Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia Ed Gillespie boards an elevator to exit after a campaign event at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Tysons, Virginia, October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republican Ed Gillespie will have many reasons to be grateful to the Koch brothers if he wins the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday — almost three million reasons, in fact. Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians who run the giant materials and chemicals conglomerate Koch Industries, lead a powerful network of conservative political donors and have come to Gillespie’s aid in the race. How do you say thank you for that kind of help? Should he emerge victorious, Gillespie is poised to enact policies that benefit the Kochs and their business.

The Kochs, whose conglomerate operates oil refineries and gas pipelines, are spending big to support their one-time political consultant, Gillespie, while also ensuring that his Democratic opponent Ralph Northam does not take office. Northam has made protecting the environment a touchstone of his campaign, with strong stances on curbing carbon emissions and supporting development of Virginia’s renewable energy sector. He received $2.5 million from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. Gillespie’s campaign website has no sections on the environment, but his “all-of-the-above” energy plan begins with a commitment to construct two natural gas pipelines, and continues with promises to repeal carbon regulations, reinstate a coal tax credit and support offshore oil and gas drilling.

Gillespie’s campaign released a seven-page plan for addressing rising sea levels and increased flooding on Virginia’s coast. But the plan didn’t contain the term “climate change” and didn’t address the reason why sea levels are rising. By addressing the dangers posed by climate change without acknowledging its existence, Gillespie is walking a fine line: demonstrating concern for state voters in flood-prone areas, while not crossing fossil-fuel backers like the Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries has given $20,000 directly to his campaign and whose Americans for Prosperity is supporting him with $2.6 million worth of ads.

Gillespie is a longtime lobbyist and political consultant, having worked for the likes of health insurance giant Anthem and fraudulent energy conglomerate Enron. After hounding from local Virginia press, Gillespie disclosed that he also consulted on behalf of the Koch-backed Institute for Energy Research (IER), as well as its advocacy arm the American Energy Alliance (AEA), in 2016. IER produces research in support of nearly every conservative environmental policy position: questioning the dangers of climate change, opposing government-created green jobs, critiquing cap and trade, arguing against solar and wind power tax credits, and supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Two Energy Groups Made Possible By The Kochs

Founded in 1989, the Institute for Energy Research is a non-profit dedicated to “freely-functioning energy markets.” In 2008, it created the American Energy Alliance to act as its advocacy arm. On its website, AEA currently has tools users can use to send form emails to their elected officials urging them to “withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as possible” and end a “wasteful” clean energy subsidy that “lines pockets of wind energy corporations.”

Both groups are headed by Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist who also lobbied on behalf of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Pyle led the Trump administration’s transition team at the Department of Energy.

Billionaire Charles Koch is head of Koch Industries, which he runs with his younger brother, David. The Kochs are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and they spend large amounts of their money on conservative politics and free-market academic programs. Getty Images/Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCT

Gillespie has been cast in the media as being from the establishment wing of the GOP, narrowly beating out Corey Stewart, a Trump-aligned populist who campaigned on preserving Confederate monuments, to secure the Republican nomination in the governor’s race. However, the deep connections between the Koch-backed IER and both Gillespie and Trump show overlapping consensus within the GOP. Gillespie’s campaign is now engaged in a balancing act, as Trump’s approval is at a low 33 percent in Virginia, and the president is not campaigning for Gillespie.

Because they are nonprofits, neither the IEA or the AEA are legally required to disclose their donors, meaning both organizations are considered “dark money” groups. But research has shown that the vast network of Koch-funded entities, which together employ three and a half times more people than the Republican National Committee, are their main funders. The Koch network gave $3 million to Pyle’s groups in 2015, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Data compiled by Conservative Transparency shows that Koch family foundations and other nonprofits to which the Kochs donate have contributed to IER for years. In the late 1990s and 2000s, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a now-defunct foundation operated by the Kochs, gave a total of $235,000 to IER, and the Charles Koch Foundation gave over $30,000 total through 2014. The American Petroleum Institute and Exxon Mobil have combined to give IER almost $500,000.

AEA appears to be almost entirely funded by Koch-backed political groups. Freedom Partners was AEA’s biggest donor from 2008 to 2014 at nearly $3.9 million, and the Center to Protect Patient Rights — another major conduit of donations from the Koch political network now called American Encore — gave over $1.1 million.

AEA raised $4.67 million in 2015, the last year for which data is available. IER, despite calling itself a research organization, gave most of the $2.9 million it raised that year directly to its advocacy arm. In total, the groups raised $5.37 million in 2015 — and more than half of that came from the Koch network.

Koch connections abound among the leaders of the two groups. Wayne Gable, who lobbied for Koch Industries along with Pyle, is on the board of IER and, as of 2015, chairman of AEA. Nancy Pfotenhauer, the former president of Americans for Prosperity and former Koch Industries employee, was on the IER board in 2015. Daniel Simmons, vice president of policy at both IER and AEA who now works for the U.S. Department of Energy, was a research fellow at the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Scott Beaulier, who was a director at AEA as of 2015, has set up several Koch-funded free-market university centers and is on the board of the Institute for Humane Studies, another Koch-backed free-market center at George Mason, along with Charles Koch and two Koch Foundation officials.

More Koch Cash Boosts Gillespie

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has reported over $2.6 million on TV and digital ads and mailers against Northam, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The group also claims to have done significant phone banking and canvassing. Large independent expenditures like these could have a major impact for Gillespie, who has trailed Northam considerably in campaign fundraising, although the two candidates’ combined haul has broken records in Virginia. Through September, Northam raised twice as much money as had Gillespie, but a recent increase for Gillespie and more spending by Northam has nearly evened out their respective cash on hand. The Democratic Governors Association has backed Northam with more than $6 million.

As a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit, AFP isn’t required to disclose its donors, but according to data compiled by Conservative Transparency, AFP has received millions from Freedom Partners — the “central bank” of the greater Koch political operation, which also doesn’t disclose its contributors — as well numerous other Koch-backed political groups including AEA itself ($100,000 in 2011), the Charles Koch Foundation and the David Koch Foundation, and corporations such as tobacco giant Reynolds American.

Gillespie got to hobnob with donors in August at the annual AFP summit, where he condemned white nationalism in a speech. However, many have accused him of running a racist campaign, airing ads that stoke fear of Latino gangs and lambast Northam for being “weak” on immigration. In response, the Latino Victory Fund ran a now-retracted ad depicting a pickup truck with a confederate flag and a Gillespie bumper sticker chasing Latino, black, and Muslim children through Virginia streets.

Koch Industries donated $10,000 to the Gillespie campaign on May 5, and another $10,000 on Oct. 18, but the Kochs are also indirectly financing his run. Koch Industries gave $250,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in April, and Charles Koch added $25,000 in June, according to a mid-year IRS report. In turn, the RGA, a super PAC, has put millions into the race; according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, the RGA has donated over $8.7 million directly to Gillespie’s campaign, but it also routed $5 million to the campaign through a super PAC it controls and finances called A Stronger Virginia. It gave that group a total of $8 million, so more reported donations or spending are likely. A Stronger Virginia has disclosed roughly $20,000 it spent on digital ads, $21,000 on TV ads, over $150,000 on polling and robocalls, and a $150,000 donation to the Virginia Republican Party.

The RGA is funded largely by corporations such as 21st Century Fox, Exxon Mobil and Facebook and wealthy conservative executives like Koch, Kenneth Griffin and Bernard Marcus.