entire congressional delegation sent a letter to the credit rating agency S&P Global Ratings opposing the company’s plans to add ESG scores to its global credit ratings for state and local governments.

“S&P’s ESG credit indicators politicize what should be a purely financial decision,” the politicians argued in their letter, according to Bloomberg. The letter was celebrated on Twitter by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and by the State Financial Officers Foundation, a conservative nonprofit whose board of directors and advisory committee include ALEC executives.

The timeline illustrates the shadowy, concerted way the fossil fuel industry and its political lackeys are responding to the growing threat of the divestment movement. In recent years, climate activist organizations have been pushing financial institutions to stop financing fossil fuel companies, given fossil fuels’ role as the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions.

While the effort has been slow going, banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup have pledged to reduce their fossil fuel financing to align with the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. Now, in response, the oil and gas industry is trying to do everything in its power to actively punish financial institutions and advisors for trying to take reasonable steps to address the climate crisis.

“I Eat Coal For Breakfast”

Isaac’s model legislation was likely inspired by an anti-energy company boycott adopted by his home state last June. According to the new Texas law, which took effect last September, the state’s comptroller must create a list of financial companies that have limited their commercial relationships with energy companies over emissions concerns, and state investment funds would divest from those companies. Last month, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent letters to 19 finance companies he believes may be boycotting the fossil fuel industry.

The law had six authors, several of whom have received significant fossil fuel funding. State Sen. Drew Springer (R), for example, has raked in more than $220,000 from the oil and gas industry, making it his top career donor industry. The primary sponsor of the bill in the House, Rep. Ken King (R), has received $378,000 from the oil and gas industry. King’s side jobs include being president of oil well parts supplier Black Gold Pump and Supply and vice president of a family oilfield services business, King Well Service.

In the months after the Texas bill became law, its authors received additional donations from energy companies. State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R) received $1,000 from ExxonMobil PAC and $2,500 from Koch Industries PAC  in the second half of 2021. During that same period, state Sen. Bob Hall (R) received $2,500 from Centerpoint Energy PAC and $10,000 from Farris Wilks, an oil and gas industry billionaire whose recent investments in the industry include stakes in hydraulic fracking company U.S. Well Services and pressure pumping firm ProFrac.

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for other fossil fuel-funded lawmakers in other parts of the country to follow in Texas’ footsteps.

That included Democrat-turned-Republican Rupie Phillips, a West Virginia state senator, who is not shy about his support for the coal industry. His Twitter handle is @4WVCoal and his bio says: “I eat coal for breakfast.” Phillips abandoned the Democratic party in 2017, citing President Barack Obama’s advancing of regulations to reduce coal emissions as one of his reasons for his decision.

On January 13, 2022, Phillips introduced SB 262, which closely mirrors sections of the model bill Isaac proposed to ALEC the month before. The bill calls on the West Virginia state treasurer to compile a list of financial companies that limit their commercial relationships with energy companies because they “[engage] in the exploration, production, utilization, transportation, sale, or manufacturing of fossil fuel-based energy and [do] not commit or pledge to meet environmental standards beyond applicable federal and state law,” or because they do business with such companies. Companies included on the list would be disqualified from entering into banking contracts with the state.

On the same day, Phillips also introduced SB 255, which requires state government entities to divest from any publicly traded securities issued by such financial companies, and requires the state to get written confirmation from its contractors that they will not boycott energy companies during the duration of their state contracts.

While SB 255 has yet to move forward in the legislative process, SB 262 became law last month after it passed overwhelmingly. The law will take effect in June.

The mining industry has been Phillips’ top donor industry over the course of his career. Mining company political action committees (PACs) and employees have given Phillips more than $116,000, with his top industry donor being the PAC of Murray Energy, a coal mining company that is now known as American Consolidated Natural Resources.

According to an email obtained through a public records request by the nonprofit research group InfluenceMap and reported by The New Republic, representatives from American Consolidated Natural Resources co-signed a document that was sent to West Virginia lawmakers in February last year, asking them to pass legislation that would punish finance companies for limiting their fossil fuel industry involvement. Murray Energy’s PAC is also a top donor to the West Virginia Republican Senate Committee, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State.

Last November, West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore (R) led a coalition of financial officers from 15 states that warned in an open letter to the banking industry that they would take collective action against banks that boycott fossil fuels, which they called “woke capitalism.”

After Phillips’ bill passed last month, Moore put out a statement praising the legislation. “This bill is essential to help us push back against the Biden Administration and its extremist allies who are trying to unfairly pressure banks and financial institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industries,” Moore said.

Moore’s top donor sector has been energy and natural resources, according to the National Institute for Money in Politics. His donors have included PACs affiliated with Arch Coal, Murray Energy/American Consolidated Natural Resources, and power company American Electric Power.

Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that the backers of the law are ignoring financial shifts that are naturally unfavorable to the coal industry.

“Treasurer Riley and the sponsors of Senate Bill 262 are ignoring the on-going trends of bankruptcies in the fossil fuel industry,” said Kotcon. “They need to refocus on their fiduciary responsibility. Wishing that the coal industry is coming back will not overturn the obvious market forces telling us that few if any coal companies will have a profitable future, and investing state dollars in those is bad business.”

More States Follow Suit

Since Philips introduced his anti-divestment bill, several other conservative lawmakers have followed suit.

In late January, the Indiana House passed a version of the anti-energy company boycott bill authored by state Rep. Ethan Manning (R). According to the National Institute for Money in Politics, the energy and natural resource industry has been Manning’s top donor sector throughout his career, with the PAC of natural gas and electricity provider NiSource topping the list with $6,500.

In February, Oklahoma state Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R) introduced SB 1572, requiring the state to divest from financial institutions that boycott energy companies and prohibiting contracts with such companies. Bergstrom’s largest corporate donor has been fossil fuel-powered utility company NextEra Energy, according to the National Institute for Money in Politics. The pending principal House author of the bill is state Rep. Mark McBride (R), who has received more than $78,000 from oil and gas, his largest donor industry.

A version of the bill has also been introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives, which would prohibit the state’s retirement systems from investing in companies that have policies against doing business with energy companies.

The bill was proposed by state Rep. Danny McCormick (R), who has similarly taken more money from oil and gas industry interests than from any other industry.

Taking The Fight To Congress

Attempts to codify anti-divestment rules recently reached the halls of Congress. Last month, Reps. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Rick Allen (R-Ga.) proposed a bill that would codify part of a Trump Labor Department rule that required investment advisors to avoid considering environmental factors when advising clients.

“Our bill protects average Americans saving and building wealth through retirement plans,” wrote Barr in a press release. “It also preserves access to capital for energy producers to ensure costs won’t skyrocket further for Americans at the pump during a time when gas prices are at a historic high.”

In a 2020 regulatory comment, the lobbying group Western Energy Alliance wrote, “We have observed how ESG advocacy has negatively affected the industry’s access to capital over the last few years, and greatly appreciate that DOL is addressing the larger issue through this rule. The rule will help ensure that activism regarding pension plans does not morph into a halt to investment in the sector that provides nearly 70% of American energy, a nonsensical outcome given the impact throughout the entire economy.”

The Western Energy Alliance represents companies involved in oil and gas exploration and production in the West. It does not disclose its members, but information maintained by DeSmog suggests the members include companies like BP, Chevron, and Koch Exploration.

Barr has received $628,000 from the coal mining industry during his congressional career, more money than any other current House member, according to OpenSecrets. His top career donor is Alliance Resource Partners, which has provided him with $312,600 in donations from its PAC and employees. Alliance Resource Partners, an energy company that primarily produces coal, was a co-signer of the February 2021 letter calling for new laws to protect the industry against ESG initiatives.

Barr’s colleague Allen, meanwhile, has received more than $90,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.

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WATCH NOW: How A Democrat's Betrayal Nearly Helped Wall Street

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 6:41am in

 How A Democrat's Betrayal Nearly Helped Wall Street

While running for New York City Comptroller, Democrat Brad Lander promised to scrutinize the city pension funds’ investments with risky private equity firms and follow through on fully divesting the funds from fossil fuel interests, Along the way, Lander scored endorsements from progressive Wall Street critics like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

But now that he’s in office, Lander has quietly been doing the opposite. He recently asked the state to allow him to funnel billions more dollars of retiree savings into private equity as part of this year’s budget bill. While lawmakers refused to sign off on the move, Lander could try the move again next year — which could mean a half-billion dollars worth of additional annual fees for an industry that has produced some of the wealthiest people on the planet and has a long history of funding oil and gas.

