Citizens United

Thu, 2014-02-13 10:56Ben Jervey
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St. Louis Judge Cites Citizens United to Protect Tax Breaks for Peabody Energy

With the quick stroke of a pen, a circuit court judge in St. Louis has singlehandedly silenced more than 22,000 city residents, who had sought to bring a ballot initiative to end tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to a citywide vote in April.

Last summer, volunteers with the Take Back St. Louis coalition gathered over 22,000 signatures to put onto the ballot a measure that would amend the city’s charter to include a “Sustainable Energy Policy” and end taxpayer-funded support of fossil fuel companies.

According to Take Back St. Louis, the “proposed charter amendment would end public financial incentives, such as tax abatements, to fossil fuel mining companies and those doing $1 million of business with them per year, and requires the city to create a sustainable energy plan for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives on city-owned vacant land.”

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Dierker sided with Peabody Energy (in a decision you can read here) to grant a temporary restraining order that would, in essence, keep the initiative off the April 8th ballot.

First declaring the initiative “facially unconstitutional,” Judge Dierker proceeded to cite the Citizens United decision in explaining why the policy would represent a “patent denial of equal protection” to fossil fuel energy companies.  Specifically, Judge Dierker wrote:

business entities (which, after all, are a species of associations of citizens coming together in the exercise of economic freedom) are entitled to constitutional protection as citizens and may not arbitrarily be denied basic legal rights. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

The proposed initiative and judge’s decision have implications far beyond the city of St. Louis. Peabody Energy, the largest privately-owned coal mining company in the world, is headquartered in St. Louis, and received tax breaks of over $61 million from the city in 2010. The Take Back St. Louis coalition was hoping to target future giveaways, arguing that the public funds would be much better spent on underfunded local services like schools.

Fri, 2013-06-07 09:42Sharon Kelly
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New Documents in West Virginia Coal Lawsuit Shine Light on Judicial Corruption Allegations

“Extreme by any measure.” Those four words were used by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 2009 decision to describe judicial corruption and corporate influence in the West Virginia courts.

That opinion by the nation’s highest court famously reversed the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices who had thrown out a lawsuit against a major coal company and represented an unusually forceful reprimand of a lower court. It also symbolized a turning point for a state where coal has been king for much of the past two hundred years.

Another decision — one levied last month by the Supreme Court in neighboring Virginia — has garnered far less attention but marks yet a further blemish on West Virginia and it highlights the role that coal continues to play in politics and law in that state.

The little-noticed decision handed down by the Virginia court was a major setback to one of the coal industry's kingpins, Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy. For over a quarter of a century, Mr. Blankenship was the guiding figure and intellectual architect behind his company’s obliteration of the United Mine Workers union and the coal industry's wholesale shift toward a relatively new and environmentally-ruinous form of mining called mountaintop removal, which essentially involves blowing off the top of mountains to reveal the coal seams underneath.

Thu, 2012-05-03 12:46Steve Horn
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B.C. Protest This Saturday to Stop Warren Buffett's BNSF Coal Trains

Warren Buffett, the third wealthiest man on the planet (net worth: $44 billion), often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is the target of a May 5 action called for by Stop Coal B.C. Well, not Buffett directly, but a rail company he owns through his massive holding company, Berkshire Hathaway: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.

BNSF Railway is the second largest freight rail company in the United States and the exclusive carrier of thermal coal from coal basins in the northwestern U.S. to docks in British Columbia, where the dirty coal is exported to the global market, primarily to Asia.

The action calls for activists to blockade BNSF's four coal-loaded freight trains from reaching their final destination for the day and in the process, risk arrest. It is part of 350.org's broader “Connect the Dots” event taking place on Saturday, with actions planned throughout the world.

The Stop Coal B.C. call to action reads,

Wed, 2011-04-06 17:38Brendan DeMelle
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Koch Industries' Lobbying Curtain Lifted By Center For Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity has an in-depth look today at Koch Industries’ “Web of Influence” in Washington, revealing the immense growth in Koch’s spending on lobbyists and influence peddling over the last few years. As the CPI investigation notes, the Kochtopus’s lobbying army has its tentacles wrapped around all kinds of issues, not just its core oil business, but its wide-ranging stakes in everything from Canadian tar sands to ethanol to toxic chemicals to financial regulation (or preserving the lack thereof).

The CPI report lifts the veil on a few individual Koch lobbyists, notably Gregory Zerzan, a name that nobody outside Washington would recognize, yet who has had tremendous impact on the Hill as a Koch toady.

As the report notes:

“The money that Koch (pronounced “coke”) has spent on lobbying in Washington has soared in recent years, from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008. The Kochs then spent another $20.5 million over the next two years to influence federal policy, as the company’s lobbyists and officials sought to mold, gut or kill more than 100 prospective bills or regulations.”

Check out the rest of the report over at the CPI website. It’s a great display of the kind of transparency needed in Washington, which remains overrun with lobbyists despite President Obama’s campaign pledge to limit their influence over federal policymaking. 

With the huge influx of Koch money into lobbying and campaign contributions - thanks to the democracy-destroying Citizens United decision - it will be hard to have an honest debate about much of anything in Congress. Polluter money prevails, for the time being, so it’s important to know which dirty money purveyors to pin the blame on for the deterioration of our democracy, public health and the environment. These days, the Koch brothers are Exhibit A.

Sat, 2011-01-22 13:26Farron Cousins
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Common Cause Asks DOJ to Investigate Possible Conflict of Interest With Scalia and Thomas

The public advocacy group Common Cause sent a letter to the Justice Department today to investigate whether or not Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the infamous Citizens’ United ruling last year. This week marks the one year anniversary of the landmark 5-4 court ruling that gave corporations the green light to flood political campaigns with as much cash as they choose.

But could the case be overturned due to impartiality on behalf of a few Justices? Common Cause hopes so. President and CEO of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, released the following statement today on the possible conflict of interest:

“Common Cause, which I’m privileged to lead, has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case last year because they may have attended secret retreats where lobbying and political strategies were developed by some of the biggest players in the 2010 elections.

A year ago this week, Scalia and Thomas supplied critical votes in the 5-4 Citizens United decision that was of particular importance to two politically active billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch. Charles Koch, president of Koch Industries, the nation’s second largest privately-held firm, and brother David have spent tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years on conservative political activism. The Koch-sponsored group Americans for Prosperity has been critical to development of the Tea Party; it promised last year to spend $45 million on the Congressional midterm elections.”

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