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“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

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Americans for Prosperity, Congress, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Easier Than Honesty”: Winning A Debate By Quashing Scrutiny

In her party’s official response to the State of the Union a few weeks ago, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, shared an anecdote about “Bette in Spokane,” the latest in a series of “Obamacare victims.” As is usually the case, within a day or two, the story was debunked.

Once McMorris Rodgers realized her story was wrong, the congresswoman, instead of apologizing, tried to go on the offensive. “It’s sad partisan politicians are attacking Bette,” she argued.

In reality, no one had “attacked” the woman in the story. Rather, McMorris Rodgers’ anecdote was fact checked and proven to be wrong. To suggest that scrutinizing suspect claims is somehow improper is absurd, but that was nevertheless the congresswoman’s reaction.

It was apparently a sign of things to come.

Last week, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity launched a new attack ad targeting Rep. Gary Peters, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan. The spot features Julie Boonstra, a Michigan woman who’s paying less money for better insurance without having to change doctors, but who was nevertheless presented in the ad as yet another ACA victim.

Peters, not surprisingly, believes AFP should provide more information to bolster the claims in its ad. The right, no longer willing to defend the deceptive commercial, has decided to attack Peters.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., wants to be a United States senator, but he has a problem. He’s engaged in a “war on women” – make that a single woman – whom he’s trying to silence because he doesn’t like the story she has to tell. […]

Julie Boonstra deserves a medal for what she is doing. Peters should hang his head in shame.

It’s a fascinating rhetorical gambit, worth appreciating for its rare combination of audacity and mendacity. What’s more, it’s increasingly becoming the standard response to one of the right’s more glaring problems in the health care debate: all of the conservatives’ evidence keeps falling apart.

Let’s say you have a movement of sorts and your goal is to deliberately tear down the nation’s health care system, no matter the consequences. Let’s also say you have the bright idea of using anecdotal evidence to highlight “victims” in order to prove how awful the system is, only to have pesky reporters discover that all of your evidence is bogus and the victims haven’t really been victimized at all.

At this point, you have a few choices. You could, for example, find a new hobby and stop trying to prevent Americans from having access to affordable health care. Or you could cast a new line, hoping to find some elusive, legitimate horror stories that won’t be debunked a day or so later.

But these are strategies based on conventional thinking. What you really need is a very different kind of plan: one in which you keep presenting bogus anecdotes, but discourage those who know what they’re talking about from pointing out your errors. What you want is to promote misleading propaganda with impunity – more mendacity, less scrutiny.

And how do you do that? By lashing out angrily against those noting the facts. Those who recognize the AFP’s Boonstra ad as misleading are obviously attacking a woman with cancer and should be ashamed of themselves – or so the story goes.

I suppose it’s clever, in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way, but it’s no way to have a credible policy debate. Indeed, it seems some of these conservatives are effectively giving up on the very idea of a serious discourse – they not only want to present misleading anecdotes, they also want to intimidate those who might dare to note reality by accusing them of being heartless bullies.

As Greg Sargent put it the other day, many on the right have essentially declared “that the emotional content of these victims’ stories should shield such ads from scrutiny.” Fact-checking suspect claims “will be met with charges of insensitivity to the victims.”

I guess it’s easier than honesty.

Postscript: The Wall Street Journal ran a piece yesterday arguing that the Affordable Care Act cost a woman her cancer medication. The piece was quickly embraced by the right, but it was debunked by Michael Hiltzik a few hours later.

If recent history is any guide, this means Hiltzik should expect to be accused of not caring about people with cancer. Sorry, Mike.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A GOP Sociopathetic Scam”: Why Actual ACA ‘Victims’ Are So Elusive

It’s practically a running joke at this point. The Affordable Care Act’s conservative detractors have spent the last several months in a desperate search for “Obamacare victims” to be used in various partisan attacks, and quite a few regular folks have received quite a bit of attention.

The problem, of course, is that all of these examples, once they’re subjected to even minor scrutiny, have fallen apart – the “horror stories” really aren’t so horrible. Michael Hiltzik speculated last week that there may not be any genuine anecdotes to bolster the right’s claims.

What’s going on here? Paul Krugman offers one possible explanation.

Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?

The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.

That’s as good an explanation as any. What the right needs are sympathetic figures – real, relatable Americans who are struggling, and whose plight was made worse by the Affordable Care Act. The most notable recent example came last week with a Michigan woman, Julie Boonstra, featured in an Americans for Prosperity attack ad and in RNC events, who’s paying less for better insurance without having to change doctors.

