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“Koch Spy Agency Led By Voter Fraud Huckster”: Clandestine Surveillance Operation Focused On Perceived Political Enemies

The Kochs have been complaining about a “lack of civility in politics” as they seek to boost their public image–but one of their top operatives helped propel perhaps the most egregious case of race-baiting voter fraud hucksterism in recent years.

At the same time that the Kochs have been on a PR blitz, publicly spinning an image of themselves as well-intentioned patriots trying to make the world a better place and decrying “character assasination,” they’ve been quietly ramping up a clandestine surveillance and intelligence gathering operation focused on their perceived political enemies, Ken Vogel reports at Politico.

At the helm of this “competitive intelligence” operation is a man named Mike Roman, Vice President of Research for Kochs’ Freedom Partners and who was paid $265,000 last year, according to Freedom Partners’ recent tax filing.

But who is Mike Roman? He’s been described generally as a longtime GOP operative. However, he’s also the guy who was behind the release of the 2008 “New Black Panthers scaring old white ladies at the polls” video. The clip dominated Fox News for months and went on to fuel unfounded allegations that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice was biased against white people.

Roman made a name for himself by releasing the video, which showed a New Black Panther Party (NBPP) member holding a billy club outside a Philadelphia polling place, on his voter fraud-peddling “Election Journal” website. He then worked with Republican vote fraud conspiracist J. Christian Adams to try uncovering evidence that voters were intimidated–which they could not find. But that didn’t stop Roman, along with Fox News and the conservative echo chamber, from conjuring up a vast racist conspiracy inside the Obama administration, a theme that continues today.

As the conspiracy theories grew, Roman was given a column at Breitbart.com, where he continued to push a “scandal” narrative and to suggest a wide-ranging conspiracy involving ACORN, NBPP, and the Obama administration to steal elections. (Roman even launched a voter fraud app.)

In 2010, another vote fraud conspiracy theorist, the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund, put right-wing video hitman James O’Keefe in touch with Roman for intel about a purported SEIU voter fraud scheme in Boston, which turned out to be bunk.

During this same period, the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was similarly targeting ACORN and pushing a model “Voter ID Act” to combat the nonexistent scourge of voter fraud–but which had the documented impact of disenfranchising potentially millions of students and voters of color who do not have the limited forms of IDs required under the law.

In 2010, Roman was named chief of staff to Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL) when he was elected to Congress for one term. Koch Industries and John Fund were among Schilling’s top donors.

It is not clear when Roman was formally folded-in to the Koch network. Freedom Partners’ new tax filing for 2014 is the first where he appeared as Vice President of Research. But tax filings as far back as 2012 describe Roman as the trustee of the mysterious “Public Engagement Group Trust,” which has the same address and suite number as another Koch group, the Center for Shared Services Trust.

Apparently Roman’s years of stoking unfounded paranoia about stolen elections prepared him for a high-ranking position in the Koch operation.

In his role as the Kochs’ top spy, Vogel reported, Roman has “worked to keep himself and his activity low-profile even within the discreet Koch operation.”

“They act all cloak and dagger–like the CIA,” one source told Vogel. “There was a joke about how hardly anyone ever met Mike Roman. It was like, if you wanted to find him, he’d be in a trench coat on the National Mall.”

Roman’s GoodReads profile fits his carefully-cultivated cloak-and-dagger persona.

His favorite reads include books like “Data Mining and Analysis” and “Intelligence Analysis: a Target-Centric Approach,” as well as Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, the left-wing organizer’s manual that has gained traction on the right in recent years.

Mike Roman’s favorite author? Charles Koch.

 

By: Brendan Fisher, Center for Media and Democracy; CMD Executive Director Lisa Graves contributed research to this article; November 19, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | ALEC, Koch Brothers, Mike Roman, Racism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“ALEC Cookie Cutter Legislation”: Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill Is ‘Word For Word’ From Rightwing Lobbyist Group

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is considering a Republican presidential run, has promised to sign into law an anti-union bill targeted at the state’s private sector workers that is an almost verbatim copy of model legislation devised by an ultra-rightwing network of corporate lobbyists.

On Friday, Walker dropped his earlier opposition to a so-called “right to work” bill, which he had described as a “distraction”, signalling that he would sign it into law should it succeed in passing the Wisconsin legislature. Republican members are rushing through the provision, which would strip private sector unions of much of their fee-collecting and bargaining powers.

On Monday, the bill cleared a committee of the state senate. A vote of the full chamber is slated for later this week, and of the assembly early next month.

The resumption of union battles in Walker’s home state comes at an awkward time for the probable 2016 candidate, as he seeks to shift attention away from Wisconsin and towards a national political platform. On Thursday he will speak at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, where he will seek to press home his recent meteoric rise from a relatively obscure midwest executive to a leading contender among top Republicans.

