The IRS certainly deserves some of the criticism it's getting, but it's also worth looking at the groups they were examining a little closer.
I've been collecting the IRS filings for these organizations since they dropped off the FEC radar in early 2009. At that time, these political "civic" organizations were springing up like weeds after a spring storm. Let's take just one subset of the larger group and look more carefully.
American Majority Action is the 501(c)(4) companion to American Majority, the Koch-funded 501(c)(3) organization devoted to "training conservative activists." It is headed up by Andrew and Net Ryun, sons of former Kansas congressman Jim Ryun. Their initial report to the IRS for the short year ending June 30, 2011 described its program services as "issue advocacy and get out the vote operations in 4 states including 9 liberty headquarters." Secondary services included "capacity building grants to 32 like-minded organizations," and tertiary services included "health care policy issue advocacy." Amounts spent were $1,020,500, $529,000 and $224,000, respectively.
What like-minded organizations received grants? Here is a list of some, not all, since they did not list all 32 grantees:
If ever there was cause for an investigation, this is it. Even for a hack group like the FEC, this goes beyond the pale. Alternetreports:
We have discovered that sometime after January of this year, the FEC deleted a whole set of contributions totaling millions of dollars made during the 2007-2008 election cycle. The most important of these files concern what is now called “dark money” – funds donated to ostensible charities or public interest groups rather parties, candidates or conventional political action committees (PACs). These non-profit groups – which Washington insiders often refer to generically as 501(c)s, after the section of the federal tax code regulating them – use the money to pay for allegedly educational “independent” ads that run outside conventional campaign channels. Such funding has now developed into a gigantic channel for evading disclosure of the donors’ identities and is acutely controversial.
In 2008, however, a substantial number of contributions to such 501(c)s made it into the FEC database. For the agency quietly to remove them almost four years later with no public comment is scandalous. It flouts the agency’s legal mandate to track political money and mocks the whole spirit of what the FEC was set up to do. No less seriously, as legal challenges and public criticism of similar contributions in the 2012 election cycle rise to fever pitch, the FEC’s action wipes out one of the few sources of real evidence about how dark money works. Obviously, the unheralded purge also raises unsettling questions about what else might be going on with the database that scholars and journalists of every persuasion have always relied upon.
On its face, this is cause for outrage. But wait until you see the information they deleted:
As expected, the swift boating of the President has begun and will likely continue until Election Day. God forbid Mitt Romney would actually engage on the issues. No, he just lets his surrogates make attack ads like this one which, by the way, do not mention any specific Navy SEAL with an objection but simply contend that SEALs object.
Here are some facts you should know about the Veterans for a Strong America, the 501(c)(4) non-profit group sponsoring the ad, via MoJo:
[Joel] Arends got his start in politics as a South Dakota Bush-Cheney field director in 2000. He's currently the Republican party head in Lincoln County, South Dakota. Though he doesn't list it on his public résumé, around 2006 Arends went to work for Craig Dewey, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy outfit that's astroturfed everything from the tea party and theWisconsin union fight to public school segregation. (AFP's nonprofit 501(c)3 wing ischaired by David Koch, who founded the Americans for Prosperity Foundation with his brother Charles.)
"I was consulting with Americans for Prosperity on a state level, helping to connect them with key decision makers," Arends says. Craig Dewey initially denied this to me in a phone conversation. "Joel was never on paid staff at Americans for Prosperity," he said before conceding, "He was an adviser to me."
After leaving AFP, Arends and Dewey went into business starting "grassroots" issue groups whose names tended to overstate their reach. There was Combat Veterans for Congress, a Sarah Palin-endorsed PAC that pushed "fiscally conservative" vets to run for office; the Coalition for Cures Not Cloning, set up to combat stem-cell research; and Children Need Parents, a group that succeeded in altering the South Dakota's mom-friendly divorce and custody laws. They also oversaw efforts to roll back EPA regulations, punish businesses that dealt with Iran, and ban Shariah law in South Dakota.
As an "independent" nonprofit, VFF tried to downplay its ties to the Bush-Cheney and McCain-Palin campaignteams. It also had ties to the Donatelli Group, the conservative fundraisers who'd seeded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004. Arends and most of VFF's leadership have since moved on to lucrative or influential positions in the conservative establishment. "Everybody left VFF happy," he says.
There's many, many more ties in that article. Read the whole thing.
Personally, I think it's dumb to put an ad in front of people reminding them that President Obama made that call. I think it's even dumber to claim there are angry SEALs and not produce even one, just claim they know there are some.
As for funding, we don't know, because they don't have to disclose. But pick one of the top Swift Boat Veterans donors or your favorite Republican big money donor and figure it's one of them. That guess is as good as anyone's.
Arends should be very careful, because he basically said a little bit too much.
Joel Arends, VFSA's founder, chairman, and sole staffer, tells me he's proud of his organization's viral video, even if it's characterized as swift boating. "Yes, it's the swift boating of the president, in the sense of using what's perceived to be his greatest strength and making it his greatest weakness."
Here's the problem with that. VFSA is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means it's supposed to have a purpose that's for "social welfare". Yes, they are allowed to engage in political activities and ads, but those are supposed to be issue-oriented ads, as a general rule. Arends has basically admitted that this ad, and others he has planned, are intended to target the President politically, not educationally.
I'm not in a position to say one way or the other, but if I were the IRS, I'd be looking really hard at organizations like this which are intended to be major smear players on the general election landscape. I'd be asking why they're not required to disclose independent expenditures, and I'd also be asking whether Fox News gets to air this thing over and over again without having to declare the air time an in-kind political contribution.
Yes, I know everyone will shake their head and point to Citizens United. But part of the discussion in the majority opinion was that allowing unlimited corporate contributions did not mean unlimited undisclosed contributions. If they want to go the swift boat route, they should be man enough to admit who is paying for it.
In the end, I don't see this ad really doing a lot of damage to the President anyway, which makes me smile when I think about how much money they're wasting on it. But it really galls me that they're using the subterfuge of "social welfare" organizations to play their cowardly, dirty little games.
I guess truth in advertising went the way of the Fairness Doctrine. Here is a shining example of just how far people can go in their advertising without consequence. Via PRWatch.org:
In the ad, the voice over intones: "They told us the sky would fall. And Wisconsin would end as we know it. But the sky's still there. And Wisconsin is stronger than ever. Thanks to our budget reforms." A charming family waves at the camera, but the family is not from Wausau, Waukesha or even Wisconsin. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow first pointed out, they are "Family on a Bridge" I-stock photo number 10268583.
The problem with the ad is that virtually none of it is true.
The ad touts the fact that local governments and school districts now have more "flexibility" to balance their budgets. Interestingly, the website cites a February 2011 article quoting Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, discussing Walker's limits on collective bargaining. "It will give us flexibility, yes," he said. But AFP/MacIver omits the rest of his sentence. Thompson also says "It goes far beyond what we asked for. We were not expecting to abolish the collective bargaining process altogether." The title of the article cited by AFP? "Local Leaders from Throughout the State ask GOP to Not End Collective Bargaining."
It is true that localities can extract massive savings from their workers, going far beyond the pension and health care contributions that Walker promoted. This may explain the $1.5 million surplus in Kaukauna and the $25 million "saved" in Milwaukee. But Milwaukee was also honest about the cost of Walker's measures -- the school district lost 1,661 teachers, aids and administrators, according to the school district survey.
Go read the whole PR Watch article for specifics about how they stretched the truth.
By the way, Wisconsin's unemployment claims were the highest in the nation in October. It could be argued that it's not working, not at all, and specifically because of the right-wing policies foisted on the state by Governor Scott Walker and his merry band of legislators.
Here's an interesting new documentary by Al Jazeera's Bob Abeshouse on the Kochtopus. There's nothing in it that hasn't been reported elsewhere, but it's quite a nice roundup of the different tentacles and how they influence politics. This comment by Jane Mayer leads it off:
"It was very hard to figure out -- in fact, impossible to figure out -- how much money they've spent on American politics. It was easily 100 million dollars since 1980."
The clause in the middle is highlighted because it truly is impossible to figure out. I believe the number is much, much higher than $100 million. She's underestimating by a long shot. For example, this report published in April of this year by the Center for American Progress (PDF) shows about $75 million spent on the top 17 organizations. The entire list goes on for two columns across two pages. Still, I can attest to Mayer's' claim about the impossibility of knowing exactly how much. They give through donor-advised funds like Donors' Trust in order to disguise the source, and they aren't the only ones. It just happens that they're the front guys this time, just like Scaife was back in the Clintons' day.
Tim Phillips makes an appearance claiming that Americans for Prosperity is just fighting for the average middle class person. One of the more encouraging parts comes toward the middle when Abeston interviews Wisconsin families and union members just after Scott Walker introduced his union-busting bill.
