This year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to spend Father’s Day with two GOP political sugar daddies, Charles and David Koch, at their annual retreat, this time at the lovely St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in Orange County, California. As befit the day, McConnell brought the love: “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”
It’s a good thing McConnell sucked up to the wealthy right-wing industrialists. He could be looking for a job soon, once Kentuckians (and opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes) hear the audiotape of the session obtained by the Nation. (A transcript can be found here.)
The same weekend ISIL began approaching Baghdad, and Eric Cantor had just lost his primary for, among other reasons, being too cozy with big donors, McConnell took time to schmooze the Kochs and their network of funders and organizers. He wasn’t the only Senate candidate there: the next day, GOP Senate nominees Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado joined the retreat, the Nation’s Lauren Windsor has reported, and all pledged allegiance to the Kochs.
“The exposure to this group and to this network, and the opportunity to meet so many of you, really started my trajectory,” kvelled Ernst, who attended the summit last year. (You can hear audio of her remarks at the Huffington Post).
But only McConnell was devoted enough to spend Father’s Day addressing the Kochs – and only McConnell said anything substantive enough to ensure him home-state trouble.
Kentuckians may find themselves chagrined to learn that McConnell promised the Kochs and their friends that he would intensify gridlock if Republicans win control of the Senate. While legislation requires 60 votes, he noted, budget bills only require a simple majority, and he promised to attach “riders” defunding Obamacare, financial regulation laws and the entire Environmental Protection Agency to any spending bill — riders that President Obama would likely veto, which could trigger another government shutdown.
He also attacked Democrats for wasting time on their “gosh darn proposals” – like raising the minimum wage, which Kentuckians support by almost 2-1, and extending unemployment insurance, likewise backed by his state’s voters.
Here’s what McConnell said on those points, verbatim.
We can pass the spending bill, and I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill: No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.
And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage — cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment — that’s a great message for retirees; the student loan package the other day; that’s going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.
Kentuckians can decide who believes in all the wrong things come November.
In June the Nation first reported on the annual Koch retreat, loftily titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” and heavily focused on helping the GOP take back the Senate. 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio attended along with McConnell, but it was the man the Kochs hope will be the Senate majority leader come January who headlined the crucial session “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights.”
If dollars themselves could vote in Kentucky politics, McConnell would defeat Grimes in a landslide. At the Koch retreat, the Senate veteran depicted himself as a tireless soldier for the freedom of money in politics. He described the right to make unlimited political contributions as “the one freedom, that without which we can’t do anything.” His fealty to the cause of money in politics got embarrassing at times.
According to the Nation, McConnell talked about his many filibusters of campaign finance reform the way other men his age describe war battles. “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” McConnell told the Kochs and their friends. Others might say 9/11, or the day President Reagan was shot (or further back, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.) But not Mitch.
The only people he praises more than the Koch brothers are the five-member Supreme Court majority that voted to abolish McCain-Feingold in the Citizens United decision, calling the John Roberts-led bench:
The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech…[Now] you can give to the candidate of your choice, You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government…I’m really proud of this Supreme Court…It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.
But not the other four, obviously. Tough luck, RBG.
When David Koch himself, during the question and answer session, complained about a New York Times editorial lamenting the influence of big Koch money, and asked about Democrats’ attempts to start the process of amending the Constitution to state that Congress may in fact regulate campaign contributions, McConnell was at his feistiest.
“This is an act of true radicalism,” McConnell declared. “It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of their critics … The IRS, the SEC and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics.”
By comparison with the seasoned McConnell, Senate candidates Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner were restrained, as Lauren Windsor reports in the Huffington Post. A grateful Gardner, happy about all the Koch-related third-party money flowing into his race, told the crowd that among the people most excited about his run was “the station manager at Channel 9 in Denver because he knew the activity that would be taking place on the airwaves.”
Tom Cotton likewise thanked the group for its role in his success. “[The Koch-funded] Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state … building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state invested in their communities,” Cotton explained.
But only McConnell went on record endorsing the Koch brothers’ entire big money agenda, while mocking popular “gosh darn” Democratic policies like a minimum wage hike, restoring extended unemployment insurance and easing the student loan burden. McConnell’s role in blocking her student-loan compromise earned him a visit to Kentucky by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on behalf of Grimes. ”Mitch McConnell says it’s more important to protect the billionaires,” she told the crowd. “And that’s what this race is all about.”
