Tom Steyer vs. the Koch Brothers: Obliterating the False Equivalency

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    Cross-posted at Daily Kos

    The latest fashion among right-wing trolls?  Attempt to halt all criticism of the Koch Brothers by bringing up the name of environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer.  We have our billionaire political donors, you have yours – what’s the difference?

    Ah, false equivalency, the last refuge of the simple mind.  Well, in case you need some troll repellent, here are four fun facts demonstrating the enormous differences between Steyer & the Kochs:

    1) Making money vs. losing it: As Steyer puts it, the Kochs’ priorities “line up perfectly with their pocketbooks – and that’s not true for us.”

    If you want to know why the Koch brothers went to the bother of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create a vast infrastructure for casting doubt on climate science, well, it’s not too hard to find a motive.  Just check out their stake in oil and petrochemicals, investments whose value is likely to go down the moment we put a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

    They’ve clearly leveraged that investment with the millions they’ve spent indoctrinating rubes through their multitudinous Tea Party organizations such as Americans for Plutocracy (er, I mean “Prosperity”).  Convince an army of ignorants that climate change is a Vast Conspiracy of Evil Scientists and you can spend more time relaxing at the golf course knowing that your oil and coal investments are safe and sound.  

    Meanwhile, Tom Steyer has lost money through his divestment from fossil fuels.   The media has made much of the fact that in his previous life, he gained a fair amount of money investing in coal plants.  But the key point is that he is atoning for those past decisions by donating so much of his wealth to work toward solutions, rather than just add to the world’s problems.

    Of course, some Tea Parrots are going around screeching that his involvement is all a plot to make boatloads of money in wind, solar and other renewables.  As usual, they have ZERO evidence for their conspiracy theories (sometimes pointing to his involvement in a research program at Stanford, not normally a source of obscene wealth.)  And for all the fossil fuel barons this country has seen – from John D. Rockefeller to the Kochs – it’s hard to think of too many solar or wind barons.  

    Somehow, I doubt that the clean energy field will ever produce the kinds of gazillionaires we associate with Big Oil, Gas and Coal.  And I’m okay with that.  I hope there are healthy profits to spur more work on efficiency and renewables, but it’s just plain stupid to claim that such hoped-for profits are the reason that we’re focused on climate change.  

    2) Amount being spent: Let’s be clear: NOBODY else is throwing around the amount of money the Kochs and their allies have been dropping into political races.  These guys spent a whopping $400 million in the 2012 election, more than double the spending of the top ten labor unions combined.

    This time around, the Kochs are planning to spend $300 million, again putting them in a class by themselves.

    Steyer, meanwhile has pledged to spend $100 million in the 2014 election — $50 million of his own cash plus another $50 million from any allies he can find.  That ain’t pocket change, though it is still 3 times less than the Kochs’ planned spend.  And in a sad (but not surprising) commentary on the priorities of the 1%, he’s had trouble so far scraping up that other $50 mil.

    By the way, what Steyer’s spending is a much greater percentage of his wealth than is the case with the Kochs – since his $1 billion net worth is a mere pittance compared to their $80 billion.  

    3) Transparency: One of the aspects of the Koch brothers’ operations that is most offensive to democracy is their love of secrecy and obfuscation.  It’s hard not to get dizzy studying charts of their many hopelessly interlocking organizations with innocuous-sounding names.  

    They continue to seek new ways to hide who’s giving their organizations money, how much, and why, as through such shadowy organizations as the Donors Trust, well described by Mother Jones as “the right’s dark money ATM.”

    Meanwhile, while the Koch brothers hide in boardrooms and cover their tracks, Steyer is out in the public eye, proud to be the spokesman for his organization.  You don’t need any eye-popping charts to describe his operations.  While he also allows some of his donors to remain anonymous, he has been much more transparent to date than you-know-who.

    4) Promoting vs. distorting science: Finally, it’s important to make a distinction between those who seek to promote and build on scientific findings vs. those who create confusion, distrust and misunderstanding about science.  It is just not right to compare these two activities as equal.  

    The Climate Reality Project’s terrific video “Doubt” shows how the petroleum industry borrowed the techniques of Big Tobacco – and used some of the same propaganda outlets, like the Heartland Institute – to deliberately spread doubt about science as a way to protect their product.  

    Science, while far from perfect, is a time-tested collection of methodologies to separate fact from fiction.  The climate change denial industry, while publishing pathetically little research, focuses on influencing public debate by constantly churning out red herrings, cherry picked and misleading information, doctored or out of context quotes, and everything else they can think of to confuse the public about the actual findings of climate science.  

    So no, not all billionaires are alike.  But the right likes to play on progressives’ well-developed consciences by making us feel guilty about fighting back against them.  

    They want us to doubt ourselves just as deeply as they want us to doubt proven science.  They want us to get disillusioned, unilaterally disarm and give up.

    Well, don’t fall for it.  Fight alongside Tom Steyer and everyone else who’s willing to support our values.  We need all the help we can get against the deluge of money, corporate power and well-organized ignorance being brought to bear on the Republican side.

    Thank you, Tom Steyer – and please don’t let up for one minute in the battle to bequeath our kids and grandkids a safe and healthy planet.