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Newsletter | Revolving Door Project Newsletter | December 6, 2023

The “Billionaire Matchmaker” and his Bad Amici

ClimateCongressional OversightEthics in GovernmentRight-Wing Media

Plus: one organization that sabotaged some of Biden’s most promising nominees, and two climate reports with rattling conclusions.

This newsletter was originally published on our Substack. Read and subscribe here.

Leonard Leo’s Influence Machine

How does one right-wing activist get his worst ideas to appear in the legal decisions of the most powerful judges in America? 

A bombshell Politico investigation this week has the answers on how rightwing activist and “billionaire matchmaker” Leonard Leo managed to influence the outcome of several of the Supreme Court’s highest-profile and most damaging decisions over the past two years. 

Politico’s Heidi Przybyla traced how Leonard Leo’s network of nonprofits, including the Federalist Society (where he’s co-chair) and the 85 Fund (his main dark money group), was tied to the conservative parties who filed amicus briefs—a process intended to facilitate outside experts offering legal insight or facts relevant to a court case—in major recent cases. These cases include the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion, affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights, student loans, environmental protection, voting rights, and the independent state legislature theory. Politico found that Leonard Leo’s network was connected to 180 amicus briefs across these cases—nearly 70 percent of the conservative amicus briefs filed. 

“The picture that emerges is of an exceedingly small universe of mostly Christian conservative activists developing and disseminating theories to change the nation’s legal and cultural landscape,” Przybyla reported. “It also casts new light on Leo’s outsized role in the conservative legal movement, where he simultaneously advised Trump on Supreme Court nominations, paid for media campaigns promoting the nominees and sought to influence court decision-making on a range of cases.” Przybyla identified multiple instances in which the specific language or citations of Leo-connected amici curiae was quoted directly by conservative Supreme Court justices, including Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, in their decisions. 

“Since Leo’s handpicked justices solidified the court’s conservative supermajority in 2020, they are agreeing to hear cases advanced by his allies and ruling in favor of many of his Christian conservative priorities,” Przybyla concluded. 

Leo’s amici may be “friends of the court,” but they are certainly not friends of the people. (Unless you’re entrenched within the 1 percent and/or a right wing extremist.) The Senate Judiciary Committee recently (and belatedly) issued subpoenas to both Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo requesting a detailed accounting of all the gifts that the two men have lavished on conservative Supreme Court justices. If Crow and Leo refuse to comply, Senate Democrats will need nine Senate Republicans to grow a spine and join them in forming the 60-vote majority needed to enforce the subpoenas. The Senate should not wait on their compliance to hold hearings investigating the reach of Leo’s corrupting influence. 

Senator Whitehouse told ProPublica that “he believed there were several options available to enforce the subpoenas, including using ‘an old Senate rule’ under which enforcement would be handled directly by the U.S. attorney general if the Justice Department agreed to do so.” At that point, it would become a test of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s willingness to wade into the fray, and uphold democracy and the public interest at the expense of his “apolitical” image.

The Oppo Shop Behind The Grossest Smear Campaigns Against Biden Nominees

“Ever wonder who’s behind gross smear campaigns to sink qualified Biden administration nominees?” My colleague Toni wrote last week. “Look no further than the American Accountability Foundation (AAF), a little-known rightwing opposition research organization housed under the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) umbrella.”

As Toni explained, the founding goal of the AAF was “to take a big handful of sand and throw it in the gears of the Biden administration.” To date it has targeted more than twenty of Biden’s nominees for high-ranking positions in the administration, and been “relatively successful thus far, especially in derailing racial and ethnic minority and female nominees, including Saule Omarova, Sarah Bloom Raskin, Carlton Waterhouse, and Gigi Sohn.” Toni’s blog outlines the “strategies”—often basically just racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic smear tactics—that AAF employed to tank eminently qualified candidates for leadership positions in the areas of financial regulation, environmental protection, labor relations, consumer protection, and more. 

By tanking the nominations of staunch defenders of the public interest, Toni wrote that “AAF has functionally sabotaged the Biden administration’s realization of many of the selfsame policies that got Biden elected in the first place. As a result, AAF’s work has proven deeply costly to the basic functionality of the government, and an affront to the basic ideals of democratic participation.” 