It would be ironic if the Koch brothers won their GOP Senate majority, but McConnell wasn’t around to lead it.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 27, 2014
You’ve got to hand it to Charles Koch: The man doesn’t want for self-confidence. The Kochs and their allies are taking a page from Sen. Rand Paul and trying to dress up their free-market, anti-union, welfare-slashing 21st century feudalism as the answer to persistent African-American unemployment even as the economy recovers under President Obama.
Unbelievably, Koch invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in a stunning USA Today Op-Ed, “How to really turn the economy around,” which is essentially an argument for deregulating business, slashing welfare programs and forcing low-wage work on the poor in the name of the ennobling power of employment.
With laughable Koch paternalism, he shares life lessons from his father, Fred, an oil industry magnate and John Birch Society founder: “When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs,” Koch tells us. “Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.”
Not only does Koch fail to mention that he was the son of a very wealthy man when he worked those “unpleasant jobs,” he cites Dr. King as someone who agrees with him that “there are no dead end jobs.” (The Kochs, by the way, also fund “educational” groups that oppose the minimum wage.)
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
This from a man who himself joined the John Birch Society in the mid-1960s, while it was targeting King as a “communist.”
Koch is right about one thing: King was indeed a great admirer of street sweepers. In fact, he was murdered visiting Memphis to fight for the right of city sanitation workers to join a union. Invoking King on behalf of his low-wage, union-busting, anti-minimum wage agenda is despicable, but Koch apparently thinks his money can buy him anything, including the right to claim King’s legacy.
He’s wrong. King died, by the way, while supporting AFSCME, the union representing the Memphis sanitation workers. AFSCME honored Dr. King by making the painful yet correct decision to end a partnership with the United Negro College Fund after UNCF accepted $25 million from the Kochs to establish a “Koch Scholars” program for black students. UNCF head Dr. Michael Lomax also dignified the annual Koch Summit, which plots its right-wing, free-market strategy, in June, alongside Republican senators and right-wing think tankers.
Along with their UNCF donation, which the Kochs widely publicized, Charles Koch’s Op-Ed represents a new front in their public relations battle. Neither their billions in wealth nor their trademark political stealth have served to insulate them from criticism and scorn. When asked about the Koch brothers, a recent George Washington University poll found that most people surveyed hadn’t heard of them, but 25 percent had negative feelings vs. 13 percent who had positive feelings. That’s bad news for a duo who have tried to keep their political activities undercover.
They apparently believe that funding African-American Koch scholars and invoking Dr. King can convince black voters they’re not the enemy. But quoting King on the dignity of street sweepers while forgetting – or never knowing – that he died while fighting for their right to unionize is at best boneheaded, at worst disrespectful. It won’t convince many Koch doubters.
Charles Koch’s billions can’t buy King’s legacy or King’s blessing for his radical far-right agenda, which opposes everything King stood for. But he probably can afford better ghostwriters.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief, Salon, August 7, 2014
“The Increasingly Confusing World Of Campaign Finance”: Koch-Backed Small Business Front Group Added To ALEC Board
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a big business-funded group that claims to be the “nation’s leading small business association,” has joined the corporate board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or “ALEC.” It marks perhaps the final step towards the NFIB abandoning any pretense of being a nonpartisan representative of small business owners.
ALEC has been described as a “corporate bill mill” that allows big business interests to peddle influence with ALEC’s legislative members — who are almost entirely Republican — and push “model” legislation that tends to benefit the corporate bottom line or advance an ideological agenda. The NFIB has long been an ALEC member, and this week joined the ALEC corporate governing board, which meets jointly with the ALEC legislative board and helps set the agenda and fundraise for the organization.
The announcement of the NFIB’s board membership came the same day the New York Times revealed that the the health insurance lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), laundered $1.6 million through the NFIB’s dark money advocacy arm in 2012 to attack Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. This is on top of the $850,000 that the insurance group gave to NFIB the year before.
The New York Times wrote:
“The largely hidden role of the for-profit health insurers highlights the increasingly confusing world of campaign finance, as nonprofit groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business and its Voice of Free Enterprise program can keep their donor lists secret and then present their carefully fashioned message, financed in large part by big business, as if it is coming from, perhaps, a more sympathetic voice.”
Even the small business owner featured in the NFIB’s ad, John Parke of Little Rock, Ark., said he didn’t know the message was being bankrolled by the insurance industry — but says he should have been told.
“It is relevant to understanding who is sponsoring the message,” he said.
AHIP represents dozens of insurance companies, some of which are ALEC members, such as Guarantee Trust (which chairs ALEC’s Health & Human Services Task Force) and State Farm (which is also part of the ALEC corporate board).
