New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his administration talk a good game about transparency and ethics in government. “Folks in this state have a right to know what we’re doing in their name every day,” the Governor told his cabinet at their first meeting in January last year. Less than six months ago, his commissioner of public affairs stated, “This administration recognizes that an informed public is essential to democracy.”
Why, then, has Christie failed to disclose his private meetings with the notorious oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, meetings brought to light last week by Mother Jones magazine? Why did the Governor omit from his public schedule a late-June appearance with the Koch Brothers and hundreds of wealthy donors at a closed-door “seminar” near the resort town of Vail, Colorado, where David Koch introduced Christie, calling him “my kind of guy”? Christie, for his part, called the Koch brothers and their invitees “modern-day patriots.”All of this seems relevant in light of his recent actions to kill successful clean energy, job-creating programs in the state – despite campaigning on these very issues before being elected to office.
Indeed, at the Vail meeting the crowd cheered wildly as David Koch described Christie’s unilateral withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is the successful and bipartisan 10-state compact among Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that is delivering billions of dollars to the regional economy, cutting air pollution, reducing energy costs for consumers and businesses, creating good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas, and building clean energy industries in the Northeast.
These meetings amplify pre-existing concerns about where Governor Christie’s allegiances really lie. They underscore what we’ve been concerned about all along: Governor Christie is putting big, out-of-state oil interests over the best interests of Garden State residents.
Just in case you’re unclear exactly how important Charles and David Koch are, let me explain. They’re two of the 10 richest people in the US. They’ve bankrolled the Tea Party. Their Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the nation, is built largely around oil. And its profits—approximately $100 billion annually—have underwritten a loud campaign of climate denial and political ploys. Through their foundations, David and Charles Koch pumped more than $5 million over into Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s “Hot Air Tour”, which spread disinformation about climate science around the country – including a radio ad campaign in New Jersey aimed at killing RGGI. Not only do the Koch Brothers promote disinformation about our increasingly fragile climate, they actively fight popular political moves to protect it. In 2010, they kicked in a cool one million toward the campaign to overturn California’s nation-leading climate protection laws. Between 2006 and 2009, they paid lobbyists almost $38 million to promote their backward-looking views on oil and energy.
This, of course, is not surprising – clean energy is a threat to their oil business.
That’s why it’s so concerning to see Governor Christie – who has given so much lip service to clean energy – getting so cozy with them. In the newly disclosed audio, David Koch raves about Christie to the big-money donors at his Vail confab: "Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke, just the two of us, for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government," Koch said. "At the end of our conversation, I said to myself, 'I'm really impressed and inspired by this man."
Unfortunately for New Jersey residents and businesses, for David Koch, “correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government” means killing policies that protect our kids’ health and that have created thousands of quality jobs in the state. Although Governor Christie came into office on a clean energy and jobs platform, he has since changed his tune – even though a recent poll shows a large majority of New Jersey voters support these goals.
Governor Christie is making the wrong the choice between oil billionaires and the people of New Jersey. Our legislators must do the right thing and resist his misguided actions – from his attempt to abandon New Jersey’s participation in RGGI (despite reams of evidence that it’s creating jobs and reducing pollution at virtually no cost to consumers), to his plans to cut state solar energy incentives (which are on track to create more than 2,000 jobs in the state in 2010 alone). The Garden State is counting on you.