Autopsy for Democracy: Dirty Energy & Dirty Money

Exposé of how the sausage is made in Oregon

In Oregon, as throughout America, activists quickly learn the sad truth captured in the saying that

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect
in proportion as we know how they are made.”

If Wikiquote is accurate, then how fitting that the observer who noted the similarities between the insides of a slaughterhouse and the legislative process was not Otto Bismarck but was instead the same American poet who turned an Indian fable of the six blind men and the elephant into a well-known poem that deftly skewers the certainty of pundits who opine with great certainty about things. John Saxe’s poem ends:

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

An heir to the spirit of Saxe, Rufus Miles, boiled this insight down to its bare bones in observing that “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” which is often seen attributed to canny politicians such as President Lyndon Johnson or his mentor, House Speaker Sam Rayburn — though, Texans both, they would probably have preferred a formulation popularized by the late and much-missed Molly Ivins, “You got to dance with them what brung you.”

Which brings us to the interesting series of events — a traveling roadshow, really — planned for six Oregon towns in the next few weeks. Called “Dirty Energy and Dirty Money,” it’s an attempt by a good number of progressive groups to point out how the power of concentrated money has captured and subverted the democratic process in Oregon.

What is most interesting, however, is that, like the mysterious cause of the explosion and sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, the events under discussion — the fight of the fossil fuels lobby against the so-called “Clean Fuels Bill” — is subject to a number of different interpretations.

So if you are able to attend one of the six presentations in the upcoming weeks, it will probably be worthwhile, even though the bill being used to make the point about the corrupting role of money in Oregon politics — the Clean Fuels Bill (CFB) — is actually the one bill where the fossil fuel lobby had the better argument (that if you want to minimize carbon emissions, there are lots of cheaper and more effective ways to do it).

But the fossil fuels’ opposition to CFB wasn’t because they wanted more effective climate regulation, it was to avoid seeing the Oregon Legislature do anything based on the notion that cutting carbon emissions is essential, even if it means paying higher prices for energy products.

The fossil fuel industries are in the position that the tobacco companies were in at the end of the 20th Century — they knew that their product was a deadly toxin that when, used as intended, kills people. So with carbon based fuels, only these don’t just kill the users — indeed, the vicious truth of fossil fuels is that the people wealthy enough to use a lot of them are the ones least exposed to the harms, at least at first. The wealthy people who cause the most carbon emissions will be the last in line to pay for the harms they cause.

But, just as the tobacco companies fought warning labels — even though they were not effective at reducing tobacco consumption (giving cigarettes a certain air of dangerous glamor is a pretty good way to market them to adolescents) — the fossil fuels industries are adamantly opposed to clean fuels bills as a matter of principle — that being the principle that acknowledging that we have to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible and leave at least 80% of the current known reserves in the ground (and 100% of any new discoveries) is fatal to their profits.

This is despite the fact that the so-called emissions “reductions” for the CFB are all hypothetical and conjectural. In reality, the Oregon “clean fuels bill” just props up the liquid fueled automobile paradigm and keeps us fixated on the wrong question (how can we all keep driving while emitting less CO2) instead of the critical one (“How fast can we reorganize our society so that we use little or no fossil fuels at all, so that the next few generations have a chance to avoid climate catastrophe and environmental collapse.”)

We teamed up with environmental activists to investigate one question:

How do fossil fuel companies try to buy Oregon’s democracy?

Now we want to share our findings with you.

Join us as we go in depth to show how the energy industry tries to buy our elections, influence lawmakers, and prevent Oregon from confronting the threat of climate change

We will expose:

-Which legislators accept contributions from the fossil fuel industry
-How do Big Oil lobbyists to try to protect their interests in Oregon
-What tactics do they use to block reform

We’ll also discuss how People Power can overcome Big Money, and what we can do to rebalance our democracy.


The groups behind the “Dirty Energy & Dirty Money” exposé

Date: June 15th
Time: 6:30 pm–8:00 pm (doors open at 6:00 pm)
Location: AFSCME, 1400 Tandem Ave NE, Salem, 97301

Nick Abraham–Executive Director, Oil Check NW
Angela Crowley-Koch–Government Relations Director, The Oregon Environmental Council
Professor Edwin Dover–Chair of Political Science Department, Western Oregon University
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon

Moderator: Lena Spadacene–Wildlife Campaign Coordinator, Oregon Wild
Date: June 21st
Time: 6:30 pm–8:00 pm (doors open at 6:00 pm)
Location: Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, 1685 W. 13th Ave, Eugene, 97402

Commissioner Pete Sorenson–Lane County Commission
Lisa Arkin–Executive Director, Beyond Toxics
Angela Crowley-Koch–Government Relations Director, Oregon Environmental Council
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon

Moderator: Linda Lynch–President, League of Women Voters of Lane County
Date: June 22nd
Time: 7:00 pm–8:30 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Location: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon
Address: 61980 Skyline Ranch Rd Bend 97703

Nikki Roemmer–Central Oregon Regional Director, Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Mike Riley–Executive Director, The Environmental Center
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon
David Nelson–Communications Coordinator, Central Oregon Move to Amend

Moderator: Moe Carrick–Founder and Principal, Moementum Inc.
Date: June 23rd
Time: 7:00 pm–8:30 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Location: Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 87 4th St, Ashland, 97520

Representative Peter Buckley–Oregon House District 5
David Hyde–Lead Organizer, Move to Amend
Lee Lull–Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon

Moderator: Jeff Golden–Host, Immense Possibilities on Southern Oregon Public Television
Date: June 27th
Time: 7:00 pm–8:30 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Location: First Unitarian Church, Buchan Building, 1226 SW Salmon St, Portland, OR 97205

Nick Abraham–Executive Director, Oil Check NW
Angela Crowley-Koch–Government Relations Director, The Oregon Environmental Council
Nikki Fisher–Executive Director, The Bus Project
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon

Moderator: Jefferson Smith–Host, Thank You Democracy on
Date: June 29th
Time: 7:00 pm-8:30 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Location: St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, 12405 SW Butner Rd, Beaverton, 97005

Nick Abraham–Executive Director, Oil Check NW
Angela Crowley-Koch–Government Relations Director, The Oregon Environmental Council
David Delk–President, Alliance for Democracy
Daniel Lewkow–Political Director, Common Cause Oregon

Moderator: Amira Streeter–Chair, The Columbia Network of the Sierra Club