Nel's New Day

June 23, 2014

Koch Brothers, Third Political Party

People who complain about the two-party political system in the United States may be happy to hear that there is a rapidly-growing third party providing great competition for the Democrats and Republicans. The Koch organization is Americans for Prosperity, but I’d rather call it the David & Charles Koch party. Maybe it can be the DCK.

DCK is a political party because it operates in multiple states, staffs for elections, and does local endorsements for political campaigns. With 240 full-time employees in 32 states, DCK has doubled the 2012 staff, and this year’s planned spending for television ads and on-the-ground organizing is the equivalent of 5,270 U.S. households. That amount will exceed other groups on both the left and the right. At this time the GOP plans to have only 250 people in the field in November.

DCK dabbles in everything from the presidential election to this year’s proposed levy for the Columbus (OH) Zoo and Aquarium. The party’s opposition was to a 1.25-mill property-tax levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $23. The zoo brings in about two million people annually with a $238 million boost to the local economy every year. After DCK published its lies, mailed flyers to the voters, made phone calls, and knocked on thousands of doors, the levy failed. All because of the work by two brothers, one who lives in Kansas and the other in New York City.

Some the DCK involvements are easier to explain than why the party wanted to defeat the zoo levy. For example, its decision to control the Iron County Board in Wisconsin. Flyers sent to 1,000 of the 5,000 voters for the election identified seven candidates as “anti-mining radicals” before the April 1, 2014 election. The question was whether to allow Gobegic Taconite to mine on private forest land after the county board could weaken protections for wetlands and public waters. DCK has business interests throughout Wisconsin, including a Georgia-Pacific plant in Green Bay.

DCK also pours money into school board campaigns, for example the Kenosha Unified School Board race. The issue in this one was the board’s approval of teacher contracts. The state DCK chapter won’t quit after that election. David Fladeboe said that this is an important area of the state. Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, a Wisconsin campaign spending watchdog group, said about the DCK involvement, “It’s the nationalization of state and local politics in Wisconsin.”

DCK got rid of two Kenosha board members and flipped the position on the school board regarding negotiation with teachers. It lost in Iron County, however, because of smears and outright lies. One of the DCK-targeted candidates actually supported the controversial open-pit mine. Another winner had supported the mine but was concerned about the possibility that it could poison drinking water.

This spring, DCK sent leaflets to West Virginia residents in at least eight counties, claiming that they wouldn’t be eligible to vote in the May election if they didn’t update their voter registration. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said that voters only had to update registration if they moved, changed their names, or wanted to change party affiliations. DCK branch leader claimed they were trying to help voters. She said, “There may have been a few mistakes.” Tennant said that only election officials could legally contact voters about registration information. Any other contact would not be “legitimate.”

David and Charles Koch have tried to stay under the radar, but the media is making them far more visible. Even the Sunday comic of Doonesbury publicized them. As the character Kim talked about the adverse impact of Citizens United that allowed unlimited corporation donations to political campaign, she said:

“You know, the Roberts court really did screw us over with Citizens United. Last election cycle, a pair of nasty billionaires spent three times what the top 10 unions spent combined.”

Even Politifact, which tends to take a very conservative approach toward progressive claims, had to admit that Doonesbury was probably correct in considering the effect of the Koch’s fundraising. Politifact called it part of the “Koch network.” Washington Post’s lead investigator of DCK funds said:

“We haven’t found a network of organizations like this anywhere else. The Koch brothers have mobilized this money and the amount is incomparable, even relative to other conservative funding organizations.”

The money may not all come out of the Kochs’ pockets, but they control how it is spent.

The huge difference between expenditures by DCK and the other two political parties is that the Koch funding comes from dark money. No one knows who is giving to the campaigns.

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