In other words, as far as health care policy is concerned, it’s not much of a horror story, though it’s presumably the best the right can come up with.

But taking this one step further, let’s also acknowledge the extent to which the right is using ACA beneficiaries as a cudgel to undermine their own interests.

Brian Beutler did a nice job this morning explaining that the practice of using Americans to harm their own health security is a “sociopathic new scam.”

[W]e’re really just talking about Julie Boonstra here.

If she and AFP get their way, she’ll be just as much a victim of Obamacare repeal as all the people who face health circumstances similar to hers. And the saddest part of that tragic irony is that Boonstra doesn’t even seem to understand what her circumstances are, or why it doesn’t make sense to devote her energies to repealing the law. Boonstra told the Dexter Leader, “People are asking me for the numbers and I don’t know those answers — that’s the heartbreak of all of this. It’s the uncertainty of not having those numbers that I have an issue with, because I always knew what I was paying and now I don’t, and I haven’t gone through the tests or seen my specialist yet.”

But that’s just not so. Anyone who’s studied the law knows it’s not so. Anyone who’s paid unexpected health bills in installments knows it’s not so. And well-heeled Affordable Care Act foes like Americans for Prosperity certainly know it’s not so. And in that sense AFP, and everyone else on the right “supporting” Julie Boonstra, are using her as a weapon in a war against herself.

To a very real degree, it’s tragic to watch the developments unfold in real time. For much of 2013, especially in the months leading up to the open-enrollment period, assorted far-right groups launched an organized campaign to encourage the uninsured to stay that way – on purpose – in order to help conservative organizations advance their ideological agenda. It was a truly offensive display in which wealthy activists on the right urged struggling Americans to deliberately put their wellbeing in jeopardy.

Months later, we’re at a similarly painful moment in the debate, in which many of the same groups and activists are now exploiting people to create misleading attack ads, all in the hopes of keeping people from having access to affordable health care.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 24, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Americans for Prosperity, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Are The 99%” But The 1% Buy Elections

As the “Occupy” protests spread across the country with the slogan “we are the ninety-nine percent,” two reports released this week demonstrate how the top one percent are playing an increasingly outsized role in American elections.

The New Yorker reports on a conservative multimillionaire’s successful efforts to buy North Carolina’s elections, and a report from campaign finance reform groups describe how an elite group of donors have laundered unlimited contributions to presidential campaigns. Much of this influence was made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s <a title="reference on Citizens United” href=”http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Citizens_United” target=”_self”>Citizens United decision, and anger over corporate influence in politics is helping fuel the populist uprisings in Manhattan, D.C., and around the country.

Dimestore Donor Dominates North Carolina Elections

James Arthur “Art” Pope, chairman and CEO of the Variety Wholesalers dimestore discount chain, has created a “singular influence machine” in North Carolina, using his family’s wealth to influence that state’s elections and promote right-wing ideology, according to a report by Jane Mayer in this week’s New Yorker magazine.

“The Republican agenda in North Carolina is really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it. The candidates are just fronting for him. There are so many people in North Carolina beholden to Art Pope—it undermines the democratic process,” says Marc Farinella, a Democratic political consultant.

Like the Koch brothers (whom Meyer profiled in the New Yorker last year), Pope grew up wealthy, inherited his family dimestore business, and has spent massive amounts of money funding organizations and candidates opposing environmental regulations, taxes, minimum wage laws, unions, and campaign-spending limits. In addition to their sizable personal fortunes, the Kochs and Pope can spend millions in corporate funds because their companies are privately held. Pope regards Charles and David Koch as friends, and is one of the four directors of the Koch-funded-and-founded Americans for Prosperity, to which he has donated over $2 million.

John Snow, a centrist Democrat who was defeated by Art Pope-funded attacks after three terms in state Senate, told the New Yorker, “[i]t’s getting to the point where, in politics, money is the most important thing.” Snow was expected to easily win reelection, but his Tea Party-affiliated candidate with no experience had a seemingly endless flow of money.  “A lot of it was from corporations and outside groups related to Art Pope. He was their sugar daddy.”