Yet the insurance lobby donation wasn’t the NFIB’s biggest grant in 2012, which is the most recent year that records are available. The biggest donor to NFIB and its affiliated groups was the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners, an outfit that Politico described as “the Koch brothers’ secret bank.” Freedom Partners gave NFIB and its affiliates $2.5 million in 2012. NFIB received an additional $135,000 that year from another Koch funding outfit, the Center to Protect Patient Rights.
A Koch representative also sits on the ALEC corporate board.
A small business owner who joins the NFIB pays $195. Which means the Koch network’s donations to NFIB in 2012 was the equivalent of over 13,500 individual memberships. AHIP’s money amounted to more than 8,200 memberships.
Which raises the question, who does the NFIB speak for?
Small business owners run the gamut politically. Around a third say they are Republican, one-third Democrats, and one-third independent. Yet the NFIB’s political spending has not been representative of the small business owners it claims to represent. Its political donations go almost entirely to Republicans. And the NFIB’s funding sources place it squarely within the right-wing infrastructure.
The NFIB’s partisan and big business ties became evident in 2010, when it launched the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. That year, Karl Rove’s dark money outfit Crossroads GPS gave the NFIB $3.7 million. The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation (which also donates to ALEC) chipped-in an additional $100,000.
Prior to the healthcare lawsuit, the biggest contribution to the NFIB from an outside source was $21,000.
By: Brendan Fisher, PR Watch, The Center for Media and Democracy, August 1, 2014
“Our Political System Is Morphing”: The Problem With The Koch Brothers Isn’t Their Politics. It’s Their Copycats
Did you see the “Creepy Carnival” from the Koch brothers on the Washington Mall the other day? Sponsored by the youth-outreach tentacle of the brothers’ operation, it featured Pennywise the Clown doppelgangers dunking millennials into “High-Risk Pools” – though, surely, they missed an opportunity to nail some old people to death panels. (There was no word about the presence of funhouse mirrors to artificially shrink the outsize influence of the Kochs on our national agenda.)
These two men have commanded center stage in the dark-money circus since the US supreme court started the political money free-for-all four and a half years ago. The Kochs have become the focus of electoral campaigns themselves.
But however effective they may be as conservative bogeymen, the real problem with the Kochs is not that they are ultra-conservative. The problem is that they are a leading indicator that our political system is morphing from elections based on ideology to elections based on the preferences of individual donors.
Big “fundraisers” like the Kochs don’t care so much about candidates or parties. They care about policies, and that tendency to narrowly target their dollars naturally pushes candidates to tailor their platforms to issues more than coherent ideologies. Jjust look at Sheldon Adelson and Israel, or Tom Steyer and green energy, or Paul Singer and gay rights – or the Koch brothers themselves, whose political manipulations have always been based in a fervent economic libertarianism more than purely Republican politics.
The negative focus on mega-donors on both sides of the aisle is having one effect: it’s turning Americans firmly against the current electoral financing system. According to Gallup, fully 50% of the country would support a federally funded campaign finance system with no private contributions whatsoever; 79% would vote for a law limiting contributions in some way.
As a result, the movement for a small-donor revolution in campaign finance is slowly clawing its way into the mainstream. The leading general in that revolution, Lawrence Lessig – who launched Mayday Pac to blow up big money in politics by raising big money – just surpassed his initial fundraising goal of $5m by raking in $7.6m in small donations. (Ironically, a few mega-donors will be kicking in another $5m in matching funds.)
But Lessig’s Kickstarter-esque project is itself the kind of single-issue project that has, to date, been the purview of fundraising behemoths: he plans to give the money only to candidates who hew to his vision of campaign finance reform. Like them, it lays the groundwork for the decentralization of parties, whether or not Lessig’s own goals are achieved.
As it stands, the number of Americans who identify with a particular political party do so now with unprecedented intensity, and the number of Americans who don’t identify with either party has grown as well. Sheer frustration could move some – or perhaps many – independents who currently favor a particular party to a more radicalized center.
Disillusioned with actual politicians, apolitical activists could make the candidates the least important part of a ballot by donating to and campaigning for policies, rather than politicians. And that is what issue-oriented Super Pacs, like Lessig’s and others, are counting on: small donors, and voters interested in issues over ideology – or, at least issues-as-ideology.
The idea of non-partisan issue activism is an old one, but what’s changed is the degree of overall partisanship and our expectations of infinite, individualized choice today. When we’ve got Uber in our hands and Spotify playlists inside our headphones, it seems reasonable to expect technology could do the same for democracy.
