Dems' All-Night Talkathon on Climate Change Includes Swipes at Republicans' 'Dark Money'

Susan Jones | March 11, 2014 | 6:55am EDT
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Democratic senators, including , Barbara Boxer and Sheldon Whitehouse, prepare for an all-night talkathon on climate change -- and campaign financing. (AP Photo)

( - Democrats control the Senate, but instead of bringing up a Democrat-sponsored climate-change bill, a few dozen of them pulled an all-nigher on the Senate floor to draw attention to the issue.

It's a clear indication that Democrats don't have the votes -- or the public support -- to pass their own climate-change legislation. And they blame the lack of bipartisanship on billionaire Republican donors and "all that dark money," as one Democrat described it.

When it was his turn to speak, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) once again mentioned the Koch brothers by name, blaming them for their alleged corrupting influence on politics.

"It’s time to stop acting like those who ignore this (climate) crisis – the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress – have a valid point of view," Reid said.

This was Reid's third recent broadside at the conservative "oil barons."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told the empty Senate chamber early Tuesday morning that there used to be bipartisanship on climate change -- "until Citizens United got decided by the Supreme Court. Until all that big money came in, until all that dark money came in. Until people on the Republican side who were willing to speak up about climate change were punished and threatened so badly that they could no longer do it."

Whitehouse said the "Citizens United effect" hasn't trickled down to governors and counties as much as it has to the Washington establishment: "Here, it's different," he said. "We don't have to live in that same real world. We live in a more political world. And so people can say things that are frankly, irresponsible, untrue -- and they can get away with it longer. And the intimidation factor of that big money is worse here."

Where is the bipartisanship? Whitehouse asked around 4:30 Tuesday morning. "Well, it will be back. It will be back here. It's inevitable."

Speaking to Ronan Farrow on MSNBC on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) another climate-change believer, said, "My great fear is that both economically and politically, this nation is moving toward an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires are going to control the political life and the economic life of this nation.

"And what this supreme court case is about, and what Citizens United is all about, is saying to large corporations and billionaires, 'You can spend as much money as you want on the political process. You can buy and sell candidates. You can do everything you want to create a right-wing agenda which will benefit the wealthy at the expense of everybody else.'

"This is not what American democracy is supposed to be about," Sanders said. He said this is why he believes in public funding of elections, and it's also why Democrats are "working hard to try to overturn Citizens United."

Sanders also singled out the Koch brothers, along with Sheldon Adelson, describing them as billionaires whose wealth is increasing: "They can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns which, by and large, will benefit Republicans.

"Are there some billionaires who help Democrats? Sanders asked. "Yes, there are. But the vast majority of the money (is) going to go to right-wing extremist candidates."

Sanders said the American people "have no idea" how much time members of Congress -- both Republicans and Democrats -- spend raising money. And "the money is with wealthy people," who set the agenda for the politicians.

"So, if you're going to the wealthy to ask for campaign contributions, your political views are going to be shaped by that reality. You're not worried about the high unemployment in this country. You're not worried about the need to create millions of jobs. You're not worried about the fact that we have more people living in poverty than in any time in our history. What you're worried about are the needs of the wealthy and the powerful."

Sanders noted that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have sponsored "probably the most comprehensive climate change legislation ever introduced, which, among other things, calls for a tax on carbon, which would invest very, very substantially in energy efficiency and sustainable energy."

"But I think what we're trying to do now, in terms of tonight, is to make the American people aware that the debate about climate change really is over. That the scientific community is virtually unanimous in agreeing that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.

"So, what we're doing now is speaking to the American people, and saying, 'You have got to be involved in this process. Because if you aren't, the planet that we're going to leave to our kids and our grandchildren will be significantly less habitable than the one we have today, and will cause enormous problems at great expense in terms of trying to address.' So, we got to act now, and that's what we're trying to do."

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