by Jake Johnson
A right-wing dark money group controlled by Leonard Leo—a legal activist who has played an outsized role in packing the U.S. Supreme Court with conservative ideologues—was the beneficiary of a massive, possibly unprecedented donation of $1.6 billion from a shadowy electronics mogul with ties to the Koch network.
The enormous infusion of cash, first reported Monday by the New York Times, could bolster and embolden right-wing efforts to drag the U.S. judicial and political systems even further to the right for decades to come, imperiling the climate, what’s left of abortion rights, the franchise, and other freedoms that have come under growing threat from the GOP and conservative judges.
According to the Times, the donation to the Marble Freedom Trust from former Tripp Lite CEO and longtime Republican benefactor Barre Seid is “among the largest—if not the largest—single contributions ever made to a politically focused nonprofit.”
The Times reports how the gift, based entirely on funds generated by the sale of Tripp Lite, “was arranged through an unusual series of transactions that appear to have avoided tax liabilities” for both Seid and Leo’s nonprofit.
Citing tax records and an unnamed source with knowledge of the matter, the Times explained that “rather than merely giving cash, Mr. Seid donated 100 percent of the shares of Tripp Lite to Mr. Leo’s nonprofit group before the company was sold to an Irish conglomerate for $1.65 billion.”
The Marble Freedom Trust “then received all of the proceeds from the sale” last year, the Times found.
“For perspective,” the newspaper added, “the $1.6 billion that the Marble trust reaped from the sale is slightly more than the total of $1.5 billion spent in 2020 by 15 of the most politically active nonprofit organizations that generally align with Democrats.”
Seid is a major but relatively low-profile donor to Republicans and right-wing causes, including to organizations that attack climate science. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) notes that Seid is “closely allied with the Koch network and funnels dark money through the same groups used by the Kochs, including Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.”
Jane Mayer, the award-winning New Yorker investigative journalist who has closely covered the Koch network for years, called the Times story on Seid’s donation to Leo’s group “huge.”
Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of the money in politics watchdog project Documented, wrote in response to the Times reporting that Leo “now controls an astonishing $1.6 billion that he can use to reshape our political system.”
“With this fortune,” Fischer added, “Leo can maintain and even grow his singular influence in near perpetuity.”
Leo has exerted much of his influence on U.S. politics through the Federalist Society, which has established a pipeline of far-right judges that have filled the benches of lower courts and the Supreme Court in recent years. Leo is currently co-chair of the Federalist Society’s board of directors.
As he looks to spend his new group’s huge windfall, Leo will benefit from recent Supreme Court decisions—including the infamous Citizens United ruling—that opened the floodgates to unlimited and secretive election spending from dark money groups just like the Marble Freedom Trust.
“After stacking the federal courts with conservative friends and allies, Leonard Leo has single-handedly amassed a $1.6 billion dark money slush fund that will dwarf Democratic spending for years to come,” wrote Mark Joseph Stern, Slate’s court reporter. “[It is an] extraordinary manipulation of loopholes in tax and campaign finance law.”
Thanks to Manchin, IRA’s Methane Fee on Big Oil Is Riddled With Massive Holes
by Jake Johnson
The newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act contains the world’s first-ever fee on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas believed to be responsible for roughly 30 percent of global temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution.
But analysts and climate advocates fear that the fee, which is aimed at incentivizing U.S. fossil fuel companies to stop deliberately spewing the gas into the atmosphere, will have a muted impact on rapidly rising methane emissions given that 60 percent of the oil and gas industry is exempt from the penalty.
Reuters reported earlier this month that thanks to carveouts won by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—the fossil fuel industry’s top ally in the Senate Democratic caucus and the chamber’s leading recipient of oil and gas donations—the fee “only applies to companies that emit 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year,” including “a small number of the largest oil companies and independent producers.”
“In another concession made to Manchin, oil and gas companies that comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s forthcoming methane rules due later this year would also be exempted from the fee. The rules require companies to upgrade equipment, monitor leaks, and clean them up,” the outlet noted. “The bill would also exempt distribution facilities that bring natural gas to homes and businesses, offer exemptions to some pipelines and gathering facilities that sell volumes of gas below a certain threshold, and give industry nearly $1.5 billion in financial incentives to clean up their methane.”
Responding to the slew of exemptions in the law, Peter Hart of Food and Water Watch tweeted that “a certain type of climate wonk gets really excited about things like a ‘methane fee.’”
“The one in the IRA was weakened so that it applies to basically no one,” he observed.
E&E News pointed specifically to Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass facility, the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the U.S. by volume, as an example of the IRA’s shortcomings on methane.
