Charles koch

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

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Countering the Conservative Campus Crusade

The following is a post by Gabriela De Golia, Advocacy Associate for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last week, in a speech in support of a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of big money on our political system, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns.”  On political spending, Sen. Reid noted, the “Koch brothers are in a category of their own.”

Indeed, the Koch brothers’ influence in shaping our national political dialogue is stronger than many realize. In March the Center for Public Integrity wrote about David and Charles Koch’s financial investments in colleges and universities—the nation-spanning “campus of Koch Brothers Academy.” By pouring millions into schools across the country, the Koch brothers bankroll academic programs to promote their economic and social ideologies. They champion regressive political philosophies and create a pipeline for youth to become engaged in conservative activism. In effect, the Koch brothers are leading a crusade to funnel young people into the conservative movement.

However, we in the progressive movement are also investing in our youth. Despite not having as much money as oil tycoons, key players in the progressive movement understand the power of youth and are fighting back with a long-term progressive infrastructure. Programs like Young People For (YP4) of People For the American Way Foundation provide young progressive leaders the tools to create systemic change, roll back conservative advances, reclaim our democracy, and fight for justice.

By teaching young adults to identify key issues in their communities, create concrete action plans, and mobilize others through organizing and advocacy, YP4 helps Millennial change-makers build power to win on progressive issues. For example, through our program’s Money in Elections campaign, young activists have held rallies, gathered petitions, protested banks, and spoken at national events in support of reclaiming our democracy. Ariel Boone, a 2009 YP4 Fellow, lead a successful campaign urging the University of California at Berkeley to divest $3.5 million out of Bank of America and reinvest these funds in a local bank that contributes millions to the surrounding community. Last year 2013 Fellow Brendien Mitchell spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and other pro-democracy movement leaders at a rally to get big money out of politics on the steps of the Supreme Court. These are but a couple examples of how YP4 is supporting young people in taking a stand against corporate influence in our political system.

As YP4 enters its tenth year, we continue to recognize that to build a movement, you need to think long-term. From recruiting youth from marginalized communities into our Fellowship program, to assisting them in getting more voters to the polls through our voter engagement programs, to training them to run successful campaigns through our Front Line Leaders Academy, we support youth every step of the way of their leadership journey.

Often in conversations about politics and civic participation, young adults are afterthoughts, considered an “apathetic” audience that doesn’t vote. But Millennials are far more engaged than given credit for. In fact, today’s young adults are anything but disengaged. Despite being the first generation to be economically worse-off than their parents through no fault of our own, Millennials are far more likely to do community service than older generations. About half of us vote, and we currently account for over 20 percent of the voting-eligible population in the US – and that number is growing as more of us turn 18. We must constantly overcome conservatives’ best attempts to keep us from the polls, efforts which in themselves show how much power we hold over the political process – no one would try to disenfranchise us if we didn’t matter. And last but certainly not least, we are the most diverse and progressive generation in recent history.

Ironically, two individuals who spend enormous amounts of money to influence the civic lives of young adults represent political leanings at odds with much of the Millennial generation’s values. The Koch brothers singlehandedly influence the US political arena more than almost anyone else thanks to their nearly limitless pool of oil money. They are two of the most radical and influential right-wing leaders today who are attempting to abolish the minimum wage, get rid of Social Security, defund the Affordable Care Act, equate money with speech, and lead the transformation of American democracy into an oligarchy.  As shown in the Center for Public Integrity report, in 2012 they gave nearly $13 million in tax-deductible donations to higher education institutions, including many that are often considered “liberal,” to promote their ideologies.

These contributions show that conservative leaders do understand the power of youth and the return they get from investing in youth leadership development opportunities. By shelling millions into programs for young conservatives since the 1970s and focusing on long-term capacity building rather than just mobilization during elections, conservatives see the fruits of their labor in congressional dysfunction and the weakening of our democratic processes.

But programs like YP4 are doing the work to turn this tide by developing young progressive leaders. As Andrew Gillum, Director of Youth Leadership Programs at People For the American Way Foundation, wrote earlier this year: “Investing in progressive young people is the key to ensuring our movement’s capacity to create and sustain social change for years to come.”

Creating change is hard and takes time, especially when up against big money like that of the Koch Brothers. But by investing in young people, the progressive movement can make a real difference in both the short and long terms. We simply cannot afford to not invest in youth.

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New Insights Into the Right’s Big Money Shell Game Highlight Need for the DISCLOSE Act

In today’s legal landscape, “following the money” is tricky – but a new report released yesterday shows why this work is critical to anyone who cares about progressive change. The latest digging from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog has uncovered new information about a multi-tiered money laundering operation through which tax-exempt groups funnel millions to groups supporting right-wing causes and candidates. 

Operating behind a thick veil of secrecy, groups like TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – which Open Secrets describes as “‘shadow money mailboxes’ – groups that do virtually nothing but pass grants through to other politically active 501(c)(4) organizations” – are able to hide both their donors and their recipients.  By funneling grants through “sub-units,” which are owned by the larger groups but have different names, groups like TC4 Trust put millions into the pockets of 501(c)4 organizations supporting Republican causes in the 2012 elections, such as the advocacy arm of Focus on the Family.