It has now been disclosed that the Wisconsin 2015 right to work bill is a virtual carbon copy of a model bill framed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). The council acts as a form of dating agency between major US corporations and state-level Republican lawmakers, bringing them together to frame new legislation favorable to big business interests.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which monitors the activities of Alec, has compared the Alec model bill and the new Wisconsin proposal and found them to be nearly identical.

“This bill is word for word from the Alec playbook, and that’s no surprise as the Wisconsin legislature is dominated by Alec members,” said the CMD’s general counsel, Brendan Fischer.

Walker too has close ties to Alec. He actively supported several Alec bills between 1993 and 2002, when he was a member of the Wisconsin assembly. On Sunday Alec posted to its Twitter feed a photograph of Walker with the Alec chief executive, Lisa Nelson, in which she said: “Great to be with Alec alumni @ScottWalker”.

The governor is no stranger to fighting unions. His current ascendancy is in part due to the national name recognition he gained when taking on public sector unions at the start of his first term in office, leading to headline-grabbling mass demonstrations.

To some extent, a renewal of such battles could play to his favour among the hardcore of rightwing Republicans who tend to determine the outcome of the party’s primary elections. On the other hand, any suggestion that Walker gave his backing to cookie-cutter legislation devised by a corporate lobbying group could hand the Democratic party valuable ammunition should Walker win the nomination and go on to face a general election.

He has already provided his opponents with considerable material for potential attack ads. In a recent trip to London to burnish his foreign policy credentials, he dodged a question about whether he believed in evolution. In December he got his “Mazel tovs” confused when he signed a letter to a Jewish constituent: “Thank you again and Molotov.”

The brewing union confrontation comes as Walker is increasing the pace of his exploratory activities around a 2016 campaign. The son of a preacher, he has been wooing evangelical Christian conservatives who are a key constituency in the opening caucuses of the presidential election in Iowa.

He has also stepped up meetings with prominent Republican donors.

The Wisconsin right to work bill is just one part of a nationwide push by Alec to undermine union power and rein in minimum wage levels. Twenty-four states currently have right to work laws and a rash of state legislatures are taking up the issue, partly under Alec’s encouragement.

 

By: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, February 23, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | ALEC, Right To Work Laws, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

August 3, 2014 Posted by | ALEC, Big Business, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shining A Light On ALEC’s Power To Shape Policy”: A Slow-Motion Corporate Takeover Of Our Democracy

It’s amazing how a little sunlight will change the behavior of some of the biggest names in corporate America — sunlight here meaning greater transparency and accountability.

It’s also amazing how the U.K.’s The Guardian is covering this changed behavior — and its potential consequences for every American — without much competition from U.S.-based media. It seems that reporters in Washington in particular can’t be bothered.

Over the past several decades, one of the country’s most influential political organizations — the 40-year-old American Legislative Exchange Council — was able to operate largely under the radar. Never heard of it? That’s by design. Founded in 1973 by conservative political operatives, ALEC has been successful in shaping  public policy to benefit its corporate patrons in part because few people — including reporters — knew anything about the organization, much less how it went about getting virtually identical laws passed in a multitude of states.

That began to change two years ago when an insider leaked thousands of pages of documents — including more than 800 “model” bills and resolutions, showing just how close ALEC is with big corporate interests and revealing how it goes about getting laws passed to enhance the profits of its sponsors, usually at the expense of consumers.

The Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit corporate watchdog organization, sifted through the documents and posted them on a dedicated website, ALECexposed.org. Those bills and resolutions, drafted by or in collaboration with industry lobbyists and lawyers, “reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state,” CMD says on the website.

I reviewed all of the health care legislation in the leaked documents and wrote about what I found for The Nation magazine in July 2011. It became clear from my review that health insurers felt one of the best ways to block the profit-threatening provisions of ObamaCare would be to use ALEC to disseminate bills it had helped write to friendly state legislators.  It was also clear that ALEC’s staff and membership had been at work for more than a decade on a broad range of issues important to my former industry, from turning over state Medicaid programs to private insurers to letting them market highly profitable junk insurance.

While ALEC-member legislators hail from every state, the organization has been especially successful in getting bills introduced in legislatures controlled by Republicans. As The New York Times noted in an editorial in February, more than 50 of ALEC’s model bills were introduced in Virginia alone last year.

In addition to insurance companies like State Farm and UnitedHealthcare, ALEC’s corporate membership has included big names ranging from ExxonMobil and Wells Fargo to Johnson & Johnson and Kraft. And it has worked closely with groups like the National Rifle Association as well.

It is the organization’s association with the NRA, in fact, that has led to dozens of corporations severing their ties with ALEC, as The Guardian reported.

Soon after the NRA succeeded in pushing a stand-your-ground bill through the Florida legislature — which George Zimmerman used in his defense in the Trayvon Martin case — ALEC adopted it as a model for other states. The group took that action after a 2005 NRA presentation to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. As The Center for Media and Democracy reported, the corporate co-chair of that task force at the time was Walmart, the country’s largest seller of rifles. Since then, more than two dozen states have passed laws identical or similar to the ALEC/NRA stand-your-ground model legislation.

