Koch: Billionaire brothers climate pledge strategy heating up in Montana

Jeremy Chapman/MTCIR

The colossus of political clout known as the Koch brothers may not have succeeded in getting Mitt Romney into the White House, but their battle over climate change is far from over. The ultra-conservative billionaire brothers of the oil and chemical conglomerate, Koch Industries, have increasingly focused their interests on deregulation since the 2008 election. And a fresh investigation into their relationships with state legislators provides important insight about how widespread their influence really is — including their long reach into politics and its players in the Treasure State.

A report released earlier this month by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University documented that the Koch brothers spent $134 million over a recent five-year period promoting their brand of politics through campaign contributions, lobbying, nonprofit public policy underwriting, and educational institutional support. It also documented how the various arms of the Koch political influence machine are a well-oiled operation — working efficiently together to promote anti-regulatory policies that benefit Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States. According to Forbes, Koch Industries has more than 60,000 employees globally and annual revenue of $115 billion with estimated pretax profit margins of 10 percent.

The policies Koch Industries find most interesting include those related to climate change — a major concern for a corporation that is also the 27th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the United States, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. In 2011, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries emitted more than 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere, from 50 different sites. The closest of those sites to Montana being Georgia Pacific Corporation, located in Lovell, Wyo.

Rolling back the calendar to 2011 during the first session of the 112th Congress, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., brought forth a bill dubbed the Energy Tax Prevention Act or H.R. 910, which was co-sponsored by 92 Republicans, including former Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. The bill was promoted heavily by Koch Industries Public Sector LLC, the lobbying arm of Koch Industries, and would have reversed the Supreme Court’s April 2007 ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The Koch brothers embarked on their mission to influence policy-making in 2004 when along with Koch Industries board member Richard Fink, they co-founded Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots political advocacy group with an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda. Then in 2008, AFP introduced the little-known “No Climate Tax Pledge,” encouraging politicians to sign up and promise not to spend any money to help fight climate change without an equivalent amount of tax cuts.

Another bill introduced during the 112th Congress, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act or H.R. 1, was the bill that would fund the federal government for fiscal year 2011. Instead, the bill was used by some members of the House to attempt to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, another key strategy of Koch Industries and their “No Climate Tax” pledge. One of the first to sign the pledge was Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered. Pompeo introduced one of many amendments to H.R. 1 attacking the EPA, which sought to cut their budget in half from the previous fiscal year 2010. The amendment, which Rehberg voted in favor of, would have cut the EPA’s budget by $8.5 million. In the end, the House passed a 27 percent budget cut for the EPA, the largest cut the agency would have seen since 1981, had it passed the Senate.


Currently, the pledge has the support of 411 office-holders and politicians, including 25 U.S. Senators and 144 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, plus seven politicians currently in office in Montana representing several state districts.

Six current members of the Montana House of Representatives and one current Montana senator have all signed the pledge, in addition to Rep. Steve Daines of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The six Republican members of the Montana House who have signed the pledge, along with the areas they represent are: Reps. Keith Regier of Kalispell, Pat Ingraham of Thompson Falls, Cary Smith of Billings, Gordon Vance and Ted Washburn of Bozeman and Mike Miller of Helmville. The lone Republican member of the Montana Senate who signed the pledge and the area he represents is: Sen. Terry Murphy of Cardwell.

Some of Montana’s pledge signatories also hold key positions in committees and the legislature in both chambers that give them influence over climate and energy policy. For instance, Vance is the current House Majority Leader — a position which oversees all House committees, serves as an ex-officio member of all standing committees and is the lead speaker during floor debates.

Also on the House side, Regier serves as chair of the Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications committee, overseeing a committee that often deals with energy issues. Miller is a member of the Natural Resources committee and Taxation committee and introduced House Bill 408 this past session, which was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock. The bill’s purpose was to revise tax laws on mandated pollution control equipment, effectively lowering the percentages of taxation. Miller attempted to override the governor’s veto on the bill but did not earn the two-thirds majority vote needed to be successful.


The history of Koch money in Montana travels back well over a decade beginning with former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, R-Mont., just prior to and during Hill’s re-election run for the U.S. House seat in 1998 when the Koch Industries Inc. PAC contributed $1,000 to Hill’s campaign.

In 1999-2000, former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. and former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., each accepted campaign contributions from Koch Industries Inc. PAC during their runs for the U.S Senate and House. During that two-year period the Koch brother’s PAC gave Burns $6,000 and Rehberg a total of $7,500.

The following cycle, in 2001-2002, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., received $4,000 while Rehberg received another $1,000. Burns also received another $1,000 contribution during the 2003-2004 reporting period.

In 2005-2006, Koch Industries contributed another $6,000 to Burns and $5,000 to Baucus. Then in 2007-2008, Baucus received another $5,000 toward his campaign. Fast-forward to 2011-2012, Daines made out with $10,000, while Rehberg pocketed another $8,500. So far this current reporting period for 2013-2014, Daines has received yet another $2,000 in contributions via two separate payments — one in March and one in May.

Follow Jeremy Chapman and the Montana Center for Investigative Reporting on Twitter.