Behind the Tesla and Elon Musk Attacks: Big Energy and Conservative Groups

Elon Musk and Tesla Motors have their share of detractors, some of whom have become more vicious than usual as of late. According to a recent article published by The Drive, focused attacks on Tesla and SpaceX emanate from conservative group Citizens for the Republic. CftR is an organization founded in 1977 by Ronald Reagan that calls itself ” a national organization dedicated to revitalizing the conservative movement.” Its stated mission is to “ferret out corruption that wastes taxpayer dollars and continually undermines the American people in favor of the powerful and profitable.” CftR lists its national chairman as Laura Ingraham, a right wing pundit and possible press secretary for Donald Trump.

Musk and his various companies are frequently singled out as examples of taxpayer waste. CftR’s recent activity focuses on a website called Stop Elon From Falling Again whose motto is, “The One Stop Database On Stopping Elon Musk.” It claims “Elon Musk has defrauded the American Taxpayer out of over $4.9 Billion in the form of subsidies, grants, and other favors.”

One of CftR’s regular themes is that incentives promoting solar power are wasteful. “The solar industry has been a pet-industry of the Obama Administration and those who claim to care about the environment. Washington has given Solar companies millions in federal tax credits and subsidies that are costing taxpayers millions, despite posting losses year after year. When Solyndra, Ener1, and others get government tax breaks, the American people need to know. The US government needs to stop meddling in industries and create an atmosphere that allows to prosper without pledging taxpayer support.”

The group fails to mention an article in the New York Times from earlier this year that alleges fossil fuel companies get $4 billion a year in subsidies from the federal government. Nor does it include a reference to the finding of the International Monetary Fund earlier this year that fossil fuel interests receive more than $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies from governments around the world each year. When it comes to ferreting out wasteful government spending, people tend to overlook benefits that flow to activities they approve of — or are paid to promote.

Elon has good reason to be suspicious of his rivals. Earlier this year, the Koch Brothers whose total income from fossil fuel related business estimated at $115 billion let it be known they had created a special $10 million a year fund to induce media to run stories favorable to fossil fuels. It worked.

On  March 7,  Forbes ran a story entitled Forget The Gas Tax, Here’s How Policymakers Make Drivers PayThe subtitle is, “CAFE standards are not an effective climate change policy; they are a meaningless gesture.” On the same day, Fortune ran a story entitled What Electric-Car Lovers Get Wrong About Fossil Fuels. On March 11, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed entitled Voters Should Be Mad at Electric Cars, sensationalizing it with a subheading “If Trump and Sanders fans hate absurd handouts to elites, the Tesla economy is the place to look.”

Also on March 11, The Herald Scotland ran this story: Time to get off the back of fossil fuels and show support rather than back daft divestment campaigns. “Koch Industries does not oppose electric vehicles,” said Philip Ellender, a spokesman for the company. “What we oppose is government subsidizing and mandating a particular form of energy over another. We oppose all subsidies – even for those industries in which we participate.”

Does that sound oddly similar to CftR’s line about how “The US government needs to stop meddling in industries and create an atmosphere that allows to prosper without pledging taxpayer support?” How about this statement from Donald  Trump during the campaign? Last May, as reported by CNN, he told the press, “The government should not pick winners and losers, instead it should remove obstacles to exploration.” From Charles’ and David’s mouth to Trump’s ear, perhaps?

Yahoo says, “Musk attracts an unusually large and varied number of shrouded online attacks, including phony op-ed pieces, websites with shadowy backers, and individuals who hide behind aliases.” For whatever reason, some people have it in for Elon Musk and are hoping against hope to see him fail. That may be the reason why Tesla Motors is one of the most shorted stocks on Wall Street. Even analysts are divided into separate camps. The Motley Fool generally looks favorably on the company and its prospects for success. Seeking Alpha often takes a more pessimistic view.

In the digital world, truth and fiction are intertwined in a way that makes it hard for people to glean accurate information. Fake news is everywhere and may even have played a key role in the recent election according to the Washington Post. How does anyone know who or what to believe?

Let the trolls launch their slings and arrows Elon’s way. They will not deter him from moving towards his goal — a world where fossil fuels stay in the ground and abundant renewable electricity from the sun is the order of the day.

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