Chris Heagerty was another Democratic candidate defeated by a flood of Pope-connected money. One ad depicted Heagerty, who is caucasian but has dark hair and complexion, as Hispanic. “They slapped a sombrero on a photo of me, and wrote, ‘Mucho Taxo! Adios, Señor!’” Heagerty told the magazine. “If you put all of the Pope groups together, they and the North Carolina G.O.P. spent more to defeat me than the guy who actually won.” According to the article, he fell silent, then added, “For an individual to have so much power is frightening. The government of North Carolina is for sale.”

“We didn’t have that before 2010,” said Bob Phillips, head of Common Cause North Carolina. “Citizens United opened up the door. Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups. We saw it in North Carolina, and a lot of the money was traced back to Art Pope.”

According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, Pope, his family, and their organizations targeted twenty-two legislative races and won eighteen. The wins placed both chambers of North Carolina’s General Assembly under Republican majorities for the first time since 1870. Three-quarters of “independent expenditures” in North Carolina’s 2010 state races — spending made independently of a candidate or their committee — came from accounts linked to Pope.

Wealthy Elites’ Influence on Elections Grows, Post Citizens United

In the post Citizens United era, the outsize influence of a small group of wealthy donors making “independent” expenditures is not limited to North Carolina, according to a report released this week by Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Center for Responsive Politics. A handful of elite donors are capitalizing on the lawless campaign finance environment to exceed  federal candidate contribution limits. Individuals have spent as much as a million dollars supporting Mitt Romney’s bid for president, and two million to support President Obama’s reelection.

“Super PACs” emerged in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which struck down limits on corporate independent expenditures. Super PACs can now raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions, and use it on political ads for or against federal candidates. They are not allowed to donate directly to candidates or coordinate with their campaigns.

In striking down corporate independent expenditure limits, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld limits on individual contributions to candidates reasoning that “the potential for quid pro quo corruption distinguished direct contributions to candidates from independent expenditures.” The majority opinion stated “[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments.”

The first presidential race after Citizens United, though, reveals that the distinction between direct campaign contributions and “independent” expenditures has been eliminated — and with it, the idea that corruption follows one but not the other.

In the second quarter of 2011, over 50 individuals donated the legal maximum to Romney’s campaign ($2,500), then made around $6.4 million in additional contributions to Romney’s “Restore Our Future” Super PAC. Almost half of these individuals gave between $100,000 and $500,000 to the Super PAC, and one person donated $1 million. These donations made up half of the “Restore Our Future” funds.

Nine individuals donated to both President Obama’s reelection campaign and his “Priorities USA Action” Super PAC. The nine donors collectively gave $2.6 million to Obama’s Super PAC, primarily from Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who donated $2 million, and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, who gave $500,000.

“This analysis offers yet more proof that these candidate-specific Super PACs are nothing more than an end-run around existing contribution limits,” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center. “The Super PACs are simply shadow candidate committees. Million-dollar contributions to the Super PACs pose just as big a threat of corruption as would million-dollar contributions directly to candidates.”

In addition to Super PAC spending, corporations and corporate executives can also launder campaign spending through non-profit “social welfare” groups organized under section 501(c) of the tax code. Non-profits are not required to disclose their donors, preventing the public from knowing the source of a particular message. Last week, certain business leaders denounced this secret spending, and Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate this alleged abuse of the tax code.

Ninety-Nine Percent: Money Out of Politics

The Citizens United decision affirmed that “money is speech,” and declared that spending limits violate the 1st Amendment rights of corporations and the uber-wealthy. As the 2012 presidential election heats up and election spending ramps up, corporations and the top 1% will speak louder than everyone else. The money that flows into the 2012 elections will come overwhelmingly from the top one percent — only a tiny sliver of Americans donate to political campaigns, and the bottom ninety-nine percent who can afford to contribute will have their dollars drowned out by the million-dollar contributions made possible by Citizens United.

And money matters. In modern elections, 9 out of 10 races are decided by who raises more campaign cash. Given this reality, it stretches the imagination to believe elected officials won’t be indebted to those deep-pocketed donors who help them get the edge over their opponent.

With average Americans — the ninety nine percent — sidelined by a political process and an economy that increasingly benefits only those at the top, they have taken to the streets. It is little wonder, then, that as the nascent Occupy protests grow and gain shape, at least one message is becoming clear: get corporate money out of politics.

 

By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, October 7, 2011

October 8, 2011 Posted by | Americans for Prosperity, Corporations, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Mitt Romney, Republicans, Right Wing, Super PAC's, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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