Maryland’s DOT nominee is pushing Koch products

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan owes the Kochs big time for supporting his campaign. Now he is paying them back by installing their pawns in his administration. Pete Rahn is the latest Koch crony that has been dispatched to work in a newly minted GOP administration. Governor Hogan nominated Rahn to lead the state’s Department of Transportation.

Rahn suffered a bruising confirmation hearing that had to be postponed because legislators had too many questions about his many connections to the billionaire Koch brothers. At the hearing, Maryland legislators raised questions about a highway project in New Mexico, where Rahn was previously DOT chief. The widening of NM-44, a 118-mile, $420 million project that Rahn oversaw in New Mexico, was the most expensive highway project in the state’s history and included a huge and unusual contract to Koch Industries: a 20-year, $62 million contract for roadway maintenance.

However, in 2004, it became clear that Koch Industries wasn’t living up to its end of the deal: the road began to show “unexpected and troubling signs of distress,” and the project ended up receiving serious scrutiny by the state.

During the hearing, Maryland Senate President Mike Miller shined a spotlight on Rahn’s crooked Koch dealings, stating, “What he did was the governor told him to build a road, but [Rahn] said there’s no money to build it. So he went to the Koch brothers and said, ‘You design a road. And you can be the sole bidder. And then you’ll be responsible for the repairs.”

An investigation by the Albuquerque Business Journal, confirmed that Koch Industries was the only bidder on the project and approached Rahn directly with the proposal before bids had even been requested.

We’ve seen this movie before. Rahn used his post as DOT chief in New Mexico to award a lucrative contract to Koch Industries, and there’s no reason to expect he would do any different as Governor Hogan’s hand-picked nominee. Maryland taxpayers deserve a DOT chief who isn’t a Koch crony.

The Koch Sponsored Director of the Congressional Budget Office

The Koch brothers poured millions into the GOP campaign treasure chest in the 2014 midterms. And now, the newly elected GOP majority is repaying their investors by installing Koch cronies in posts across Capitol Hill. Last week, the Republicans appointed Koch ally, Keith Hall, to serve as the director of Congressional Budget Office. In theory, the Congressional Budget Director analyzes the economic impact of congressional proposals absent any ideological bent. But if you check out Hall’s record, his Koch-funded bias is all too clear.

Prior to his appointment, Hall worked as a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Institute, which is one of the dozens of free-market, anti-regulatory policy shops that the Kochs have bankrolled. The Mercatus Institute has churned out reports arguing for the privatization of Social Security; fingering public employee unions for causing state budget crises; attempting to debunk climate science; and making the case for slashing the welfare system and Medicaid. And in 2001, Mercatus recommended 14 of the 23 federal rules targeted on the new Bush administration’s regulatory “hit list.” Hall has criticized proposals to raise the minimum wage, expand regulation and boost anti-poverty programs and he has been a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He has also publicly condemned efforts to combat joblessness through increased government spending. “Throwing more government dollars at this problem won’t solve it,” he said.

This is latest move since the midterms that demonstrates just how deeply entangled the GOP and Koch-world are. Joni Ernst hired her chief-of-staff away from the Koch-backed NFIB, Mitch McConnell’s new policy director formerly lobbied for Koch Industries, and Tom Cotton’s spokesman is the new director for Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas. CBO directors are chosen jointly by the heads of the House and Senate Budget Committees so there will be no vote or confirmation on Hall. It’s getting harder and harder to separate the Koch shills from the GOP.

Veto gives Kochs a temporary setback in their potential profit from KXL pipeline

This week, President Obama used his veto power for only the 3rd time to strike down a law authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline. This controversial project would allow a Canadian company to send tar sands crude oil through the United States to Gulf Coast oil refineries, thereby continuing our commitment to a dirty fuel source while only creating few permanent jobs and exposing us to environmental risks, including oil spills.

The Keystone pipeline is clearly a legislative priority for the Koch brothers, as evidenced by Koch-back groups including Americans for Prosperity and their state affiliates issuing a myriad of press releases, letters, and calls for action in favor of the project. After investing $290 million through the 2014 election, it’s no wonder that the new GOP-controlled Congress acted immediately to please their benefactors by voting on legislation that would bypass the permitting process and fast-track the pipeline. The GOP leadership is continuing to do the Kochs proud by vowing that the veto is not the end of this fight.