It is remarkable to see any media actually reporting this, and it is certainly expected that US media companies would stay far back from it. Kudos to Al Jazeera for making it and showing it.
In June of this year, AlterNet quietly published an article about Herman Cain's deep ties to Americans for Prosperity. At the time, no one paid close attention because most people had no idea who Herman Cain was or why they should care. But now that Cain is the current frontrunner of the day in the Republican primaries, it's worth revisiting and re-examining Cain's close relationship to the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity.
From the AlterNet article:
Not only is Cain a frequent speaker at AFP Foundation events, he was also, by his own account, tapped by [Mark] Block to be one of the faces of Prosperity 101, a workplace seminar program, designed for employers to present to their employees at "voluntary" workplace gatherings where they are told that the legislative initiatives typically embraced by Democrats -- health-care reform, energy reform, higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans -- could so hurt their employers as to force layoffs. The program was set in motion during the lead-up to the 2010 elections. (AlterNet, working in collaboration with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, published an expose on Prosperity 101 last week.)
The idea behind Prosperity 101 is simple: Employers gather employees for a "voluntary" seminar where nervous workers, already sweating in an economy that is shedding jobs, are told that government regulation, unions and tax increases -- even if only on the wealthy -- are bad for their employers, thereby threatening the workers' own livelihoods. Then they're reminded to vote -- for example, in last year's midterm elections. (The Prosperity 101 textbook includes a sample voter registration form from the State of Wisconsin.) And in the program textbook, employee participants are urged to join Americans for Prosperity, which has a history of alliances with GOP candidates.
In the textbook's introduction, Hansen, Prosperity 101's creator, plays on workers' fears of economic insecurity, stirred up by the lingering recession:
'You go to work every day, giving your best efforts in hopes of keeping your job through every economic cycle and every corporate downsizing…Will you be included in the next round of layoffs?… Do you know your job security is not just dependent on your performance?...Prosperity 101(TM) is designed to empower you, the employee, to go beyond your paradigms and look at job protection in a new way.'
It isn't just Herman Cain involved in Prosperity 101, either. The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore and John Fund were also involved.
In addition to workplace "education", Prosperity 101 is actively involved in voter registration drives in the workplace. From The Nation Institute:
"A key component of Prosperity 101 is working with employers to help them encourage voter registration among their employees," Hansen, trim and stylish at 52, explained to the crowd. "So when Herman [Cain] first heard the concept here, he said, 'You've come up with the answer to ACORN!'"
Hansen then played the Prosperity 101 promotional video, which features Cain and the Journal's Stephen Moore.
Moore's segment confers a crucial air of legitimacy upon Prosperity 101 by virtue of his post at the world's premier financial newspaper, an affiliation that is highlighted both in the video and in the program's other promotional materials. "Washington is working against employers," Moore tells viewers. "It's working against people who are trying to create wealth and are trying to employ workers."
Each audience member received a copy of the program's textbook, a slender paperback that features material by Cain and Moore, among others.
Suddenly Herman Cain's "surge" begins to fall into place. The combination of workplace indoctrination and voter registration last year means many workers have a clear idea of who he is, as compared to others. At this point, he may be the single candidate with name recognition.
There's an even larger strategy at work here, coordinated with tea party groups and others who seek to drive a wedge into the African-American community and shave away some of Barack Obama's popularity. They do this by playing the "Cain would be the first 'REAL' black President" card. That initiative has begun and is spreading via conservative radio talkers and tea party groups, who see it as an opportunity to push back on the perception that they're racists.
That notion, however, spurred Ingraham to contemplate the GOP’s African-American presidential candidate Herman Cain. In comparing the “blackness” of the two African American politicians, Ingraham wondered whether Cain would actually be 'the first black president' because he doesn’t 'have a white mother, white father.' Therefore,isn’t he the real black candidate?:
INGRAHAM: And what happened with Obama is that he gets this job that he’s not qualified for… OK, so [Obama is] Constitutionally qualified for but he’s not really qualified for. And guess who pays the price? All of us. Because we had such a yearning for history.Well I have a question. Herman Cain, if he became president, he would be the first black president, when you measure it by — because he doesn’t — does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents, no, right? So Herman Cain, he could say that he’s — he’s — he’s the first, uh — he could make the claim to be the first — yeah, the first Main Street black Republican to be the president of the United States. Right? He’s historic too.
Listen to it here:
By the way, this really is an issue in the African-American community. Mixed race is another layer to the already-complicated race issue, which is why the Kochs hope it will effectively divide them.