Watch our new video about Lander’s about-face — and then share it on social media and forward this email to friends and family.

We don’t answer to corporations. We’re a reader-supported news outlet — which is why we can produce this video and report stories like this and this that corporate interests would rather keep out of public view.

The only way for those in power to do right by all of us is to continue lifting the veil on these kinds of inconvenient truths.

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Oil Mogul Bankrolls Attempt To Buy Democratic Primary

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/04/2022 - 9:30am in

Oil Mogul Bankrolls Attempt To Buy Democratic Primary

A super PAC bankrolled by a fossil fuel magnate is launching last-minute ads to try to crush the congressional candidacy of a leading proponent of a Green New Deal as scientists warn that oil and gas emissions are making the planet unlivable. If successful, the gambit would deliver an intimidating message from the fossil fuel industry to other Democratic candidates pressing the government to address the climate crisis.

One month after Samson Energy mogul Stacy Schusterman poured $2 million into DMFI PAC, the group purchased TV ads starting Monday to boost Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) in her primary campaign rematch against former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner in a newly redrawn Cleveland congressional district. The primary election date is May 3.

Last year, DMFI PAC spent $1.9 million attacking Turner and promoting Brown, helping the latter win the seat in a special election. The group also spent $1.4 million attacking Sanders during his 2020 campaign.

Turner, who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (Ind.-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign, has been campaigning for a Green New Deal and pressing the Biden administration to ban fracking. Brown has declined to co-sponsor some of House Democrats’ most high-profile climate legislation, including the Climate Emergency Act — even after United Nations scientists’ recent dire warning about the crisis.

While Brown’s campaign website says she supports “the principles laid out in the Green New Deal,” she has not co-sponsored the measure in Congress.

Schusterman chairs Oklahoma-based Samson Energy, whose website describes it as a company that “was formed to allow the Schusterman family to remain in the oil and gas exploration and production business following their sale of Samson Investment Company in 2011.” The company has been one of the country’s largest per-well emitters of greenhouse gas emissions.

Schusterman’s donations to DMFI PAC accounted for nearly 70 percent of the $2.9 million in funding that the organization raised in the first quarter this year, between January and March. Overall, since 2019, she has donated $3.4 million to the super PAC, which publicly bills itself as a pro-Israel advocacy organization.

DMFI PAC’s president Mark Mellman runs the Mellman Group, a polling firm whose website says its clients have included corporate health care interests like health insurers Aetna and Blue cross Blue Shield, drug industry lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and hospital lobby American Hospital Association.

The race has also drawn pro-Brown spending from a billionaire whose fortune came from the cryptocurrency industry, which has become a significant driver of carbon emissions.

As The Lever recently reported, Brown has additionally received support from the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, despite her decision to join the corporate New Democrat Coalition’s caucus, too.

In February, Brown spoke at a third anniversary event for DMFI PAC.

“I look forward to continuing my work with my colleagues and DMFI to deepen support in our party for a strong U.S. Israel relationship,” she said. “As I do so, I continue to be grateful for your support, your leadership, and your advocacy.”

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A Pension Official Blows The Whistle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 8:31pm in

A Pension Official Blows The Whistle

A new era in the decade-long battle by retirees and whistleblowers to halt massive transfers of wealth out of retirement funds and into Wall Street firms could be at hand, thanks to the case of Katie Muth.

Muth, a Democratic Pennsylvania state senator, is one of 15 trustees who oversees Pennsylvania’s largest public pension fund, the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Not long after her February 2021 appointment to the board, Muth began questioning the fund’s investments in areas like private equity, hedge funds, and real estate.

Over the past 30 years, public pension funds have moved $1.4 trillion of retiree savings into such high-risk, high-fee “alternative investments,” enriching finance industry moguls like Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group and Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies while often shortchanging retired public employees and teachers.

But Muth says that when she asked the fund’s investment staff for more information about its high-risk investments, she was rebuffed — so in June 2021, she sued the fund for basic information about its investments.

“[I asked them to] give me a comprehensive list of all alternatives and traditionals, and find if we have private equity in ambulances and hospitals,” Muth told The Lever. “Their response was, ‘We have over 495 portfolios it would be impossible to track what’s in it.’ That’s BS… That’s why I’m suing: I don’t know what the money is spent on. I have an obligation as a fiduciary to make informed decisions.”

The emergence of internal board member complaints like Muth’s could signal a sea change in the fight to stop Wall Street from preying on public pensions, said Ted Siedle, a former attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and pension whistleblower.

“It’s long been known these board members lack investment expertise, but increasingly they are going the whistleblower route,” said Siedle. “This is a new development. Every public pension I’ve investigated lies about their fees and lies about their performance. But now, the board members are coming forward and are being stonewalled and threatened.”

Other People’s Money

Muth’s whistleblower lawsuit comes as state and federal regulators have begun to look more critically at pension funds’ forays into high-risk, high-fee alternative investments.

In March 2021, PennPSERS disclosed that it had overstated its returns, which prompted an FBI and grand jury investigation that was reported the following month. The probe began with a look into the fund’s real estate purchases, and has since turned into a broader examination of possible bribery or kickbacks, in which the FBI was joined by the SEC.

Last fall, the Ohio State Auditor launched a special audit into the state’s teachers pension fund after a forensic analysis by alternative investment critic Edward Siedle. Then, this past January, news broke that federal prosecutors were investigating unreported investment fees being siphoned from Washington, D.C.’s pension fund.

The following month, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a batch of new regulations to protect investors from alternative investments, implicitly acknowledging that pension funds are struggling to effectively manage their money in the space.

Mismanagement at Pennsylvania’s teacher pension fund in particular has recently taken on new weight, thanks to the high-stakes race in the state to replace Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

In the tight Republican primary race, Mehmet Oz, more popularly known as “Dr. Oz,” has used problems at the fund to attack his opponent, David McCormick, a former official at the hedge fund Bridgewater & Associates. As Oz pointed out, while McCormick worked at Bridgewater, the hedge fund earned more than $500 million in fees for its work for the pension fund, but delivered returns so poor that the pension moved to divest its Bridgewater holdings in 2020.

“We All Deserve To Retire Peacefully”

According to Muth, her concern about how pension funds were managing workers’ retirement money began as soon as she joined the cloistered, deferential pension fund board.

“Once I learned about the pensions, I learned that our dollars are being invested in really horrible things,” said Muth. “ And the returns just aren’t good.”

Indeed, Pennsylvania’s $72.5 billion teacher pension fund would have $4 billion in additional money had it instead invested in low-cost index funds for the 10 years ending June 30, 2021.

The retirement system’s questionable investments in high-risk funds is just one example of the fund’s controversial moves. The fund’s executive director, a former Republican state representative, and the chief investment officer stepped down in November, after the fund’s March 2021 misstatement of its investment performance, which concealed a mandated increase in contributions from local school districts that would have cost taxpayers, employees, and retirees millions in annual costs.

Muth’s advocacy could signal a new direction for the fund, and her efforts have been celebrated by the relatively small group of teachers watching the scandal.

“There is something particularly galling about Wall Street fleecing the retirements of a bunch of teachers,” said Dan Symonds, an eight-year Philadelphia high school teacher. “There’s more to life than money, but we all deserve to retire peacefully. Katie Muth is doing the right thing.”

“Thanks to Katie Muth for being a fucking spine at the table,” he added.

Retired Pittsburgh-area teacher Dave McDonald added: “It seems as if a number of [Muth’s] colleagues on the board refuse to communicate with her and are hiding things. It’s scary.”

Terry Mutchler, a prominent transparency lawyer who Muth has retained to assist with her lawsuit, said, “It’s a very special case. You have a board member being put into position to have to file suit to obtain records to do her job. We believe this is the first time in the nation where a sitting board member on a public fund has had to take such action.”

