Kochs using dark money to oppose dark money disclosure rules

Previously on Real Koch Facts, we’ve likened the flow of money between the organizations in the Koch brothers’ political network to an elaborate shell game, where cash is covertly shuttled between dozens of nonprofits, holding companies and “disregarded entities.” A new report from the Center for Public Integrity further confirms that the so-called “Kochtopus” is as deliberately opaque as it is multi-tentacled. CPI outlines the activities of American Commitment, a “social welfare” nonprofit that received the bulk of its funding from 2011-2013 from three Koch-backed groups and is currently advocating against enhanced IRS disclosure rules for organizations of its kind.

According to CPI, American Commitment received 87 percent of its 2011-2013 funding — in other words, millions of dollars — from the Koch brothers’ “secret bank,” Freedom Partners Action Fund, the Koch-backed Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Free Enterprise America. Keep in mind that American Commitment did not have to disclose these Koch donations, but rather, CPI unearthed these donations in the tax returns filed by the donor organizations; the IRS requires nonprofits to disclose grants made to other organizations. The CPI report fully details the utter obfuscation involved, but at its core, these maneuvers allow organizations to avoid disclosing their donors by funneling money to a “social welfare” group that can indulge in both donor anonymity and support candidates.

That’s not even the worst of it. As CPI notes, American Commitment “has vigorously opposed [IRS] efforts to force donor disclosure on social welfare nonprofit groups,” likely because its political activities mean there’s a high likelihood the group would be impacted by the proposed rules. Given the number of nonprofits within the Kochtopus, it follows that the ever-opaque Koch network is very likely helping to fund American Commitment’s vocal opposition to the new IRS transparency rules.

Although the funding shell game is a hallmark of the Koch network, they certainly aren’t the only ultra-wealthy conservative benefactors who partake in it. The Conservative Transparency database uses public tax filings to help track the dark money that flows between conservative donors, organizations, and candidates.

Koch Brothers Find Most Pathetic Excuse Yet To Attack Government

Since 1991, it has cost $15 to buy an annual bird-hunting permit in America. But if birds run out, you can’t hunt them anymore. So Tea Party Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) introduced a bipartisan bill, which Politico reports had the backing of the duck hunters, to increase the annual bird-hunting permit cost from $15 to $25. Everyone wins.

Only, the Koch Brothers’ Americans For Prosperity didn’t see it that way. For AFP, anything that could possible be used as an excuse to attack government should be used as such, no matter how pathetic. This, believe it or not, was a statement written in response to the bipartisan, duck hunter-backed, Tea Party introduced, $10 annual permit hike:

“The scrooges in Congress want to ask American families for even more of their paycheck to help fund a bloated, oversized government that cannot properly do the few things it is supposed to be doing, never mind all of the things it is not supposed to be doing.

Americans For Prosperity’s incessant attempts to undermine government on any possible issue are well-documented. And sometimes, they are simply beyond parody.

New report highlights same old Koch education scheme

In addition to myriad political entities and nonprofits, the Koch brothers’ network — or the “Kochtopus” — also comprises Koch-funded education initiatives designed to impart their extreme libertarian views on our nation’s young people. These initiatives — like Youth Entrepreneurs — wield influence in our schools the same way the Kochs do politically: by buying it. Standard operating procedure among the Kochtopus’ tentacles, but as a new report from Huffington Post highlights, it’s especially craven when you consider the Kochs’ open hostility toward public education, and the drastic education funding cuts that some of their favorite elected officials have presided over in North CarolinaKansas and Wisconsin.

Huffington Post digs into the machinations of the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI), an organization that has received millions in funding from the Koch organizations that came together to launch BRI in 1999, including the Charles Koch Foundation and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation. A senior vice president at Koch Industries sits on BRI’s board. These are BRI’s explicit ties to the Koch network, but implicit, self-serving Koch philosophies abound in the free materials that the group provides to teachers and students on topics surrounding the Constitution. According to the report, BRI “cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit.” Sounds eerily like the billionaire Kochs’ opposition to the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes, just remixed for social studies class. Other lowlights from the BRI’s materials include its support for “Stand Your Ground” legislation proliferated by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the teachings’ utter lack of references to climate change, natch.

