Saturday, May 25, 2019

Koch-funded groups – yet again – speak out against electric vehicle tax credits

A coalition of thirty conservative free-market advocacy organizations – the majority of which have clear ties to Charles and David Koch through their funding or leadership – are behind it.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

A coalition of thirty conservative free-market advocacy organizations – the majority of which have clear ties to Charles and David Koch through their funding or leadership – have sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) urging that Congress halt any expansion of the electric vehicle tax credit, or scrap it entirely.

The groups do not mention in the letter that they benefit financially from the Koch brothers’ petrochemical refining fortune, nor that electric vehicles pose the largest and most immediate threat to the oil and refining industries.

The letter arrived as an immediate response to a bill introduced last week that would extend the 2009 tax credit for another ten years. The Electric Cars Act of 2018, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and others, would also lift the cap of 200,000 vehicles sold by each manufacturer that would qualify for the credit.

Notably, the proposed bill directly addresses one of the most common criticisms of the tax credit – that it is predominantly subsidizing purchases of high-income Americans. The bill would allow buyers to spread the tax credit out over a 5-year period, or apply the credit at the point of sale, which would effectively make the full $7,500 credit easier to access for low- and middle-income buyers without large tax liability.

Who are the groups fighting the electric vehicle tax credit?

The letter was organized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy wing of the Institute for Energy Research, both of which are led by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle. The AEA has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the electric vehicle tax credit, and in June released a deceptive push poll that relied on demonstrably false data and leading questions to allege that Americans don’t support the tax credit.

The “Action” arm of the Koch-funded corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was another notable signatory. Another is Americans for Prosperity, the massively influential network of state chapters that coordinate the Kochs’ political advocacy.

Other groups that signed the letter to Congress include the following:

The American Consumer Institute (ACI) is best known for opposing net neutrality efforts while being funded by a major internet service provider (ISP) lobby, as journalist Lee Fang detailed for VICE. More recently, its President and CEO Steve Pociask has turned his attention to attacking electric vehicles, writing on Forbes that “the science on electric vehicles does not support continuing California’s waiver” to set its own vehicle emission standards.

Less Government is an “organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault.” It was founded and is run by Seton Motley, who is also listed as a Policy Adviser to the climate science-denying Heartland Institute. Though Motley and his Less Government org have their roots in telecom and media issues, he has in recent years engaged more on climate and energy, signing some anti-wind energy letters organized by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and writing a bit on electric vehicles.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is part of the network of front groups funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network through the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now called American Encore), and Freedom Partners. As the Energy and Policy Institute has described, “TPA essentially exists as a shell for its advocacy, based on its own IRS form 990s: ‘The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has given control of the management duties and the daily activities of the organization to MLM Consulting, LLC (MLM). MLM will be responsible for managing the organization and work to support the exempt purposes of TPA. The President of TPA, David Williams, is the sole owner of MLM Consulting LLC.’” TPA has fought clean energy policy in the past using the website SolarSecrets.org and has published white papers arguing against solar energy tax credits.

Consumer Action for a Strong Economy is run by Matthew Kandrach, and has been linked to a number of coalition efforts stemming from the FreedomWorks organization, which was born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America.

American Commitment is run by Phil Kerpen, a former Vice President of Americans for Prosperity. The organization was founded by Sean Noble, a right-wing operative with close ties to the Koch brothers who also runs the Center to Protect Patient Rights (American Encore), a major funnel for Koch donor network money to front groups.

FreedomWorks was, as mentioned above, born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America, though it has no known Koch ties at present. The group was described in a 2012 article in Mother Jones as “one of the main political outfits of the conservative movement and an instrumental force within the tea party.” It pushes free market policies and has questioned the well-established science linking human activity to a warming planet.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a conservative advocacy group dedicated to “economic freedom” that has received funding from ExxonMobil, Texaco, and the family foundations of the Koch brothers.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is an anti-tax group that has received funding from the oil and gas lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, along with various groups in the Koch network such as the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, as well as DonorsTrust.

Frontiers of Freedom, run by George Landrith, has received significant funding from Exxon, the Koch brothers, and dark money organizations like DonorsTrust. In 2015, Landrith launched the Energy Equality Coalition to battle against the federal electric vehicle tax credit. The coalition also includes David Williams of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance and Horace Cooper, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. Landrith is also a director of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity was once funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and has actively lobbied for more liberalized tax laws, and for less scrutiny towards offshore tax havens.

Familiar attacks from Koch-funded interests

Many of the free-market, conservative groups that signed the letter also signed an April letter to Scott Pruitt, then-administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging the agency to strip California of its right to set stricter greenhouse gas limits for personal vehicles.

The federal electric vehicle tax credit has been in the direct cross-hairs of some Koch-funded groups – including those who signed last week’s letter – for at least two years. For instance, the Energy Equality Coaltion, which, as mentioned above, was launched in late 2015 as an offshoot of Frontiers of Freedom with the express purpose of fighting the tax credit.

Notably, eleven of the Energy Equality Coalition’s 28 total tweets from its long-dormant Twitter account were posted in the three days following the release of the AEA‘s anti-tax credit letter, suggesting that the group might be ramping up efforts to fight against the $7,500 tax incentive.

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