Some experts say the Kochs could profit indirectly from the Keystone pipeline through the value of their vast holdings in Canadian tar sands. Over the years, the Kochs have quietly become one of the largest foreign holders of leases in the region by acquiring 1.1 million acres. Rolling Stone reported that according to a University of Alberta economist, “Koch Industries’ tar-sands leaseholdings have them hedged against the potential approval of Keystone XL. The pipeline would increase the value of Canadian tar-sands deposits overnight. Koch could then profit handsomely by flipping its leases to more established producers.”

AFP & Walker teaming up again to attack workers’ rights in Wisconsin

Another day, another Governor Scott Walker and Koch brothers’ scheme to further their extreme agenda and harm working families in the Badger State. This week, the Wisconsin state legislature is ramming through legislation that would make the state a right-to-work state, a measure that will pass both chambers and that Governor Walker has pledged to sign into law.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the bill is taken word-for-word from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that counts Koch Industries as a key member. This is not the first time Governor Walker has pushed legislation from the Koch-funded group. Governor Walker has used his governorship to sign a litany of ALEC bills into law, including anti-consumer tort reform provisions, restrictive voter ID laws, voucher and virtual school expansions, the privatization of the state’s economic development functions, and more. Now that the ALEC-inspired right-to-work legislation is before the Wisconsin legislature, the Kochs’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, is urging its grassroots activists to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

All workers — whether in a union or not — in states with right-to-work laws on the books, earn lower wages, and consequently endure lower living standards.  Indeed, Governor Walker, the Koch brothers, and their allies are falling over themselves to deal a crushing blow to Wisconsin’s working families. It’s a deja-vu inducing move from a group that spared no expense in supporting Governor Walker’s campaign in the 2012 recall election, which centered on his attacks on the state’s public sector unions.

When Republican climate deniers in Congress are citing the few remaining scientists who are skeptical about man-made climate change, there is no name they are more fond of throwing out than Dr. Wei-Hock Soon. Well, this weekend, the New York Times revealed that Dr. Soon “appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work” by accepting mountains of money from organizations with a vested interest in protecting the fossil fuel industry. He even referred to his work scientific papers as “deliverables” in exchanges with his funders.

One of Dr. Soon’s major financiers was the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, forking over a whopping $230,000 to the GOP’s beloved climate skeptic. That’s Charles G. Koch of the infamous Koch brothers, of course, who never miss an opportunity to protect their petrochemical empire.

Consider what we already knew about the Koch brothers. They have funneled millions of dollars to climate denial front groups. They’ve been rated as one of the top polluters in the country. They’ve launched massive lobbying effortsagainst climate change legislation. Their political groups have successfully made it untenable for GOP politicians to support climate action.

In 2010, David Koch even offered this hot take to the New Yorker about why global warming would be good news anyways:

“Lengthened growing seasons in the northern hemisphere, he says, will make up for any trauma caused by the slow migration of people away from disappearing coastlines. ‘The Earth will be able to support enormously more people because a far greater land area will be available to produce food,’ he says.”

And now we know that Republican Party’s favorite “scientist” to quote in defense of their dangerous climate denialism was essentially trading “research papers” for hundreds of thousands in Koch cash. Is it surprising? Hardly. But it’s an alarming indicator of just how deeply the Koch brothers’ influence has penetrated every corner of the climate change debate.

When you step back and consider the degree to which two 70-something-year-old brothers worth $100 billion have been willing and able to put the planet in peril to further grow their fortune, it’s really quite nauseating…

Unhappy 35th Anniversary to the Kochs & Campaign Finance Laws

It’s a milestone anniversary for the Koch brothers. 2015 marks 35 years that the billionaire brothers have been attacking campaign finance laws, and to mark the occasion, they’ve made an appropriately bold gesture: hiring a former FEC commissioner and longtime opponent of campaign finance enforcement as counsel. Last week, Donald McGahn testified at an FEC hearing on behalf of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — aka the Kochs’ “secret bank” — and provided written comments encouraging the FEC not to enhance disclosure requirements for the group and others like it.

