In the eyes of the American public, Wichita-based Koch Industries is coming to stand more for right-wing string-pulling than for its blockbuster oil and gas business. For years, David and Charles Koch spent millions mostly behind the scenes to advance anti-environmental and anti-labor policies and to attack Democratic candidates for office. In the last two years, however, their expenditures have routinely made news. In the wake of the high-profile standoff in Wisconsin– where Gov Scott Walker was caught explaining to a prank caller impersonating David Koch his plans to break public employee unions– Koch Industries has dedicated time and money to mitigate fallout from the politics of the men in charge. The company’s website includes an op-ed and a video defending Koch politics. Today comes news that the company has been buying up anti-Koch web addresses as part of its new brand-management strategy.
Researchers at the progressive group One Wisconsin Now found that, on August 17, the day after the last of the recall elections in the state forced by Democrats aghast at Walker’s politics, Koch Industries bought up “at least three anti-Koch domains: StopKoch.com, StopKochIndustries.com, and AntiKoch.com.”
The domain name “StopKoch.com” for example has now been “parked” by an “online brand protection” firm called Melbourne IT on behalf of an administrator working from 37th Street in Wichita, Koch headquarters, and connected to a @KochInd.com email address.
“After spending over $40,000 to get Gov. Scott Walker elected less than a year ago and $250,000 on Republicans in Wisconsin’s recall effort, the billionaire Koch Brothers are already on the defensive against the ‘Stop Koch, Save Wisconsin’ buzz on the internet,” writes One Wisconsin Now.
One of the groups the Kochs presently bankroll is the activist organization Americans for Prosperity. AFP was a major pro-insurance industry player in the anti-health reform push last year, organizing tea party rallies and funding literature and commercials that made wild claims about the proposed legislation being a totalitarian assault on liberty.
Today, AFP is touring Colorado to rally support for favorable policies for big oil and gas companies. In a release announcing the “Running on Empty Tour,” AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips resurrects the kind of reaching anti-Obama rhetoric that characterized AFP’s contributions to the health care debate, where the president was viewed as a statist dictator seeking to euthanize Americans through “death panels.”
“Obama’s hostility toward domestic production and his desire to use high gas prices to change Americans’ driving behavior are contributing to the escalating cost of fuel,” Phillips is quoted to say in the release.
In fact, the Obama administration has made bold moves to open up drilling in the U.S. and has drawn criticism for doing so. Oil and gas companies own leases on tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore that they have yet to develop. A recent study by the Interior Department reported that half of all onshore federal leases are not currently being utilized by the industry.
At the top of the “newsroom” section of the Koch Industries website, the company runs a quote by Charles Koch that, to an increasing number of people, may serve mostly to bring to mind the sketchy political strategery funded by the brothers over the years.
“A positive reputation is built by behaving consistently with sound principles, creating real value, achieving compliance excellence and living up to commitments.”
By: John Tomasic, The Washington Independent, August 24, 2011
Harsh state judicial campaigns financed by ever larger amounts of special interest money are eating away at public faith in judicial impartiality. There are few places where the spectacle is more shameful than Wisconsin, where over-the-top campaigning, self-interested rulings, and a complete breakdown of courthouse collegiality and ethics is destroying trust in its Supreme Court.
On Monday, a special prosecutor was named to investigate an altercation between two justices on opposite sides of the court’s bitter ideological divide. Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s liberal wing, has charged that David Prosser, a conservative, put her in a chokehold during a heated exchange shortly before the court upheld the new state law eliminating most collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
Justice Prosser has disputed Justice Bradley’s version of what occurred, and the facts remain unclear. What is certain is that Justice Prosser should have recused himself from that ruling. His vote to uphold the law occurred shortly after his re-election campaign in which he benefited from heavy anti-union independent spending.
Justice Prosser won the April election by a very small margin, prompting a recount. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that he then raised more than $270,000 for the recount, much of it in $50,000 chunks. (The contribution limits that apply under Wisconsin’s public financing system for judicial races do not extend to recounts.) Some $75,000 of the haul was used to pay fees to a law firm led by an attorney representing conservative groups in a case challenging state campaign disclosure rules, which is scheduled to be heard by the court next month.
Given the lawyer’s role in Justice Prosser’s recent recount success, a reasonable person might well question the judge’s impartiality on that case, too. After first saying he had no intention of recusing himself, Justice Prosser on Thursday asked the parties in the campaign finance case to file memos stating their views about recusal. It should not take a formal request for him to step aside.
A contentious 4-to-3 decision by the court last month declared recusal decisions by the justices to be unreviewable. In another sign of the court’s dysfunction, the deciding vote came from Justice Patience Roggensack, whose involvement in an earlier case was the subject of the disqualification motion that the court was reviewing. Like the ruling itself, Justice Roggensack’s participation in judging her own conduct showed astounding disregard for legal ethics and every litigant’s right to impartial justice. The problems don’t even stop there. A year ago, by another 4-to-3 vote along ideological lines, the court weakened the recusal standard by adopting a rule saying that campaign fund-raising or expenditures can never be the sole basis for a judge’s disqualification. The rule was largely written by a business group that has spent lavishly in judicial campaigns.