Anil Dash, a tech activist and entrepreneur, envisions a kind of Amazon for activism – a literal marketplace of ideas, wherein a donor with a little money and a few major passions could shop for candidates that fit an issue checklist. They could even target those who appear particularly “flexible”, based on a database matching their voting history to donors, or particularly in need of cash to keep the campaign going. These, of course, are tactics that big money donors have long used to sway the opinions of politicians. The question is whether the aggregation of enough small donors could be equally effective.
But do today’s policy crises even lend themselves to the micro-targeted solutions that app-enabled voters could select? Do we wind up with solutions to climate change, or just pockets of pollution? And what issues disappear entirely when pressures from both special interest big donors and special interest small donors push parties to the breaking point?
As it is, just the system is broken – or bent, leaning heavily in the direction of that easy mega-donor money. The undoing of campaign finance reform has made more and more obvious to more and more people; Larry Lessig’s project to leverage that disgust will spotlight the ugliness just in time for 2016. Perhaps it will drive at least some conversations, if not solutions.
By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, July 28, 2014
When Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932 that a “single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country,” he was suggesting that state innovations might advance reform on the federal level. The progressive Supreme Court justice surely wasn’t imagining anything quite like Brownbackistan.
Under Governor Sam Brownback, however, the old Brandeis metaphor is especially apt for Kansas, where a highly publicized “experiment” in extreme tax cutting has just blown up the entire laboratory. As Kansans peer through the still-smoking ruins, they evidently don’t much like what they see.
What makes the Brownback blowup feel so familiar is that the same experiment was mounted more than three decades ago, on the federal level, under the rubric of Reaganomics – by some of the same people. It crashed miserably then, too. But the Republican right has a special knack for dressing up old mischief as fresh policy. To put this one over, Brownback has enjoyed heavy support from the Koch brothers — chief financial backers of the ultra-right Tea Party — whose industrial empire is headquartered in Kansas.
The statewide tax cut that Brownback pushed through the legislature in 2012 certainly benefited the most wealthy Kansans – people just like the Kochs – while inflicting higher taxes on middle income and working-class families through sales and property tax increases. Proceeding with expert advice of Arthur Laffer, author of the “supply-side” theory underlying the Reagan tax cuts, the gung-ho governor promised that these regressive changes would promote rapid economic growth. He predicted that his plan would produce 23,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in new disposable income for Kansans. Their tax payments were supposed to offset the loss of nearly 8 percent of state revenues.
But the results have yet to justify the hype. Today, the fruits of Brownback’s experiment include a state budget deficit of nearly $340 million this year; a decision by Moody’s to lower the rating on Kansas bonds; a growing gap in education funding at every level, from kindergarten through college; a ruinous reduction in state and local workforces across the state; and a future that promises even larger deficits and service cutbacks to come.
Advocates of the Brownback cuts – who are much more likely to be found in New York and Washington think tanks than in Kansas itself – insist that with patience, the governor’s vindication will come. Noting that the tax cuts took effect less than two years ago, they say that with time will come the jobs and revenues that Kansans expected. But over the past several months, as most states have added jobs, their state has fallen behind.
The Kansas City Star, leading newspaper in the state, recently analyzed federal employment data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and published an editorial comparing Kansas with other states in seasonally adjusted, non-farm total job growth. The bottom line was not encouraging. From January 2011 through June 30, 2014, job growth for Kansas at 3.5 percent was lower than its four neighbors, other Midwestern states, and even “extremely high income tax” New York, not to mention the national average of 6.1 percent. “Kansas has had one of the nation’s poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback’s time in office,” noted the Star editorial, “including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013.” Moreover, the state actually had fewer jobs at the end of June than it did seven months ago.
As a creature of the Koch machine, Brownback naturally blames this embarrassing data on Barack Obama, the devilish socialist in Washington. But polls show that whatever Kansans may think of the president, they aren’t so easily bamboozled by such arguments anymore. Their opinion of the governor is declining almost as quickly as the state’s revenues — and in some polls he is trailing the lesser-known Democrat, Paul Davis, who bravely challenged him this year. Even some prominent Republicans recently declared they would rather elect Davis than continue the destruction that Brownback is inflicting on their state.
Nationally, the Republican Party still promotes Brownback as an innovator with expertise in growing the economy. The Koch brothers will deluge their home state in dark money and Tea Party propaganda before they let him fall. But if the voters boot him in November, this latest experiment in extremism will be ranked as an explosive failure.
By: Joe Conason, Editor-in-Chief, The National Memo, July 25, 2014