“How To Vote Against The Koch Brothers”: Urgent Action Is Needed To Restore Our Democracy To The Hands Of The People
The Koch Brothers don’t actually run for office—at least not since David Koch’s amusingly ambitious 1980 bid for the vice presidency on a Libertarian Party ticket that proposed the gutting of corporate taxes, the minimum wage, occupational health and safety oversight, environmental protections and Social Security.
That project, while exceptionally well-funded for a third-party campaign, secured just 1.06 percent of the vote. The Kochs determined it would be easier to fund conservative campaigns than to pitch the program openly. Initially, the project was hampered by what passed for campaign-finance rules and regulations, to the frustration of David Koch, who once told The New Yorker, “We’d like to abolish the Federal Elections Commission and all the limits on campaign spending anyway.”
The FEC still exists. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v FEC and the general diminution of campaign finance rules and regulations has cleared the way for David Koch and his brother Charles to play politics as they choose. And they are playing hard—especially in Wisconsin, a state where they have made supporting and sustaining the governorship of Scott Walker a personal priority.
Two years ago, David Koch said of Walker: “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years. We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.” The Palm Beach Post interview in which that quote appeared explained, “By ‘we’ he says he means Americans for Prosperity,” the group the Kochs have used as one of their prime vehicles for political engagement in the states.
AFP and its affiliates are expanding their reach this year, entering into fights at the local level where their big money can go far—and where the Koch Brothers can influence the process from the ground up.
As Walker prepares to seek a second term, AFP is clearing the way in supposedly nonpartisan county board and school board races that will occur Tuesday.
Consider the case of Iron County. Elections in the northern Wisconsin county have always been down-home affairs: an ad in the Iron County Miner newspaper, some leaflets dropped at the door, maybe a hand-painted yard sign.
This year, however, that’s changed. Determined to promote a controversial mining project—and, presumably, to advance Walker’s agenda—AFP has waded into Tuesday’s competition for control of the Iron County Board.
With dubious “facts” and over-the-top charges, the Wisconsin chapter of the Koch Brothers-backed group is pouring money into the county—where voter turnout in spring elections rarely tops 1,500—for one of the nastiest campaigns the region has ever seen. Small-business owners, farmers and retirees who have asked sensible questions about the impact of major developments on pristine lakes, rivers, waterfalls and tourism are being attacked as “anti-mining radicals” who “just want to shut the mines down, no matter what.”
Iron County is debating whether to allow new mining, not whether to shut mines down. And many of the candidates that AFP is ripping into have simply said they want to hear from all sides.
But those details don’t matter in the new world of Big Money politics ushered in by US Supreme Court rulings that have cleared the way for billionaires and corporations to buy elections.
Most of the attention to money in politics focuses on national and state races. But the best bargains for billionaires are found at the local level—where expenditures in the thousands can overwhelm the pocket-change campaigns of citizens who run for county boards, city councils and school boards out of a genuine desire to serve and protect their community.
That’s why it is important to pay attention to Tuesday’s voting in Iron County—and in communities such as Kenosha, where the group has waded into local school board races. The Kenosha contest goes to the core issues of recent struggles over collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin, pitting candidates who are willing to work with teachers and their union in a historically pro-labor town versus contenders who are being aided by the Koch Brothers contingent in Wisconsin.
But it is equally important to pay attention to the efforts by citizens, working at the local level, to upend the big money and to restore politics of, by and for the people.
The month of March started with a grassroots rebellion in New Hampshire, where dozens of towns called on their elected representatives to work to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the high court’s Citizens United decision.
On Tuesday, the same day the Kochs are meddling in local elections in the state, communities across the state will vote to get money out of politics.
Clean-politics advisory referendums are on ballots across Wisconsin. Belleville, DeForest, Delavan, Edgerton, Elkhorn, Lake Mills, Shorewood, Waterloo, Waukesha, Waunakee, Wauwatosa, Whitefish Bay and Windsor will have an opportunity to urge their elected representatives to support an amendment to restore the authority of local, state and national officials to establish campaign finance rules ensuring that votes matter more than dollars. The initiative is backed by groups like Move to Amend and United Wisconsin. “The unlimited election spending by special-interest groups, allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, has drowned out the voices of ordinary people,” says United Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck. “Urgent action is needed to restore our democracy to the hands of the people.”
That urgency is especially real in rural communities—places like Iron County. That’s why the Wisconsin Farmers Union is calling for a “yes” vote. “Citizens of all political stripes—Republicans, Democrats and independents—agree that we need to curb the corrupting influence of money in politics,” says WFU Executive Director Tom Quinn. “Voting yes…will send a clear message that we the people are ready to take back our democracy.”
