How Kansas’ Koch Industries helped fuel the U.S. Capitol insurrection

Thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters storm the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Marcela Mulholland is the political director at Data for Progress

Earlier this month, when domestic terrorists overran the U.S. Capitol, they did not act alone. Not only did they have the full and expressed support of the president and other Republican electeds, they also had the backing of oil companies that have spent billions of dollars undermining our electoral process and normalizing the rejection of science and facts. The oil and gas industry donated more than $9 million to the newly dubbed “Sedition Caucus” in 2020 alone.

Kansas-based Koch Industries, a key oil and gas ally, is at the forefront of this corruption. Koch Industries contributed $708,500 to Electoral College objectors through its PAC during the 2020 campaign cycle. Kansas’ three Republican representatives all voted to overturn the will of the American people by voting against certifying the 2020 presidential results, as did Sen. Roger Marshall. The three objectors in the House all received $10,000 donations from Koch’s PAC.

By putting campaign cash into the coffers of the Sedition Caucus, Koch Industries has rewarded and fueled their attacks on Democracy. What happened on Jan. 6 was the violent culmination of years of Republicans’ undermining elections and spurring on dangerous, bigoted and violent rhetoric.

It’s well-known that the Kochs’ political influence reaches far beyond Kansas — their financial-backing has empowered politicians across the country who espouse misinformation and conspiracy theories. Koch Industries has made a habit of donating to politicians who deny climate change, COVID-19 and now election results.

The Kochs’ led one of the biggest political influence campaigns in history — pioneering the political apparatus that made denying climate change and blocking any environmental action a key pillar of the modern Republican Party. The Kochs’ influence campaign was more than ideological — it was part of a political agenda to protect their companies’ fossil fuel profits. Koch Industries poisoned our democracy with lies and division so they could continue polluting air and water with impunity.

Koch Industries, like the fossil fuel industry writ large, has a symbiotic relationship with the Republicans they donate to. Oil and gas companies donate millions to help elect anti-science, anti-democracy politicians and in turn, once in power these politicians give them a free pass on pollution and billions in tax breaks. Data for Progress polling shows that this kind of political influence is unpopular among voters. Overall, 44% of voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who refuses fossil fuel money.

Though unpopular, the strategy is working. When Trump came to power, the Koch web of political advocacy groups had a clear wish list of anti-environmental rollbacks. Four years later, nearly every one of these wishes has been granted — including the elimination of the Clean Power Plan, U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement, expanded fracking on public and indigenous lands, and gutting of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Kansans are paying the price of these environmental rollbacks. The changing climate threatens Kansas’ agriculture industry, which generates $65 billion annually and employs 245,000 people across the state. Rising temperatures and periods of drought caused by climate change are crushing Kansas’ farmers. Another 1 degree Celsius of warming would increase the risk to Kansas’ crop yields by 32% for corn and 11% for soybeans, which could in turn cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, further hurting already struggling farmers. Threats of flooding and even wildfires are on the rise in Kansas, putting countless homes, businesses and schools at risk.

This year millions of Americans were confronted with the increasingly dire climate crisis as they watched wildfires ravage 9.5 million acres of land, turning skies a haunting red-orange on the West Coast, all while a record hurricane season pummeled the Atlantic. Though the impacts of climate change are increasingly undeniable, Koch-funded politicians continue to deny reality. Just as they continue to deny the results of the election and refuse to take responsibility for their role in fomenting a deadly insurrection at our Capitol.

More than ever, the consequences of the Koch-funded misinformation machine are on display. Koch Industries and oil and gas companies have spent years polluting our planet and the democratic process. This puts us all at risk. Protecting our air and water from the worsening effects of climate change requires a strong democracy free from the pollution of Koch and Big Oil’s toxic money. It’s time for Koch to get out of the business of burning up the planet and the democratic process along with it.

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