AAF is just one of the many dangerous organizations under the CPI network. Together with its cohorts, and the Heritage Foundation, it seeks to dismantle the federal government piece by piece. 

On The Need For Fossil Fuel Phase-Out: “Everything Else Is An Illusion”

While the biggest oil and gas producing countries, including the US and UAE, continue to squander COP28 with greenwashing garbage like supporting the “phasedown” of “unabated” fossil fuels, Colombia became first country with significant oil and gas reserves to sign onto the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty over this past weekend.

““Some may ask: why would the president of this country want to commit suicide with an economy that relies on fossil fuels?” said Colombian President Gustavo Petro. “Being here, we are trying to halt a suicide, the death of everything that is alive, everything that exists. This is not economic suicide. We are avoiding the omnicide of the world, of planet Earth. There is no other formula, no other path. Everything else is an illusion.” 

With that heady bit of moral and scientific clarity in mind, we’d like to share some inconvenient truths from two new climate reports that the Biden administration would clearly rather ignore. 

On a national scale…

The Center for Biological Diversity just put out a devastating report on how the emissions from the fossil fuel projects the Biden administration has approved stack up against the emissions reduction projected under the Inflation Reduction Act and other climate policies. Their findings? That the Biden administration is quite literally taking one step forward, two steps back on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. 

  • The total increase in annual emissions from 17 major fossil fuel projects approved by the Biden administration: 1,642 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent 
  • The total decrease in annual domestic emissions projected to result from the IRA and other climate policy in 2030 as modeled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration: 879 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent

This graph from the report says it all. 

On an international scale…

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently put out a report on “The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions” that began with this clarion call: “The uncomfortable truth that the industry needs to come to terms with is that successful clean energy transitions require much lower demand for oil and gas, which means scaling back oil and gas operations over time – not expanding them. There is no way around this.”

In Columbia University professor Adam Tooze’s recent newsletter walking readers through the findings of this report, he noted the report’s remarkably direct tone. “Perhaps the degree of hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance is simply becoming too much,” Tooze observed. “In any case, the tone of the IEA’s report this year is strikingly direct in calling out the oil and gas industry for failing to grasp the scale and pace of the transition.”

A few of the IEA’s key conclusions:

  •  “Many producers say they will be the ones to keep producing throughout transitions and beyond. They cannot all be right.” 
  • “A productive debate about the oil and gas industry in transitions needs to avoid two common misconceptions. The first is that transitions can only be led by changes in demand. ‘When the energy world changes, so will we’ is not an adequate response to the immense challenges at hand.”
  • “Carbon capture, utilisation and storage…is not a way to retain the status quo. If oil and natural gas consumption were to evolve as projected under today’s policy settings, this would require an inconceivable 32 billion tonnes of carbon captured for utilisation or storage by 2050, including 23 billion tonnes via direct air capture to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 °C. The necessary carbon capture technologies would require 26,000 terawatt hours of electricity generation to operate in 2050, which is more than global electricity demand in 2022. And it would require over USD 3.5 trillion in annual investments all the way from today through to mid-century, which is an amount equal to the entire industry’s annual average revenue in recent years.”

We ought to let that last point—that “abating” current levels of fossil fuel use through carbon capture would require more electricity than the entire planet currently uses and cost the fossil fuel industry’s entire revenuesink in. Fossil fuel abatement instead of phaseout is the dangerous myth that John Kerry is currently peddling on behalf of the United States at COP28. As Bill McKibben commented recently, “abated” may now be the most dangerous word in the world. 

Follow the Revolving Door Project’s work on whatever social media platform works for you! You can find us on TwitterBlueskyInstagram, and Facebook.

Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: 

The Department of Justice’s Legal Love Letter to Moderna

Wall Street’s Favorite Republicans Are Still Attacking The CFPB

The American Accountability Foundation (AAF) Has Cost Americans The Realization Of Innumerable Biden Campaign Promises

Henry Kissinger: A War Criminal and Normalizer of Corruption

OPINION: The public has a right to know every detail of Louis DeJoy’s destructive agenda

Small Business Administration urged to cut ties with Big Tech

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