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Billionaires Behind Political Ads Benefit From Lax Chemical Safety

GRAPHIC: The Koch Brothers' complex political network is advertising heavily in West Virginia. CREDIT: Robert McGuire/Center for Responsive Politics.
GRAPHIC: The Koch Brothers' complex political network is advertising heavily in West Virginia. CREDIT: Robert McGuire/Center for Responsive Politics.
June 23, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va - The billionaire Koch brothers' political organizations, Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance, are running a flood of campaign ads in West Virginia. Some observers say the oil and chemical billionaires benefit from the deregulation of chemical safety rules, something the ads do not mention.

According to Michael Beckel, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, Charles and David Koch are also lobbying Congress heavily.

"Koch Industries' lobbying records show they're taking an active interest in chemical safety issues," said Beckel. "Lawmakers and regulators are the ones crafting and shaping those proposals."

The severity of the Freedom Industries chemical spill near Charleston earlier this year was blamed on lax federal chemical regulations.

Maya Nye, president and spokeswoman for People Concerned About Chemical Safety, said industry lobbying is responsible for Congress failing to close a loophole that let the chemical MCHM be used in West Virginia without proper safety testing. She added the loophole applies to thousands of other chemicals.

"They're out there, just like they were at Freedom Industries," said Nye. "The most recent health data indicates there were a 100,000 people that actually exhibited symptoms as a result of exposure to this."

The ads run by the Koch-funded organizations don't mention chemical regulations or drinking water rules. But federal records show Koch Industries is actively lobbying members of Congress and donating to campaigns.

According to Beckel, they've spent $2.7 million lobbying in the first quarter of this year, more than big chemical corporations.

"That's real money," said Beckel. "That puts them in the same ballpark as energy giants such as Exxon-Mobile and Chevron. They're one of the major players."

Koch Industries and the West Virginia branch of Americans For Prosperity did not respond to requests for comment.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV