From The Intercept
IN 2018, a new group appeared seemingly out of nowhere and immediately took aim at the recent wave of lawsuits filed by state attorneys general designed to hold major fossil fuel companies responsible for allegedly misleading investors and customers about the true risk of carbon pollution.
"The global warming lobby has gone too far this time," declared the innocuously named group, Government Accountability and Oversight, in a video posted on its website. GAO claimed that the lawsuits, which target Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, and Chevron, among other corporations, represent a form of government over-reach and that prosecutors are colluding with activist interest groups in an unethical manner.
GAO, which is run as a for-profit company and foundation, does not disclose its donors nor does it provide much information about its origins. But on Saturday, a bankruptcy court in southern Ohio released a filing revealing that the organization received three donations totaling $300,000 from Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal-mining company in the United States. The first payment was made on June 7, 2018, just one month after GAO announced its intention to "expose" the litigation effort against energy companies.
That a secretive group working to defend the fossil fuel industry is financed by Murray Energy may come as no surprise.
Bob Murray, the billionaire founder of Murray Energy, a prolific GOP donor, and early supporter of President Donald Trump, is an outspoken critic of environmental regulations and activist groups. Murray's influence over the administration, including the push to unravel Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions and exit the Paris climate accords, is well documented. Even the current chief of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former lobbyist for Murray.
GAO and Murray Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has provided over $3.8 million in campaign contributions to a range of federal politicians over the last five years, according to the Federal Election Commission. That figure, however, appears to be only part of the story in terms of the company's influence over the political debate.
In October, following a precipitous drop in coal demand, Murray's company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, forcing the firm to disclose its recent history of payments to outside political entities. As part of the company's restructuring process, it filed a statement of financial affairs, which lists creditors and liabilities, as well as a list of recent charitable donations and grants, which revealed the payments to GAO, among many other new revelations about the coal company's hidden hand in the climate change debate.
Murray Energy showered donations to several think tanks focused on questioning the link between human activity and global warming, providing grants to groups such as the Heartland Institute, which once sponsored billboards comparing those who accept climate change to the Unabomber. The Ohio-based coal giant gave $30,000 to the Heartland Institute in March of last year, shortly after the group announced a campaign to save coal companies on the brink of closure, followed by another $100,00 in contributions in the months that followed.
Murray Energy showered donations to several think tanks focused on questioning the link between human activity and global warming.