Another HuffPo report on Youth Entrepreneurs earlier this year deemed the group’s efforts as being part and parcel with the “Kochs’ slow creep into America’s schools.” As the piece on BRI notes, the infiltration is even more bizarre when taken with the rest of the Koch legacy on education, which dates back to David Koch’s insistence in 1980 that the Department of Education be abolished and with it, all federal funding for education. In the decades since, the Kochs have backed Republicans like Scott Walker, who slashed education funding in Wisconsin, a move that would naturally lead cash-strapped schools, students and teachers to lean on the free resources and funding opportunities Koch groups like BRI and YE proliferate.

Deprive schools of resources, then ply them with free materials that espouse your self-serving worldview — it’s a vicious circle that only promises to worsen as bought-and-paid-for Republicans usher in the Kochs’ anti-public education agenda.
In 2010, Common Sense Principles, a dark-money “social welfare” group in New York, sprang seemingly out of nowhere and started spending big against Democrats in the state senate. The mysterious group earned the scrutiny of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, who described it as “daisy chain of out-of-state corporations and ‘ghost companies.'” That is to say, the shadowy group went to great lengths to avoid disclosing their donors and their connections.

Well Crain’s New York Business is now reporting that the mysterious Common Sense Principles has ties to The Koch brothers’ ever-growing political network. Surprise, surprise. During the 2012 cycle, Common Sense funneled $900,000 to American Future Fund, $500,000 to the American Justice Partnership, and $10,000 to the Hispanic Leadership Fund, all three of which operate within the Koch sphere.

Shockingly, nobody from any of those three groups returned phone calls looking for comment on the new Crain’s story. And when the Albany Times Union did some digging into Common Sense Principles in 2012, they found further evidence of shadiness, in the form of possible illegal coordination:

But tax records filed in 2011 show its directors are Chris LaCivita and Kevin Wright, both of whom have ties to Senate Republicans. Wright is an officer in Old Dominion Research Group, an opposition research firm that has been employed by the Senate Republican Campaign Committee this year, paid by its “housekeeping” account. The tax records further show that Common Sense paid money to Old Dominion.

Nothing to see here, nothing to see here. Just one more Koch-tied group dancing around campaign finance laws to try to buy elections…

Koch network likely to spend heavily for Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson

Just over a week has passed since the 2014 elections, so all eyes are now on the November 2016 elections, natch. Given that the Koch brothers and their allies spent heavily this cycle to help send their top cronies, like Iowa’s Joni Ernst and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, to the Senate, it’s unsurprising that the Kochs’ 2016 spending plans are already being discussed. It’s especially unsurprising when you consider the battleground state in question: Wisconsin, where the Kochs and their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, have already spent millions to support Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to implement a far right agenda in the Badger state.

According to POLITICO, Wisconsin’s potentially vulnerable Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson’s bid for a second term would likely be aided by the deep-pocketed brothers. The report notes that Johnson is a “favorite of the Koch brothers’ donor network” and that Koch-affiliated operatives confirm the likelihood of heavy spending on his behalf. If AFP’s history in the state is any indicator, Wisconsinites can look forward to a bevy of misleading ads on Johnson’s behalf.

Regardless, it’s clear that this cycle’s Koch favorites were candidates who espoused Koch-approved positions at every turn. It follows that Johnson must also prioritize the billionaire brothers’ interests if he is eliciting talk of heavy Koch spending this early on in the cycle.

Return On Investment: Kochs Demand New Republican Majority Kill Wind Tax Credit

The Koch brothers are fresh off their nearly $300 million campaign to boost Republicans in this year’s midterm elections, and we’re already starting to see the kinds of favors they expect as a return on their investment.

Just days after the election, the Koch brothers’ Americans For Prosperity and other Koch-funded groups are leading a coalition demanding that Republicans in Congress let the wind production tax credit (PTC) expire. The PTC for wind is a popular incentive that has been crucial to the wind energy industry as it has boomed in recent years, providing more affordable energy, supporting thousands of new jobs, and protecting our environment. It was created in 1992 under President George H. W. Bush, and has been repeatedly renewed by both Democrats and Republicans since then.

But the self-interested billionaire Koch brothers don’t care about any of those things. They care about continuing to grow their massive fortune accumulated through their Big Oil conglomerate Koch Industries, no matter the cost to others. And coincidentally enough, the Koch brothers just so happen to have recently purchased a slew of seats for Republican members of Congress, and helped catapult soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to his long-sought-after dream job.

