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“Koch Funding Of Universities Shrouded In Secrecy”: Trying To Reshape Public Education To Match Their Libertarian Ideology

In a recent column entitled “The Campus Climate Crusade,” The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel spent over 800 words arguing the basic conceit of UnKochMyCampus, a campaign uniting students at universities around the country who are working to increase transparency on their campuses and fight attempts by corporate donors like Charles and David Koch from influencing their education.

Her core arguments? The left is wielding transparency as a “weapon,” and efforts to access information through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are “shutting down debate across the country.”

Unfortunately for Strassel, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our work with UnKochMyCampus has shown us that transparency removes the smoke and mirrors that cloud the debate, leaving ordinary people ill-equipped to develop informed opinions on research and policy around the most important issues of the day. Our policy is being shaped by corporations, for corporations – and that’s a huge problem.

There was a time when the public engaged in a seemingly-legitimate debate about whether smoking caused cancer. Then we learned that the studies claiming cigarettes were safe were funded by the tobacco industry. Once the cat was out of the bag, people saw that “debate” for what it was – a farce.

Just as tobacco companies had a vested financial interest in keeping the public in the dark about the dangers of smoking, today’s fossil fuel companies are stoking denial about the realities of climate change and masking the positive impact of regulations and renewable energy programs to protect their bottom line.

One of the key strategies they use to accomplish this is unleashing a flood of money into think-tanks and universities around the country to help disseminate their message. That money comes with strings attached that give corporations more and more influence over education and research at both public and private universities around the country.

Just weeks ago it was revealed that Harvard-Smithsonian’s Willie Soon – whose climate change studies the scientific community have long claimed to be inaccurate – received almost all of his funding from fossil fuel interests. Were it not for public disclosure laws, this information would have been hidden from the public, making it much more difficult for those who are not members of the scientific community to discern whether Soon’s research was above board or just corporate PR disguised as science.

While this is an egregious example, it’s by no means an aberration. Between 2001 and 2013, the Charles Koch Foundation has provided nearly $70 million to almost 400 campuses across the country. This money goes to researchers like Soon or think-tanks like the Beacon Hill Institute housed at Suffolk University in Boston that produce content designed to further climate denial and attack policies they oppose, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rule or state renewable portfolio standards.

But that’s not all the money buys. As students at Florida State University and Clemson University discovered in 2011, grant agreements (Memorandums of Understanding, or “MOUs”) between universities and the Charles Koch Foundation often give the Kochs influence over the hiring of professors and development of course curriculum. In other words, on top of reshaping scientific studies to further their bottom line, the Kochs are also trying to reshape public education to match their libertarian ideology. This strategy has been in effect for decades and was even referenced outright by Charles Koch during a 1974 speech he delivered to a room of businessmen at a seminar on “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality”: “We should cease financing our own destruction…by supporting only those programs, departments or schools that contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.”

Bringing to light the MOUs between the Charles Koch Foundation and universities exposed the Kochs’ dark money campaign on college campuses around the country and rightfully caused an uproar, which explains why Koch Industries is so vehemently opposed to further efforts by students involved in the UnKoch My Campus campaign to increase transparency. Case in point: Koch Industries is currently paying legal fees for University of Kansas professor Art Hall who sued the university following a Kansas Open Records Act request submitted by a student who sought to gain more information into his hiring. It sure looks shady: From 1997 to 2004, Hall was chief economist of Koch Industries’ lobbying subsidiary, Koch Companies Public Sector and currently serves as the director of KU’s conservative Center for Applied Economics, which receives funding from the Kochs.

But perhaps no other university in the country serves as a better example of the corporatization of education than George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. GMU has received more than $34 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2011. But the real impact of the Kochs’ funding on campus remains a mystery. Despite repeated attempts by students to obtain information about the grants and MOU with the Foundation, the school refuses to comply because it has housed the grants under the private George Mason University Foundation instead of the university itself in an attempt to prevent any potentially damning information about their source from being subject to the rules governing public universities like GMU.

Transparency is one of the last avenues available to concerned members of the public, including students, professors and alumni, who have serious and well-founded concerns about the motives of major financial donors like the Kochs. If transparency is seen as such a threat, only one logical question remains: what are they so afraid of disclosing?