On March 15, an appellate judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the teacher’s pension fund’s preliminary objections to Muth’s lawsuit were invalid and that the case could proceed.

“There Is No Transparency Or Accountability”

Muth is taking on real risks by waging this fight. Pension fund trustees who ask too many questions can run afoul of powerful interests — just ask J.J. Jelincic and Margaret Brown, former board members who tangled with staff leadership at the California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S.

Jelincic, a CalPERS investment officer, was elected to the fund’s board in 2009 and criticized the system for its dealings with private equity firms. Jelincic, who had been accused of sexual harassment in 2011, lost a 2019 bid for an at-large seat on the fund’s board by a 2-to-1 margin after the California Service Employees International Union spent heavily to defeat him.

Brown, too, had been a vocal critic of the fund’s use of high-risk, high-fee investments and the fund’s relationship with private equity — until the service employees union supported a candidate who defeated her in the 2021 contest for her at-large seat.

Jelincic and Brown said that they witnessed the same type of activity that Muth is challenging in Pennsylvania. In 2020, the chief investment officer for CalPERS resigned in the wake of conflict of interest allegations that centered around private equity firm Blackstone; the following year, the fund announced plans to boost its private equity share to 8 percent of total investments.

But according to Jelincic and Brown, the $469 billion pension fund was resistant to criticism of its actions, despite that it has been in the center of an enormous scandal that resulted in its former CEO being sent to prison in 2016 for accepting bribes from agents of alternative investment managers.

“Trustees are basically spoon-fed by staff,” said Jelincic. “My experience, quite frankly, is that when a trustee questions what is going on there’s a coalition that says, ‘No, you can’t question staff. We’re here to support them. If you ask questions you can bring ill repute on the board.’”

Brown agreed. “When you ask questions about an investment in health care or whatever the subject matter is, the rest of the board members try to shut you down,” she said. “I kept reminding them: You have a fiduciary duty; a duty of oversight. You are not supposed to just take what the staff tells us.”

Brown is especially troubled about the lack of transparency around the fees being charged by private equity forms and the values of the resulting assets. “My biggest concern is, how do we know what the book value of the asset actually is because we’re relying on the managers to tell us what it is and there is no verification,” she said,

Since leaving the board, Brown and Jelincic have launched CalPERS Watchdogs, an online monitoring group.

Muth, meanwhile, has pledged to continue her fight in Pennsylvania — since she says it’s time for the pension fund to change its behavior.

“You could be investing in things that have a positive impact on society,” she said, “but you actively choose not to.”

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A Pipeline Election?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/04/2022 - 8:58am in

A Pipeline Election?

A controversial fracked gas pipeline and export facility project is dead, but the fight over it could play an important role in a congressional primary battle heating up along Oregon’s southern coast. As yet another new United Nations climate report warns of the existential danger of new fossil fuel development, the primary will test whether unpopular fossil fuel projects loom large enough in the minds of voters to make climate change a major electoral issue.

In 2007, the Canadian energy giant Pembina proposed a 234-mile long pipeline stretching across much of southern Oregon to move fracked gas from Canada and the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast. In 2014, the corporation expanded its proposal to include the Jordan Cove liquefaction export facility in Coos Bay, Oregon, which would have been the first such export facility on the West Coast and given Pembina access to gas-hungry Asian markets.

The pipeline’s proposed path crossed five major rivers, state and federal lands, and would have required the developer to either buy rights-of-way from almost 700 landowners or seize their property via eminent domain.

The proposal, which became known as the Jordan Cove project, faced massive opposition from landowners along the pipeline’s route, as well as from Oregon politicians, local environmental groups, and tribes. When the project was canceled in December, the lawyer representing landowners opposing the pipeline told E&E News, “I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project.”

But while the project may be dead, its ghost still looms large in the state, especially in the coastal congressional district of retiring progressive Rep. Peter DeFazio. That’s because one of the pipeline’s high-profile supporters, Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, is now running for DeFazio’s seat in Congress and racking up support from progressives like DeFazio and establishment Democrats alike — while at the same time taking money from one of the project’s main lobbyists.

Oregon’s congressional primaries will be held on May 17.

Hoyle’s Corporate Backers

DeFazio, who has represented Oregon's 4th congressional district since 1987, announced his retirement from Congress last December. A founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, DeFazio said the latest redistricting, which left the district leaning more heavily Democratic, ensured that a fellow Democrat would succeed him.

Within hours of his announcement, Labor Commissioner Hoyle announced her candidacy. Scarcely a month after throwing her hat into the ring, Hoyle had not only received endorsements from DeFazio and both Democratic U.S. senators, but also contributions from several key members of the party’s corporate wing.

“I’ve known Val Hoyle for 25 years and also know her commitment to aggressively dealing with climate change and fighting for a greener future,” DeFazio wrote in an op-ed last month for the Oregon Register-Guard. “While some of the other candidates share this commitment, Val is the only person who can advance environmental policy and bring together voters of all stripes who believe their livelihoods will be threatened in the transition to a greener future.”

But while Hoyle had a track record of passing pro-worker legislation as a state legislator, she also supported the Jordan Cove project, as DeSmog recently reported. As an unsuccessful candidate for Oregon secretary of state in 2015, Hoyle pledged her support for the pipeline, while acknowledging she would “take heat” for it.

“I will say that in this room. I will say it in rooms of people who oppose liquefied natural gas,” she said at a debate. “I’m not afraid to have an opinion. I hope when I have your back that you'll also have mine.”

Hoyle has now said she will not support new fossil fuel infrastructure projects if elected to Congress.

Still, one of the pipeline project’s top lobbyists donated to Hoyle’s campaign in December, according to campaign finance records reviewed by The Lever.

According to the records, lobbyist Raymond Bucheger gave the maximum individual contribution of $2,900 to Hoyle’s campaign that month. According to federal lobbying records, between 2013 and 2018 Bucheger lobbied for Jordan Cove LNG, a subsidiary of Pembina Pipeline Corp., and then lobbied directly for the company behind the pipeline between 2018 and 2020.

Bucheger also reportedly advised a local chamber of commerce on how to set up an astroturf organization to boost local support for the pipeline project.

During her secretary of state campaign, Hoyle accepted thousands in contributions from Jordan Cove.

The labor commissioner’s past support for the pipeline project “shows that she is not on the side of Oregonians, our drinking water, or our climate,” said Kyle Purdy, an organizer for the Sunrise Movement. “It is shocking that while our state was experiencing firsthand the impacts of the climate crisis… Val Hoyle was taking thousands of dollars from a foreign pipeline company and loudly bragging about her support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Strictly speaking, Hoyle didn’t take money from a foreign pipeline company. Accepting campaign cash from foreign people or corporations is generally illegal. But the U.S.-based Jordan Cove is wholly owned by Pembina Pipeline Corp., which is based in Calgary.

The state agency that supervises election laws declined to investigate Jordan Cove’s donations, with its director saying his office didn’t want to become a “gotcha agency.”

During her congressional campaign, Hoyle has also received support from corporate donors.

Bradley Tusk, Michael Bloomberg’s former campaign manager and now CEO of Tusk Ventures, a New York venture capital fund, also gave the maximum to Hoyle. His political consultancy, Tusk Strategies, has retained the New York City charter school lobby, the New York City police union, real estate interests, Uber, and Andrew Yang’s recent mayoral campaign, as clients, according to reporting by The Intercept.

Additionally, the Save Democracy PAC, which Tusk runs, donated $5,000 to Hoyle. Tusk did not return a request for comment.

When Hoyle ran for Oregon secretary of state in 2016, she received a $250,000 contribution from Michael Bloomberg, almost half of her total fundraising in the election. A Bloomberg spokesperson said at the time he was backing Hoyle because of her support for a gun control bill in the state legislature.

Hoyle was also endorsed this year by the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, the electoral arm of the caucus supporting pro-business Democrats. The group backs candidates in swing districts or in districts held by Republicans that it believes could be flipped Democratic.

Hoyle’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

“The District Can Lead On Climate”

Hoyle’s past support for the Jordan Cove project infuriated many Oregon environmentalists and discouraged them from supporting her Congressional campaign.

Instead, many major local and national environmental groups have endorsed Doyle Canning, a lawyer and activist who was a member of the Jordan Cove opposition and helped organize landowners against the project.

