“The Plutocrat Politburo”: The Koch Brothers Don’t Care If You Care About Their Plans To Buy 2016 Election
The Koch brothers are done being shy. That’s the conclusion one would have to draw from the fact that they just announced that they hope to spend $889 million on the 2016 election, an unprecedented amount of outside money. It won’t all be theirs — they’re assembling a kind of Plutocrat Politburo, a group of billionaires and zillionaires who will contribute to the cause — but with a combined worth of over $80 billion, they’ll surely be the ones opening their ample wallets the widest and determining the strategy and the agenda.
But unlike some previous reporting on Charles and David’s political efforts, this revelation — which comes from a gathering in beautiful Rancho Mirage of Freedom Partners, the organization through which the Kochs and their allies will distribute all these millions — didn’t require any secret meetings with anonymous sources to unearth. They just told everyone. Here’s the Post’s story on it, here’s the New York Times’ story on it, and here’s Politico’s story on it, all complete with ample details and on-the-record quotes. Reporters may not have been invited into the private meetings at the gathering, but they were allowed to hang around and talk to the participants. And no fewer than four potential GOP presidential candidates (Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz) showed up as well, obviously unconcerned about any charge that they’re kowtowing to the uber-rich.
So the Kochs appear to have concluded that the efforts by Democrats (especially Harry Reid) to turn the Koch name into a symbol of everything that’s wrong in American politics have failed. No longer must they cower in their mansions and take pains to conceal their political spending, fearful of the piercing barbs aimed by liberal politicians and commentators, when all they want is for Americans to fully appreciate the majesty of laissez-faire economics. Free at last, free at last, thank Citizens United, they’re free at last.
If you were expecting journalists to express much consternation at the idea that a group of the super-wealthy are openly announcing their intention to buy the next election, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the news is being reported more like that of a record-breaking contract for a professional athlete: wonder at the sums involved, but precious little moral outrage. That’s mostly because political reporters tend to believe that election campaigns are already nothing but a parade of deception and manipulation, an enterprise that’s inherently corrupt. So what’s a little more corruption?
There’s no doubt that the behind-the-scenes machinations are fascinating to anyone interested in politics. By putting themselves on par with or even above the parties, the Kochs will make the conflict within the Republican Party even more complex, and potentially vicious, than it already was. Ken Vogel of Politico described the move as “a show of dominance to rival factions on the right, including the Republican National Committee.” What happens when the insurgents are even better funded than what we’ve taken to calling the establishment? It will certainly be interesting to find out.
In any case, the Kochs are probably right that they have little to lose by being public about their plans. Yes, they’ll have to absorb some stern editorials, and maybe even some ads from the DNC criticizing Republican politicians for associating with them. But weighed against what they have to gain by putting nearly a billion dollars into the next presidential campaign — more than the two parties spent, combined, in 2012 — that’s a price so small it’s barely worth worrying about.
In his 2003 novel Jennifer Government, Max Barry imagines a future in which the penetration of capitalism and marketing has become so total that people take the names of their corporate employers as their own last names; characters are called things like John Nike, Nathaniel ExxonMobil, and Calvin McDonalds.
We may not have gotten quite that far yet, but the next Republican president — whether that person is elected in 2016 or after — will have been sponsored, supported, elevated, and outfitted by the Koch brothers and their friends. Should a Republican candidate they don’t like show promise in the primaries, he will surely be crushed by the awesome machine they’re building. The winner may not take their name (Scott Walker-Koch, perhaps?), but he or she will be in their debt to a degree we have not previously contemplated. And the consensus will be that that’s just how things work now.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 27, 2015
“Calling In Their Chips”: Americans For Prosperity Announces Legislative Agenda, Mirrors Koch Industries’ Corporate Wishlist
Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots organizing group founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, spent $125 million in the midterm elections last year. Now, they’re calling in their chips.
At the National Press Club yesterday, AFP president Tim Phillips and several officers with the group laid out their agenda. The group is calling for legalizing crude oil exports, a repeal of the estate tax, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, blocking any hike in the gas tax, a tax holiday on corporate profits earned overseas, blocking the EPA’s new rules on carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants, and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, along with a specific focus on the medical device tax.
The announcement was touted by NPR as a “conservative agenda for Congress.” But it’s also a near-mirror image of Koch Industries’ lobbying agenda. Koch Industries — the petrochemical, manufacturing and commodity speculating conglomerate owned by David and Charles — is not only a financier of political campaigns, but leads one of the most active lobbying teams in Washington, a big part of why the company has been such a financial success.
