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European input

October 26, 2010

A report says the US subsidiaries of major European companies are giving money to the election campaigns of climate skeptics in the US Senate race.

the Bayer factory in Leverkusen
Bayer is accused of hypocrisy in its support for US Senate candidatesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E), a network of NGOs, has issued a report accusing major European companies of donating funds disproportionately to candidates in the US Senate election who are known for their denial of climate change.

Among the donors are chemical manufacturers Bayer and BASF, oil company BP, energy provider GDF/Suez and steelmaker ArcelorMittal.

According to publicly available figures, the eight companies examined by CAN gave a total of $306,100 (219,400 euros) to Senate candidates, of which 78 percent went either to known climate change deniers or to senators who voted against the Obama administration's cap-and-trade legislation, seen by activists as a major contribution to the fight against climate change.

CAN Europe's senior policy advisor, Tomas Wyns, says this is "hypocrisy."

"These are multinational companies with their headquarters in Europe," he points out, "and if you go to their websites, they say very good things on fighting climate change. Then you look at what's happening in the United States Senate race, and we see that a significant amount of their funding goes to senators who are blocking climate action, and even to senators who are outright deniers that climate change is happening and caused by humans."

"Against company policy"

wind turbines
Companies like BASF and Bayer have invested heavily in reducing greenhouse gasesImage: DW-TV

Both BASF and Bayer told Deutsche Welle that their US subsidiaries were not allowed under US law to fund candidates directly. But their employees and shareholders could form a Political Action Committee (PAC), which raises money and distributes it as it sees fit.

Bayer is the company whose PAC gave the most Senate donations. They amounted to $108,100 of which $78,200 went to "blockers and deniers," according to CAN. But Bayer spokesman Rolf Ackermann said the accusation that his company was systematically supporting climate change deniers was absurd.

"It would be against our corporate policy, which supports the fights against climate change," he said. He pointed to the billion euros Bayer has spent over the last 30 months on climate-related research and to the company's ambitious goals on emissions reduction.

Ackermann argues that there are various reasons why a PAC might support a candidate.

"This is about elections for the Senate, where we have a host of issues which are relevant," he argues. "Climate change is only one. As a company, we would like every candidate to think about climate change the way we do, but unfortunately this is not the case. [The fact] that among those whom we support for other reasons there are some who think differently about climate change is purely coincidental."

"Iconic" deniers supported

Blanche Lincoln
Climate skeptic Blanche Lincoln is one of the few Democrats to get supportImage: AP

But that doesn't convince Tomas Wyns: "On the list there are iconic figures: they are the ones who are making a living out of climate denial. It's like saying: we are sponsoring David Beckham, not because he can play good football but because he's a good table-tennis player. Those are iconic figures: they have organized hearings in the Senate; they have come to Copenhagen to block progress there; it was their principle activity in the last years."

Wyns notes that the few Democrats who received support were mostly prominent climate skeptics, including Blanche Lincoln, who broke the Democratic majority for the Obama proposals and who received the most money from the eight companies.

Wyns admits he doesn't know why the companies support US politicians who seem not to believe in the policies they publicly espouse, but his report notes that the companies consistently oppose tougher environmental standards in Europe on the grounds that they would make European companies less competitive, because of inaction on climate change in the rest of the world, and especially in the United States.

The report concludes, "What is clear now is that those same companies are financing key players in the US political arena responsible for this inaction."

Author: Michael Lawton
Editor: Nancy Isenson