[Updated, 3/18/11: Fred Upton also likes his generous donors the Koch Brothers (thanks to Benton Harbor, MI, local social activists at BANCO, for posting the Feb. 2011 article from the LA Times on Upton and the Koch Bros.]
Fred Upton is a millionaire grandson of Whirlpool founder Frederick Upton, a fact that Congressman Upton, of Michigan’s Sixth District, doesn’t mention in his bio on his Congressional website. He is the 26th richest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, up from 29th in 2004 (acc. to OpenSecrets.org). That’s inside the top 6% richest mark. Go Fred, you are winning the rich politicians race!
Fred Upton likes luxury golf courses in his back yard. He likes to golf with his neighbor, Jeff Fettig, CEO of Whirlpool. Fettig has leveraged Whirlpool money and resources to build a luxury golf course in their backyards, justifying it on the business side because it will “help the company attract and retain talent.” Apparently Whirlpool needs talented golfers on its payroll. (Maybe they’ll help him improve his golf game?)
Another friend in the family that Fred likes to play golf with (now granted, I’m just assuming he likes to play golf with them) is Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, real estate developer, and husband of Fred Upton’s cousin. McClendon is also uber-rich: he was the best compensated CEO of 2008–despite his company losing 60% of its stock value; last year he fell to #3 best compensated, with $114 million (More on Chesapeake in a bit.)
When you like golf, power has its perks. You can get prime lakefront public park land requisitioned to build your exclusive private golf resorts, and get hundreds of millions of tax breaks for its development. Good going, Fred, Jeff, and Aubrey, way to leverage those assets! That is some good teamwork! Still, when Aubrey doesn’t get his way, he likes to sue. (He also likes to insult the state of Michigan. And driving small towns into “state receivership.”)
(Thanks to Eartha Jane Melzer of the Michigan Messenger for her crack reporting.)
Fred Upton is good at leveraging his power for personal gain and to protect his private–and his friend’s private–interests. He’s also good at the politician’s fine art of making it sound like his actions have other, more noble, public-spirited, or at least ideological motives.
Fred Upton is good friends with his in-law McClendon of Chesapeake Energy. Public financial disclosure statements speak loud and clear as to Fred and Aubrey’s friendly loyalties. In 2008 poor Aubrey had to sell 31 million shares of Chesapeake stock at fire-sale prices to cover loan payments being demanded by banks. Poor Aubrey apparently lost something like $1.5 billion in stock value compared to the price a few months earlier. The company helped make up the loss a bit by giving poor Aubrey a $75 million bonus on Dec. 31 (nice Christmas surprise!). But that huge stock sell-off itself drove the price down a bit more, leaving Chesapeake in a good price position as an investment.
That’s just what Fred Upton did, buying somewhere between $10,000-$50,000 dollars in Chesapeake stock on Dec. 19, 2008. Upton currently has by far the greatest private investment in Chesapeake Energy of all members of Congress. In turn, Chesapeake has contributed to Upton’s campaigns ($9800 in the recent cycle). Obviously there is no implication of impropriety, or God forbid conflict of interest (what a quaint notion) in any of this. This is how things work. Friends helping friends. Honi soit qui mal y pense. They are all honorable men.
And money flows to those in the right positions. Upton’s greatest donor is the energy industry, followed second by the telecoms (source):
As the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, this courting of favor makes sense (and cents). And Fred Upton is now richly rewarding both sectors through his committee powers, taking vigorous action to strip the EPA of regulatory authority over green house gases, and overstepping the FCC’s industry-negotiated rules on Net Neutrality to clear the way for an internet “free and open for business.”
Upton boasts that they have “bipartisan support” for the FCC assault. The letter has a total of 5 signatures. The two Democrats are Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Dan Boren of Oklahoma. The committee is calling the FCC’s rules–predictably, but with no evidence to support the hyperbole– a “government takeover” of the internet, which must remain “open and free.” Not allowing giant telecom companies to charge websites for speed of access by users is exactly the “open and free” internet that Net Neutrality rules are designed to ensure. The same letter can barely conceal its own contradictions, citing a 1999 speech by then FCC Chairman William Kennard who “rebuffed calls to force open access.”
