To: Friends and Allies
From: David Brock
Date: Friday, November 7, 2014
Re: Dear Koch Brothers: We Aren’t Going Anywhere
For six months, American Bridge has been working to show just what kind of world the Kochs are trying to create through in-depth research reports on their business practices, statements, and views.
We’re exposing just how self-serving and out of touch their worldview is with that of average Americans, and we know we’re making headway because of how the Kochs reacted to the scrutiny: the president of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ political arm, accused us of engaging in “the politics of personal destruction” and not focusing on policy, which is clearly not the case – all of our attacks against the Kochs are based on their views on policy or their business practices. The Kochs’ PR folks are accusing reporters of getting research from us and telling them not to trust it because they say we’re running a smear campaign – but they fail to mention that what we’re saying is true. Koch Industries recently began running – for the first time ever – a positive PR campaign to build up their public image that we’re so successfully breaking down. And the Kochs created yet another dark money group – Freedom Partners Action Fund – to back Koch-approved candidates.
The work we did this cycle put their candidates on the defensive and caused them to spend precious time and resources denying their Koch connections. Terri Lynn Land in Michigan had to defend the Kochs’ terrible environmental record in her state. Scott Brown in New Hampshire was forced to address the fact that the out of state billionaires were funding his campaign. And Thom Tillis in North Carolina had to fight back against charges that he did whatever the Kochs told him to do so they’d help him win a Senate seat.
We won some of these races, but not enough. That’s because we’ve only been at it for six months and the Kochs have a decades-long head start in pursuing their extreme, self-serving agenda to the detriment of working families. And after Tuesday, they’ve never had more power to enact it.
More than thirty years ago, David Koch bought a spot as the vice presidential candidate on a long-shot Libertarian Party ticket. His platform was eyebrow-raising: abolish campaign finance rules, gut environmental protections, eliminate all federal funding for education, slash Medicare, and destroy Social Security as we know it. At the time, the Koch agenda was, in a sense, as insignificant as it was extreme – nobody was listening.
But after that crushing defeat, the Kochs quickly realized that what they needed was a serious audience and a megaphone. They found their audience in the Republican Party, and they spent the next thirty years building their megaphone of secretive, dark money groups.
In the years since, the Kochs have gone from politically powerless businessmen to overlords of the Republican Party, spending more and more and more but never changing their agenda one bit. This cycle, the Koch brothers promised to spend nearly $300 million. Unsurprisingly, that eye-popping figure helped power a Republican wave. But neither their goal, nor their achievement, has simply been to elect Republicans. Rather, what they have managed to do is simultaneously mold the Republican Party in their radical vision – the same one they had in 1980 – and boost the Party into a majority position in the United States Senate.
What does that mean? Presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a top tier Koch pawn who recently promised at the secretive billionaires’ summit to block “gosh darn proposals” like raising the minimum wage. The entire GOP refuses to embrace climate science because the president of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity has threatened that any Republican open to addressing climate change “would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process.” Today’s GOP is fighting to slash Social Security, which David Koch once called “the most serious threat to the future stability of our society next to nuclear war.” AFP has supported Paul Ryan’s budgets, including one that the Wall Street Journal said would “essentially end Medicare.”
These are just a few of a multitude of examples. But raising the minimum wage and addressing climate change are crucial to the economic health and future of our country. They are extremely popular positions. And yet the Koch takeover of the GOP, and the Republican majorities they helped purchase, has all but cemented the reality that nothing will happen on either front in the next Congress.
The extreme Koch agenda – and the degree to which they have been able to use their money to coopt the Republican Party – is a solemn threat to our democracy. That’s exactly why American Bridge has been fighting and will continue to fight to hold the Koch brothers accountable.
This year, American Bridge’s research proved for the first time that the Kochs and their business conglomerate, Koch Industries, are outsourcers who have laid off American workers at home and shipped their jobs overseas. We also exposed the depths of the environmental damage caused by Koch Industries and its subsidiaries in states around the country. And we showed how their business practices have wrought havoc on local communities, all in pursuit of growing their fortune.
In Michigan, Republicans saw a great opportunity to expand the map, so the Kochs got in early and spent millions attacking Gary Peters. Our research into the Kochs, and into Terri Lynn Land’s Koch connections, which became a focus in paid advertising against Land, helped turned the tide. In April, Land was up by 6 points. Tuesday, Peters won handily. That’s because the Kochs were toxic to Terri Lynn Land.
Polling from earlier this year showed that half of swing voters didn’t know enough about the Kochs to formulate an opinion, but among those who did, the unfavorables were extremely high, with voters responding most strongly to the Kochs’ policy agenda. In August, two polls came out that proved this point: The Washington Post reported on a poll by Joel Benenson that found that, by a 2-to-1 margin, Michigan voters view the Kochs unfavorably. The other poll’s findings were even stronger – it showed that exactly 5 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the Kochs – that’s right, 5. Not 50, not 25, but 5. And their unfavorables? 74. That’s nearly a 15-to-1 margin.
In New Hampshire, the Kochs spent a lot trying to get Scott Brown back into office. In 2011, Scott Brown thanked the Kochs for their support of his 2010 campaign. This year, we made sure the people of New Hampshire were reminded of his gratitude to the Kochs, and Scott Brown lost. In North Carolina, the Kochs have created what they call their model state because Thom Tillis did everything he could to enact the Kochs’ extreme agenda of cutting education to cut taxes for the rich. The Kochs spent big on Tillis’s behalf and he won, because they know he’ll do the same thing in Washington.
Our efforts will continue, because the alternative – staying quiet as these secretive billionaires pour hundreds of millions into politics to further their own bottom line – is impossible.
We’re going to grow so our capacity matches our need. We’ll increase research, rapid response, communications, and our digital capacity. We’re going to dig deeper into their business in states that are key to 2016 – at the presidential, Senate, and gubernatorial levels. We’re going to examine their international operations and the issue of their economic patriotism – or lack thereof – and figure out if they’re benefiting from tax loopholes, offshoring, tax havens, or other means of avoiding taxes, and how that matches up with the advocacy and political campaigns they fund.
Polling tells us the key is getting voters to know who they are. This will be easier now that they are in power. As they enact their extreme agenda and seek government favors in return for their investment, the danger is no longer theoretical – it’s real. The Kochs’ efforts in 2014 worked – but then, they’ve been at it for over 40 years and we’ve only been challenging them for six months. Now that the stage is set, we’re in this for the long haul.
It’s important to note that the anti-Koch campaign isn’t a silver bullet – no one ever said it was – but we know it has the potential to move races even if it’s only at the margins, which can make the difference between who holds the Senate or wins the White House. It’s imperative we invest time and resources in the next two years when the map and the composition of the electorate are more favorable, and our researchers have more time to dig in.
One thing you have to admire about them is their tenacity. After their losses in 2012, they doubled down. We ought to do the same in the face of our 2014 setback.