As Open Secrets reports,

[T]heir financial ties run far deeper than previously known.  The groups, TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – both of which have connections to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers – have been playing a high-stakes game of hide-the-ball, disguising transfers of millions of dollars from one to the other behind a veil of Delaware limited liability corporations.

The source of political advocacy matters.  This latest example of dark money donor groups obscuring the links of their money trail underscores the urgent need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act.  This act would bring some basic transparency to the electoral system and require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors – including the original source of donations.  The measure, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in both 2010 and 2012, is a common-sense solution that would help the American people understand who is trying to influence their political opinions and their votes.

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How the Kochs are Buying Silence--Without Spending a Dime

Between buying elections, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch shop for big pieces of American media and culture. And, hey, why not?

We already knew of the Kochs' efforts to buy Tribune Company, the parent of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other major newspapers. Then, last week, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer took a thoughtful, in-depth look at the machinations that led New York's PBS station, WNET, to pull from the air a documentary critical of David Koch, one of the station's biggest funders. The story raises plenty of questions about the extent to which the public owns public media and the role of money in the arts and culture (see anything at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater lately?). But it also provides a rare intimate look at what happens when big money begets massive influence, often without a dime changing hands.

Mayer describes the fate of two documentary films. One took on income disparities in America by profiling the inhabitants of one tony Park Avenue building - including David Koch. Under pressure, WNET aired the film but, in a highly unusual concession, offered Koch airtime to rebut it after it aired. The second film, "Citizen Koch," made by the very talented, Academy Award nominated team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, explored the influence that Koch and others like him have on our elections in the post-Citizens United world. But in the face of Koch's wrath, the film's distributor, a public television player with a history of gutsy moves, uncharacteristically lost its stomach for the fight and dumped the film entirely. Regardless, Koch decided to not give a hoped-for gift after the first film aired. Without lifting a finger or even taking out his checkbook, Koch cast a pall over the documentary film world.

The process that led to "Citizen Koch" being pulled from the airwaves illustrates exactly the point that Lessin and Deal's film makes: money can not only buy action in our democracy, it can also buy silence. As former Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer points out in the film, "Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways."

Koch and his brother Charles, both billionaire industrialists, pledged to spend a whopping $400 million on the 2012 elections, the overwhelming majority of it on behalf of Republican candidates. But that doesn't just mean that Republicans are jumping to please the brothers--it means that many of those in positions of influence, regardless of their political leanings, need to take into account whether or not it's worth the trouble of unnecessarily antagonizing the Kochs. Just as the public is unlikely to hear about the film PBS didn't run, it's almost impossible to know about the principled progressive stands that our allies in government decided not to take.

Koch's billions are a formidable political weapon, even without owning any influential newspapers. Thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, it's a more powerful weapon than ever, and we know it's having an impact even when they don't choose to deploy them. The result is a distorted government that responds to the whims of billionaires more easily than the needs of ordinary Americans.

As activists work to undo the damage being done by Citizens United, one of our main challenges is reminding voters of the dangerous, invisible effects that decision has on the country. It's a remarkable irony that by trying to hide a film about the danger of money in politics, the Kochs may have made it clearer than ever before.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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A Movement’s Katrina Moment

Romney's comments about the 47% are a clarifying moment that can forever change how Americans view him, his party, and the corporate right.
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Two Powerhouse 501(c)(4) ‘Social Welfare Groups’ Buy Election Anonymously

In this years presidential election cycle 501(c)(4)s Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have outspent all super PACs combined...
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Supreme Court's Legitimacy Rests With the Justices

As noted in a NYT editorial by Jeff Shesol, some of the justices of the Supreme Court are spending a lot of their time off the bench engaging in all sorts of extracurricular activities. Of course, they have always participated in the usual speech-giving and book-singing circuit – but as of late, some justices have lent their names to organizations with decidedly partisan agendas, including Koch-sponsored policy retreats, and have become increasingly entangled with ideological benefactors with clearly partisan agendas.

This has prompted calls for a re-examination of our standard of judicial ethics, since many of them surprisingly do not apply to the high court. Sheshol writes:

Yet there are few, if any, precedents for the involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia with the fund-raising efforts of the Koch brothers. In an invitation to a meeting earlier this year in Palm Springs, Calif., Charles Koch cautioned financial contributors that “our ultimate goal is not ‘fun in the sun.’ This is a gathering of doers.” The meeting’s objective was “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” Last summer’s sessions included “Framing the Debate on Spending” and “Mobilizing Citizens for November.” The invitation listed Justices Scalia and Thomas first among the “notable leaders” who had attended past meetings.

In the face of criticism, the court’s conservatives may be doubling down. Justice Thomas, in particular, has lashed back, refusing to disclose activities and relationships that have been called into question. Stone’s admonition, clearly, is as relevant as ever. Over its history, the Supreme Court has faced periodic threats to its legitimacy and has survived with its powers intact, thanks in large part to its public esteem. At some point, another challenge will come. And the court, next time, may find fewer Americans on its side if its members allow themselves to be perceived, in Justice Breyer’s words, as “junior-varsity politicians” who possess, but do not merit, the last word.

 

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GOP’s Corporate Backers Intent on Busting Unions, Not Solving Budget Problems

In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.

For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.

History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”

Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.

Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:

Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.

The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.

In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.

Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.

In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
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