As much as I'd like to shrug Herman Cain off as the newest Republican shiny thing, it's difficult to do when he enjoys the corporate backing of Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch and David Koch. I expect they will throw as much mud and money as need be to get their guy in the front of the pack. The Wall Street Journal is moving full-tilt boogie to attack the President on as many fronts as possible, including this ridiculous editorial published yesterday, which once again begins with the even more ridiculous premise that President Obama is a "loner." Ann Althouse joined the echo chamber with her own laudatory review of Cain's Meet the Press appearance yesterday, practically falling over herself in adoration of his heritage:
Notice how simply and vividly he struck a chord — the classic black American experience — and made it resonate for anyone who works for living. There is a quality of nobility, that fits with the idea of heritage.
The bottom line here is that Charles and David Koch are patient men with a lot of money. Cynical patient men. They will stop at nothing to enrich themselves at the expense of every citizen in this country, including grooming and backing a completely unqualified candidate, extolling his heritage as being "authentic African-American," and positioning him as the guy with the awesome tax plan that will cripple the working poor in this country more than they already are, even as they clamor for it.
David Axelrod may think Cain isn't a top-tier candidate, but David and Charles Koch see that differently. As long as they have the money and resources to pour into his campaign, my suspicion is that he will continue to 'surge', at least until he implodes like the rest of them seem to do.
In the meantime, I expect we will be hearing and seeing a lot more of Herman Cain.
In Koch-ville, USA, voters are scary. At least, Democratic voters are. Americans for Prosperity helpfully sent out reminders to voters to mail in their absentee ballots. Wasn't that nice of them? Only, the deadline on their helpful litte brochure for returning absentee ballots is August 11, two days after the recall election.
This isn't the first time they've done this. In September of last year they plotted many schemes to suppress the vote (audio here). What boggles my mind is that they get away with it over and over again.
I received an absentee ballot request form from Americans for Prosperity. It intentionally listed to return up to Aug 11. The date of the election is Aug 9. If I followed their instructions my ballot would not be legal. I think they purposely intend to discount my vote.
I understand such activity to be against the law. I believe I was targeted by the Republican group because I am a Democrat and a senior citizen.
AFP, of course, plays the innocent error-maker. JSOnline:
Matt Seaholm, state director of AFP, blamed the mistake on a typo, saying his group was not trying to mislead anyone.
"This just went out to our members," Seaholm said. "I'm sure the liberals will try to make a mountain out of a molehill in an attempt to distract voters' attention from the issues."
But other sources say the fliers were received by "card-carrying Democrats active in the recalls" of state Sens. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Rob Cowles (R-Allouez). Harsdorf is running against teacher Shelly Moore, and Cowles is being challenged by former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum.
Just went out to their members who also happen to be Democrats? Yeah, I don't think so. No self-respecting Democrat would be a member of Americans for Prosperity.
Meanwhile AFP is busily dropping $500,000 in ad buys against Democrats running in the recalls.
Politics, Koch style.
Update: Jesse Russell reports that the return address on the envelope is one for Wisconsin Family Action, the activist arm of Wisconsin Family Council (990), which appears to be an offshoot of the Family Research Council. Looks like the Republican hate machine is in full force.
On this 4th of July weekend, I wanted to remind everyone to pause for a moment, put down those Cokes, and join with those other Kochs in reciting our sacred psalm of patriots.
So please rise. Hand over heart. Ready. Begin:
I pledge allegiance
To the Bathtub
Of the United Slates of Norquist.
And to the Republicans,
For which it scams,
With Liberty & Tax Cuts for All....
corporate jet-owning billionaires.
In late June, 2008 around the time oil prices skyrocketed due to what we now understand to be rampant speculation, Koch Industries reached out to Lisa Murkowski and used her to reach out to Sarah Palin. Here's the text of Murkowski's letter to Palin:
While I know it may seem paradoxical for an oil refinery to be facing significant losses at this time of record crude oil and gasoline/diesel prices, I am writing to ask you and your administration to immediately undertake a new review of the equity of the state's current royalty oil contract with Flint Hills Resources , which runs the state's largest oil refinery at North Pole.
