It’s a number that gives Democrats chills: $125 million. That’s the widely reported number reflecting how much the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity intends to spend on this year’s midterm elections. In practical terms, it means Democrats will effectively be running against two rivals: Republicans and the Republicans’ outside allies.
Reid Wilson reports today, however, that the scope of the AFP operation isn’t done expanding.
Americans for Prosperity, the on-the-ground wing of the network of conservative organizations spearheaded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, will open new state chapters in South Dakota and Alaska in coming weeks, the group’s president said. In an interview, Tim Phillips said that would bring to 35 the number of states where AFP has permanent offices. […]
Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million on the midterm elections understates the actual amount they will spend.
If you’re starting to see AFP as something resembling an actual political party, there’s a good reason – the lines have blurred. The Koch-funded group has hundreds of field operatives, just like a party. It’s opening field offices in dozens of states, just like a party. It’s focusing on GOTV operations, just like a party.
And, of course, it’s investing millions in anti-Democratic attack ads, just like a party.
But unlike other national far-right forces, the Kochs’ group (just like a party) also intends to help “influence the makeup of state legislatures.” Tim Phillips told the Washington Post, ”A lot of times a local property tax battle will bring a whole new group of people out. It’s easier to get movement on the state level.”
All of this, incidentally, doesn’t include the AFP’s “action fund.”
Remember this one?
During a closed-door gathering of major donors in Southern California on Monday, the political operation spearheaded by the Koch brothers unveiled a significant new weapon in its rapidly expanding arsenal – a super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund.
The new group aims to spend more than $15 million in the 2014 midterm campaigns – part of a much larger spending effort expected to total $290 million, sources told POLITICO.
As we talked about at the time, the “action fund” will allow the Koch brothers and their donor allies to be more explicit in their backing of like-minded Republicans, while devoting more of their campaign dollars to actual campaign activities.
This isn’t to say the beneficiaries of the Kochs’ support always win; the results from the 2012 cycle clearly show otherwise. But we’re nevertheless looking a formidable political force that Democrats and the left will simply never be able to keep up with financially.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 18, 2014
Over the last five months, a deal has come together that would solve some of the most contentious issues in Detroit’s bankruptcy. It would minimize the pension cuts for 30,000 retirees and city workers, save the city’s art collection and give a reasonable amount of money to the city’s bondholders.
As expected, there were some objections from a few big insurance companies that stood to lose heavily. But with the support of Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, the deal seemed to have a shot in the state legislature, which would be required to spend about $195 million of tobacco-settlement money on behalf of Detroit’s pensioners.
And then, a few days ago, a loud and depressingly familiar voice rose in protest. The Koch brothers, through the screeching megaphone they built known as Americans for Prosperity, condemned the deal and announced plans to contact 90,000 conservatives around the state to build up pressure against it. The Associated Press reported that the group threatened to run ads against any Republicans in the legislature who voted for the deal in the coming days.
AFP has already set up a website — “No more bailouts for Detroit!” — that plays on the long-running, sometimes racially inflected resentment of Detroit around Michigan.
“Michigan has rewritten its laws numerous times to give Detroit special treatment and more financial assistance,” the website says. “Unfortunately, all this help has encouraged, rather than corrected, bad behavior. Years of fiscal mismanagement, corruption and cronyism resulted in Detroit’s staggering $18 billion of debt. Yet its leaders continue to blame the State for Detroit’s problems.”
The poor management of the city by its own officials is well-known and stretches back decades, but the state and its residents bear a huge responsibility for Detroit’s plight. State officials allowed fleeing white residents to hide behind suburban boundaries that depleted the city’s tax base while cutting revenue sharing. The think tank Demos found that revenue sharing cuts amounted to a third of the city’s revenue losses between 2011 and 2013.
As Robert Kleine, a former state treasurer, wrote in the Detroit Free Press last August:
“Detroit may have mismanaged finances, but the state’s cuts to revenue sharing doomed the city. One option would have been for the state to restore revenue sharing to previous levels which would have been worth nearly $200 million to Detroit. The state could have afforded to do this if it had not cut business and income taxes in 2000, and then given business another $1.8-billion tax break in 2011.”
Under the circumstances, the proposed state contribution on behalf of vulnerable pensioners is a modest way to make up for Lansing’s decades of abandonment. But it’s too much for the Kochs to stomach. They apparently want city workers and retirees to publicly suffer for the sin of having been union members. They want bondholders and insurance companies at the front of the creditors’ line, and don’t seem to care if the Detroit Institute of Arts has to sell off its paintings and sculptures to put them there.
As they have in so many other areas of public life, two of the country’s wealthiest citizens are using their good fortune to make life far more difficult for those at the bottom of the ladder.
By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, May 21, 2014
It was just two weeks ago that affiliates of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political operation financed by Charles and David Koch, decided to extend support to Cliven Bundy. Despite the Nevada rancher’s defiance of the law and court orders, and despite the fact that he denied the legitimacy of the United States government, AFP helped promote Bundy’s cause and mock the Bureau of Land Management for trying to enforce federal law.
Americans for Prosperity Nevada, the state affiliate of the Koch Brothers-backed group, appears to have hastily deleted social media posts expressing support for Cliven Bundy, the renegade rancher who exposed himself as a racist in recent press conferences.
A tweet sent by AFP Nevada on April 10 urging followers to read more about the #BundyBattle, which involves Bundy’s refusal to pay fines for allowing his cattle to graze on public land, has been deleted. A Facebook graphic that the group posted criticizing the Bureau of Land Management for enforcing grazing laws against Bundy has similarly disappeared.
The instinct to run away is understandable, and it’s hard to blame AFP officials for waking up yesterday and wondering what in the world they’d gotten themselves into.
But the scrubbing is of limited utility given that screen-grabs and caches exist. Media Matters, for example, still has the content online that AFP is trying to take offline.
And all of this only serves to reinforce the question: what was the right thinking?
If you missed last night’s A block, it’s worth your time.
“[L]et us all pray that it is out of ignorance that the National Review comparing him to Gandhi and the right-wing activists comparing him to Rosa Parks, and the Fox News channel booking him and his family over and over and over and over and over again as heroes, and the Republican senator calling his armed supporters pointing guns at federal law enforcement officers ‘patriots’ – let us pray that that was happening under a veil of ignorance. Let us pray that they had no idea that there is a long-standing fairly violent right-wing movement in this country that is born in the defense of slavery and that causes people to say weird stuff about sheriffs being the supreme authority and the federal government not existing.
“Let us pray that the right and these Republican senators made a hero out of this guy in bloody ignorance of where he was really coming from.
“But it is a choice as to whether or not you do your homework before you try to mainstream a guy like this. The turn today to ‘let me tell you another thing I know about the Negro,’ that was telegraphed way, way, way in advance here. Anybody who chose not to see it coming now has this mess all over themselves.”
And as of today, the AFP’s solution is to clean up this mess by pretending it never said what it very clearly said.
As for Bundy, he apparently keeps talking, and is now attempting to invoke the legacies of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in his defense.
The far-right movement really knows how to pick ‘em.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2014
“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