 

By: Kalin Jordan, Co-founder of UnKochMyCampus; Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, April 20, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Koch Brothers, Public Education | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Deal!”: Koch Foundation Proposal To College; Teach Our Curriculum, Get Millions

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.

“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”

Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.

In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.

Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”

Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities — long bastions of liberal academics — would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.

Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students, and this year, his foundation donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”

Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”

A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.

Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.

But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.

That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.

Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.

While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”

The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.

The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”

Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”

Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.

Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”

The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.

At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.

“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”

Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.

“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”

The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.

For example, this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.

 

By: Dave Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Education, Koch Brothers, Libertarians | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Judge In The Hand Is Worth…”: Judge Who Stopped Wisconsin Campaign Finance Probe Tied To Koch-Funded Junkets

The federal judge who ordered an end to an investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups during two recent recall elections regularly attended expenses-paid judicial conferences sponsored by conservative organizations including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — groups that have funded efforts against campaign finance reform.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 6, Judge Rudolph Randa of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ordered prosecutors to immediately halt its long-running investigation into the campaign spending and fundraising activities of Walker, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups. Prosecutors were trying to determine whether the Walker campaign and the conservative groups were illegally coordinating campaign strategies at the time of the 2011 and 2012 recall elections in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent millions on ads during Wisconsin’s recall elections, supporting the governor’s collective-bargaining reforms. It requested that the federal court stop the investigation, claiming that the probe violated the group’s constitutional right to free speech.

Randa wrote in his decision that the Wisconsin Club for Growth had found a way to get around campaign finance laws. “That circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted,” the decision said.  “Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech.”

As the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy first reported, Randa has regularly attended expenses-paid judicial conferences hosted by George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center and funded by right-wing foundations like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and large corporations like ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical and Pfizer.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation last year revealed that conservative foundations and corporate giants were the most frequent sponsors of George Mason judicial conferences, which often serve state and federal judges a steady dose of free-market, anti-regulation lectures.

Most recently, court records show, Randa reported attending an October 2013 judicial conference hosted by the university’s Law & Economics Center. The three-day conference, titled “Antitrust Law & Economics Institute for Judges,” was sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John William Pope Foundation, among other conservative groups, corporations and individuals.

Previously, Randa attended George Mason judicial conferences in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth’s director, Eric O’Keefe, has connections to the Koch brothers.  Michael Grebe, the Bradley Foundation’s president and CEO, chaired Gov. Walker’s 2010 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns.

A woman who answered the phone in Randa’s chambers Tuesday said he would not comment on cases that are still pending.

In siding with the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Randa told prosecutors to return all of the property seized during their investigation and to destroy copies of documents they obtained during their searches.

A day after his ruling, however, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Randa’s order ending the investigation, ruling that the judge overstepped his authority when he ordered that prosecutors destroy documents.

 

By: Chris Young, The Center for Public Integrity, May 27, 2014

May 28, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Scott Walker, Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Credibility Gap”: Study Finds Republicans Lie More Than Democrats

According to a new study from the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, Republicans are significantly more likely to lie than Democrats — and the gap is widening as President Barack Obama spends more time in office.

The study examined how Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-check site PolitiFact.com rated 100 statements involving factual claims from the first four months of President Obama’s second term — 46 of the claims were made by Democrats, and 54 were made by Republicans.

CMPA found that PolitiFact rated 32 percent of the Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to just 11 percent of the Democratic claims. Along the same lines, PolitiFact rated just 11 percent of the Republican statements as “entirely true,” compared to 22 percent of the Democratic statements.

Just 18 percent of the Republican claims were rated as “mostly” or entirely true, compared to 54 percent of the Democratic claims. Conversely, 52 percent of the Republican statements were rated as mostly or entirely false, while just 24 percent of Democratic statements received the same designation.

In other words, as CMPA President Dr. Robert Lichter put it: “While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”

Notably, the credibility gap seems to be growing with time. In May, as Republicans have obsessively tried to tie the president to a series of scandals, their percentage of false claims has risen to 60 percent.

PolitiFact editor Bill Adair responded to the study in an email to Politico’s Dylan Byers:

PolitiFact rates the factual accuracy of specific claims; we do not seek to measure which party tells more falsehoods.