By: John Nichols, The Nation, March 31, 2014
As regular viewers have no doubt noticed, “All in with Chris Hayes,” which airs just before “The Rachel Maddow Show” weeknights on msnbc, is consistently an exceptionally informative program. And while every night features lively and engaged discussions, there was one segment in particular this week that stood out as unique.
Chris talked – or at least tried to talk – to Jennifer Stefano, the Pennsylvania state director of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, ostensibly about health care reform, though as viewers quickly realized, the guest was quite a bit more animated than the voices that usually appear on “All In.”
The segment apparently generated quite a bit of conversation soon after, with reform supporters and opponents “arguing over which side got schooled.” I don’t much care who was “schooled,” but because I’ve been interested in AFP messaging, it seemed worthwhile to do what our pal Ari Melber did last night: fact check Jennifer Stefano’s claims.
The AFP official claimed, for example, that as a result of the Affordable Care Act, “we really are having our choices removed from us as mothers.” Is that true?
Probably not. I say “probably” because Stefano didn’t specify what “choices” she thinks are being “removed,” and it’s tough to fact-check vague assertions, but there’s nothing in the reform law intended to take mothers’ choices away. On the contrary, parents seem to have far more health care options now than before the reform law was passed.
She added, “This law has made 7 million people lose their insurance.” Is that true?
There’s no evidence to support the claim. Estimates vary as to exactly how many consumers received cancelation notices, but (a) even the most conservative Republicans in Congress don’t put the total at 7 million; (b) millions lost their insurance routine under the old system, so the point is rather dubious; and (c) it’s misleading to suggest consumers “lost their insurance,” since most of these Americans really just made a transition from one plan to a different plan.
Stefano then argued, “For the people who have actually signed up on the exchange … only 14 percent of them are actually people without coverage.” Is this true?
No, it’s not. In fact, the conservative activist appeared to be citing a study that concedes it “did not break down their results for people who specifically purchased insurance through Obamacare.”
She also argued that Medicaid expansion would apply to “people making $94,000 a year.” Chris referred to this as “a math train wreck.” Who’s right?
Well, not Stefano.
Finally, Stefano argued, “Here’s what I want, stick to the facts…. Stick to the facts, talk about facts.”
That sounds like a great idea.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2014
Charles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws.
They’re also entitled to their own right-wing political views. It’s a free country.
But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.
The Kochs exemplify a new reality that strikes at the heart of America. The vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.
America is not yet an oligarchy, but that’s where the Koch’s and a few other billionaires are taking us.
American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American “pluralism,” by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.
Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.
Finally, after the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision in 2010, billionaires began creating their own political mechanisms, separate from the political parties. They started providing big money directly to political candidates of their choice, and creating their own media campaigns to sway public opinion toward their own views.
So far in the 2014 election cycle, “Americans for Prosperity,” the Koch brother’s political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by Republican Party groups.
“Americans for Prosperity” has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races Republicans are targeting this year. In seven of the nine races the difference in total spending is at least two-to-one and Democratic super PACs have had virtually no air presence in five of the nine states.
The Kochs have spawned several imitators. Through the end of February, four of the top five contributors to 2014 super-PACs are now giving money to political operations they themselves created, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
For example, billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his son, Todd, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, have their own $25 million political operation called “Ending Spending.” The group is now investing heavily in TV ads against Republican Representative Walter Jones in a North Carolina primary (they blame Jones for too often voting with Obama).
Their ad attacking Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen for supporting Obama’s health-care law has become a template for similar ads funded by the Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity” in Senate races across the country.
When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.
At this very moment, Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (worth an estimated $37.9 billion) is busy interviewing potential Republican candidates whom he might fund, in what’s being called the “Sheldon Primary.”
“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” says Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. “It goes without saying that anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”
The new billionaire political bosses aren’t limited to Republicans. Democratic-leaning billionaires Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have also created their own political groups. But even if the two sides were equal, billionaires squaring off against each other isn’t remotely a democracy.
In his much-talked-about new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” economist Thomas Piketty explains why the rich have become steadily richer while the share of national income going to wages continues to drop. He shows that when wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands, and the income generated by that wealth grows more rapidly than the overall economy – as has been the case in the United States and many other advanced economies for years – the richest receive almost all the income growth.
Logically, this leads to greater and greater concentrations of income and wealth in the future – dynastic fortunes that are handed down from generation to generation, as they were prior to the twentieth century in much of the world.