Canning ran a primary campaign against DeFazio in 2020, challenging his initial support for the Jordan Cove project — support that the Oregon congressman withdrew in 2019. Canning is now running a campaign almost entirely focused on the climate crisis; her website features the tagline “Oregon's Climate Champion For Congress In 2022.” She is once again focusing attention on the pipeline project, given Hoyle’s support for it.

“The district can lead on climate in a way that is profound,” she told The Lever. “And that is because we have this very strong climate movement that just defeated a $15 billion pipeline company. The Jordan Cove fight changed the political climate in Oregon forever.”

Canning has been endorsed by many major local and national climate groups — including the Sunrise Movement, Food and Water Watch Action, Friends of the Earth Action — and prominent activists, including 350.org founder Bill McKibben.

Recent polling commissioned by three such groups, Climate Hawks Vote, the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, and Friends of the Earth Action, shows that the Jordan Cove pipeline is on still the minds of voters in Oregon’s fourth district, even as Hoyle leads Canning 24 percent to 8 percent among likely primary voters.

A poll of likely Democratic primary voters in the congressional district, conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Climate Hawks Vote, found that while none of the leading primary candidates have significant support — 54 percent of respondents said they didn’t know who they were voting for — candidates’ support for Jordan Cove could play a role in their vote.

Fifty percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote “for a candidate who supported the Jordan Cove proposed export terminal for liquefied natural gas,” while 9 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for that candidate.

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Piercing Amazon’s Veil of Secrecy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/02/2022 - 4:28am in

Photo credit: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com Usually I write about a lot of doom and gloom here, but today, it’s...

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Newsom’s Big Choice: Single Payer Or His Insurance Donors?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 29/01/2022 - 4:20am in

Click to share this on Facebook Single Payer Or His Insurance Donors?

On the 2018 campaign trail to become California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom signaled his support for a statewide single-payer health care system.

“I’m tired of politicians saying they support single-payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem,” Newsom said in a statement helping secure him the crucial support of the state’s powerful nurses union during a contentious gubernatorial primary.

Tip Jar

Now, as California lawmakers once again get close to establishing such a program, all eyes are on Newsom to see how he will come down on the issue — and whether the millions he and his party received from health insurance industry donors will convince him to abandon the cause he previously touted.

A new bill would move to replace the state’s private insurance market with a public system in which the government is the single-payer for health care services. Due to the rules of the state’s legislature, the bill must pass the state’s full assembly by the end of the day Monday, or it’s dead for another year.

As the Democratic governor, Newsom has significant influence over what the Democratic legislature sends to his desk — but he has remained publicly aloof about the bill, implying he may block it as his industry donors mount an opposition campaign.

“Governor Newsom has no choice but to sign a bill and put it on the ballot, as he’s promised he wants to,” says Jamie Court, president of the consumer and taxpayer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. “I don’t think he can get out of that promise.”

A Long Battle

The current legislation, AB 1400, would establish a new agency called CalCare that would pay for basic medical services in the state. If it passes, Californians would then vote on whether to approve a tax increase to fund the program — a vote that might not happen until 2024.

The legislation is opposed by a variety of business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and health insurers.

“I have not had the opportunity to review that plan, and no one has presented it to me,” Newsom recently said of the legislation. “I think that the ideal system is a single-payer system. I’ve been consistent with that for well over a decade… The difference here is when you are in a position of responsibility, you’ve gotta apply, you’ve gotta manifest, the ideal. This is hard work. It’s one thing to say, it’s another to do.”

California already has near-universal health insurance coverage, thanks to incremental extensions of coverage for undocumented immigrants through the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, and subsidies from the Affordable Care Act. In January, Newsom announced that his new budget, which would extend Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented immigrants of any age, would make California the first state to achieve universal coverage.

“I campaigned on universal health care,” Newsom declared the day after announcing his plan. “We’re delivering that.”

In achieving near-universal coverage through private markets, however, the governor appears to be pivoting away from single-payer.

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The state has been down this road many times before going as far back as 1918, when voters rejected an effort to create a state health care program for the poor. Single-payer legislation finally made it out of committee in 1992, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) endorsed it during a Democratic presidential primary debate that year — but the effort ultimately failed in the state senate. Then, in 1994, the California Nurses’ Union pushed Prop. 186 to establish single-payer in the state, but the measure was overwhelmingly defeated following a campaign by a coalition of business groups, insurance companies, and hospitals.

While state lawmakers succeeded in passing single-payer legislation in 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed the bill when it arrived at his desk — and vetoed an amended version of the legislation two years later.

In 2017, when single-payer came up again in California, it appeared more likely to pass. The state had already dramatically expanded health care coverage in response to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats held supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, and Brown had once again been elected governor. At the same time, polling showed most Californians supported the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system.

The tide seemed to be turning nationally as well. The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.) had exposed mainstream America to the concept of Medicare For All, and 27 members of California’s congressional delegation had signed onto a federal Medicare For All bill. Newsom, the lieutenant governor at the time, even made single-payer health care a plank of his campaign.

Yet, once again, the reform efforts were stymied when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) refused to hold a vote on the bill for the duration of the year, even though it had already passed the senate. According to Rendon, he did so because “there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump administration and voters need to make [it] a genuine piece of legislation.”

But there was likely another reason the bill died: big business had stepped in to quash it. As International Business Times reported at the time, since 2012, business groups and health care companies on record opposing the measure had donated more than $1.2 million to the California Democratic Party. Those same groups had also donated more than $1.5 million to Democratic assembly members, including $82,000 directly to Rendon.

Rendon had also received more than $101,000 from pharmaceutical companies and $50,000 from health insurers. These same groups donated more than $2.2 million to the state Democratic party.

A $1 Million Check From Blue Shield

The current push for single-payer may be doomed to the same fate as its predecessors. Even if the bill manages to pass the assembly before the end of the day Monday and passes the state senate, there is no guarantee Newsom will sign it into law. Despite his campaign promise, the California governor has long been allied with insurance companies opposing the reform.

Blue Shield of California has been a huge donor to Newsom and state Democrats, as well as the governor’s pet causes. Blue Shield has donated at least $99,000 to Newsom's campaigns since 2010, and $2.7 million to the California Democratic Party since 2006, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. That includes a $1 million contribution to the state party last summer, as Newsom was working to fend off a recall effort.

State records show Blue Shield donated $100,000 to Newsom's inaugural fund in 2019, and has made several other sizable contributions on Newsom’s behalf. The largest was a $20 million donation in 2020 to Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. to support Project Homekey, the governor's COVID-19 homeless housing initiative.

In 2020, Blue Shield gave $300,000 in 2020 to a nonprofit supporting the Commission on the Future of Work, which Newsom had created by executive order. The donations were reported as behested payments — the term for when California politicians raise money from corporations or other groups and contribute the money to a nonprofit.

Amid the COVID epidemic, Newsom awarded Blue Shield a $15 million no-bid vaccination contract and recruited the insurer’s CEO to help shape the state’s COVID-19 testing strategy.

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The insurer Anthem and its affiliates have donated $78,000 to Newsom’s campaigns since 2013, on top of $770,000 to the California Democratic Party since 2002. Anthem also gave $25,000 to Newsom's 2019 inaugural fund.

Blue Shield and Anthem are both part of a coalition lobbying against the legislation, claiming it “would create a new and exorbitantly expensive government bureaucracy” and cause “significant job loss to California.”

UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurer, is also opposing the single-payer bill, and has been pressing its employees to lobby California lawmakers against passing the legislation.

The insurance giant has contributed $130,000 to Newsom's campaigns since 2011, and $513,000 to the state Democratic party since 2007. In 2019, UnitedHealth Group and one of its subsidiaries donated $100,000 to Newsom's inaugural fund.

Now, whether Newsom’s relationship with Blue Shield, Anthem, and UnitedHealth will impact his decision-making on CalCare is an open question, says Court at Consumer Watchdog.

“I’ve seen him do it and I’ve seen him not do it, let’s put it that way,” he said of the governor’s ability to stand up to donors. “I’ve seen him go against the unions that represent oil companies by putting a limit on setbacks [and] banning fracking. I don’t know, for some [issues], like single-payer, I’ve got to believe he’s ideologically there.”