News coverage of ALEC’s role in getting the controversial law enacted from coast to coast — coupled with CMD-led disclosures about the organization over the past two years — has caused many of ALEC’s longtime corporate members to abandon it, according to The Guardian.

Documents obtained by the British newspaper indicate that since 2011, ALEC has lost more than 60 corporate members, a hit so severe that during the first six months of this year it has “suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.” It has also lost nearly 400 state legislative members during the same time frame.

The organization has launched what it refers to as the “Prodigal Son Project” to woo back companies like Amazon, Coca-Cola, GE, Kraft and McDonald’s that have dropped their membership. Another “prodigal son” ALEC hopes to welcome back: that big retailer and rifle seller, Walmart. The loss of Walmart alone undoubtedly was a major contributor to the budget shortfall, considering the size of the company.

Meanwhile, just blocks from Capitol Hill where many Washington reporters spend their days, ALEC last week held its annual “policy summit,” but very few of those reporters felt the summit was worth their time, despite the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were on the agenda. And despite the fact that even with fewer resources, ALEC is still hugely influential in shaping public policy. As Nancy MacLean, professor of history and public policy at Duke University, noted in a May column for North Carolina Policy Watch, “What ALEC and the companies that provide it with millions in operating funds seek is, in effect, a slow-motion corporate takeover of our democracy.”

That might be a story worth covering.

 

By: Wendell Potter, Center for Public Integrity, December 9, 2013

December 11, 2013 Posted by | ALEC, Corporations, State Legislatures | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Little Help From Our Friends”: ALEC And Select Conservative Groups Responsible For Writing North Carolina’s Restrictive Laws

When North Carolina voters elected Pat McCrory as their governor in 2012, it was the first time in 28 years that North Carolinians had elected a Republican governor, and the first time in 100 years that Republicans controlled the governor’s office and the state legislature in the Tar Heel state. Since the gubernatorial election, the conservative North Carolina legislature has had the opportunity to propose and pass some extreme and restrictive pieces of legislation — and they did just that, with the help of certain special interest groups.

According to a report in The Charlotte Observer, The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has had just as much say in the state’s policies as any elected official.

ALEC is a self-described “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty” that began as President Reagan took office in 1981. The Charlotte Observer reports that ALEC had proposed 466 bills modeled on the organization’s conservative vision for states throughout the country.

“Republican lawmakers passed 338 laws this year that will touch every North Carolinian’s pocketbook, every student’s classroom and every voter’s experience at the polls, writes The Observer. ”Their sweeping changes have drawn praise from conservatives, scorn from Democrats and punch lines on Comedy Central.”

“At one point, Raleigh’s News & Observer counted at least two dozen bills that matched ALEC priorities,” the article goes on to say. “They included voter ID, publicly financed vouchers for private schools, and prioritizing energy exploration.”

Two North Carolina lawmakers sit on ALEC’s board of directors: Former House Speaker Harold Brubaker (R), and current House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) (who is also squaring off against incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) for her senate seat in 2014.) Tillis won ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year” award in 2011.

ALEC’s Commonsense Consumption Act, designed to combat New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to limit the size of soft drinks sold in the city, was approved by ALEC board members in 2004 and again on January 28, 2013. HB 683, which passed in the North Carolina legislature and was signed by Governor McCrory on July 18, 2013, included some of the exact language from the ALEC model.

ALEC also introduced the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, which they boasted was the model for North Carolina’s House Bill 2. As stated in an ALEC press release, “This legislation protects the rights of citizens to pay directly for medical care, and would prohibit the government from penalizing North Carolinians for failing to purchase health care.” The bill passed through North Carolina’s legislature, but was vetoed in 2011 by former Governor Beverly Perdue (D).

“ALEC is just one part of a larger picture of (lawmakers) writing legislation to benefit wealthy corporate contributors.” Justin Guillory, the research director for Progress N.C., told the Observer “I don’t want to diminish ALEC’s impact, but they’re only one part of the puzzle.”

The Observer also cites two North Carolina-based groups for their hand in controlling legislation. The Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation, both funded by McCrory’s budget director Art Pope, have introduced multiple proposals that have been adopted into state legislation. A book of ideas published by the John Locke Foundation was taken into consideration by Republican legislators and many proposals pertaining to the economy, taxes, and Medicaid were implemented. John Hood, president of the Locke Foundation, said, “Virtually everything we proposed in the book in 2012 was enacted in 2013.”

Grassroots North Carolina serves as another example. The pro-gun-rights group advocated for legislation that allows people to carry weapons on school campuses, bars, and restaurants with a concealed-carry permit.

Despite the best efforts of the conservative groups, however, North Carolina’s hard right turn may ultimately prove be shortlived; according to a recent PPP Poll, the North Carolina general assembly holds a bleak approval rating of only 24 percent.

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, August 26, 2013

August 27, 2013 Posted by | ALEC, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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