The authors of this press release seem to have counted up a small number of our Truth-O-Meter ratings over a few months, and then drew their own conclusions.

We’ve rated more than 7,000 statements since we started in 2007. We are journalists, not social scientists. We select statements to fact-check based on our news judgment — whether a statement is timely, provocative, whether it’s been repeated and whether readers would wonder if it is true.

You can read the full results of the CMPA study here.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, May 29, 2013

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love You, Tomorrow”: Mitt Romney Changing His Tune In Final Hours

As he made his closing appeal to voters on the final day before the election, Mitt Romney sounded as though, at any moment, he might burst into a song from the musical “Annie.”

“Tomorrow’s a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we get to work rebuilding our country, restoring our confidence and renewing our conviction.”

“Tomorrow, on November 6th, we come together for a better future.”

“Tomorrow is a new beginning. Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.”

There was something new and unusual about this Romney — and not only that he had appropriated Stephen Colbert’s campaign theme, “Making a better tomorrow, tomorrow.” Romney in the closing days of the campaign was uplifting, optimistic and inspirational — in other words, almost entirely different from the man we saw and heard these past many months.

“The best achievements are shared achievements,” the reformed Romney told about 5,000 supporters at the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax. “I’ve learned that respect and goodwill go a long way and are usually returned in kind. That’s how I’ll conduct myself as president. I’ll bring people together. I won’t just represent one party, I’ll represent one nation.”

Jettisoned from the “closing argument” he has made on the stump the last four days of the campaign are the harshest attacks and the most mendacious of his accusations against President Obama. Gone is the charge that Obama is leading the nation into European socialism, his false claims that Obama took an “apology tour” of the country, his insinuations that Obama doesn’t understand the United States, that he’s in over his head — and other lines that identified Obama as un-American, as alien.

In place of those lines, Romney substituted tough but reasonable criticism of Obama, coupled with an appeal for Americans to come together. “I’d like you to reach across the street to that neighbor with the other yard sign,” he said, “and we’ll reach across the aisle here in Washington to people of good faith in the other party.”

As I listened to these rare words come out of Romney’s mouth, I was joined on the floor of the Patriot Center by Stuart Stevens, Romney’s top strategist, who is justifiably pleased that his candidate, left for dead by the pundit class several weeks ago, appears to be heading for a close finish. The Obama campaign, Stevens said, “didn’t disqualify him.”

That’s true, but hearing Romney’s new tone for the last days of the campaign, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would be in a better position if he had taken the high road months ago. Stevens’s answer: “It would be old by now.”

Maybe so. And maybe Romney would have been destroyed by the Obama campaign’s attacks if he had tried to stay above the fray. But maybe he would have appeared more presidential — which is the image Stevens was going for in the revamped stump speech, delivered off the teleprompter Republicans love to revile when Obama uses it.

The uplifting Mitt has been introduced to crowds in the final days with a soft-focus video set to gentle piano music. Volunteers hand out “Moms for Mitt” signs to audience members, adding to the soft-and-fuzzy feel. The speech begins with a few brief words from Ann Romney, who asked those gathered in Fairfax, “Are we going to be neighbors soon?”

The crowd was big (the campaign decided to use only half of the 10,000-capacity arena, which created an overflow of a couple of thousand outside), but Romney gave them few of the anti-Obama applause lines, delivering his criticism more in sadness than anger: “Four years ago, then-candidate Obama promised to do so very much, but he’s done so very little.”

Of course, Romney’s lofty closing isn’t likely to erase his divisive campaign, in which he wrote off 47 percent of Americans as moochers and went after Obama in ways that were flagrantly false and sometimes racially tinged. And few are likely to believe his late call for bonhomie — that’s a staple of presidential campaigns’ closing arguments — or to accept that he no longer holds the “severely conservative” views that won him the GOP nomination.

Had he offered these views earlier, he might have been viewed as a bigger man, and a better candidate. “I won’t spend my effort trying to pass partisan legislation that’s unrelated to job growth,” he vowed, promising to “speak for the aspirations of all Americans.”

“Walk with me. Let’s walk together,” he offered. A nice sentiment — but it would have been more plausible if he hadn’t spent the past year kneecapping his opponents.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 5, 2012

November 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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