Koch Industries transports both crude oil and coal, making the AFP’s work to legalize crude oil exports and to block the EPA from rules that would diminish the coal market in the U.S. particularly important to Koch Industries’ bottom line. As multiple news outlets have reported, Koch also owns a substantial stake of Canadian tar sands, positioning the company to benefit from approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Indeed, on EPA and other issues, Koch Industries’ lobbying office in D.C. has instructed its influence peddlers to work many of the same issues as AFP.
And what makes the AFP agenda almost a self-parody is its focus on the estate tax, which it called the “death tax” during the press event yesterday. In reality, this tax only affects the wealthiest 0.15 percent of Americans because only those who stand to inherit from family members with $5.43 million in wealth are impacted. Couple this with AFP’s focus on a corporate overseas tax holiday, again only an issue that impacts wealthy global companies, and AFP’s purported goal of helping regular Americans loses all credibility.
Charles Koch has made headlines in recent weeks over his claim that he will devote significant energy to criminal justice reform. But curiously, no issues relating to such reforms — even though over-prosecution of petty crimes and abuses such as asset forfeiture clearly fall under the umbrella of economic concerns AFP purports to champion — will be addressed by Charles Koch’s marquee advocacy group, AFP. The issues that are part and parcel of Koch’s bottom line, however, appear to take priority.
By: Lee Fang, Republic Report, January 19, 2015
The Koch brothers Congress, purchased with the help of about $100 million from the political network of the billionaire energy producers, got down to its first order of business this week: trying to hold off the future.
Meanwhile, here on the other coast, one of the most popular politicians in America, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, bounced into his fourth and final term by trying to hasten that future. The contrasts — East and West, old and new, backward-looking and forward-marching, the beholden and behold! — could not have been more stark.
The 114th Congress is trying to rush through the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from the dirty tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast. The State Department has estimated that the total number of permanent new jobs created by the pipeline would be 35 — about the same as the handful of new taco trucks in my neighborhood in Seattle. This, at a time when the world is awash in cheap oil.
Governor Brown, having balanced a runaway California budget and delivered near-record job growth in a state Republicans had written off as ungovernable, laid out an agenda to free the world’s eighth-largest economy — his state — from being tied to old energy, old transportation and old infrastructure. He doubled down on plans to build a bullet-train network and replumb the state’s water system, while setting new goals to reduce dependence on energy that raises the global temperature.
“The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it,” said Governor Brown, who is the embodiment of the line about how living well is the best revenge — political division. He is 76, but said he’s been pumping iron and eating his vegetables of late so he can live to see the completion of the high-speed rail system, about 2030, when Governor Brown would be a frisky 92.
Russia, which is ranked below California in overall economic output, is teetering as world commodity prices provide a cold lesson in what can happen to a country tied to the fate of oil’s wild swings. The Republicans should take note. The Keystone pipeline, though largely symbolic in the global scheme of things, does nothing for the American economy except set up the United States as a pass-through colony for foreign industrialists. Well, not all foreign: The Koch brothers are one of the largest outside leaseholders of acres in Canadian oil sands, according to a Washington Post report. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fierce urgency of rushing Keystone XL through Congress now.
At the same time, the Republican hold-back-the-clock majority announced plans to roll back environmental regulations. Fighting hard for dirty air, dirty water and old-century energy producers, the new Senate leaders are trying to keep some of the nation’s oldest and most gasping coal plants in operation, and to ensure that unhealthy air can pass freely from one state to the other. One strategy is to block money to enforce new rules against the biggest polluters.
For intellectual guidance, Republicans can count on 80-year-old Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the incoming chairman of the environment committee. Inhofe calls the consensus scientific view on human-caused warming “the greatest hoax.” He plans to use his gavel to hold back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, fighting the obvious at every turn.
The headache, for the rest of us, will come when the nations of the world meet in Paris at year’s end to discuss how to address the problem that knows no nationality. We’ll talk about China and its climate-warming coal plants. Critics will point to the United States, its knuckle-dragging Congress and the industries it is shielding from responsibility.
The Republican agenda is frozen in time. It’s all frack-your-way-to-prosperity, and Sarah Palin shouting, “Drill, baby, drill.” The problem, of course, is that the world doesn’t need any more oil, not now; the price is down by 50 percent over the last year with no bottom in sight. Cheap petro is killing not just Russia but Iraq, Venezuela, Saudi monarchs and, soon, assorted other dependencies — like Alaska and Texas. At some point, the only way the Keystone XL can be profitably built and operated is with a huge subsidy from taxpayers.
