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Are the Koch Brothers the New “Copper Kings”?

David and Charles Koch. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

To understand the present, you have to understand the past, which brings us to the story of William A. Clark.

Clark was one of the so-called Montana “Copper Kings” of the 1800’s.

After making millions in the booming mining industry, and trying his hand in the electric, newspaper, banking, and railroad industries, Clark set his sights on political office.

Clark had always had a lifelong ambition of becoming an elected official, and of achieving the fame and power that came with it.

In 1899, Clark made a serious push to become a U.S. senator from Montana.

Back then, U.S. senators were chosen by their respective state legislators.

So one afternoon Clark walked into the Montana State Legislature, and announced that he would be standing in the back of the room, holding envelopes filled with thousand-dollar bills.

He said he’d give those envelopes to anyone who voted for him.

Enough legislators voted for him and took his money that Montana sent him to Washington, D.C. as their senator for the 1900 legislative session.

But Clark’s bribery scheme was so public and brazen that even the largely corrupt U.S. Senate was horrified. They refused to seat him after reading newspaper stories about his passing out thousand-dollar bills to get elected.

And it was the notoriety of Clark’s naked bribery attempt in Montana, well reported in newspapers across the country, that helped lead to the passage of the 17th Amendment, which says that U.S. senators are elected by the people instead of by state legislatures.

With all this notoriety, Clark quickly became public enemy number one in the early 1900’s.

Speaking about Clark, Mark Twain once wrote that, “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs.”

While William A. Clark may have died back in 1925, his willingness to corrupt the American democracy and political process is alive and well today.

Just ask the Koch Brothers.

Charles and David Koch, worth a combined estimated $68 billion in net worth, are among the driving forces behind the corruption of our democracy.

Between 1998 and 2008, Koch brother-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would further pad the wallets of the two brothers.

In that same time period, Koch Industries, owned by the two brothers, spent $50 million on lobbying and handed out $8 million in PAC contributions.

The Kochs are also behind groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which both gave and continue to give major financial support for the Tea Party movement.

And FreedomPartners, a Koch-affiliated organization, has doled out grants worth over $230 million to a variety of conservative organizations, Tea Party groups, and front-groups that oppose Obamacare.

This all brings us to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Recently, the Koch Brothers have been throwing their billions at lobbyists, front-groups, and lawmakers that support the fossil fuel industry and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Koch Brothers are the fossil fuel industry’s largest donors to congressmen and women who sit on the committee that oversees the Keystone XL pipeline.

In 2010 alone, the Kochs and their employees gave over $300,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

At the same time, the Kochs have given more than $60 million to climate denial groups over the past 15 years.

So why are the Kochs handing out so much money to groups and lawmakers that support the Keystone XL pipeline and America’s toxic addiction to fossil fuels?

Money. And lots of it.

According to a new report released by the International Forum on Globalization, the brothers stand to make up to $100 billion in profits with the approval of the pipeline.

Keep in mind they’re only worth $68 billion. This could double their net-worth.

The report found that the Kochs and Koch Industries hold up to 2 million acres of land in Alberta, Canada, which is the proposed starting point of the Keystone XL pipeline.

And many Koch Industries subsidiaries stand to make millions from the pipeline’s construction, including Koch Exploration Canada, which would profit from oil exploration on its land, and Koch Supply and Trading, which would benefit from the trading of oil derivatives.

With a possible $100 billion windfall down the road, more than double their combined total fortune today, it’s no surprise that the Koch Brothers are doing everything possible to make the Keystone XL pipeline a reality.

Their Republican allies in Congress even tried to use the Keystone XL pipeline as leverage in the government shutdown, demanding that it be approved before they would end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, you and I are stuck with the byproducts of the Koch’s relentless pursuit of money and power.

Koch Industries is already one of the top ten polluters in the United States, pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, driving global warming and climate change.

And if the Keystone XL pipeline is finished, it will make things even worse.

Synthetic crude oil from tar sands generates three times the pollution of regular crude oil production, and is extremely poisonous. If there were ever a leak from the pipeline, the environmental and human damages would be horrific.

The ghost of William A. Clark is alive and well in the form of billionaires like the Koch Brothers, who are corrupting our political process, while destroying the environment and poisoning us.

We can’t continue to let the likes of modern-day William A. Clarks continue to buy off the American political process.

We have hours left to raise $12,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.