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Chat with Koch Bros Biographer, the Koch-Kansas Crisis & the IRS’ Duty

1:59 pm in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

In case you missed yesterday’s chat with Daniel Schulman, author of Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, check out the question and answer archive from two hours of engaging with FireDogLake Book Salon users.

Some concluding thoughts on my part, as someone who has closely followed the Kochtopus for the last four years and often ends out tangling with some of its primary tentacles. As I wrote in the intro to yesterday’s Book Salon, Schulman’s tone in promoting his book has surprised many for its middle-of-the-road feel:

Schulman’s tomb of ‘Kochology‘ has been received with surprise for its non-condemning tone. [...] On the surface Schulman’s descriptions are unexpectedly favorable to Koch in the eyes of, say, this Greenpeace researcher.

A bit more on this. One thing I learned yesterday is that Schulman recently placed four questions he’d like to ask Charles and David Koch into the Columbia Journalism Review. Those four questions are the type of critical inquiry that I expected to hear from someone who just devoted a chunk of their life to studying the Koch family in extreme detail (without being part of their circle). Schulman looks for answers on some key contradictions in KochWorld relating to their denial of climate change science, their selective emphasis on “liberty” (liberty for whom?), and Charles Koch’s preference for an almost non-existent government, keeping in mind his company has repeatedly violated the law (and his nonprofit personnel, like Sean Noble of American Encore).

I’ll admit that after watching Mr. Schulman on The Daily Show, Reason TV, Huffington Post live and other forums where he seemed to dismiss the notion that the Kochs often act in their own self interest, the questions on CJR are the type of journalism I’d prefer to see as a major critic and skeptic of the Koch brothers and their motives (Note that what Schulman really says is the Kochs are “true believers” whose ideology comes first, sometimes overlapping with Koch Industries profits to be sure…but this nuance seems to get lost in the noise).

But I think unlike many hardcore Koch-critics, perhaps because of my own ideology rooted in Greenpeace’s core foundation in nonviolence, I didn’t feel particularly confused or conflicted over the real empathy one feels when reading about the various personal tragedies of the Kochs, keeping in mind their secure root in a privileged upbringing, harsh as that upbringing sounds.

If you have yet to read Sons of Wichita, Schulman’s extensive research conveys a surprising feel: a chronic, underlying heartache felt by Koch brothers Charles, David and Bill alike amid decades of sibling lawsuit warfare over the fortune of the company their father built. Money aside, anyone capable of empathy and compassion feels a familiar inner tug when reading these passages of how clearly hurt each of the three brothers were as they traded blows.

But the Kochs’ own compassion has widely corroborated limits. Their business-funded political activities seem to consistently crush society from the middle class down and violate their self-stated ideologies. This indicates that Charles Koch’s rhetoric of “liberty” and “prosperity” is either dishonest, or indicative of the type of ignorance that only the out of touch, hyper wealthy could hold. Lest we forget that while Koch Industries now employs more people globally, Koch’s US employment just fell by 20,000 while the two brothers made an estimated $48 billion.

If Schulman’s research of the Koch brothers’ upbringing explains some of their psychology, it doesn’t excuse the decisions they have made as grown men that adversely impact their fellow country-people. Making a billion while funding groups that demonize those on the financial margins as lazy and unproductive members of society is dishonest and malicious.

The Kochs’ home state of Kansas is a perfect contemporary case study, where numerous tentacles of the “Kochtopus” succeeded in pushing an income tax cut that has tanked the state’s revenue, increased poverty rates and led to a Moody’s downgrade of Kansas’ debt. Governor Sam Brownback is directly supported by Koch Industries and its billionaire owners, and backed by Koch-funded groups coordinated through the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of national and state-level organizations operating across all 50 states. SPN includes groups like the Kansas Policy Institute–a supporter of Brownback’s tax cut disaster, and national affiliate groups controlled or financed by the Kochs, like Americans For Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Through ALEC its affiliates in the State Policy Network, Art Laffer pushed what New York Times contributing economist Paul Krugman called an “embarrassingly bad” plan ratcheting down corporate income taxes used by Gov Sam Brownback, who is now facing mass backlash from his own party.
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Oops! CEO of Corporate Front Network Lied to Reporters

9:21 am in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy and ProgressNow released a series of reports on how the State Policy Network coordinates an agenda carried out by affiliate “Stink Tanks” in all 50 states. Responding to questions from reporters, SPN’s CEO Tracie Sharp demanded that each of the seemingly independent groups were “fiercely independent.”

Koch Bros Caricature

Koch money is behind SPN’s state “stinktanks.”

But Jane Mayer at the New Yorker reports Tracie Sharp said the opposite to attendees of SPN’s recent annual meeting. In Oklahoma City last September, Ms. Sharp plainly told her associates how to coordinate a broad agenda and pander directly to the interests of billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and the Searle family for grants:

Sharp went on to say that, like IKEA, the central organization would provide “the raw materials” along with the “services” needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. “Pick what you need,” she said, “and customize it for what works best for you.”

During the meeting, Sharp also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization’s often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. “The grants are driven by donor intent,” she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, “the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.” She said that the donors also sometimes determined in which states their money would be spent.

Tracie Sharp responded to the New Yorker with a generic statement that didn’t address her contradictory statements. And who knows if there’s anything useful she could say at this point, The State Policy Network was just caught with its pants down.

For those who don’t spend their days reading about the inner workings of the corporate-conservative political machine, the State Policy Network isn’t a familiar name. But it’s an important entity. SPN serves as the umbrella of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and all of its state and national allies pushing a coordinated corporate-friendly agenda through all 50 states.

SPN and ALEC have led the coordinated attack on clean energy in states like North Carolina, Kansas and now Ohio. Dozens of SPN groups are longtime players in the Koch-funded climate change denial movement. By orchestrating against policies to lessen global warming impacts or by directly undermining the science, SPN’s efforts have ranged from urging inaction on global climate treaties and forcing teachers to misrepresent climate science to their students.

Beyond shilling for the coal, oil, gas and nuclear companies bankrolling ALEC and SPN’s operations, these coordinated entities attack  public employee unions, wages and pensions, block Medicaid expansion, suppress legitimate voters, push to defund and privatize schools, and undermine choice in women’s health.

And who pays for SPN’s work in all 50 states?

SPN’s main purpose is to advance the interests of its corporate funders: dirty coal and petrochemical industries, the tobacco giants, agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, private education firms, tech and telecom companies, and the usual web of trade associations, law firms and lobby shops paid to represent each of those industries. Corporations use SPN to advance political campaigns they are typically embarrassed to associate with publicly.

The State Policy Network also serves to advance an ideological agenda that tends to undermine the interests of most Americans in favor of those who are particularly wealthy and well-connected.

The Koch brothers fit this description, of course. But they’re joined by a legion of lesser known multi-millionaires and billionaires, sometimes coordinating directly with the Kochs.

These SPN funders include Richard Mellon Scaife, Phil Anschutz, Art Pope, the Coors family, the DeVos family, the Searle family, and the remains of the Bradley family fortune, to name a few of the better known of these sources of dark money. Few citizens recognize the names of this quiet minority of political puppetmasters, but people still feel the bruise of plutocratic spending as state and national politics are pushed to new extremes.

More on the State Policy Network can be read in the National Stink Tanks report. SourceWatch has the full list of SPN members and affiliates and SPN funders.

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

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OHIO: Koch, ALEC and Dirty Energy Co’s Attack Clean Energy Jobs

9:34 am in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

Crossposted from Greenpeace’s blog: The Witness.

Ohio is currently fighting this year’s final battle in a nationally-coordinated attack on clean energy standard laws, implemented by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other groups belonging to the secretive corporate front group umbrella known as the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC and SPN members like the Heartland Institute and Beacon Hill Institute failed in almost all of their coordinated attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in over a dozen states–laws that require utilities to use more clean energy over time. After high profile battles in North Carolina and Kansas, and more subtle efforts in states like Missouri and Connecticut, Ohio remains the last state in ALEC’s sites in 2013.

ALEC Playbook Guides the Attack on Ohio Clean Energy

After Ohio Senator Kris Jordan’s attempt to repeal Ohio’s RPS went nowhere, ALEC board member and Ohio State Senator William Seitz is now using ALEC’s new anti-RPS bills to lead another attack on the Ohio law — see Union of Concerned Scientists.

ALEC’s newly-forged Renewable Energy Credit Act allows for RPS targets to be met through out-of-state renewable energy credits (RECs) rather than developing new clean energy projects within Ohio’s borders. RECs have varying definitions of renewable energy depending on the region they originate from, lowering demand for the best, cleanest sources of power and electricity.

Sen. Bill Seitz’s SB 58 takes advantages of existing provisions of Ohio’s RPS law and tweaks other sections to mirror the key aspects of ALEC’s Renewable Energy Credit Act. His RPS sneak-attack is matched by House Bill 302, introduced by ALEC member Rep. Peter Stautberg.

Just five years ago, Senator Seitz voted for Ohio’s RPS law. Now, Seitz calls clean energy incentives “Stalinist.”

Attacks on Ohio’s Clean Energy Economy: Fueled by Dirty Energy Profits

Most of ALEC’s money comes from corporations and rich people like the Koch brothers, with a tiny sliver more from its negligible legislator membership dues ($50/year). This includes oil & gas giants like ExxonMobil ($344,000, 2007-2012) and Big Oil’s top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute ($88,000, 2008-2010). Exxon and API just two of dozens of dirty energy interests paying to be in the room during ALEC’s exclusive Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force meetings.

Other polluting companies bankrolling ALEC’s environmental rollbacks include Ohio operating utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power. AEP currently chairs ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force.

Some of these companies (like Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute) pay into a slush fund run by ALEC that allows Ohio legislators and their families to fly to ALEC events using undisclosed corporate cash (see ALEC in Ohio, p. 6).

Ohio Senator Kris Jordan used corporate money funneled through ALEC to attend ALEC events with his wife (ALEC in Ohio, p. 7). With electric utilities as his top political donors, Sen. Jordan has dutifully introduced ALEC bills to repeal renewable energy incentives (SB 34), along with other ALEC priorities like redirecting public funds for private schools (SB 88, 2011), and blocking Ohio from contracting unionized companies (SB 89, 2011).

Koch-funded Spokes & Junk Data Bolsters the ALEC Attack

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State Policy Network, an umbrella coordinating ALEC, Heritage, Heartland and others

11:54 am in Uncategorized by Connor Gibson

Fresh today from the Center for Media and Democracy: A Reporters’ Guide to the State Policy Network.

Close up of George Washington on money

The State Policy Network is yet another tool for Koch-based corporate influence on American state politics.

What is the State Policy Network, aka SPN? According to CMD’s report on PR Watch:

SPN officially launched in 1992 with 12 members and money from South Carolina billionaire Thomas Roe to franchise, fund, and foster a growing number of in-state “mini Heritage Foundations” (with the influence of the DC-based Heritage Foundation that Roe helped underwrite). Today, SPN has 59 member think-tank groups, and a presence in every state capitol in the nation. Some of these — like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Arizona’s Goldwater Institute — have growing notoriety, but many others, despite their influence, are barely known by those other than state capitol insiders.

Its purpose? To produce reports, create statistics, draft talking points and “expert” testimony in support of bills, and disseminate videos along with a raft of other materials to advance a right-wing legislative agenda in the states, under the guise of being a nonpartisan, nonprofit charitable organization full of neutral scholars and academics.

But these are not academics in an ivory tower. These think tanks actually write legislation; they write materials to support their legislation; and they work closely with legislators and sometimes throw their voice through legislative talking points. They also often take to the airwaves and the Internet to give purportedly objective analysis. Their legislative agenda, often ratified via ALEC, is frequently adopted as law by states controlled by ALEC majorities — often with little or no disclosure of their role in the process.

CMD, which brings us PR Watch, SourceWatch and ALECExposed among other online transparency and advocacy tools, spent three months digging into the State Policy Network and its state-level member think tanks and national allies alike. These SPN members and affiliates range from the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) down to Chicago Illinois’ Heartland Institute and North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation.

Through State Policy Network, these seemingly disparate entities coordinate their current attacks on unions, clean energy policies, and numerous other issues that are ultimately funded by a small group of American billionaires, millionaires and multinational corporations.

Aside from the dirty legacies of visionaries like Thomas Roe, Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors, who founded the Heritage Foundation, SPN and other crucial cogs in the Conservative Hate Machine, we’re talking about the Koch brothers, Art Pope, Phil Anschutz, the Bradleys, the Scaifes, and the other usual suspects who have far too much money invested in manipulating our democracy to serve their narrow financial ambitions.

That’s how it seems anyway, when you’re not a multi-millionaire and don’t have the excess cash to force state politics that work for you. And that’s precisely why the State Policy Network’s mission is bad for the majority of Americans.

I recommend popping over to Lee Fang’s article on SPN in the Nation, and PR Watch‘s actual report, now the best resource on the shadowy State Policy Network.

For more on this fascinating but disturbing history, check out the Lewis Powell Memo, Lewis Lapham’s “Tentacles of Rage” article in Harpers, and the history of SPN on SourceWatch, apparently dating back to a suggestion from President Ronald Reagan.

Connor Gibson does research for Greenpeace USA. Personal opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

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