As the deadline for action on the bill approaches, Newsom is under increasing pressure to step in and move the bill forward. The Sacramento Bee editorial board published an editorial on January 21, urging the governor to defy his industry allies and back the legislation.

“California’s top elected official can help foster the statewide discussion he owes to 40 million residents enduring a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic along with the depredations of a profit-driven private health care sector,” argued the editorial, which noted that an estimated 3.2 million Californians lacked health insurance and “many more face the crushing rigors of a private system that over-complicates essential medical care and excessively charges patients for lifesaving procedures and prescriptions.”

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Can Revolution Take Root In Rhode Island?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 24/01/2022 - 10:31pm in

Click to share this on FacebookCan Revolution Take Root In Rhode Island?

On a cold evening last November, a handful of activists along with a state senator and gubernatorial candidate pitched tents in front of the Rhode Island state capitol in Providence. “I shouldn’t have to do this at all,” state Sen. Cynthia Mendes told a local news site that night. “But when we’re sure that the homelessness crisis has been resolved and no one is going to freeze to death, the protest will end.”

The encampment was organized by a new progressive insurgency in Rhode Island, which has announced plans to challenge dozens of incumbent lawmakers in the upcoming primary elections, citing the failings of the state’s Democratic establishment.

For Mendes, the insurgency’s tactics were already working. She was one of over a dozen progressives who ascended to the state house in 2020 after ousting the Senate finance committee chairman by over 20 points in a primary. Mendes had challenged William Conley due to his tight relationship with the establishment forces in senate leadership.

One legislative session later, Mendes found herself making demands from outside the state house, railing against the state’s political leaders. She spoke harshly of her colleagues that evening: “State leadership feels entitled to ignore the fact that people in their state are going to die this winter,” she said.

Camping outside the state capitol, though, would be much harder to ignore.

Alongside her was Matt Brown, a former secretary of state who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, and is running again this cycle. Mendes herself is running for lieutenant governor, and the duo announced their candidacies alongside a few dozen state legislative candidates as part of the progressive electoral organization, the Rhode Island Political Co-Op, which Brown runs.

Layered up in blankets and sleeping bags, Mendes and Brown slept in tents in front of the state house for a total of 16 days, and were joined by candidates and activists affiliated with the Co-Op as well as members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Sunrise Movement, and homeless advocates.

On the 16th day, Gov. Dan McKee (D) announced about 150 new emergency shelter beds and a new quarantine and isolation facility for homeless people.

When asked about the camp McKee said, “We are listening to anybody who wants to talk about the issue. But I think it’s a little presumptive to think that any one group got us here today.” In early November, McKee had announced $5 million in funding to create 275 new shelter beds.

“It defies plausibility that within 16 days of the sleep-out, 400 beds emerged by coincidence, or they were going to do it anyways,” said Brown.

It was an important victory won using militant tactics. But the Co-op hasn’t been without controversy, even on the left.

Putting On The Pressure — Inside And Out

While Mendes, Brown, and activists were sleeping out and holding daytime rallies and press conferences, a different set of left-wing organizers were canvassing and meeting with unions and housing organizations to put together a proposal to build green public housing.

Reclaim Rhode Island, formed by volunteers from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign, is working in concert with state lawmakers, labor unions, and issue-based organizations to build left power by training organizers and building consensus around popular policies, including public housing investments. This fall, Reclaim formulated their Homes For All campaign to direct a quarter of the state’s $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to green public housing. The state has no dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, and a shortage of homes has driven up prices in recent years.

Rithika Ramamurthy, co-chair of Reclaim, said engagement like this is necessary before escalating pressure on lawmakers. “At a certain point, it will come time to pressure individual legislators,” she said. “But we are hoping to build a lot of public consensus around this issue, because there are very few people who would disagree that we need more affordable, public housing in this state.”

The Co-Op’s strategy, meanwhile, starts from the basis that Rhode Island voters have an appetite for a progressive agenda and an anti-establishment message, and that the biggest barrier to winning progressive governing majorities is running effective campaigns.

The organization was founded by Brown and two others, Jeanine Calkin and Jennifer Rourke, all of whom lost their primaries in 2018 and blamed their losses at least partially on the establishment outspending them and using aggressive tactics.

Reclaim, meanwhile, is investing time and energy in training organizers and engaging with communities to build support for progressive policies.

“Organizing work is not just deciding that you’re correct,” Ramamurthy told me. “Of course the left is right; that’s not really the question. The question is, how many people are going to stand up for the right thing?”

At times, the Co-Op and other groups in its orbit — like Sunrise and the DSA — have operated in parallel with Reclaim’s organizing work, of which elections are only a small part. Reclaim has endorsed candidates running with the help of the Co-Op, and has also allied with the Working Families Party, which has achieved legislative victories in Rhode Island such as paid sick leave by working in tandem with state house leadership.

But at other times, the Co-Op has alienated potential allies by making demands which its members find untenable, or by vilifying progressive lawmakers as not progressive enough.

“We’re all speaking the same language, yet we’ve never been in a room together,” said state Sen. Tiara Mack. Mack was elected to the state house in 2020 as part of the Co-Op, but has since left the organization. “There is no definition of what Rhode Island progressives are working towards. That has not yet been defined by the movement.”

The Co-Op has defined for itself what it means to be a progressive, and its goal is clearly stated: winning progressive governing majorities in the state. But the way it has delineated who is inside and who is outside its movement has created rifts among organizers and left progressive legislators struggling to meet the organization’s demands.

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This fall, the organization announced it was primarying two lawmakers who had been working with Reclaim Rhode Island on legislation to tax the rich and pass binding emissions targets, because both lawmakers had voted for the establishment leadership picks in 2020. Both of the challengers the Co-Op had recruited for those primaries dropped out weeks later after local media uncovered old social media posts in which the challengers expressed anti-vaccine sentiments.

Once elected, many Co-Op members have disaffiliated from the organization. Sen. Kendra Anderson left the Co-Op after it changed its platform to require that its members support a $19 minimum wage, a policy she thought was untenable in her conservative-leaning district. Only two current lawmakers who ran their campaigns with the Co-Op in 2020 have retained their affiliations with the organization.

The Co-Op also expelled one of its own candidates after the 2020 election, Rep. Brandon Potter, for voting for the establishment’s pick for house speaker. Potter published an op-ed in response, arguing that his expulsion was a symbolic gesture given that abstaining from the vote would not have impacted the outcome. “Ultimately, I answer to the people of District 16,” he wrote. “I will continue to exercise independent judgement even when it’s uncomfortable, and I’m prepared to be held accountable by my constituents for all of the decisions I make.”

While the group has had significant momentum, both in the 2020 primaries and through actions like the sleep-out, the effectiveness of its strategy will be put to the test in this fall’s primaries.

The group is currently planning to run 50 candidates in state and local elections, about half of whom have already announced. Many of the announced candidates have run, and lost, in previous election cycles, some two or three times.

And Brown, who is running for governor in a crowded race, is currently polling between six and nine percent.

According to Mendes, the victories in 2020 prove that the Co-Op strategy is working. “It doesn’t take a lot of imagination now to know that it’s possible to win majorities,” she said, “because we proved it.”

Taking On Machine Politics

Rhode Island’s history of corrupt political machines and insurgent upsets lends credence to the Co-Op’s antagonistic approach.

In Rhode Island, a handful of people — the state Democratic party chair, the house speaker, and the senate president — run what resembles a political machine. This machine funnels money to vulnerable allies in elections and unseats lawmakers who vote against them, gives offices to its allies in the state house, decides which legislation is perpetually held in committee, employs family members and political allies in state government, selects committee chairs, and controls a slush fund which is doled out to little league teams and community groups.

Over the past decade, state treasurer-turned-Gov. Gina Raimondo allied with this machine to shepherd cuts to public pensions and Medicaid, and push through the charterization of urban public schools. (Raimondo is now President Joe Biden’s Commerce Secretary.)

But over the past few years, progressives have shown that what once seemed like an impenetrable and omniscient force may be weaker than it appears.

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The left began to challenge the machine’s omniscience in 2016, when Sanders stunned in the state’s presidential primaries.

