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Leaked Audio Reveals True Agenda of Koch-Backed Candidates

08 Sep 2014  |   Andrew Seifter

Tags: General Political

Here at the League of Conservation Voters, we are committed to making sure that voters know when candidates share the Koch brothers’ agenda of propping up the dirty energy industry and dismantling environmental protections.  Using ad spending reports, voting records, debate responses, and more, we track the money Koch-backed front groups are pouring into these races, and how these candidates in turn stand with the Kochs on issues like defending Big Oil’s subsidies and attacking the EPA’s climate change plan. 

But every once in a while, we get to hear about this sordid relationship straight from the horse’s mouth. That’s what happened recently when audio leaked detailing what Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner, Iowa State Senator Joni Ernst, and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell had to say behind closed doors at a secret Koch brothers retreat held in June at California’s St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.

Seeking financial support from the Kochs’ network of wealthy donors, Congressman Gardner proclaimed that “third party” money would make the difference in his race. To build a sense of urgency, Gardner mentioned LCV and a couple other groups that are actively opposing his candidacy, adding, “We’ve seen the Climate Action folks come in to Colorado and organize because they know the threat that we pose.”  

Gardner wasn’t expecting these remarks to ever see the light of day, but that acknowledgment – that Gardner and his allies pose a “threat” to those who are concerned about climate change – is spot on. Gardner is a climate change denier who has voted to block the EPA from addressing carbon pollution from power plants, so when he tells the Koch brothers’ network that he wants to “change the course of this country,” we know exactly what he means: Stop the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and give polluters a free pass.

At the same event, Ernst recounted how she was “a little known state senator” when she first spoke at the Kochs’ summit last year, but that “the exposure to this group and to this network … really started my trajectory.” That “trajectory” can be measured in dollars and cents. Ernst’s campaign received more than $20,000 from donors with ties to the 2013 Koch event, and just a few days after Ernst's appearance at the 2014 event, Charles Koch and three members of his immediate family each gave Ernst the legal maximum contribution of $2,600. Then there’s the Koch-backed outside groups, which have already spent almost $2 million this year attacking Ernst’s opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley.

Ernst also boasted at the Koch summit about her “strong record in the state senate,” which included “removing burdensome rules and regulations.” She didn’t specify which rules and regulations she was talking about, but environmental protections are a good bet.  Since she began her campaign for the U.S. Senate, Ernst has made clear that she views the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act as similarly “burdensome” -- and worthy of weakening or even eliminating entirely.  

Not to be outdone, Senate Minority Leader McConnell also appeared at the Kochs’ event, pledging that if the Kochs’ network is able to help Republicans take control of the Senate, McConnell will return the favor by using the appropriations process to “go after” the EPA.  However, whereas Gardner and Ernst would probably prefer that their comments at the Koch meeting remain secret, McConnell is content to let the wider world know about his plan.  In a recent interview with Politico, he similarly cited EPA regulations as a “good example” of how he would use the appropriations process to thwart President Obama’s agenda.

McConnell knows that he likely needs Gardner and Ernst to win their races if he hopes to become Majority Leader, which is precisely why the stakes in these contests are so high. McConnell has made no secret of the fact that he’d run the Senate on behalf of the Koch brothers, and these recently-leaked remarks by Gardner and Ernst are yet another indication that they will eagerly help McConnell implement the Koch brothers’ agenda if they are elected this fall.

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