So there you see the dangerous feedback loop the Koch brothers have created. It’s not simply that they are willing to pour infinite money into rigging our democracy. It’s that in turn, Republican legislators are beholden to the Kochs’ self-serving agenda — an agenda that comes at the expense of working families and a healthy environment.

Confirmation That For The GOP, Koch Cash Trumps Sound Policy

Coral Davenport wrote an eye-opening piece for the New York Times last week about one of the most puzzling recent refrains from Republican politicians. Why, when asked about climate change, has nearly every key Republican started responding, “I’m not a scientist”?

The piece includes quotes from Republican strategists and lobbyists highlighting just how ridiculous this response really is:

“It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who has advised House Republicans and conservative political advocacy groups on energy and climate change messaging. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything. Most politicians aren’t scientists, but they vote on science policy. They have opinions on Ebola, but they’re not epidemiologists. They shape highway and infrastructure laws, but they’re not engineers.”

So why do Republicans continue to default to that line, when everyone seems to agree that it’s an idiotic one? Two words: Koch brothers. Here’s how the Times explains it:

For now, “I’m not a scientist” is what one party adviser calls “a temporary Band-Aid” — a way to avoid being called a climate change denier but also to sidestep a dilemma. The reality of campaigning is that a politician who acknowledges that burning coal and oil contributes to global warming must offer a solution, which most policy experts say should be taxing or regulating carbon pollution and increasing government spending on alternative energy. But those ideas are anathema to influential conservative donors like the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and the advocacy group they support, Americans for Prosperity.

And then Americans For Prosperity’s President, Tim Phillips, parses no words in laying out how they AFP would react to a Republican who was willing to work to address climate change: “They would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process. …We would absolutely make that a crucial issue.”

This is the clearest example yet of the complete stranglehold the Koch brothers have over today’s Republican Party. There is no scientific debate that climate change is real and that human beings are contributing to it. Experts agree that we should take action immediately. Public polling indicates that there is very broad support for taking these actions.

And still, GOP candidates just keep saying, “I’m not a scientist,” because they know the climate-denial-funding, self-serving, oil-made billionaire Koch brothers will spend millions to crush their political careers if they stand up and support commonsense actions.

Needless to say, this is a dangerous reality — one in which the GOP policy agenda is determined not by elected officials concerned about the well-being of their constituents, but by billionaires concerned about the well-being of their bank accounts.

Closing Argument: Kochs Fight To Save Candidate Cronies In Critical Election

The midterms are around the corner and the Koch brothers and their vast political network have gone to unprecedented lengths to elect extreme Tea Party candidates who support their self-serving agenda. The Kochs have bought and paid for these candidates (both senate and gubernatorial), and are clearly hoping for an Election night wave to secure support for their anti-working families agenda.

Unparalleled Spending

The billionaire brothers began their dirty campaign early this cycle. By January of 2014, the Kochs’ chief political arm, Americans For Prosperity (AFP), had already poured $22 million in dark money into TV ads smearing Democratic senators up for reelection. AFP did not stop there. They have continued to spend so heavily on television ads, which range from misleading to patently false, that AFP has accounted for one out of every sixteen Senate ads this cycle as of August 2014.

But Americans For Prosperity’s spending is just one cog in a complex, ever-growing machine — a machine that increasingly threatens our democracy as it drowns out the voice of the people by amplifying the voice of a few self-interested billionaires. The many arms and extensive reach of this network have been dubbed the “Kochtopus,” and it continues to expand. This year, the Kochs launched a new Super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, to allow for more direct spending on electioneering. While this new group is subject to financial disclosure, its biggest donors were unsurprisingly the Koch brothers themselves.

Overall the Koch network promised to spend around $300 million this cycle. While much of that money has gone to misleading voters over the airwaves, the real prize for the Kochs is buying candidates. From their secretive billionaires summit, which attracted hoards of powerful Republican politicians milling about with their benefactors and swapping thoughts on policy and strategy, to hosting events with key governors and 2016 GOP hopefuls jockeying for their support, the Koch network’s purchasing power is on display all around. Any smart Republican who wants to climb the political ladder is already pledging allegiance to the kingmakers. Florida Governor Rick Scott has fought to show he’s the governor the Kochs truly love the most, while major Koch beneficiary and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has spent his tenure in office trying to implement the extreme Koch agenda at every turn.