Ahead of the primary, Hillary Clinton had led Sanders in a Brown University poll by almost 10 points. She visited the state four times during her campaign, and was endorsed by Raimondo, the house speaker, and the chair of the state party. But Sanders gathered a rally of more than 7,000 a few days before the primary — one of the largest political gatherings in state history — and won the primary by 12 percentage points.

Contemporary observers thought his victory revealed more resentment towards the state’s political establishment than previously suspected, creating an opening for the left.

“Sanders’ victory for Rhode Island is confirmation of an anti-establishment sentiment in Rhode Island, and that's not particularly good news for Governor Raimondo,” Professor Val Endress of Rhode Island College, told the news site GoLocalProv at the time. “Any public official who closely aligns with a candidate who loses the state in the primary creates some reason for consternation.”

A few months later in the state primaries, four Working Families Party-backed candidates for state legislative seats also unseated incumbents. In 2018, progressive state representative Aaron Regunberg — one of only a few state lawmakers to endorse Sanders in 2016 — came within 2 percentage points of unseating the lieutenant governor, and the Providence DSA sent their first candidate, Sam Bell, to the state senate.

After the 2018 primaries, a few candidates who had lost their elections — Brown, who lost by over 20 points to Gina Raimondo, Calkin, a WFP-backed senator who was unseated by a machine-backed challenger in 2018, and Rourke — decided that progressives needed their own electoral infrastructure to compete in primaries. Those three formed the Rhode Island Political Co-Op.

Building A Serious Left Challenge

With this momentum, and the Co-Op’s ambitious goal of winning enough elections to replace house and senate leadership, the 2020 primary was a windfall for progressives.

A few months before that primary, another group joined the scene.

In 2020, Rhode Islanders had run a substantial volunteer base for the Sanders campaign, despite the campaign not having a paid staffer in the state. The weekend before the New Hampshire primary, an estimated 150 Rhode Islanders went to the state to canvass.

When Sanders dropped out of the election in March 2020, those Rhode Island Sanders volunteers decided to turn the campaign infrastructure into a new group to build working class power at the state level.

The product of their work is Reclaim Rhode Island, which launched in spring 2020 with a campaign to tax the rich and prevent cuts to the state budget. Then-Gov. Raimondo was insisting that substantial budget cuts would be necessary to recoup lost revenue due to the pandemic, and Reclaim mobilized a campaign to raise taxes on the top 1 percent of earners. The coalition behind the “tax the rich, no cuts” campaign included the state Working Families Party and Providence DSA, anti-poverty organizations, and labor unions.

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Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Political Co-Op spent that spring and summer running 17 state legislative campaigns for candidates the organization had recruited to run on an agenda of a $15 minimum wage, a Green New Deal, taxing the rich, and other agenda items mirroring national organizations like Justice Democrats.

The Co-Op, teaming up with local Sunrise Movement hubs, operated like something between a state party and a political consultancy, vetting candidates, giving campaigns access to voter data and campaign managers (many of whom were Sunrise Movement organizers), and helping recruit volunteers, in exchange for monthly dues from candidates.

Additionally, Reclaim endorsed a handful of primary challengers, as did the Working Families Party, the Providence DSA, and the SEIU 1199, all of which ran substantial ground games.

In many cases, incumbents didn’t even lift a finger against their challengers. One such incumbent failed to file a single campaign finance report (and lost), while another didn’t knock a single door. Numerous candidates in that primary season reported that people at the doors had never been canvassed before, and had tried to contact their legislator during the pandemic and been unable to or simply didn’t know who represented them in the state legislature.

That momentum manifested in eight progressives unseating incumbent candidates at the state house, in addition to as many as seven more winning open seats. In a 75 member assembly, that replacement was notable.

Perhaps the most important outcome of that election, however, came as a Republican unseated the powerful house speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a conservative Democrat who had helped the state pass its first voter ID law, opposed pro-choice legislation, received an A rating from the National Rifle Association, and said in 2020, “There’s nothing Rhode Island can do to address climate change in a way that’s real or impactful.”

Since that election, some progressive groups have moved into the Co-Op’s orbit. The DSA, for its part, has drawn a red line against working with the state’s leadership. Kinverly Dicupe, Providence DSA co-chair, said that the group’s membership has “overwhelmingly voted to adopt standards like refusing to vote for conservative leadership and going forward with an aggressive electoral strategy, putting our standards in a league with Sunrise and the Co-Op.”

That approach puts these groups at odds with labor unions and progressive lawmakers who see voting for leadership as essential to getting their bills to the floor.

The Limits of Insurgency

Railing against the political establishment may be an effective electoral strategy in Rhode Island, but is almost impossible as a legislative strategy, lawmakers say.

Not only does state house leadership exert total control over which bills are allowed to proceed, but passing progressive legislation usually requires union support, and the state’s most powerful unions have long been cozy with the political establishment. The current senate president, Dominick Ruggerio, is himself a member of the building trades.

Nearly one in five employees in Rhode Island is a union member, one of the highest union densities in the country. But some progressives have alienated the labor movement, especially the building trades, either by primarying union allies or denouncing them as conservative.

Bell, the first DSA-backed lawmaker to win a seat in Rhode Island’s state house, said in an interview last September that, “There is a problem, though, in that construction labor is run by very right-wing people. They pretend to support working people but they don’t, which is why they fought to have their workers exempted from the paid sick days law.”

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Labor leaders have been insulted by this characterization. “There are a lot of new political groups who have come together over the last few years,” Justin Kelley, business representative for the Rhode Island Painters and Allied Trades, said in an email. “Some, like Reclaim, have had the decency and respect to reach out to working people's organizations, others have paid lip service but are consistently actually attacking our organizations while claiming to champion working people's interests.”

There’s a recent legacy in Rhode Island of progressive politicians betraying unions in office, explained Pat Crowley, a longtime progressive organizer in the state and now Secretary-Treasurer for the state AFL-CIO.

In 2010, the state Democratic party turned on the state’s unions, which had long been a key constituency, by proposing unprecedented and sweeping cuts to public employee pensions. Other states were cutting pensions in the wake of the financial crisis, but this initiative, led by then-state treasurer Gina Raimondo, stood out because it made cuts to the pension payments of existing retirees, not just the future retirement plans of workers.

In response to the proposed cuts, a coalition of labor unions ran primary campaigns against six Democratic state legislators who had backed Raimondo’s plan. They won five of the six primaries. Crowley, then the political director of the Rhode Island’s teachers union, told In These Times in 2010 about the victories, “​I think we have to do this nationwide. I think we have to challenge them everywhere we go, or otherwise we are never going to get our agenda… What the labor movement did in Rhode Island sends a good message to the rest of the labor movement that it is possible to primary anti-labor Democrats.” All five lawmakers turned around and supported Raimondo’s pension cuts.

The betrayal left a legacy, Crowley told me. “It really set a tone for a long time. This is part of where this ‘progressive against labor,’ or our PALS, come into play,” he said, referring to an acronym used to describe progressives who denounce unions.

Still, some of the more progressive unions, such as the SEIU 1199, have been willing to work more closely with new organizations.

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Rhode Island was topping the charts with nursing home outbreaks and deaths. The SEIU was pushing the legislature to pass their bill to enact minimum staffing levels in the state’s nursing homes, because Rhode Island had some of the lowest standards in the country.

“Nursing homes were running on pretty bare bones,” said Heather Kelley, an elected lead organizer with the SEIU 1199. “But they told us that the house wasn’t going to even vote on our safe staffing bill. We had the votes lined up, but we couldn’t even get it to the floor. So we ran a very aggressive primary season.”

That summer, the SEIU knocked on thousands of doors for Potter and Leonela Felix, a Working Families Party and Reclaim-backed challenger to an incumbent ally of the speaker who also won her primary. During the 2021 legislative session, the governor signed the safe staffing bill into law.

Meghan Kallman is one of only a few recently elected progressives to have won her campaign with broad union support, as well as the backing of Reclaim, Sunrise, and other groups. And she believes that a labor-left coalition can enact progressive change in the state house, even under current leadership.

