Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Kochtopus Strangling The Republican Party... And America Along With It?


It's virtually impossible to know how many hundreds of millions of dollars the overtly fascist Koch family has poured into Republican politics. But what we do know is that it was enough to buy the whole enterprise. The Koch brothers now own the failed, toxic, destructive operation known as the GOP. Even if you think you know the whole story, it's well worth the time and effort to read the blow-by-blow in Lee Fang's new book, The Machine.
Koch operatives were particularly powerful in GOP primaries. A Koch-funded group called the Hot Air Tour demanded that Republicans sign a pledge never to support efforts to address climate change. In 2008, pretty much the only issue both McCain and Obama agreed on was the need to deal with climate change. At the time, many in the Republican Party supported some type of cap-and-trade system, including Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Bob Inglis. But by the dawn of the 2011 Republican Congress, over half of the entire caucus were on record doubting the belief in climate change at all. Inglis, Rep. Mike Castle, and other clean-energy-supporting lawmakers had been driven from the party in vicious primaries. Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican who had voted for the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation, had to disavow his support for the legislation to survive his primary.

While the Koch Industries political action committee was ranked as a “heavy hitter” by the Center for Responsive Politics for being one of the most active campaign contributors during the 2010 midterm elections, the most pernicious campaign strategy came in the form of its extensive field operation, done mostly through undisclosed nonprofits exploiting a loophole with the Federal Elections Commission (thus skirting any disclosure). They financed nonprofit bus tours with innocuous names like “Spending Revolt,” “November Is Coming,” and “Patients United.” These efforts were deadly effective. Without the appearance of being a GOP front, the bus tours would sponsor rallies day after day for Republican candidates for local and federal office. Spending Revolt alone sponsored over 138 rallies, each one featuring Tea Party speakers and Republican candidates for office. November Is Coming group provided free food and Visa gift cards to its most active volunteers.

The massive gains for Republicans in the midterm elections were the direct result of a permanent campaign financed by Koch, from the Tea Party, to constant media distortions, to the elevation of hundreds of Republican candidates. It’s impossible to truly quantify the amount of political money Koch infused in the first two years of the Obama administration. Koch’s charitable foundations provide a clue, but the true extent may never be known. Direct corporate donations from Koch Industries through fronts like the Independent Women’s Forum and Americans for Prosperity never have to be disclosed.

A month into the new Congress, Republicans slashed into the EPA’s budget to oversee Koch’s carbon pollution. Even by spending a few hundred million clobbering Obama, the Koch brothers reaped a windfall. The prospect of paying for their billions of tons of carbon pollution was completely swept off the table with the weakening of the EPA and destruction of state and federal clean energy laws. The Koch brothers also immediately benefited directly from the midterm election. In December 2010, Obama backed away from his promise to roll back the Bush tax cuts for billionaires like Charles and David.

The Koch brothers’ sizable role in shaping the first three years of the Obama administration-- first by funding the Tea Parties and opposition to big progressive policies, then by financing the GOP takeover of Congress in 2010-- was a preview of the strategy employed in Obama’s reelection bid. Early reports signaled that the Koch political machine prepared to raise and spend more than $400 million in the 2012 election, routing the money through a wide array of conservative issue groups, including ones used in the past, like the seniors-oriented 60 Plus Association, as well as new groups, like the National Rifle Association. The same tactics employed in the past, from bus tours and paid grassroots campaigns, would be augmented by a new voter targeting system called Themis.

The expanded Koch network resembled its own political party by the time of Obama’s reelection. But the roots of this radical expansion are multifaceted. While self-interest is at the heart of the Koch political machine, not every Koch political decision is guided strictly by business. Rather, a large part of the Koch philanthropy operation seems to exist to validate the brothers’ belief system and their own prestige. In a speech to the reclusive Council for National Policy in January of 1999, Charles summed up his funding of conservative groups as an almost messianic higher calling. “I’m dedicated to living by and advancing these principles and values. In that, I echo Martin Luther,” he told the gathering of right-wing leaders and philanthropists in Naples, Florida. In a letter I uncovered from Charles to dozens of the nation’s wealthiest conservative donors, many of them billionaires, he portrayed himself as a revolutionary fighting an uphill battle against the tide of Obama’s reforms. Asking a small set of billionaires to join his efforts against Obama, Charles wrote, “It is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes.”

Indeed, Charles’s commitment to antigovernment politics is deeply personal. He once confided to Stephen Moore, a Wall Street Journal writer also employed by a Koch-funded nonprofit, that he gives “dozens and dozens” of lectures on libertarian philosophy to Koch Industries employees. Perpetuating the lie that Koch Industries operates on the free market, without government contracts, is part of Charles’s deeply ingrained identity. On occasion, he has even compared himself to great libertarian thinkers. An academic association (funded by a Koch charitable foundation) presented Charles an award in 2007 for his deep commitment to libertarian philosophy.

David, who ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, began re-creating presidential nominating ceremonies for himself every year since 2007. In what he calls the “Defending the Dream” summit, David hosts hundreds of activists from Koch-funded groups. Delegates carry vertical signs displaying which state they are from, similar to the signs carried by delegates to the major party conventions. Representatives from each state ritualistically stand and inform David of their progress in advancing the antigovernment cause. At his summit in 2009, several Americans for Prosperity staffers stood confidently in the audience reporting about their success in organizing the largest Tea Parties in their respective states. David laughed and clapped approvingly from the podium. Although Charles is known for spending most of his time tending to business or politics, David can be found in the pages of the New York Social Diary, attracting tabloid coverage for hosting the most fashionable dinners in the city. Although it has been said their approach to politics is indistinguishable, David and Charles both enjoy the limelight for very different reasons.

David was at hand for the new Republican Congress he helped elect. Before the official ceremony swearing in the members of the 112th Congress, David chatted with Rep. John Boehner in the Speaker’s office. Meanwhile, Koch lobbyists met with the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee [Fred Upton] to chart out a new course of action.

I caught up with David as he left the Capitol and strolled down Independence Avenue. “I’m curious to know, Mr. Koch, are you proud of the Tea Party movement and what they’ve achieved in the past years,” I asked. “Yeah. There are some extremists there, but the rank and file are just normal people like us. And I admire them. It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion!” he said cheerfully. As soon as he finished the sentence, Tim Phillips, the Americans for Prosperity president who was escorting David around, pushed me back and started yelling into the video camera my colleague Scott Keyes was holding. David seemed amused by the attention, despite Phillips’s demands that the “interview is over!” David boasted that his AFP group would do more going into the next few years, and along the way, “cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and uh, support business.”

Our conversation eventually turned toward his secret fundraising meetings. I asked if he had benefited from Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections. He looked at me, and I caught a quick expression of guilt. He promptly ended the interview and walked away. It could have been because he genuinely felt bad about his oversized role in the democratic process. But then again, I was making him late for a party he was hosting for the dozens of Republican congressman he had helped elect to office.
This is just a small part of one chapter in Fang's book and I really recommend that you get yourself a copy and read it. (You can buy it at the DWT Bookstore.) Over the weekend, though, PoliticusUSA also dealt with the Koch takeover and radicalization of the Republican Party.
It is a fairly safe bet that if one polled 100 Americans and asked if they supported clean air and water, and some means of controlling the devastating weather events, few would opt for foul air, polluted water, and more intense weather unless there were Republican politicians taking part in the  survey. Republicans love to pledge allegiance to causes like never raising taxes, preventing same-sex couples from marrying, and nearly any cause promoting inequality, and now they are signing on to a new pledge to Charles and David Koch to oppose any legislation relating to climate change unless it is accompanied by an offsetting amount of tax cuts. It is little secret that the Koch brothers are opposed to any and all regulations that affect their power to pollute the air and water that contributes to climate change, and with their legislative arm the American Legislative Exchange Council, they are influencing members of Congress and state legislatures’ to ensure clean air and water remains elusive and that regulations to reduce the effects of climate change never become law.

First, the Kochs are enlisting Republicans to make it unlikely any bills regulating carbon emissions ever become law, and because they are requiring accompanying offsetting tax cuts, they guarantee their anti-climate change policies will remain the law of the land. The Koch brothers’ pledge is the work of their tax-exempt Americans for Prosperity, and the “No Climate Tax” has successfully prevented Republican lawmakers from addressing climate change particularly by thwarting efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by killing cap-and-trade energy bills in the Senate.

The No Climate Tax pledge has garnered signatures from 411 lawmakers nationwide including the entire House Republican leadership [Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)],  one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, and a quarter of U.S. senators. According to a New York Times report on the Koch pledge, “Since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action.” Roadblock is putting it mildly, and it means regardless the threats from climate change, there is little Americans can expect from Republicans in the way of relief because they are beholden to follow directions from the Kochs and their source of power ALEC.

Last month in the Republican House, an ALEC a regulatory reform template moving through Congress was assailed by Democratic representative Rep. Hank Johnson (GA) as having “the Koch brothers’ fingerprints all on it.” The ALEC template was targeting the use of “sue and settle” practices in conflicts over clean air and water regulations. Environmental groups used “sue and settle” to force over 100 new rules from the Presidents Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allows clean air and water advocates to file a lawsuit against a federal agency for failing to meet a regulatory deadline or requirement. Since ALEC and the Kochs are not elected members of Congress, Republicans used their surrogate legislative arm, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to step in and quash efforts to allow the EPA to do their job.

The Chamber of Commerce, an ALEC member on the Civil Justice Task Force, rallied behind legislation introduced by ALEC puppet Doug Collins (R-GA) to put a halt to the lawsuits that public advocacy groups argued will “stack the deck in favor of more corporate litigation.” According to a regulatory public advocate at public Citizen, “By advocating for ‘regulatory reform’ legislation, the Chamber wants to make it easier to legally challenge and overturn regulations they and their big business allies oppose,” and the Chamber has no bigger business allies than the Kochs’ personal legislative machine ALEC. Representative Johnson, a Democrat assailed the Republican-sponsored legislation as “an anti-regulatory bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC,” and continued that “The Koch brothers have used ALEC to invest in radical ideas. Passage of this bill would have a dramatic, dastardly impact on air and water quality,” Johnson was right that the Kochs are using ALEC templates to curb the use of “sue and settle” practices, and any other means to prevail in fights over regulations.

Air and water quality, or the devastating effects from global climate change, affect every man, woman, and child in America but regulations protecting the people, their health and welfare, and property from devastating weather events are of no concern to the Koch brothers and their obscene wealth. Apparently, those life-giving necessities are of no concern to Republicans who dutifully push through, or block, any legislation that may help the people they were elected to serve in their never-ending assault on regulations they claim to hate with a passion. However, if they are presented with the opportunity to regulate women’s reproductive health, they become fierce advocates of regulations and curiously they regulate without signing a pledge to their religious supporters.

Despite that President Obama just recently addressed climate change, a comprehensive climate policy would be a more effective means than the administration using the Clean Air Act to limit greenhouse gas emissions just as an example, but of course that would necessitate the Congress to work towards a consensus remedy. But with a Republican obstructionist movement that hates anything coming out of the Obama White House, and the chance that the Koch brothers, ALEC, Americans for Prosperity, or the Chamber of Commerce will tolerate policymakers convening with environmentalists and industries to work on an alternative, there is little chance that anything resembling climate legislation, clean air and water, or anything for the people’s health and welfare ever coming to fruition and to make certain they prevail, the Kochs have 411 Republicans signatures on a pledge to ensure abject failure.
There are several Koch-backers in vulnerable districts and there would be no better target in the whole country that the Koch's chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, who has been protected by Steve Israel, despite being in one of the easiest targets the DCCC could possibly hope for. Steve Israel won't allow the DCCC to take on fellow Center Aisle Caucus alum but he can still be beaten by Michigan Democrat Paul Clements. Clements: "Corporate power is the biggest threat to American democracy." If you'd like to help deal the Kochtopus a devastating blow, please help Clements unseat Upton in southwest Michigan. His whole campaign is based around principles that are in direct contrast to Upton's subservience to the Koch brothers. Clements is working on getting his state's Democratic Party adopt a resolution calling for "measures to confront climate change, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, specifically from power plants, encouraging development of renewable energy, and providing American leadership to secure an international agreement with national targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting global warming to two degrees centigrade."

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At 4:37 PM, Blogger Citizen X said...

No one ever stops to think that the corporatization of America has forced unwanted policies and abolished needed regulation onto all of us. A democratic government in the U.S. - not bloody happening. A fascist regime run by big business and big money - well - there's your new dictatorship.


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