A Purchased Party

The aforementioned secretive billionaires summit the Koch brothers hosted provided an eye-opening look into their political operation. Many of the most trusted and wealthy members of the Koch political network gathered at a highly-guarded Southern California resort along with a number of the top leaders in today’s Republican Party — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 2016 frontrunner Marco Rubio, crucial Senate candidates including Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, and Tom Cotton, and the list goes on.

Leaked audio from that retreat confirmed that these big wigs of the GOP, responsible for charting the very direction of the party, are using the Koch agenda as their north star. We heard Joni Ernst credit the Koch network for having “started my trajectory” and Tom Cotton lavishing them with praise for elevating the GOP in Arkansas. Mitch McConnell promised that if he becomes majority leader, the Senate won’t waste time debating “gosh darn proposals” like raising the minimum wage or keeping student loan rates low. These comments are merely a tiny window into the Kochification of the GOP.

For decades, the Koch brothers have been fighting for their self-serving agenda to the detriment of working families, and now the Republican party has aligned with them on nearly every issue. The Koch brothers have long fought against the minimum wage; now key Republican senate and gubernatorial candidates have come out against a federal minimum wage altogether. The Kochs fund climate change denial because addressing it would hurt their bottom line; suddenly the entire GOP disavows scientific consensus. David Koch once called Social Security “the most serious threat to the future stability of our society next to nuclear war.” Today’s GOP is fighting to slash it. The Kochs have fought against the Farm Bill for years; now even Republican candidates in states driven by agriculture, like Kansas and Arkansas, voted against it.

The symbiosis between the Koch brothers and the GOP runs deep. The Kochs finance their candidates. The candidates push the Kochs’ self-serving agenda. The Kochs fund groups like the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). NFIB endorses Koch-supported candidates across the board. Those candidates tout their NFIB endorsement to claim they have the support of small businesses. Then the NFIB and the Republican politicians they back continue to push for policies, such as massive tax cuts for the wealthy that shift the tax burden toward working families, that do more good for the Koch brothers than for small businesses.

While they may have previously flown under the radar, these Koch-Republican charades are no longer going by unnoticed.

Fighting Back

American Bridge has spent the past six months exposing the truth about the Koch brothers’ self-serving agenda, their damaging business practices, and their chokehold on the Republican Party. We are holding them accountable, and voters will too.

It was not long ago that most Americans didn’t know who Charles and David Koch were, let alone why they should be wary of their agenda. But the Koch brothers are becoming household names — household names with a very negative connotation to them. Every day, the American people are learning more about the Kochs, and the more they learn, the more they reject the extreme Koch agenda and the candidates who support it.

We launched RealKochFacts.com in May, and in just six months, we’ve managed to drastically change the way the Kochs are viewed in American politics. We dug up long-buried documents from Libertarian archives that demonstrated how extreme the Koch agenda has been for over 30 years — and the lengths to which the Kochs have gone to implement it. We showed for the first time that the Kochs and their business conglomerate, Koch Industries, are outsourcers, tied to lost jobs and American jobs shipped overseas. We’ve exposed the depths of the environmental damage caused by their work, and dove into how their business practices can wreak havoc on a community, all in the pursuit of further growing their unimaginable fortune.

On a day-to-day basis, our research and tracking team is digging deeper into the Koch brothers’ antics, and we are telling that story to voters across the country. With our current campaign finance laws, we can’t stop the Koch network from pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of dark money into elections of all shape and size. But we can make sure that voters know exactly who they are, how extreme their self-serving agenda is, and how broad their reach is within the Republican Party.

That’s exactly what we’ve done, and it’s exactly what we will continue to do in the 2016 election cycle and beyond.

Continue reading to learn more about Republican candidates who share the Koch agenda and are being propped up by the secretive billionaires in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Florida.

Closing Argument: Thom Tillis Helped Make North Carolina The Kochs’ “Model State”

In 2013, a year before Koch-backed groups had begun their all out assault to help elect Speaker Thom Tillis to the Senate, the head of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) said that North Carolina provided “a great opportunity” to “create a model state”. What exactly did the Kochs have in mind for this “model state?” If their support for his Senate candidacy is any indicator, it probably looks a lot like the extreme, Tea Party agenda enacted by Speaker Tillis – helping the wealthy and special interests at the expense of North Carolina’s schools and working families.