Nature, also, is weighing in. Earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma are raising alarms about the relationship between the hydraulic byproducts of fracking and the temblors rolling through a huge swatch of land that’s been perforated for oil and gas drillers.
Governor Brown and another West Coast governor, Jay Inslee of Washington, view the cheap oil era as a golden opportunity for an energy pivot. Inslee wants to tax the biggest carbon emitters to pay for new infrastructure. The motto is tax what you burn, not what you earn.
Governor Brown is quick to note the big forces at play between the West Coast and the pollution panderers along the Potomac. “California is basically presenting a challenge to Washington,” he told reporters earlier this week.
A big piece of that challenge is the $68 billion high-speed rail project, which would zip passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just under three hours. It’s bogged down in legal and financial muck, and critics call it pie in the sky.
But Governor Brown is undaunted. What he has going for him is an old strain in the American character, dormant for much of the Great Recession — the tomorrow gene. There’s no legacy, no long-term payoff, in defending things that are well past their pull point. And, seriously, which would you rather have: a futuristic, clean-energy train, or a pipeline that carries a product produced in a way that makes the world a worse place to live?
By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, January 8, 2014
The Koch brothers like to meet in secret with their political minions. And, for the most part, the minions prefer to keep their interactions with the billionaire campaign donors on the down low.
But not Chris Christie.
The governor of New Jersey, who currently chairs that Koch-tied Republican Governors Association, and who well understands that a steady flow of dark money will be required to light up his 2016 presidential prospects, is elbowing everyone else aside in his mad rush to defend the billionaire brothers.
A Koch favorite who has appeared at secret summits organized in the past by the major donors to conservative causes and the RGA, Christie has been among their most vocal defenders in recent months. At the the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, he hailed brothers Charles and David Koch as “great Americans who are creating great things in our country.”
Now, as the 2014 midterm elections approach, no one is championing the Kochs more aggressively than Christie—even if that means he has to grab the spotlight from candidates the embattled New Jerseyan is supposed to be assisting.
After The Nation revealed that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey had flown to California in June to attend what was supposed to be a secret summit with the Kochs and the circle of millionaires and billionaires they work with to shape the political discourse, Ducey took a lot of hits at home.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal demanded that Ducey renounce the “dark money” support that has benefitted the Republican’s candidacy. DuVal campaign consultant Rodd McLeod offered a checklist of complaints: “Doug Ducey works for out-of-state billionaires, not for Arizona. He goes to meetings with them, gives a secret speech, says you’re known by the company you keep.”
Headlines in the state’s newspapers told the story:
The “kissing up” piece, a column by The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts, began
Well. I suppose it’s safe to say that Doug Ducey won’t be fighting the lords of darkness if he gets into the governor’s office.
Fresh off a primary in which dark-money attacks were launched against any Republican who stood in Ducey’s way, we now learn that Ducey has been cozying up to America’s premier princes of dark money.
As he traveled Arizona, Ducey was bombarded with questions from print and broadcast reporters about why he thought getting together with out-of-state oligarchs at an elite resort was—as the gubernatorial candidate told the Kochs—so “very inspirational.”
Those aren’t the sort of questions a candidate who is in a tight race wants to answer.
So Chris Christie did the answering for Ducey.
Visiting Arizona in his capacity as the chairman of the RGA, Christie was with Ducey when the gubernatorial candidate was asked about his sojourns with those premier princes of dark money.
Yet, though the questions were clearly directed at Ducey, Christie jumped in with the answers.
Such as they were.
Brahm Resnik, one of Arizona’s most prominent political reporters and the host of KPNX-TV’s Sunday Square Off, set the scene, explaining to viewers, “You’ll hear Christie jump in before Ducey could answer my question about why he meets in secret with the Koch brothers. Now, those brothers, Charles and David, are billionaire industrialists who host these beauty pageants for candidates for the benefit of their wealthy donors. Ducey’s campaign has benefited from several hundred thousand dollars from Koch-connected organizations—all the money from anonymous donors. Ducey is also supported by Sean Noble, an Arizona operative who is one of the leading bundlers of Koch brothers’ cash. Now, watch Ducey begin to answer my question a few minutes ago, before Christie jumps in:
DOUG DUCEY: Uh, uh…
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, that’s your opinion. Your opinion is that are that these folks are folks with dark money. The facts on Fred DuVal are pretty clear…
BRAHM RESNIK: You’re saying the Koch brothers and these entities are not dark-money givers?
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, what I’m saying very clearly is that everyone has a right to participate in the political process and let’s judge these people up or down based on what they do. But, no, I don’t believe the Koch brothers are that—nor any of these other folks.