As you well know the Flint Hills refinery, owned by Koch Industries, is vital to Alaska's economy for a host of reasons. Not only does the refinery employ 155 residents in the Fairbanks area , one of the largest manufacturing employers left in the state, the refinery also produces significant amounts of aviation fuel, which is one of the key reasons why the state's air cargo transshipment industry has boomed in the past decade at both the Anchorage and Fairbanks International Airports. Those shipments also constitute a vital revenue source for the state-owned Alaska Railroad. If the refinery were to close due to its losses, or simply convert into a fuel distributor of imported product, it would deny Alaskans of about 60 percent of their locally produced fuel, potentially requiring the state to purchase more expensive fuel from refineries in the Lower 48 States, further hiking prices for gasoline and other fuels - something that simply should not be allowed to happen at this time of record energy prices throughout the State.
I understand fully that there have been issues with the willingness of the refinery's parent company to fully "open their books" so that the state can confirm the actual level of losses that the refinery is facing. I would hope that a confidentiality agreement could be reached quickly should new negotiations open concerning revisions to the 2004 contract so that the State can fully inspect the financial health of the refinery. Given the fundamental importance of the refinery to the state's economy, I encourage the state to consider contract revision talks that could benefit the State overall and the Fairbanks economy in particular.
I know how busy you must be this summer and I thank you for your consideration of this important matter at this time of record fuel prices nationwide. Best wishes.
Now, June, 2008 also happened to be when the murmuring for Palin to be nominated as John McCain's running mate was growing louder and stronger. Interesting timing, that.
John Katz, Palin's federal/state liason and special counsel, wrote this back in response:
The bottom line for us is that Tom Irwin and his staff are ready and willing to talk with Koch at any time, the gas pipeline notwithstanding. Recently, Tom stated this publically and, I believe, to Flint Hills directly. However, it is critical that Koch be willing to open its books, and they have been reluctant thus far.
At the moment, the State receives a $1 per barrel premium on royalty oil sold to Flint Hills. It is my understanding that the premium has crept up over the years and will likely be reviewed soon.
There were also some forwards of a staff conversation mentioned, but not attached. However, there was this comment at the end of Katz' forward of the entire email exchange to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources:
p.s. I don't normally forward exchanges with staff level people in the delegation, but I wanted you to get a flavor of the impact that Koch has had.
Lee Fang has been on a roll lately with his expose´ of the Koch empire and the various tentacles of the Kochtopus. But his latest may be the one with the most pain attached. It seems that not only does Koch Industries avail itself of the profit-taking available by speculating on oil prices, but they were the authors of the whole damn scam.
Writing on his political blog, an attorney working for Koch’s law firm angrily replied to our initial investigation by claiming that Koch is solely a bonafide hedger, meaning that it only participates in speculative markets to reduce risk for the oil the company refines (he also bizarrely argued that speculation has no relation to the price of oil). The spin obscures reality: much of Koch’s oil trading business is actually akin to a hedge fund, buying and selling financial products based on oil with little interest in the actual delivery of the product. In fact, Koch pioneered the risky speculation industry that dominates the world’s oil markets today, first by inventing oil derivatives back in the ’80s, then by working to kill off regulations. ThinkProgress has delved into the history of Koch’s oil speculation business and the following timeline spells out Koch’s leading role:
The timeline is particularly interesting. In a nutshell, the very first oil derivatives were born in 1986, during the Reagan presidency. With the help of Phil Gramm in the Senate, and his wife Wendy Gramm, oil speculation was deregulated and the Kochs were laughing all the way to the bank. Wendy deregulated oil derivatives on the very last day of the George HW Bush administration, just before Bill Clinton took the oath of office.
This is so representative of how Republicans and their corporate masters conduct themselves. In public, they cry out about how rotten government is while in private they work hard to create proof for their claim, with voters' help.
Rick Perlstein wrote a great article recently about the corrupt media and how it has evolved into one that not only overlooks right wing lies; it actually perpetuates them. As I considered that article against the revelation that the Kochs were the architects and authors of oil speculation, I heard all the various "pain at the pump" stories echo through my head. They didn't come only from Fox News. They were on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, and CNN.
Not one of them paid more than a casual nod to speculators' dirty business and the effect on gas prices. Not one. Instead we get garbage like this Washington Post headline, "wondering" whether President Obama is intentionally driving up gas prices (the author answers the question with a big "no", but the link bait was enough). Or we get Rick Santorum whining that it's all that mean Democrat's fault that we're paying more at the pump, and the media just nods and drools while writing it all down on their little notepads.
While I give Lee Fang a ton of credit for the outstanding work he's doing unmasking the Kochs' malfeasance, where is our media in this? When do they start to do even a modicum of investigative reporting. For that matter, why the heck isn't Andrew Breitbart all over it, now that he thinks he has been forever inducted into the "legitimate media" category?
And what are we going to do about it? That's really the question.