So the internet should be “open and free” by “rebuffing calls to force open access.” Open and free for whom, exactly? The answer is obvious, open for business and free from government intrusion (Pro-Business GOP ideology), not open to everyone and free access regardless of ability to pay (Net Neutrality).
Fred Upton has the same blinkered, one-track mind when it comes to Energy and the EPA. First, he is part of the climate-change deniers club. On this general topic he and his friend and neighbor Aubrey McClendon must have plenty to talk about. McClendon is in the business of denying science of all kinds. It’s a job liability, since he’s in the natural gas extraction business–the fragging or fracking business as it’s come to be called–in fact Chesapeake is a major pioneer in this industry. To get at all that liquid gold underground they’ve had to develop their own unique plan of attack, to get around the consequences for the environmental disasters they are creating and leaving behind–literally pumping back into the ground to “cover it all up.”
McClendon is in the business of simply denying obvious facts. Like pretending that chemicals which in small amounts kill cows dead are nevertheless safe for humans and pose no risk to groundwater. McClendon’s Chesapeake brags on its website that it has won the “21st century land rush.” They’re the main player in the hydraulic fracturing that has been controversial everywhere they have been (see Gasland film). They boast on their website that they have now turned their attention to “the manufacturing-like process of drilling tens of thousands of wells in these areas to develop some of the largest natural gas fields in the world.”
They then move from disturbing euphemism to delusional doublespeak: “Chesapeake believes natural gas can become the primary solution to many of our country’s and our world’s most challenging environmental and energy issues.”
Aubrey McClendon’s millions are based on the self-delusional idea that extracting and burning fossil fuels is the “primary solution” to environmental and energy problems. But the plain and simple truth is that extracting and burning fossil fuels is THE primary environmental and energy problem. Again, denial seems to be an occupational hazard here.
After pumping high-pressure toxic cocktails into the ground to crack the bedrock and get at the gas, the company has now come up with the ingenious–or evil genius–solution of pumping all that waste-water (which they somehow still claim poses no health hazard to anyone or anything) back into the ground. In Arkansas where this has been going on there have dramatic increases in earthquakes–100 earthquakes in seven days!–so much so that the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission asked them to halt the waste-water pumping. They’ve done so and the earthquakes have slowed.
McClendon likes just to deny basic physical facts: “Chesapeake Energy has said it does not believe there is a connection between the injection wells and the area’s seismic activity.”
Based on what? If you pump millions of gallons of water into the ground, do you not expect that it will have impacts of some kind on the ground? Are not earthquakes a perfectly reasonable and predictable sort of geophysical consequence?
And now I’ve finally begun to make sense of another facet of Fred Upton’s recent campaign contributions. I noticed it when I started writing this post, but I couldn’t really make sense of it. The fact is this: Upton has received the most of any Congress member from the Waste Management sector in the recent cycle. In 2010 he received $39,800, double what anybody else received–and double what he received in the previous cycle. Now his good friend and neighbor McClendon finds himself faced with the sticky problems of his lucrative and destructively extractive industry’s wastes. It is clearly part of McClendon’s next move, in his “21st century land race,” either to gut any regulatory arms and laws that might impact his business–like the EPA, which CLEARLY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO REGULATE GROUNDWATER CONTAMINANTS–or to forestall any new measures against him.
Aubrey McClendon needs to keep up the “open” season on easy profits and a “free” pass on pollution, earthquakes, ground subsidence, dead cattle, exploding and fiery home water faucets (again, see Gasland), cancerous towns, and any other obviously scientific corollaries to the entire noxious M.O. of hydraulic fracturing and underground waste-water disposal.
Good thing, then, that poor Aubrey McClendon, with all his problems and occupational hazards, has his good friend in very high places, the honorable Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan’s 6th District. Keep up the good work, Fred! You aren’t doing your nation proud, or keeping the interests of most of your neighbors in mind, but at least you’re being good to your friends and uber-rich golf buddies. And isn’t that what really counts?