Fossil fuel millionaires collectively pumped more than $100m into Republican presidential contenders’ efforts last year – in an unprecedented investment by the oil and gas industry in the party’s future.
About one in three dollars donated to Republican hopefuls from mega-rich individuals came from people who owe their fortunes to fossil fuels – and who stand to lose the most in the fight against climate change.
The scale of investment by fossil fuel interests in presidential Super Pacs reached about $107m last year – before any votes were cast in the Republican primary season.
Campaign groups said the funds raised questions about what kind of leverage the fossil fuel industry might enjoy if the Republicans were to take the White House.
Ted Cruz, the Texas senator seen as having the best chance of stopping Donald Trump from clinching the Republican nomination, was among the biggest beneficiaries of fossil fuel support to his Super Pac.
Cruz, who more than any other Republican candidate openly rejects mainstream science on climate change, banked some 57% of the funds to his Super Pac, or about $25m, from fossil fuel interests, according to campaign filings compiled by Greenpeace and reviewed by the Guardian.
The Texas senator, who picked up three states on Super Tuesday compared to seven for Trump, told NPR in December that climate change was a fiction concocted by liberals who want control over the economy. “The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming,” he claimed at the time.
Greenpeace, which helped compile the filings with the Guardian, said Cruz’s rejection of climate science was a factor of his heavy reliance on fossil fuel funding.
“Ted Cruz’s complete denial of climate change science is perfectly in line with the business interests of his biggest funders,” said Jesse Coleman, a Greenpeace oil and gas campaigner. “These fossil funders have made denying climate change and ignoring scientists a prerequisite for being a Republican candidate.”
The Cruz campaign disavowed any knowledge of the Super Pac, but a spokeswoman reasserted the rejection of mainstream science about climate change. “Regarding climate change, Cruz’s position is very simple. The data does not back up the theory,” the spokeswoman said in an email, describing the global challenge as a “politically driven cause that grows government and enriches entrenched Washington special interests”.
Coleman suggested that Republicans were unlikely to give up climate denial even if Cruz does not win the nomination.
“While Donald Trump, also a climate change denier, is mostly self-funded for now, he will look to the fossil fuel industry for political support if he wins the nomination. Mr. Trump also has millions of dollars directly invested in the fossil fuel industry.”
Other fossil fuel favourites have already fallen by the wayside, with the winnowing of the crowded Republican field that began the race for the White House in 2015.
Chris Christie, who never made it beyond New Hampshire, had strong fossil fuel support, with oil and gas interests accounting for 39% of the funds to his Super Pac.
The establishment candidate Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race after his failure to rise out of single digits in the polls, obtained about 26% of the funds for his Super Pac from the oil and gas industry.
As for Marco Rubio, who picked up his first state on Super Tuesday, fossil fuel interests accounted for about 23% of the Florida senator’s Super Pac.
The donations – $107m through the course of 2015 – came from 124 billionaires or businesses that pumped a minimum of $100,000 each towards Republican presidential hopefuls through support groups or Super Pacs.
Super Pacs, which operate outside the official campaigns, are free to take unlimited campaign contributions.
The $107m from mega-rich donors forms a major chunk of the $524m that was given to presidential contenders from both parties last year.
Campaign groups say the big spending by fossil fuel interests – and some candidates’ heavy reliance on them – raises questions about the leverage fossil fuel companies may try to exert over the White House if the next occupant is a Republican.
The fossil fuel super-donors all have connections to oil and gas operations – from fracking to petrochemicals.
Fossil fuel donors traditionally have favoured Republican candidates many times over their Democratic counterparts.
However, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, appears to have made inroads into the ranks of the favoured. Mega-rich fossil fuel donors pumped about 7% of the funds into Clinton’s Super Pac last year, according to the filings. Clinton was criticised by Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, her erstwhile rival, for taking funds from fossil fuel lobbyists.
The findings revealed the largely unseen power players behind the Republicans’ presidential hopefuls – led by the Wilks family in Texas.
The family, which made its fortune from making equipment used in fracking oil and gas wells, gave about $15m to a Cruz-supporting Super Pac in 2015.
Next in line among the big fossil donors to Cruz was Toby Neugebauer, the son of Texas Republican congressman Randy Neugebauer and cofounder of an energy investment firm which has invested heavily in the Barnett Shale – ground zero of oil and gas fracking in Texas. The younger Neugebauer donated about $10m to Cruz’s Super Pac last year.
Cruz also won big from groups associated with the Kochs, the oil billionaires who have emerged as major funders of ultra-conservative causes in the US. Cruz’s Super Pac took in $11.9m from donors who have supported Koch causes or its Freedom Partners organisation – compared to $7.8m for Rubio.
Even among Republican presidential contenders – who have given short shrift to climate change aside from using it as a punchline – Cruz has stood out for his rejection of the scientific mainstream on climate change.
The Texas Republican has repeatedly insisted – contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus – that there is no evidence of global warming.
This article originally appeared on The Guardian.
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