Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been heralded by some as a conservative hero, a man of the grass roots if you will, who is attempting to bring order to the financial woes of the state by crushing the public employee unions. The Governor may have overreached in this effort and there is now some solid evidence that Walker may be dancing to a tune, coming in part, from the Koch Brothers. Do the financial titans who have so heavily bankrolled the Tea Party Movement have a finger or two in this epic battle now underway in Madison? The answer to that question can only be yes.
Now to be fair to Walker, his anti-union attitudes go back to his days on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, thus nothing has changed. Quoting Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson: “Unions have always been his piñata, over and over…And this time I think he’s trying to out-right-wing the right wing on his way to the next lily pad.” However, those initiatives go beyond economics and that leads one to believe that Walker is as much interested in crushing public sector unions as he is in balancing the budget. With Wisconsin’s public unions having agreed to compromise with Walker on economic concerns, his continued obstinacy on issues of union security and non-wage bargaining can only be seen for what they are, a blatant attempt to destroy the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens to join and participate in public employee unions. According to Mary Bell, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council: “We have been clear — and I will restate this again today — money issues are off the table…Public employees have agreed to Governor Walker’s pension and health care concessions, which he says will solve the budget challenge.”
Specifically: “Mr. Walker’s plan would require government workers to put 5.8 percent of their pay into their pensions (most pay less than 1 percent now), and would require them to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now). Union leaders said they would go along with those plans, but they wanted to remove provisions that would prohibit collective bargaining for issues beyond wages, limit pay raises to a certain level without special approval by public referendum and require unions to hold annual votes on whether they should remain in existence.” This begs the question: “If Walker is solely concerned with the effects of public unionization on his state’s deficit and the unions have met him more than halfway, why won’t he declare victory and move on to the next big issue?” The fact that Walker is insisting on having his way on issues beyond economics is proof positive of his deep-seated anti-union animus. Walker has denied harboring any political motives in his standoff with the unions. “But in an interview with The Associated Press last week as protests raged inside the Capitol, he acknowledged his plan to allow workers to opt out of paying their dues could cripple unions…”
Here is where the influence of the Koch brothers comes into play. According to the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel: “While there has been significant attention devoted to the fact that Walker’s 144-page budget repair bill would strip away collective bargaining rights for public employees, the site “Rortybomb” points out a less noticed provision that would allow the state to sell or contract out any state-owned energy asset in no-bid deals with private corporations. But if this deal goes through, one of the companies that could stand to benefit significantly is Koch Industries. Koch already has several companies in the state, including a coal subsidiary, timber plants and a large network of pipelines.” Thus the brothers Koch have an economic stake in Wisconsin, above and beyond their political agenda.
The Koch brothers had invested heavily in the 2010 elections having donated $2 Million dollars to conservative candidates directly and now they are looking to cash in on that investment. They have fueled up the coffers of Americans for Prosperity so that it could influence a wide range of issues. According to Eric Lipton, reporter for the New York Times: “The organization has taken up a range of topics, including combating the health care law, environmental regulations and spending by state and federal governments. The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors, Mr. Phillips said, adding that he expects new proposals to emerge soon in some of those states to limit union power.”
During the 2010 election cycle, according to Amanda Terkel, “Walker received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC, his second-largest contribution. The PAC also gave significantly to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn helped out Walker considerably in his race. Koch also contributed $6,500 to support 16 Republican legislative candidates in the state…The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity has also been standing with Walker throughout his budget battles, busing in Tea Party activists and launching the site, Stand With Walker. After the election, Walker and other Republican governors received guidance from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that is also funded by Koch dollars and has pushed anti-union measures.”
Thus it should come as no surprise that Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity was in Madison this past weekend attempting to rally support for Scott Walker’s besieged administration. As it turns out Phillips’ organization is a major recipient of the financial largesse of David and Charles Koch, having received $40 Million dollars from the brothers last year. That’s close to a sixfold increase over the budget that Americans for Prosperity had just three years ago. According to Eric Lipton, reporter for the New York Times, the Koch brothers laid their groundwork in Wisconsin long before the first protestor held up a sign in Madison. To wit: “Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday…We thought it was important to do… adding that his group is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.” From the aforementioned, it is more than obvious that the Koch brothers and their fellow travelers have an agenda that goes far beyond the bottom line of state budgets and aims at the very institutional integrity of unions, as we know them. Why else would they be concerned with issues such as an employee being able to opt out of their membership or the desire to force a showdown?
The motives of the Koch brothers are more than amply clear as is the actions taken on their behalf by their operatives, both elected and paid, now at work in Wisconsin and across the Midwest. Their can be no denying that the Koch brothers have a political agenda designed to reshape the American economic landscape into one in which unions no longer exist. When one considers the money invested and the macro-political issues that transcend the mundane economics of state budgets, one can only wonder once again about to what degree the Tea Party Movement and it’s followers have been had by the political pros who have received a greatly enhanced degree of power and influence as a result of the 2010 elections and the money they invested therein.
Steven J. Gulitti
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