Members of Wisconsin’s top court need to focus on restoring civility and public trust. For starters, they should scrap last year’s decision on campaign money in favor of strict disclosure requirements for lawyers and litigants. They should also adopt an appeals process for recusals, so the final decision is no longer left to the judge whose impartiality is being questioned. The court’s credibility, and justice in Wisconsin, are on the line.
By: New York Times Editorial, August 19, 2011
For nearly four decades, Maine has been one of eight states which provides same-day voter registration to voters at the polls. This policy of enfranchising the greatest number of Maine voters is likely to end, however, now that the GOP-controlled state legislature has passed a bill ending same-day registration and Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is expected to sign it. Worse, state GOP Chairman Charlie Webster explained it was necessary to disenfranchise the thousands of Maine voters who take advantage of same-day registration every election year in order to save Maine from one of his paranoid fantasies:
“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people,” Webster told a columnist for the Portland Press Herald in a piece published Friday. “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”
Sadly, Maine’s voter disenfranchisement bill is only the latest example of the Republican war on voting that began almost immediately after the GOP took over several statehouses this year. Numerous GOP state legislatures have rammed through “voter ID” laws which disenfranchise thousands of elderly, disabled, and low-income voters. Republicans typically justify these voter disenfranchisement laws by claiming that they are necessary to combat voter fraud at the polls, but in-person voter fraud is only slightly more common than unicorns. A recent Supreme Court decision upholding a voter ID law was only able to cite one example of in-person voter fraud in the last 143 years.
Nor are voter ID laws the only front in the GOP’s war on voting. As Jonathan Chait explains, their efforts also include measures “restricting early voting, shortening poll hours, [and] clamping down on students voting at their campus.” And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) even plans to gut his state’s public financing program — a program designed to make candidates less dependent on wealth donors — in order to pay for a voter disenfranchisement law.
Yet, while the Maine GOP may have won a skirmish in the war on voting with their repeal of same day registration, it is anything but certain that they will win this war. The state’s Democrats hope to invoke Maine’s “people’s veto” process, which allows the voters to repeal a newly enacted state law by referendum. To invoke this procedure, they must collect just over 57,000 signatures before a 90-day window closes.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 13, 2011
If you’ve been wondering lately who’s been writing the Republican playbook, I think I’ve found him. It’s none other than Lenny Dykstra.
Back in his baseball playing days, Dykstra was a tough as nails leadoff hitter famous for filling his cheeks with huge wads of tobacco and crashing into outfield walls. After his playing days were over, he wowed the world with his stock-picking acumen. Made millions. Drove fancy cars. Owned an $18 million mansion. He even had a sink that cost $50,000. (It’s true.)
And then, it all came tumbling down. He went bankrupt. His house was seized. He was indicted. And what did he do? He broke back into his old house … and stole his prized sink.
Back in November, a new breed of Republican governor was enjoying its own “wow” moment. Rick Snyder was the “one tough nerd” to get Michigan’s financial house in order. Scott Walker was about to take a blow torch to Wisconsin unions. Florida’s Rick Scott won perhaps the most coveted prize on the presidential election map. They were supposed to be the leading edge of the Republican revolution, finally doing what conservatives have long held Americans want their leaders to do: fundamentally recalibrate the way government operates in the public square, and disentangling it from the everyday lives of ordinary people.
But in Sunday’s Washington Post, Norman Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute took a moment to detail the woes these boy wonders have since encountered. Rick Snyder’s approval rating is at 33 percent. Scott Walker’s is 43 percent. Rick Scott: 29 percent. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling?]
Seven months ago they were the toast of the town. Now, milquetoast. What happened?
Well, as Ornstein describes it, the governors launched initiatives aimed at “cutting benefits for the poor and middle class while adding tax breaks for the rich” while also trying to get rid of collective bargaining. As you might imagine, that wasn’t very popular with a lot of people (for instance: the poor and middle class). And, shockingly, it hasn’t done much to balance their state budgets either. So now, according to Ornstein, “the only areas left for meaningful budget reductions are education, Medicaid, and prisons.”
Let’s see: Your approval numbers are in the tank, and all you’ve got left are gutting schools, letting out convicts, and taking healthcare away from disadvantaged kids. I’m guessing, as a re-election strategy, that leaves something to be desired.
In other words: fellas, it ain’t working. And what’s so surprising about all of this is that for some, it’s so surprising. Is it really so hard to figure out that one of the reasons government is its current size and shape is that people have needs that they want their government to try and meet? It doesn’t always work, of course. But frustration over government spending on programs that aren’t working isn’t the same thing as saying people no longer want good public schools. Understanding that distinction is the difference between doing the hard, more complicated work of reforming something that isn’t working as well as we would like, and becoming fixated on an ideological goal that doesn’t end up fixing anything at all.
Which brings me back to Mr. Dykstra and his beloved sink. Now, in fairness, those of us who have been consigned to using standard-issue sinks can only dream about the hydrological wonders of the $50k variety. Perhaps it dispensed nothing but delicious milkshakes. More likely: Even as his world was crashing down, Dykstra couldn’t take his eyes off the one thing he coveted the most. Now it looks like he’s going to prison.
Republicans may be in for a similar electoral fate. Instead of helping the people they were elected to serve, they’ve gone about ruthlessly pursuing an elusive conservative holy grail. Dismantling government—it’s the GOPs $50,000 sink. And they can’t take their eyes off of it even as their house burns down around them.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, June 13, 2011