The unhappy relationship between the Kochs and campaign finance laws dates back to David Koch’s 1980 run for vice president on a Libertarian Party platform that sought to “abolish the FEC and all limits on campaign spending.” Now, on the cusp of an election cycle where the Koch network has pledged to spend upwards of a billion dollars supporting candidates who back their agenda, the Kochs have hired counsel who shares their extreme views on gutting campaign finance regulations. Donald McGahn, who was appointed to the FEC in 2008, is also a “fierce proponent of weakening FEC enforcement powers,” according to the New York Times. McGahn later admitted that during his time at the FEC, he did not fully enforce the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Before the Koch brothers, McGahn represented Tom DeLay, defending him against numerous campaign finance violations.

This year finds McGahn and the Koch brothers urging the FEC not to require enhanced disclosure for nonprofit groups that engage in “issue advocacy,” rather than expressly advocating on behalf of a particular candidate. For the Kochs, “issue advocacy” is shorthand for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Freedom Partners and the brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, on political advertisements that attack Democratic candidates. Neither of these groups — or several others in the Koch network — are required to disclose their donors because they are nonprofits, despite the fact that the groups “more closely resemble the traditional functions of a national political party,” according to POLITICO.

The Koch Brothers’ War On State Colleges

A Huffington Post story last week shed light on the Koch brothers and their cronies’ newest frontier for attack: state colleges.

In North Carolina, Koch consigliere Art Pope’s well-documented influence cannot be overstated, Over the past decade, Pope, the wealthy owner of a chain of dollar stores, has poured $40 million into manipulating American politics and using his fortune to control the legislative agenda in North Carolina.  In 2010, Pope underwrote the Tea Party takeover of the North Carolina state legislature. According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, of the twenty-two legislative races targeted by Pope in 2010, the Republicans won eighteen. Democrats in North Carolina were outspent and upended.  “It led to Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislature for the first time in more than 100 years.

Pope is at the center of Koch world and he has worked in lockstep with the billionaire brothers to push their shared agenda. In 2012, Pope was forced to resign his post as one of Americans for Prosperity’s national directors when he was appointed to be Governor Pat McCrory’s chief budget writer.

Pope and the GOP state legislators that he and the Kochs helped elect have been waging war on North Carolina’s publicly funded higher education system. Pope advised the University of North Carolina system to identify $15 million in budget cuts to university research centers. Moreover, their ideological agenda is evident in the final centers marked for cuts — for example, the list includes the Poverty Center which offers policy solutions to mitigate poverty in the school’s home state.  UNC-Chapel Hill, which has a $120,000 annual budget, none of which comes from the state. So why is it targeted? Well, the center is is led by Gene Nichol, who has criticized the Republican-controlled legislature for rejecting Medicaid expansion — another fight near to the Koch brothers’ hearts — so perhaps the fact that his Poverty Center is being targeted isn’t so surprising.

In just the last couple weeks, similar attacks have been launched on higher education. In Kansas and Wisconsin — unsurprisingly, the Kochs have close ties to Gov. Brownback and Gov. Walker, and have played crucial roles in electing ultra-conservative legislators in both states.

The Kochs have always loathed public education; now they’re making state colleges pay the price.

New Walker Appointee Teamed Up With AFP To Support Solar Energy Cost Hikes

This week, Bloomberg Politics dubbed Scott Walker the “King of Kochworld.” The article chronicled his deep and long-established ties to the Koch brothers’ network and their support for the ultra-conservative makeover he’s given the state of Wisconsin. It’s a love affair that could pay big dividends for Walker, as he looks to become the beneficiary of a large chunk of the eye-popping $889 million they’ve promised to spend this cycle.

Well, Walker is living up to his regal title. This week, his administration announced a number positional of shakeups, including the appointment of a gentleman named Scott Neitzel to run Wisconsin’s Department of Administration. According to the Wisconsin DOA website, their ultimate goal is to “offer Wisconsin residents the most efficient, highest-quality state government services possible.”

But in Neitzel’s previous role, as an executive at Madison Gas and Electric, he was hardly fighting for his new constituents. Instead, Madison Gas and Electric was teaming up with Americans For Prosperity, fighting to protect profits for Big Oil and petrochemical companies like Koch Industries at the expense of solar energy users. The coalition was pushing for legislation to hike fees and increase regulations on customers who produced their own solar power.

From personnel moves to policy pushes, Scott Walker’s motives are clear — the only constituents he’s looking out for are the ones he reigns over in Kochworld.