“Sabine Pass reported methane emissions equivalent of nearly 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020,” E&E News noted. “At first glance, the Southwestern Louisiana terminal would appear to be subject to the fee, which would only apply to facilities with annual emissions in excess of 25,000 tons.”
“But a second provision could potentially allow the Sabine Pass to avoid paying a penalty,” the publication added. “Only LNG facilities with a leakage rate in excess of .05 percent of total gas sales are subject to the fee.”
Methane is more than 80 times more potent at heating the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and experts have characterized reining in emissions of the gas as “the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040.”
But it’s an opportunity that world leaders, particularly those of the rich nations most responsible for the climate crisis, have yet to seize. According to figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in April, 2021 saw a record annual increase in atmospheric methane levels—beating the previous record set just a year earlier.
“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said at the time. “We can no longer afford to delay urgent and effective action needed to address the cause of the problem—greenhouse gas pollution.”
Because of its severe limitations, the IRA’s methane fee is unlikely to put a serious dent in U.S. methane emissions, which are fueled primarily by pipelines and other oil and gas industry operations.
The fee begins in 2024 at $900 per metric ton of methane and rises to $1,500 by 2026.
Writing for The American Prospect last week, Robert Hitt noted that the fee “only covers 40 percent of the methane emissions produced by the oil and gas industry, and the companies that are covered report their own emissions.”
“Many firms already undercount their emissions to greenwash their operations; the fee gives them another reason to fudge numbers,” Hitt warned.
Hitt went on to emphasize that “an IRA provision requiring revision of EPA emission reporting requirements, and new EPA rules already in the works, may be able to address these shortcomings to give the fee real teeth.”
“But as things stand, many smaller players in the oil and gas industry won’t have to pay any excess methane fee,” Hitt wrote. “It will only apply to facilities that self-report more than the equivalent of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, leaving the majority of methane emissions untouched.”
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Digitization of Town Reports Nears Completion
By Annmarie Timmins
In 1891, the town of Acworth returned $3.96 to two residents who’d been charged too much in property taxes. Berlin reported 123 marriages, 443 births, and 202 deaths in 1916. And in 1940, the city of Concord planted 565 shade trees along city streets and paid $100 to settle a lawsuit involving a minor injured at Kimball playground.
This and similar information for 214 of New Hampshire’s 234 towns is available—and easily searchable—in the University of New Hampshire’s Scholar Repository of town reports. Soon, reports from the missing 20 towns will be available too under a contract between the university and the New Hampshire State Library. Those include Mont Vernon, Windham, Lebanon, and Randolph.
If there’s any question about the $242,000 contract being worthwhile, consider that people from 136 countries have downloaded 25,000 of the existing records since December 2020. Each town report is a time capsule of a community’s most pressing issues and expenditures—for everything from new sidewalks and aid for the needy to tax abatements. Some even hint at statewide concerns.
For example, in 1927, many towns debated employing female married teachers, according to Dover’s town report that year. Dover’s policy called for terminating any female teacher married after May 12, 1927—unless the school committee decided otherwise.
And in 1966, 395 acres of the state’s 4.39 million acres of forest burned, according to Fremont’s 1967 report. Today, the state has more forest land—4.8 million acres—but on average sees fewer acres burn, about 250. The prime cause remains the same, however: human carelessness.
And sometimes, the reports serve as a fact-check, said Michael York, state librarian. “People use them all the time at town meetings,” he said. “Very often … someone will say, ‘We tried that back in (19)55 and it didn’t work. Well, if you go back to ‘55, you can find out if that guy knows what he’s talking about or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
The state had hoped to have reports from the final towns scanned by the end of August. At the request of the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, the Executive Council agreed to extend that to November.
The project, paid for with federal funds, wasn’t a small undertaking. There were 1.69 million pages to scan from 14,720 reports, each averaging 155 pages. Some records date back to the mid-1800s.
Each town must send its annual report to the state library, per state law. Those paper versions are available to the public, if they can get to Concord. This project extends that access considerably—to historians, genealogists, and those just curious about New Hampshire then and now.
York said increased interest in genealogy, which he called the fastest growing hobby in the country, has prompted more people to research the records because they often contain the names of people married and born each year.
Going forward, York expects more towns will digitize their own reports and even cease printing them.
The library used some of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for the project. “We love spending money, but it’s hard work,” York said. “It’s hard work to spend money in a responsible and meaningful way that’s not a flash in the pan.” This project, York said, will have a lasting impact.
Originally published at https://newhampshirebulletin.com/briefs/effort-to-digitize-town-reports-close-to-completion/. Reprinted here under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Barry Goldwater, Prophet
Barry Goldwater—who lost the presidency in 1964 for saying, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”—speaking in 1994, quoted by John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience (2006), published in The Atlantic, November 24, 2006:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them…
“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. … The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. … I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’”