The trend was reversed temporarily in the twentieth century by the Great Depression, two terrible wars, the development of the modern welfare state, and strong labor unions. But Piketty is justifiably concerned about the future.
A new gilded age is starting to look a lot like the old one. The only way to stop this is through concerted political action. Yet the only large-scale political action we’re witnessing is that of Charles and David Koch, and their billionaire imitators.
By: Robert Reich, the Robert Reich Blog, March 25, 2014
“Showing Why The Law Is Working”: The Koch Brothers Are Accidentally Advertising The Benefits Of Obamacare
Some new advertisements attacking the Affordable Care Act actually show why the law is working.
The ads are running in Colorado and Louisiana, two states where incumbent Democratic senators face difficult reelection fights. They come from Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization backed by the Koch Brothers. And in the spots, a woman makes some fairly sweeping claims about how Obamacare is hurting average Americans: “Millions of people have lost their health insurance, millions of people can’t see their own doctors, and millions are paying more and getting less.”
The statements leave out critical context, as Politifact has observed. But the interesting thing about the ads is their style. The narrator isn’t claiming these things happened to her or, for that matter, to any particular person. It’s all very broad and unspecific.
That’s a change and it’s probably because so few “Obama-scare” stories have held up to media scrutiny. Remember “Bette in Spokane”? House Republicans claimed she had to pay twice as much for her new coverage. Reporter David Wasson, a local reporter with the Spokesman-Review, tracked her down and determined that Bette could actually save money if she bought Obamacare coverage on Washington state’s online marketplace. Then there was Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old with multiple sclerosis, who claimed that she’d have to pay $1,000 a month for her new insurance in Texas. That didn’t sit quite right with journalist and policy expert Maggie Mahar. Mahar dug into the details and, in an article for healthinsurance.org, revealed that Johnson had actually found coverage for about $350 a month—what Johnson had been paying previously. Maybe the best-known story is the one of Julie Boonstra, a Michigan cancer patient who said that her new insurance policy was “unaffordable.” A series of reporters, first at the Washington Post and then at the Detroit News, determined that Boonstra is probably saving money because of Obamacare—all while keeping the physicians who provide her cancer care.
The conservatives’ struggle to find more airtight stories might seem mystifying, given that there’s no shortage of people with real and serious complaints about the Affordable Care Act. Quite a few Americans, probably numbering in the low millions, lost their old policies and are now paying more for replacements—usually because the old plans lacked benefits like maternity and mental health or because insurers can no longer avoid the sickest and most expensive beneficiaries. You’ve read about some of those people in these pages. These people are not happy and it’s easy to see why: The president and his allies promised that everybody who liked their olds plans could keep them. But, as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik has observed, these stories inevitably have a lot of nuance. These are people who, almost by definition, are healthy enough to have gotten cheap insurance before or make enough money that they don’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance discounts. That makes their tales less dramatic.
A better subject for future conservative advertisements might be people with serious, even life-threatening diseases who need access to very specific specialists or hospitals—and are now having difficulty, because their new plans have very narrow networks of providers. But even these stories have mitigating circumstances that media attention would reveal. Most of these people can find their way to comparable, albeit different, doctors and hospitals—and at least some can keep the old ones if they’re able and willing to pay more for it. Also, this kind of thing was a problem long before Obamacare came along. And that’s not to mention the fact that, previously, many of these people lived in fear of losing their insurance altogether.
In short, these stories may generate sympathy but they are rarely the stuff of tragedy. And that’s because of the protections Obamacare provides—which is to say, the very things that Koch-funded right-wingers want to gut.
After all, it’s Obamacare that sets a minimum standard for insurance, so that all policies include comprehensive benefits and set limits on out-of-pocket spending. It’s Obamacare that puts coverage within financial reach of many more people than before, by offering those subsidies and then, for some people, reducing out-of-pocket expenses even more. In the old days, it wasn’t so hard to find tear-jerker anecdotes: People without insurance or with inadequate insurance were filing for bankruptcy, losing their homes, and missing out on essential medicine. Now those stories are less common and, for the most part, they are among people who had these same problems previously. Telling the stories of these people would be a rationale for expanding the Affordable Care Act, not repealing it.
At some point, conservatives will find some tragic stories that are real. It’s a big country, and a complex law, and there are bound to be a few people for whom the new changes work out really badly. But there are also good news stories—lots of them. And while those stories inevitably have complications of their own, some are pretty dramatic. Democrats may not have figured out the politics of Obamacare. But it looks increasingly like they got the policy right.
By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, March 21, 2014