Name and Shame Big Political Contributors

This August, a phony controversy erupted over wealthy donors to President Trump’s campaign and political action committee being publicly named.

After Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) tweeted the names of San Antonio contributors who’d made large donations to support Trump, some reported receiving angry phone calls. A few residents said they would boycott businesses tied to the donors.

Now, the New York Times reported, “Republicans have accused the congressman of ‘doxxing’ private citizens and trying to incite harassment of the president’s supporters.”

Of course, campaign contributions are publicly available information. And it’s beyond elitist for wealthy donors to a president who openly incites violence and hate to complain of “harassment” when they face criticism.

Under this administration, entire communities have faced traumatizing harassment — including in the form of white supremacist violence in El Paso and elsewhere. Compared to that, or to a child ripped from their parents and caged, what’s an angry phone call?

Beyond this, the episode points to a longer-standing issue: the massive amounts of money sloshing around our political system.

For the 2016 presidential election alone (not counting the primaries), campaigns and outside groups raised a staggering $2.1 billion. The average cost of a campaign for a House seat is about $1 million, and for a Senate seat it runs into the tens of millions.

Where does all this money come from? Often from corporations and their trade associations, and from wealthy individuals, like the late billionaire David Koch, and their networks. In the 2016 cycle, the oil and gas industry alone contributed $113 million to campaigns and outside groups.

It’s either naive or willfully disingenuous to think that this staggering amount of money comes with no strings attached.

Here’s a story: The largest and second largest political contributors among oil and gas companies in 2016 were Marathon Petroleum and Koch Industries, who gave $3.3 million between them. Turns out, the Trump administration’s ongoing push to eviscerate automobile fuel efficiency standards was driven by lobbying from these same two companies.

Auto fuel efficiency regulations are common-sense. They cut greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxide pollution, and prices at the pump. But the Trump administration is gutting them to enrich the oil and gas industry, at the behest of two companies who essentially bribed them.

One of the best instruments we have to fight this system is to publicly name and shame the politicians and contributors who corrupt our democracy this way. I’ll take my own advice and name a few.

One is Robert Murray, a coal baron who gave Trump $300,000 and a policy agenda to go with it — one the Trump administration is dutifully implementing.

Another politically prolific coal baron is Joseph Craft, who’s spent several million dollars on political contributions over the years. He’s been rewarded with an unabashedly pro-coal federal policy agenda and an ambassador position for his wife. (Meanwhile the rest of us get terrible human consequences of coal.)

Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, meanwhile, is a former partner of the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck — which gave almost $1 million in contributions over a six-year period to senators who voted on his confirmation.

As Interior Secretary, Bernhardt has held secret meetings with representatives of industries regulated by his department. And his department has systematically stonewalled Freedom of Information Act requests, hiding corruption from the public eye.

We need more, not less, of a public spotlight on people who corrupt our political system for their own private gain. So let’s keep naming names.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.