“The amount of progressive legislation that got through this year is an incredibly strong indication of how people’s values are more convergent than divergent. The successes of this legislative session speak for themselves in so many ways,” said Kallman. She pointed to bills to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, end source-of-income housing discrimination, increase a high-end real estate tax, cap insulin prices, and enact some of the most aggressive state-level binding carbon emission targets as evidence.

Kallman said that those victories came from an “inclusive” policymaking process. “Part of getting buy-in is that it has to be an inclusive process. The inclusive process, by definition, means we are going to come into contact with people who have different perspectives.”

Working with Kallman, Reclaim has been deliberate about bringing construction unions on board with their Homes For All campaign. “We’ve incorporated what we’ve learned from the Homes Rhode Island coalition, environmental groups, and labor unions, which had demands regarding wage theft and employee misclassification,” explained Jordan Goyette, a Reclaim organizer working on the proposal.

That engagement has been essential for winning union support. As Kelley of the Painters responded to me, “Workers want a seat at the table not to be told we came up with this idea for you, the boss does enough of that.”

Meanwhile, some of those unions have their own “green and healthy schools” initiative, a proposal backed by the AFL-CIO and construction unions to retrofit public schools in alignment with the state’s new emissions targets and using union labor.

One thing that Kallman, Bell, Potter, and Mack all agreed upon was that progressives in and outside the state house would benefit from agreeing on policy priorities and making demands as a coalition.

“The reality is, the machine in Rhode Island is very clever, very strategic,” said Bell. “And the left has not been as strategic as the machine. When we’ve driven the conversation towards the issues, and been willing to think independently of the machine, victories start to happen.”

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Protecting Homes From The Next Climate Firestorm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/01/2022 - 10:31pm in

Click to share this on FacebookProtecting Homes From The Next Climate Firestorm

In the final days of 2021, the Marshall Fire ripped through Boulder County, Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. The inferno was fed by months of drier and hotter-than-normal temperatures, caused by climate change, and spread quickly due to hurricane-force winds.

The fire was especially jarring because of its setting — suburban cul-de-sacs and built-up developments — and was perhaps best characterized, according to climate scientist Daniel Swain, as an “urban firestorm.”

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Wildfires and other extreme weather events will continue to encroach into new areas and cause more damage, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change. Meanwhile, new research indicates that markets have failed to incentivize people to take even minimal adaptation measures in the face of these growing risks.

That finding doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise: Over the past decade, Americans have migrated towards some of the areas most vulnerable to climate impacts. Such behaviors have come at steep cost: In 2021 alone, extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change caused more than $145 billion in damages nationwide, the third highest in history.

But a new study about wildfire building codes, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), reveals that state-mandated mitigation measures may be even more effective at protecting people against climate risks than previously thought. Requiring climate adaptation, through policies such as building codes, would save property owners money as well protect their homes. Yet in the absence of mandates, people do not take these cost-saving measures voluntarily, the study found.

“A cost-benefit calculation implies that low takeup in the absence of standards is likely driven by market failures as opposed to a lack of cost-effectiveness,” wrote the study’s authors Patrick W. Baylis of the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and Judson Boomhower of the University of California, San Diego. “These facts can inform policies to mitigate other risks like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves, where voluntary takeup of adaptation investments also appears to be limited.”

These findings could have immediate implications for Colorado. State legislators intend to introduce a bill this spring to enact statewide building codes that make buildings less likely to ignite. In the wake of the Marshall Fire — the state’s most destructive on record, causing at least $1 billion in insured losses — lawmakers hope that people who previously opposed a statewide building code will come on board.

“We have a different context this year because of the Marshall Fire, and just as importantly, the largest forest wildfire season we’ve ever had. It has changed the political debate,” said state Sen. Chris Hansen (D), who intends to reintroduce statewide building code legislation in this spring’s session. “Local governments are focused on this in a way they weren’t before. Before there was a libertarian, ‘do what you’d like on your property [approach].’ But now I think people are seeing the collective risk is raised when you take that approach. It’s bad for the state, it’s bad for insurance rates, it makes things more dangerous for citizens.”

40 Percent Less Likely To Be Destroyed

Across the west, people have been moving into the wildland-urban interface for years, even as the climate crisis heightens the risk of living in those areas.

But only four states — California, Utah, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — have statewide building standards for wildfires, while a few more, including Colorado, have codes in some local jurisdictions.

California’s standards are the strictest, and were first developed after a 1991 fire in Oakland caused $1.5 billion in damage. The rules, which were strengthened in 2008, are mostly applicable only to new construction.

The NBER study was the first comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of those codes. The study’s authors compared the survival rate of homes that had faced identical wildfire exposures in California between 2003 and 2020, as well as factored in data from 11 counties outside the state.

The results were striking. “A 2008 or newer home is about 16 percentage points (40 percent) less likely to be destroyed than a 1990 home experiencing an identical wildfire exposure,” noted the study’s authors. “There is strong evidence that these effects are due to state and local building code changes — first after the deadly 1991 Oakland Firestorm, and again with the strengthening of wildfire codes in 2008.”

The study also found that the costs of complying with these new codes actually proved cheaper to homeowners than the cost of not adapting, because they were so effective in protecting properties from wildfires — both for homes built in alignment with the codes and their neighbors.

“The data show that an adaptation mandate substantially improved resilience to wildfires and a cost-benefit approximation suggests that low takeup without standards is more likely driven by market failures than by fully-informed individual decision making,” the authors concluded.

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“A Compelling Set Of Facts”

These findings buttress the arguments of Colorado legislators attempting to pass a new statewide wildfire building code.

After the devastating 2012 wildfire season, which caused $538 million in losses, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper convened a task force to study fire mitigation measures. However, a legislative committee formed to review the resulting recommendations ultimately rejected a bill to pass a new statewide building code.

Opposition from construction and real estate groups played a role in killing the legislation, said Lisa Dale, a lecturer in sustainable development at Columbia University who sat on the Colorado task force as a policy advisor for the state Department of Natural Resources.

According to Dale, interest groups often argue the costs of updating building codes for new construction outweigh the potential benefits. That’s because while Dale believes such code updates are necessary, they only offer limited help compared to the scale of the problem. This challenge has been endemic to climate fights across the country: The problem is so big that no single policy will be adequate to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“The vast majority of people who live in the West live in a wildfire risk zone,” Dale said. “We are not just talking about a few towns that are in the woods, we’re talking about two-thirds to three-quarters of all homes across the West that are subject to risks from wildfire. The scale of what we are facing is broad and deep, and any tool like building codes that only impact new construction in designated risk zones is going to have limited measurable outcomes.”

Dale also said homeowners associations supplied substantial opposition to the legislation, largely for aesthetic reasons.

“A lot of communities across the country are organized by homeowners associations,” she explained. “Many homeowners associations are driven by aesthetics and safety, so they want all of the houses in their development to look the same. What we found was that many of these homeowners associations are relying on decades-old guidelines regarding building materials that had all sorts of reasons for being developed at the time, and haven’t been updated and made current.”

The web of interest groups opposing just minor mitigation efforts in 2013 is once again popping up to oppose the new potential statewide building codes.

The Colorado Association of Homebuilders, whose membership includes construction companies as well as real estate companies, has argued that governments should educate homeowners about climate risks but not institute mandates. The group said its number-one goal for the 2021 legislative session was to “oppose efforts to expand code adoption beyond electric, plumbing and energy codes at the state level.”

“Market forces, such as the ability to obtain and retain insurance, are also powerful incentives for property owners to mitigate their risk,” Ted Leighty, CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders, told the Colorado Sun last October about the proposed legislation. “One of the most important roles of state and local governments is to provide resources to help educate homeowners about how to mitigate risk through defensible spaces and hardening of structures.”

Leighty’s comments are undermined by the findings of the NBER paper, which found that publicizing information about climate risk has not been enough to encourage people to build homes that have a better chance at withstanding fires.

But Hansen, who plans to introduce the legislation, thinks the tables are turning. Not only are Coloradans more concerned about property damage from wildfires than they were a decade ago, especially in the wake of the Marshall Fire, but Hansen says abstract conversations about climate now often include concrete budgetary questions.