Speaker Tillis’s worked hard to deliver for the secretive billionaire Koch brothers. His budget gave massive tax breaks to millionaires and raised taxes on small business owners and seniors’ retirement income. It stripped $500 million in education funding over two years and cut 13,000 education jobs, causing good teachers to leave the state state due to a pay scale that ranks among the nation’s worst. It could even lead to cutting back Medicaid assistance for working families throughout the state. Tillis even fought to kill the state’s film tax credit, which supports 4,200 local jobs, after AFP decided it was against it.  In the Senate, not much would change for Tillis. Take minimum wage, for example. AFP opposes increasing the minimum wage, which Speaker Tillis has said he’d consider eliminating entirely.

Speaker Tillis has been so successful at enacting the core of the Koch agenda, in fact, that AFP held rallies earlier this year to celebrate his good deeds, while the Kochs and their family members poured in the cash to the tune of more than $10,000 in personal contributions to Tillis’s campaign. That doesn’t even begin to count the more than $13 million that Koch-backed or funded entities have spent on ads attempting to prop up Tillis and tear down his opponent. Make no mistake: these Koch front groups, like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are nothing more than another attempt by the Kochs to drive their self-serving, anti-middle class agenda.

But the Kochs’ efforts to turn North Carolina into their own personal utopia don’t start and end with Thom Tillis. For years, the Kochs’ AFP has been working to drive the policy agenda further and further right in a state that’s growing more and more purple by the day. The Kochs’ primary piggy bank, Koch Industries, has also had a negative impact on the future of the state, with its subsidiaries laying off hundreds of workers in multiple cities. Whose side are the Kochs on in North Carolina? Clearly not that of working families.

When North Carolinians head to the polls on Tuesday, they should bear in mind the true agenda of the secretive billionaires responsible for keeping Speaker Tillis’s campaign afloat: massive cuts to education, tax breaks for the wealthy, and job losses left and right. If voters choose Thom Tillis, they should expect nothing but more of the same from this Koch crony in the U.S. Senate.

And if the Kochs get their way in 2014, they won’t stop there.  When it comes to carrying the water of the Koch brothers and their self-serving agenda, Speaker Tillis has been tied at the hip to Governor Pat McCrory, who has advocated for the Kochs every step of the way.  Surely the Kochs will be there for McCrory – an unpopular governor who has enacted an unpopular agenda (the Koch agenda) – as he seeks a second term.  We’ll be there as well working to expose another Koch crony to the voters and the devastating impact their self-serving agenda has had on the state of North Carolina.

Closing Argument: Koch Crony Cory Gardner Counting On Kochs to Drag Him Across The Finish

In Colorado, Republicans have pinned their hopes on Koch-crony Cory Gardner, a classic supporter of the Kochs’ self-serving agenda.  What does that agenda look like in Gardner’s case? More of the same policies the Kochs have been working toward for years, benefitting wealthy special interests at the expense of working families and the middle class.

On issue after issue, Gardner has stood in line with the Koch agenda. Charles Koch has opposed the minimum wage entirely and David Koch ran for VP on a ticket that called for abolishing it. Their primary political entity AFP identified opposition to raising the minimum wage as a key vote multiple years in a row. Cory Gardner said he opposed raising the federal minimum wage. On equal pay for women, Koch Industries lobbied against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help women fight back against instances of pay discrimination. Cory Gardner voted against it. On Medicare, Gardner and the Kochs’ AFP both supported a budget that would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

The Kochs have spent millions propping up Gardner’s candidacy, spending heavily early on this year on debunked, misleading ads that were attacked for using paid actors. The Kochs’ faux-small business organization, which actually fights for tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of working families, endorsed Gardner earlier this year. The Kochs and their family members contributed $23,000 directly to Gardner’s campaign, while Koch-backed and funded entities including AFPFreedom Partners, the American Energy Alliance, and Generation Opportunity have dumped more than $4 million into the race to prop up Gardner’s candidacy. The Kochs have been so important to Cory Gardner that at a Koch conference this summerGardner flat out begged for more outside money to come to his rescue.

So what’s a Colorado voter to do? In this election, the choice is clear, because a vote for Cory Gardner on November 4th is a vote for the Kochs’ and their extreme, anti-working families agenda.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation