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Voters Beware: Koch Brothers are Billion-Dollar Hypocrites

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The Koch brothers have surprised many of us with a newfound penchant for the public spotlight, yet one can’t help but wonder whether it’s all just a public relations effort to soften the perception of their political machinations. Perhaps in an ongoing effort to appear less…evil?…the Koch brothers have just given us two statements of staggering hypocrisy.

Caricature of David Koch

David Koch (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)

Charles Koch, a poster boy for crony capitalism, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday entitled “Corporate Cronyism Harms America.” The piece contains the following sentence, among many other doozies: “To end cronyism we must end government’s ability to dole out favors and rig the market.” Um, a Koch brother is saying government needs to stop rigging the rules of the game for powerful corporations? A billionaire industrialist whose network is spending $400 million in this election and who has used his influence to weaken environmental regulations, Social Security, and voting rights? If you don’t already get the absurdity, my film Koch Brothers Exposed has the goods.

David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say “pretend” because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.

Take, for instance, the donations that David and Charles have given to anti-gay politicians. In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right. Recently they’ve given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michelle Bachmann — a who’s who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.

Such support extends to anti-gay organizations. The Koch brothers gave $4.5 million to the anti-gay Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010. This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it. Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would “appease” gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the “Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars.”

Why would David Koch support such politicians and organizations if he’s for gay rights? Because what he and his brother really want out of political giving are personal enrichment and power in the long run. In a Politico interview, Koch responded to a question about money in politics by saying, “Well, it’s a free society. And people can invest what they want.”

Yes, to the Kochs, political donations are an investment. They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights or (wow) all about eliminating crony capitalism. But the reality is that they’re perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they’ll get a good return on their investment down the road.

The Koch Brothers Must Have LOVED Monopoly As Kids

2:27 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The Koch brothers don’t just have a gazillion luxury homes and boats. They’ve been using their wealth to shut out the voices of the 99% — pledging to spend at least $100 million on the 2012 elections. The pro-corporate policies they favor are, of course, antithetical to the public interest. But the TV ads they’re airing so far in this election make it seem like they’re on the side of regular Americans. “Maybe your family is like most, struggling to make it by…The private sector is not doing fine,” says Americans for Prosperity, an organization the Kochs founded and fund. Watch the video:

Let’s forget for a moment that the expression is “get by” or “make ends meet,” not “make it by.” What the Kochs want is to use their vast fortune to influence the political beliefs of people with a millionth their net worth, getting the middle class to buy into the notion that what’s good for the rich is good for everyone. But if the financial crisis and recession have taught us anything, it’s that the interests of the extremely-well-to-do are not the same as those of the general public. Feeding the top doesn’t translate into food for the middle and bottom.

Do we really think the Kochs are chiefly concerned about working families making five figures rather than expanding their own wealth? To ask the question is to answer it.

Charles Koch + Roger Ailes = Ohio University?

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Why would the esteemed Ohio University host a talk by the likes of Roger Ailes? Maybe we should ask one of the talk’s patrons, Charles Koch.

Protesters with sign 'Things Go Better Without Koch'

Photo by Sue Peacock

Ailes, of Fox News fame, is giving his talk today. The guy who invited him says the point was to get “perhaps the most influential newsman in America” to spark a discussion about “free speech and the media,” particularly given OU’s “first-rate school of journalism.” But Roger Ailes isn’t a newsman and doesn’t do journalism. He does political advocacy that’s (very) thinly disguised as journalism. As Eric Boehlert of Media Matters says, “places of higher learning shouldn’t help perpetuate the Fox myth while turning a blind eye to the lasting damage Ailes’s enterprise is doing to journalism and to our national discourse.”

Might this act of selling out have something to do with the fact that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation serves as an underwriter of the George Washington Forum, which is the OU group hosting the speech? As detailed in my film Koch Brothers Exposed, Charles Koch is a billionaire industrialist and one of the leading financiers of the American Right. He is known to meddle in educational institutions, infamously attaching strings to university donations by insisting he be able to veto a school’s hiring decisions. Students and faculty at schools like Florida State University are fighting this corruption valiantly, but the encroachment on academic integrity and freedom remains a threat.

In the case of Ohio University, the full extent of Koch’s donations to the George Washington Forum isn’t known. But we do know that Koch specifically underwrote a talk the Forum hosted by John Yoo, author of the Bush torture memos (belying Charles and his brother David’s claims that their ideological activism is restricted to economic issues). We also know that through the Forum, the Charles Koch Foundation awards grants to students “interested in studying free market ideas” under an OU professor who researches conservative politics and economics. Students applying for the grant in the past have had to write an essay about a book by libertarian Henry Hazlitt. Is it just me, or does it look like Charles Koch is paying the university to spread his right-wing ideology?

Not that Koch is the only problem. Indeed, Ailes himself is a big donor to (and alum of) Ohio University. If an institution of higher learning is willing to take money from an anti-journalist like Ailes for its communications programs, it will inevitably spread his message to students, one way or another.

Today, as Ailes takes the mic at OU, those who believe in education should redouble our efforts to stop the slow erosion of academic integrity. This erosion is reflected in the influence wielded by wealthy ideologues like Charles Koch and his political bullhorn, Roger Ailes.

Time for Kochs to Resign from ALEC

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Wisconsin protesters dressed as the Koch Brothers. Photo by Sue Peacock.

Charles and David Koch appear to be pushing their right-wing ideology to the bitter end. And it’s time for Americans to stop helping them.

The Koch brothers are major backers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group that drafts “model legislation” for state legislators. The Kochs have given ALEC at least $1 million—not counting a $500,000 loan—and their company, Koch Industries, has been a select member of the group’s board for nearly two decades. ALEC has recently come under fire for advancing bills modeled on Florida’s now-infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, and it has long been criticized for writing legislation that would undermine public schools, immunize corporations that harm people’s health, and impose onerous voter ID restrictions on the young, the old, the poor, and minorities.

Corporations including Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Kraft, PepsiCo, Mars, and Intuit have all bailed on ALEC over the last two weeks, knowing that continuing to associate with the group would be toxic. This exodus is a testament to the strength of progressive groups like Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, which have been working to expose what ALEC does. But the Kochs are doubling down. Their government affairs chief Philip Ellender says progressives’ complaints about ALEC are intended “not only to intimidate, but to silence supporters of free-market principles.” Of course, ALEC is already largely silent in that it keeps its proceedings and model bills a secret—presumably because the corporations backing them want to have plausible deniability about their involvement.

Either way, the Kochs are staying put. That’s their right, but Americans have a right of their own: to boycott Koch products. Every dollar that we spend on goods made by Koch Industries is another dollar the brothers have at their disposal to support right-wing, corporate fronts like ALEC. The time has come for Americans to vote with their pocketbooks and stop supporting the Koch brothers’ agenda.

Everyone willing to participate in a boycott should sign this pledge form, which says we’ll stop buying what Koch sells until Koch withdraws its membership in ALEC. The more people go public, the more this initiative will snowball. And if enough Americans of conscience avoid the Kochs, it just might put a dent in their bottom line.

What products need to be avoided? Koch Industries makes myriad consumer goods, and there’s no space here to name them all. But the best place to start is their household paper products:

  • Toilet paper: Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Soft ‘n’ Gentle
  • Towels, napkins, plates, cups: Brawny, Dixie, Sparkle, Mardi Gras, Vanity Fair, Zee

These brands—made largely by Georgia Pacific, a Koch subsidiary—are easily recognizable and avoidable. Anyone can bring this short list to the store and find another company to buy from.

Of course, ALEC is just one vehicle by which the Kochs are damaging American democracy; even if Koch Industries withdraws from it, we’ll still have a lot of work to do. But we have to start somewhere. Boycotting these products will allow Americans to take one important step toward reclaiming our democracy.

The point is that Americans have great power as consumers—a power that today is going largely untapped. If corporations engage in egregious behavior and politicians won’t stop them, we have to take matters into our own hands. There is no one who better symbolizes corporate greed than the Koch brothers, and those of us who envision a fairer, more ethical world can put our money elsewhere if we wish.

Top Ten Koch Facts

3:29 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Jesse Lava

Everyone seems to be investigating Charles and David Koch lately, with exposés of their corrupt political behavior popping up in places like the New Yorker, AlterNet, ThinkProgress, and Brave New Foundation’s film Koch Brothers Exposed. Naturally, the billionaire brothers don’t like the attention, so they’re responding to it by smearing the activists and journalists. In their panic, they have now taken out Google ads attacking me and plastered an ominous image of my eyes on their website, like so:

They made me look like Emperor Palpatine. But who’s really representing the Dark Side here? The truth is that the billionaire brothers bankrolling the conservative movement are using their wealth in a way that should be terrifying to anyone who thinks democracy is about more than pulling a lever every two years and letting rich folks take care of the rest.

Accordingly, here are 10 facts that every American should know about who the Kochs are and what they’re doing to our country.

1. Koch Industries, which the brothers own, is one of the top ten polluters in the United States — which perhaps explains why the Kochs have given $60 million to climate denial groups between 1997 and 2010.

2. The Kochs are the oil and gas industry’s biggest donors to the congressional committee with oversight of the hazardous Keystone XL oil pipeline. They and their employees gave more than $300,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010 alone.

3. From 1998-2008, Koch-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would financially enrich the two brothers. In addition, Koch Industries spent $50 million on lobbying and some $8 million in PAC contributions.

4. The Koch fortune has its origins in engineering contracts with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.

5. The Kochs are suing to take over the Cato Institute, which has accused the Kochs of attempting to destroy the group’s identity as an independent, libertarian think and align it more closely with a partisan agenda.

6. A Huffington Post source who was at a three-day retreat of conservative billionaires said the Koch brothers pledged to donate $60 million to defeat President Obama in 2012 and produce pledges of $40 million more from others at the retreat.

7. Since 2000, the Kochs have collected almost $100 million in government contracts, mostly from the Department of Defense.

8. Koch Industries has an annual production capacity of 2.2 billion pounds of the carcinogen formaldehyde. The company has worked to keep it from being classified as a carcinogen even though David Koch is a prostate cancer survivor.

9. The Koch brothers’ combined fortune of roughly $50 billion is exceeded only by that of Bill Gates in the United States.

10. The Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs accused Koch Oil of scheming to steal $31 million of crude oil from Native Americans. Although the company claimed it was accidental, a former executive in this operation said Charles Koch had known about it and had responded to the overages by saying, “I want my fair share, and that’s all of it.”

That last quote — “I want my fair share, and that’s all of it” — encapsulates the unbridled greed driving the Kochs’ political activism and business dealings. Democracy cannot thrive with so much power being in the hands of men like this. If we care about democracy, we have to work to take it back.

Koch Brothers v. Health Reform

3:18 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

By Robert Greenwald and Jesse Lava

Do all roads lead to Koch?

Conservative activists will rally at the Supreme Court tomorrow to encourage the overturn of the Affordable Care Act. The “Hands Off My Health Care” protest—which will feature the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Sens. Jim DeMint and Rand Paul—is being organized by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group financed by industrialists Charles and David Koch. The billionaire brothers provided the seed money to get this organization off the ground and have donated at least $5 million overall (possibly a lot more) to its operations. David Koch still serves as the group’s chairman.

These facts belie the image that Americans for Prosperity would like to present as a humble grassroots organization. The stories we see today about regular Americans coming to D.C. to protest evil health reform are directly attributable to the corporate interests that the Koch brothers represent.

Yet the Kochs’ impact on the current court battle doesn’t end there. Group after group participating in the lawsuit to destroy the Affordable Care Act is a beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess—reflecting the outsized influence that these guys wield in our political debate. Indeed, one wonders whether this effort would be happening at all if not for these two billionaires with a direct interest in avoiding government regulation.

One of the most important groups in this case is the National Federation of Independent Business, which is bringing one of the lawsuits now before the Supreme Court. This group has received $88,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by none other than Charles Koch.

Several organizations that have filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court have received substantial donations from the Koch family as well. These groups include:

In addition, a Court-appointed attorney used a study by the Rand Corporation to show the impact of the individual mandate in the health care bill—even though Rand has received $100,000 from none other than the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Read the rest of this entry →

Would a Koch Takeover of Cato Make War with Iran More Likely?

5:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-Authored by Jesse Lava

The drumbeat for war in Iran is getting louder, but opposition is coming from a seemingly unlikely source: the Cato Institute. This libertarian think tank generally sides with the Right, but it has long shown an independent streak, sometimes bucking conservative orthodoxy on civil liberties, the war on drugs, and U.S. militarism.

Will that change if Charles and David Koch succeed in their efforts to take over Cato?

The group is locked in a legal battle with the billionaire brothers, who have filed a lawsuit to appoint two-thirds of Cato’s board of directors. Today, Cato chairman Bob Levy has released a letter accusing the Kochs of trying to steer the group in a more partisan direction and compromise its independence. As detailed in Brave New Foundation’s upcoming film Koch Brothers Exposed, the Kochs are indeed notoriously partisan, funding Republican politicians in each election cycle and now allegedly promising to devote more than $200 million to defeating President Obama in 2012. Although they have long been financial backers of Cato–the group was originally named the Charles Koch Foundation–this move would put the organization entirely under their control.

That’s scary. For now, several thinkers at Cato are opposing the rush to war with Iran and refusing to shy away from criticizing Republicans. Senior fellow Doug Bandow writes, “The consequences of any war with Iran would be extraordinary. Probably far worse than resulted from the invasion of Iraq.” He assails Republican presidential candidates for their “reflexive war-mongering against Iran” because “every additional threat to attack Iran only more clearly demonstrates to Tehran the necessity of developing nuclear weapons.”

Malou Innocent, another foreign policy expert at Cato, says America should “ignore the hawks on Iran,” including those at the more reliably right-wing American Enterprise Institute. She is also calling for a quick end to the “waste of money, effort, and, most importantly, lives” resulting from the war in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →

Would the Kochs rather attack me than stop cancer? (VIDEO)

3:32 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

My filmmaking team and I recently told the story of the small town of Crossett, Arkansas, where residents are giving powerful testimony about the prevalence of cancer in their community and linking it to a nearby chemical plant owned by Charles and David Koch. This revelation came on top of the already-known facts that the Koch brothers are among the top 10 polluters in the United States and led the charge (unsuccessfully) to keep formaldehyde from being named a carcinogen.

Yet instead of cleaning up their operations, the Kochs are now attacking me personally.

Just as my new film Koch Brothers Exposed is set for release, one of the Kochs’ corporate spokesmen, Greg Guest, says I’m “a very, very slanted filmmaker” who has made “erroneous and false claims” about the Kochs’ operations. What he fails to mention is that my office has contacted the Koch brothers numerous times for an explanation of what’s false about our exposés, including the one on cancer. The billionaire brothers refused to be interviewed for the film and have yet to respond to the evidence that my team at Brave New Foundation has uncovered.

We challenge the Koch brothers to engage in an honest debate. We challenge them to see the film and show one false claim. Generalizing about bias and false claims is easy; actually rebutting what we’ve documented is another matter.

Here’s the video we did on the widespread occurrence of cancer near a Koch Industries chemical plant:

Read the rest of this entry →

Are the Koch Brothers Funding Rush Limbaugh?

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

By Robert Greenwald and Jesse Lava

Just in time for the release of Brave New Foundation’s new film, Koch Brothers Exposed, Rush Limbaugh has thrown in with Charles and David Koch in their letter war with Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. No surprise there; Rush has made his fortune defending the rich and powerful against the 99%. But does Rush actually have a vested interest in the Koch brothers’ success?

The letter war started when Messina sent a fundraising letter saying the billionaire brothers bankroll “Tea Party extremism” and manipulate oil prices to buttress their energy business. The Kochs responded that Obama was treading on their “right to free speech.” (To them, I guess, being criticized by the president is tantamount to being arrested for sedition.) Team Obama shot back again, and here we are.

Rush has taken to the airwaves and lauded the Kochs. “This is how you do it,” he says. And on the surface, the reason for Rush’s apologetics is straightforward enough: he’s a man of the Right, and so are the Koch brothers. But below the surface of this defense lies a much more complex and insidious truth. The fact is that Rush needs the Kochs,and the Kochs need Rush.

Limbaugh is, fundamentally, a mouthpiece for conservative propaganda. He’s not a researcher. He’s not a grassroots organizer. He’s a mouthpiece. And where would he be without propaganda to spout? He has to get his ideas from somewhere. He can’t feed the right-wing echo chamber that’s hijacking our democracy if someone isn’t feeding him first. That’s where the Kochs come in.

The video we made with Sen. Bernie Sanders reveals the Kochs’ general method, whether Limbaugh is involved or not: fund an army of right-wing organizations so that politicians and pundits know exactly what to say:

Read the rest of this entry →

Hauling the Koch brothers into Congress

3:59 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Imagine Charles and David Koch testifying, under oath, in Congress.

Even though the billionaire oil industry brothers continue trying to dodge accountability, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) invited the Koch brothers to testify and answer a few simple questions about how the Kochs are positioned to gain financially by the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a 1,700-mile long boondoggle that would make the Koch brothers even richer.

There’s ample evidence linking the Kochs’ business to the Canadian tar sands, which is the dirtiest energy in North America. Indeed, the Koch brothers’ stand to be among the pipeline’s biggest beneficiaries. Even the Koch brothers’ website confesses to being a party to tar sands oil.

The Koch brothers are doing whatever they can to avoid testifying in Congress, despite the fact that the Kochs informed the Canadian government of their “direct and substantial” interest in the pipeline. Waxman has been trying to get answers from the Koch brothers since last spring, but the Kochs have not cooperated.

At the same time, the Kochs’ allies in Congress are doing their best to stonewall oversight. This outcome doesn’t surprise me one bit given the Koch brothers’ near-monopoly on the influential and powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to the Los Angeles Times, Koch Industries and its employees are the single largest oil and gas donors to the committee. They’ve contributed $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats. Talk about the best democracy money can buy! Read the rest of this entry →