Christie dismissed attempts to track the influence of the Koch brothers as “silliness” and “sophistry.”
Ducey’s critics were taking the issue seriously, however.
The DuVal campaign featured links to the tape from the Koch summit, along with media coverage of it, on social media. A tagline read: “Doug Ducey is quietly hanging with billionaires who seem intent, among other things, on privatizing education, killing unions and eliminating government regulations that protect the air we breathe.”
As for the Ducey campaign, it wasn’t highlighting the Koch tape or the tape in which Chris Christie elbows Ducey aside in order to defend billionaires who have the resources and the connections to make or break ambitious Republican politicians like, well, Chris Christie.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 8, 2014
“Free Enterprise Groups”: How The Koch Brothers Helped Bring About The Law That Shut Texas Abortion Clinics
In Texas politics, abortion is front and center once again—and so is the role of so-called “free enterprise” groups in the quest for government control of women’s lives.
Yesterday, there were 21 abortion clinics available to the women of Texas, the second-largest state in the nation. Today, thanks to a decision handed down from a three-judge panel on the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there are eight. But the story really begins with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, and the flow of money to anti-choice organizations from groups that profess to care only for the deregulation of industry and markets.
The closing of some 13 abortion clinics today in Texas hinges on a provision of the highly restrictive, anti-abortion bill passed in the state legislature in special session in 2013—the part of the law that requires clinics to comply with the building code standards for hospital-quality ambulatory surgical clinics, despite the assertion of nearly every credible medical association that such requirements are medically unnecessary.
In fact, the most significant effect of the facility requirements is to prevent women from obtaining safe abortions, since the clinics cannot not afford the alterations to their facilities demanded by the law. And given the state’s other restrictions on abortion—a mandatory and medically unnecessary sonogram, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on abortions taking place 20 weeks post-fertilization—you’d be forgiven for thinking that most significant effect to be by design.
That aspect of the law, as well as others, were challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other pro-choice groups. In August, the groups won a reprieve from the requirement that clinics meet hospital building-code standards, as well as from another provision that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the practice or clinic where they conduct the procedure. At that time, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin ruled in the clinics’ favor.
Then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, appealed Yeakel’s ruling, yielding Wednesday’s ruling from the three-judge panel in a decision that was contemptuous of Yeakel’s decision, declaring him to have exceeded his judicial authority.
But even more astonishing in the 5th Circuit’s opinion is its assertion that the shuttering of most of the state’s abortion clinics will not place an undue burden—the standard set in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—on women seeking abortions. According to the New York Times, some 5.4 million women of childbearing age live in the Lone Star State, which covers more than 268,000 square miles.
The ruling puts abortion politics front and center, once again, in the Texas gubernatorial race, just a month before Election Day. In truth, it’s the issue that’s provided the subtext of that race from the get-go, as the Democratic candidate, State Senator Wendy Davis, rose to national prominence for her fortitude in launching, on June 25, 2013, an 11-hour filibuster that temporarily forestalled passage of the law, as pro-choice demonstrators poured into the state capitol building. In his role as the state’s top lawyer, Abbott is charged with enforcing that law, and has done so with gusto
But, as I reported for RH Reality Check in November 2013, the rash of anti-abortion laws that flooded the agendas of state legislatures across the nation that summer were hardly the result of spontaneous uprisings; they were fueled with the dollars of such “free enterprise” groups as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and 60 Plus—all part of the fundraising network organized by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.
The brothers may care little about killing the right to choose, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hesitate to throw women under the bus if it helps them in their anti-regulatory, shrink-the-government crusade. Religious-right leaders, in recent years, theologized the free-market cause, providing the Kochs and their ilk with foot-soldiers willing to execute it, if only they could find their way to political power.
In the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gave license to groups like those mentioned above to spend unlimited sums in elections without disclosing their donors, millions of free-enterprise dollars flowed to anti-choice groups and politicians. (In Texas, for example, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, the sponsor of the House version of the draconian 2013 abortion law, was also president of the state chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential right-leaning group, supported by the Kochs, that crafts legislation designed to cut regulations on corporations.) The Koch network money led to an unprecedented number of anti-choice politicians elected to state legislatures in 2010 and 2012.
With a month to go before voters hit the polls, Wendy Davis is gaining on Greg Abbott, but a recent poll still has her 9 points behind the Republican. He’s likely to enjoy a flood of outside spending on his behalf by the Koch-network groups.
Then there’s money in their respective campaign coffers. “In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand,” reports Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, “while Davis had $8.8 million.”
In Texas, as in much of the nation, it’s hard for a woman to catch a break.
By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, October 3, 2014