“You have a subset of voters who are very worried about climate change, that argument has been made and won with that subset of voters,” Hansen told The Daily Poster. “But there is a much bigger chunk of the electorate that doesn’t think climate is a big threat, but cares very much about insurance rates, local fire protection, and those types of issues. And so I think we are in a stronger position to pass this legislation because we have a compelling set of facts and a compelling argument with a bigger chunk of voters.”

Colorado is losing out on federal money for wildfire mitigation, due to its lack of a statewide code. The Federal Emergency Management Agency distributes grants for disaster mitigation to states based on a number of criteria, one of which is whether the state has a minimum building code.

“One of the angles that is different this time is that we are really looking at this from a budgetary standpoint,” Hansen told The Daily Poster. “We have missed out on tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that we otherwise would have had a good chance of getting. That means we’ve really got to fix this, from a budget standpoint, because there just aren’t enough resources at the state level to do this by ourselves.”

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Big Oil's California Connection

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/01/2022 - 7:05pm in

Click to share this on FacebookBig Oil's California Connection

From rising sea levels that could flood coastal settlements, to droughts that threaten farms statewide, to apocalyptic forest fires, California is on the front lines of the climate disaster. But due to its size and its impact on the rest of the country, the state is also perfectly positioned to wield a key, under-discussed tool for fighting climate change: insurance regulation.

But as loss of life and property damage grow in the state with each passing season, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has been backpedaling on the issue — after receiving more than $17,000 in donations and gifts from fossil fuel interests during his 2018 campaign.

Tip Jar

When he was sworn into the job three years ago, Lara vowed to use his power to combat global warming.

“We need bold action to ensure our communities adapt and are resilient to this new reality,” said Lara during his January 2019 inauguration speech. “There is no other industry that has the necessary expertise to ensure that California is prepared to mitigate and reduce risk to our communities and environment.”

Lara was correct: Insurance regulation is an important front in the battle against climate change. That’s because insurance companies fuel global warming by underwriting fossil fuel projects and investing the premiums they collect from consumers in fossil fuel companies. State insurance commissioners have the power to curtail both of these behaviors.

California emerged as a leader in addressing insurance companies’ links to fossil fuel companies under the direction of Lara’s predecessor, Dave Jones. Such efforts were pivotal, since California’s insurance market is so large it helps set industry-wide standards.

But despite his promises, Lara, who has received extensive funding from the insurance and fossil fuel industries over the course of his political career, has not continued most of Jones’ efforts.

“Lara’s been an incredible disappointment,” said Ross Hammond, senior strategist at the climate advocacy group Sunrise Project. “He has done almost nothing in regards to climate change.”

Just a few months into his term, Lara had a chance to take action on the matter — and chose not to. In March 2019, dozens of advocacy and activist groups submitted a petition asking Lara to require insurers to disclose their investments in fossil fuels, and which fossil fuel projects they insure.

“If we knew which companies were underwriting a refinery or a gas storage site, then we would have the ability to target them and get them not to do it,” Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, which was the leading group on the petition, told The Daily Poster.

Lara denied the petition in April 2019. In the letter explaining his denial, he claimed that he was “pursuing a much more comprehensive strategy” on climate than the actions requested by the petition, and asked for collaboration between “the petitioners, consumers, and the insurance industry.”

Since then, that strategy hasn’t materialized.

The denial “just shows the shallowness of his commitment to the environment,” Court said. “His answer that we’re going to work with insurance to stem climate change is not a real answer, because insurance companies are one of the biggest drivers of the fossil fuel boom.”

Lara’s approach to climate matters could become a major issue in his reelection battle this year. His reelection campaign and the Department of Insurance did not respond to requests for comment.

Big Money And Beyoncé Tickets

While serving as state insurance commissioner from 2011 to 2019, Jones required large insurance companies to disclose their investments in fossil fuels, and requested that insurance companies divest their holdings in thermal coal. The entreaty led to over $4 billion in divestments.

Even advocates who called for more drastic action at the time acknowledge that Jones’ policies were important to get the ball rolling. “He started the process,” Court said. “I think he could have gone farther and faster, but he took a step into the waters.”

Laws and regulations inspired by Jones’ policies were recently implemented in Connecticut and New York, two critical states for the insurance industry.

Term limits prevented Jones from running again in 2018, and he was replaced by Lara, then a state senator. Lara had sponsored bills focusing on climate change’s impact on insurance, suggesting potential sensitivity to the issue. But perhaps a better augur of the direction he would take once elected was the $65,000 of contributions from oil and gas companies that he had accepted over the course of his career, including during his campaign for insurance commissioner.

During the campaign and after his election, Lara also accepted over $270,000 in campaign donations from insurers and individuals with ties to the insurance industry. After sustained criticism for the perceived conflict of interest, Lara announced he would no longer serve as his own campaign treasurer, returned $83,000 worth of contributions, and temporarily suspended his campaign fundraising in summer 2019.

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Lara wasn’t just taking campaign money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2018, shortly before his election, Lara accepted a gift of two field-level tickets to a Beyoncé concert from Sempra Energy, an $11 billion California-based natural gas and electricity company that several months ago agreed to pay $1.8 billion for its role in the worst natural gas leak in U.S. history, near Los Angeles.

The following year, Sempra and fossil fuel giant Chevron made charitable donations on Lara's behalf to the LGBTQ+ rights group Equality California to support the Sacramento Equality Awards, according to state ethics records.

Chevron gave $15,000, while Sempra contributed $5,000. Lara reported the donations as behested payments — the term for when California officials raise money from corporations or other groups and donate the money to nonprofits.

Lara separately reported a $15,000 behested payment in 2019 from the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil and gas lobbying group, though records show the donation was refunded.

Given these connections to fossil fuel and insurance interests, it's not surprising that Lara has failed to continue Jones’ agenda, Court said.

“In politics, you don’t want people with big money angry at you. But in order to accomplish progressive ends, you often have to anger them, and Ricardo Lara doesn’t have that type of guts,” Court said.

“Ignoring The Elephant In The Room”

That’s not to say that the Department of Insurance under Lara has been entirely silent on climate. In July 2021, the department released a climate report containing recommendations for “policies to reduce the costs from wildfires, extreme heat, and flooding.”

The report contained numerous suggestions for mitigating the impact of climate change. But it was silent on ways that insurance regulation can be used to fight climate change directly. It did not mention the terms fossil fuels, oil, natural gas, or divestment. It also didn’t discuss the insurance industry’s investments in fossil fuels, and underwriting of fossil fuel projects, let alone how these activities might be curtailed.

“If you’re talking about insurance and climate change, and you don’t mention [insurers’] role in insuring fossil fuels, you’re willfully ignoring the elephant in the room,'' Hammond said.

Lara is up for reelection this year, with the primary set to take place in June. So far, he has one opponent: Marc Levine, a member of the state assembly representing the northern San Francisco Bay.

Levine hopes to return the Department of Insurance to the vigorous approach to climate matters it adopted under Jones. If elected, Levine told The Daily Poster he would use regulation to require insurers to disclose their investments in fossil fuels and underwriting of fossil fuel infrastructure, and hopefully eventually move towards requiring insurers to divest from fossil fuels.

“We know what the powers of the commissioner can be, and how to make the most of them,” Levine said. “[Lara’s] refusal to act allows insurers to keep their complicity in global warming secret, and stifles any further action on climate risk.”

Lara is likely to be a formidable candidate, thanks in part to blanket support from the Democratic establishment. He has been endorsed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, and over a dozen members of California’s congressional delegation.

Levine started the race with a cash advantage of $1.8 million in campaign funds compared to Lara’s $329,000. But Lara now has the upper hand there as well, after a coalition including Equality California, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and the California Federation of Teachers announced a $3 million independent expenditure on Lara’s behalf.

Lauding Lara’s work on behalf of consumers and on climate-related issues, the coalition’s press release announcing the expenditure also said that Lara’s election “as an out gay Latino son of immigrants has had a transformative impact on the lives of millions of Californians.”

While not denying that representation is important, Court worries that the question of whether or not Lara is providing the needed response to climate change is getting lost in the shuffle.

“California should be leading the way because we’re the most progressive state in the nation, with a mandate from the public to combat climate change,” Court said. “Yet we have a commissioner who’s not taking the lead, and who is unfortunately wanting to play ball with the insurance industry.”

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