AFP pulls out all the stops to keep 200,000 Tennesseans uninsured

If you’ve been following the ongoing political battles over Medicaid expansion in Republican-controlled states across the country, then you know that the Koch brothers’ chief political arm, Americans for Prosperity, has been a vocal opponent of expanding Medicaid coverage in states like North Carolina. Their effort to block Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured is bad enough on face, but even worse is the sheer glee with which AFP has heralded the defeat of Medicaid expansion proposals. In North Carolina, the state AFP chapter offered Governor McCrory their “congratulations” for signing a bill blocking Medicaid expansion into law, and now this week in Tennessee, that state’s chapter has declared it a “victory” that 200,000 Tennesseans will remain uninsured.

NBC News has a must-read rundown of AFP’s “aggressive” effort to make Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s widely popular Medicaid expansion proposal, Insure TN, politically unpalatable for conservatives in the state legislature. It’s impossible to read the account of AFP’s blitz against the bill — which included radio ads, aggressive Facebook posts calling out members of their own party, and filling a legislative hearing with dozens of activists — without coming away with the impression that AFP will stop at nothing to ensure that Republicans adhere to Koch-approved AFP policy positions. AFP succeeded in brow-beating Republicans into opposing Insure TN, with the bill ultimately not making it out of committee. But even lawmakers sympathetic to AFP’s cause were bristled by their tactics; NBC News quotes an influential Republican lawmaker who criticizes AFP’s “politics of intimidation,” even though he also opposed Medicaid expansion.

In the NBC account of AFP’s clamoring against Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, there’s a broader point that can’t be missed about the Kochs’ political activity:

When the coalition of conservative groups allied with Charles and David Koch announced recently they would spend $889 million over the next two years, much of the discussion was about how that money could shape the upcoming presidential election. But AFP and other Koch-backed conservative organizations may be having their biggest impact on state politics, where targeted advertising and a strong organization can make a huge difference.

We couldn’t agree more, which is why Real Koch Facts will continue to stay abreast of not just the Kochs’ impact on the upcoming presidential race, but also spotlight the tremendous influence their billions have had in critical state policy debates like this one in Tennessee.

Walker’s Wisconsin budget proposal borrows from the Koch playbook

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker released his two-year budget proposal and like you’d expect from any Koch disciple, it includes plenty of material inspired by the billionaire brothers and their political agenda. In particular, Walker’s budget proposal includes a plan to allow an unlimited amount of taxpayer-funded school vouchers for Wisconsin students, and a whopping $250,000 line item for a study on the supposed health impacts of wind energy, an alternative energy source that has long drawn the ire of the Kochs and their allies.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker’s budget proposal removes an existing cap on the number of students who can use school vouchers to attend private schools in the state. What’s more, “Walker would also start paying for the program with money that otherwise would go to public schools,” per the report. Diverting public school funds to pay for private education is a hallmark of the Kochs’ education philosophy. Indeed, the brothers’ political arm in North Carolina has not only demonized the public education system in the Tar Heel State, but also vocally supported a scholarship program that similarly funds school vouchers using public school monies. Last year in Tennessee, the Charles Koch Institute hosted an event that spread misinformation about the state’s public schools in an effort to promote a private school voucher system

In addition to proposing that taxpayer funds for public schools be diverted to pay for private school tuition, Walker’s budget proposal includes a taxpayer-funded — at a quarter million dollars, no less — study on the health impacts of wind energy. According to a Huffington Post report, the Wisconsin Wind Siting Council submitted a study to the state legislature on this very topic last year, which like other scientific studies on the matter, found no “adverse health effects” resulting from proximity to wind turbines. Given the Kochs’ efforts to overturn a popular wind energy program in Kansas, when one county in the Badger State — the only in the country — found that wind turbines posed a health hazard, it follows that a Koch-funded group, Heartland Institute, immediately seized on the determination as evidence for its anti-wind energy campaign. Wisconsin and Kansas are but two examples of the self-serving fossil fuel billionaire Kochs’ efforts to block renewable energy programs across the country.

Last year, we cautioned that “a second term for Scott Walker is a second term for the Koch brothers,” and the proof is in right in Walker’s budget proposal, scarcely a month into his second term. Whether through his proposal to voucherize public education, or to spend taxpayer dollars on a redundant health study that panders to fossil fuel funded anti-wind energy interests, it’s clear that Governor Walker plans to continue to prioritize Koch brothers’ self-serving political agenda over all else.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation