The Koch brothers, the most powerful conservative mega donors in the United States, will not use their $400 million political arsenal to try to block Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s path to the presidential nomination, a spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday.
The decision by the billionaire industrialists is another setback to Republican establishment efforts to derail the New York real estate mogul’s bid for the White House, and follows speculation the Kochs would soon launch a “Trump Intervention.”
“We have no plans to get involved in the primary,” said James Davis, spokesman for Freedom Partners, the Koch brothers’ political umbrella group. He would not elaborate on what the brothers’ strategy would be for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama.
Three sources close to the Kochs said the brothers made the decision because they were concerned that spending millions of dollars attacking Trump would be money wasted, since they had not yet seen any attack on Trump stick.
The Koch brothers are also smarting from the millions of dollars they pumped into the failed 2012 Republican presidential bids of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the sources said.
Donors and media reports have speculated since January, when the Kochs gathered 500 of America’s wealthiest political donors at a California resort, that they would deploy their vast political network to target Trump.
The Kochs oppose his protectionist trade rhetoric and hardline views on immigration – which include building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and deporting millions of illegal immigrants.
Many Republican figures and business backers are eager to see Trump, a political outsider who has tapped into rising anti-establishment sentiment, fail in his bid for the nomination. They prefer instead a more traditional candidate like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
But with Trump racking up a series of wins in the early nominating contests against opponents including Rubio and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, there is a growing sense of inevitability that he will win the party’s mantle.
The Koch brothers’ donor network spent close to $400 million last year, and is on its way to spending an unprecedented $889 million supporting right-wing politics and causes during the 2016 cycle.
On Saturday afternoon, the Koch network assembled 500 wealthy conservatives — its largest gathering ever — at a luxury resort near the foothills of Palm Springs’ Coachella Valley.
About 150 of the donors are first-time attendees, and the rest are paid-up members of the conservative donor network, which requires a minimum annual membership fee of $100,000.
“Everybody, come out and identify yourself because this isn’t some secret cabal,” Charles Koch said in his opening address to the donors on the lawns of the luxury Renaissance Resort and Spa.
“I’ve been identified lately,” Koch said, referring to his recent media appearances to improve the Kochs’ public image, “and it’s not so bad, I’m still here. … I’m going stronger than ever.”
While billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have historically kept their political and ideological activities secret, they made a strategic decision last year to “open up” the donor network, which had been portrayed by Democrats including President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, as a sinister force in American politics.
The strategy involved Charles doing a series of media interviews to promote his new book, “Good Profit,” and also allowing a small number of journalists into their exclusive retreats.
This Palm Springs retreat is the second time journalists have been allowed to attend. They had to agree not to name any donors in attendance who do not consent to being interviewed.
The Koch network hired out the entire Renaissance Resort and Spa. Koch staff and security guards are stationed throughout the resort and screened cars at the front gate to prevent infiltration. The hotel has a championship golf course, a sand-beach pool, and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Hung in the hotel lobby is a giant banner announcing the theme of the event, “A Vision to Unleash America’s Potential.”
The donors gather over three days in breakout sessions and larger group settings to discuss their various policy initiatives, which include slashing taxes, government spending and regulations, and other less expected initiatives such as criminal justice reform. They also discuss politics; the rise of billionaire Donald Trump in the 2016 cycle has many Koch donors concerned, given his unreliability on conservative issues.
The network is now the most powerful force in right-wing politics, with a budget and technological infrastructure that rivals that of the Republican Party.
Many of the Koch network members – which include some of the biggest-spending conservative families in America, such as Michigan’s DeVoses and the Adelsons from Las Vegas – spend tens of millions each year advancing their favored politicians and causes.
In his introductory speech, Charles Koch told the donors he had four goals to change the trajectory of American government and society.
The first is to “reverse the policies that are moving us toward a two-tiered society,” which include corporate welfare.
The second is to end “irresponsible government spending.”
The third is to get governments at all levels to focus on what he sees as government’s “primary responsibility to people,” which is to “keep Americans safe.”
And fourth, protecting free speech, which is “under attack everywhere.”
“Now the tragedy is,” Koch said, “in my view, America is moving further and further away from this type of society. And we’re moving more toward of control, dependency, cronyism and poverty.”
The billionaire Koch brothers – industrialists Charles and David from Koch Industries – like to say they aren’t involved in “politics” much. But like everything surrounding the right-wing brothers, that’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.
While the Kochs don’t necessarily directly involve themselves in the nitty gritty of electoral politics all the time through direct donations to candidates and parties, they keep themselves in the loop by funding a variety of pressure groups, advocacy organizations and non-profits that push a right wing ideology on a constant basis. These groups don’t wait for election years to be active, and are in the trenches at a micro-local level promoting a spectrum of causes that often happen to fatten the pockets of the brothers.
One such vehicle used by the Kochs is the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(6) trade association (the Kochs also operate Freedom Partners Action Fund, which directly injects money in political races). In 2014 this group took in $126 million, spent about $41 million on overhead and poured the remaining cash on outside groups. Here they are:
NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($4.9 million) – the lobbying arm of the pro-gun NRA who fights to attack any and all legislation aimed at curbing gun violence
Americans for Prosperity ($22 million) – the biggest Koch group, they organize rallies, run ads against Democrats, truck in conservatives to bully members of Congress at town halls at other events
Chamber of Commerce ($2 million) – the lobbying arm of big business, they have often targeted Democrats for not being as eager to appease business demands as the GOP
Generation Opportunity ($14.2 million) – this is the Koch arm designed to attract young voters. They’ve produced ads and campaigns misinforming voters about the Affordable Care Act, attempting to get them to “opt out” of coverage. In one ad they showed Uncle Sam administering a gynecological exam to a young woman.
Americans for Tax Reform ($100,000) – Republican mega-operative Grover Norquist’s pressure group that forces Republican candidates to sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes under any circumstance
Heritage Action for America ($150,0000 – A right wing pressure group, part of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, which attempts to force right-wing legislation through congress
Concerned Veterans for America ($12.7 million) – with this group the Kochs attempt to hide their right-wing economic policies under the guise of “veteran’s issues”
Center for Shared Services ($5.7 million) – the Kochs use this group as a recruiter and administrative support team for the other organizations in their dark money network
Evangchr4 Trust ($5.7 million)- this group is used to disseminate Koch-friendly data through church-based spokespeople, specifically through pastor outreach
American Energy Alliance ($2.4 million) – this is an outpost of the energy industry, used to attack clean energy initiatives and to smear climate change research
Citizenlink ($1 million) – the political nonprofit division of the virulently anti-gay Focus on the Family
Susan B. Anthony Group ($225,000) – an anti-abortion group
Trees of Liberty ($400,000) – a PAC that attacked Democrats and boosted Republicans in races like the Iowa Senate race that elected Sen. Joni Ernst
IACE Action ($95,000) and Colorado Women’s Alliance ($50,000) – groups that attacked Democratic Senator Mark Udall, helping to lead to his defeat in 2014
To elect a Republican, the power brokers have retooled with more money, better strategy and a new plan for victory
Charles Koch, the famously private billionaire industrialist, wanted to welcome his dinner guests before they got too far into their meal. It had been a busy day at a seaside summit for 450 conservative donors who support the network of nonprofits, civic groups and political organizations that he and his brother David founded and bankroll. “I’m sure I’ve worn you out,” the 79-year-old said on the broad lawn. Then he reflected on the experiences he suspected he shared with these allies. “We grew up with every advantage,” Koch mused. “Most of you had the same benefits that our parents gave David and me, that is, growing up appreciating and being imbued with the values and skills required for success. If I didn’t have parents like that, I wouldn’t be worth spit. I would be the worst kid on the block … Certain people say I am still.”
Yes, people do say that–and much, much worse–about the Koch brothers. The billionaires help fund a political network that is larger and perhaps more consequential than the Republican National Committee. That machine wields considerable sway over GOP lawmakers and, potentially, the party’s presidential nominee for 2016. Its sprawling influence is just one reason guests ponied up annual checks of at least $100,000 to hear from five White House hopefuls and at least 14 other current or former lawmakers–as well as the two brothers themselves–at this gathering.
These twice-a-year sessions under the banner of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce are typically private affairs, held at classy watering holes and spread out over several days. TIME was among a handful of news organizations granted access to this summer’s event, though journalists agreed not to reveal the identities of donors who wanted to remain private. Charles and David Koch are the headline-driving brawn behind this confab for VIP donors, yet thousands of other like-minded conservatives add their cash to the kitty from afar.
Having watched voters send a Democrat to the White House in the past two go-rounds, the Kochs and their allies are recalibrating ahead of 2016. In conversations over snacks, meals and cocktails, there was a grumbling acceptance from the network’s top donors that trying to keep earlier events secret had backfired. “The Koch brothers could be depicted as comic-book villains,” says Craig Snider, the 59-year-old son of the family that owns the Philadelphia Flyers. “They are a private family. They never really wanted the attention.” As he sipped chilled white wine in one of the St. Regis Monarch Beach’s courtyards, Snider shook his head at the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Kochs and their partners. “Our side has done a very bad job telling our story. We’ve been defined by the other side.”
So what is it like to observe the mysterious Koch brothers up close? It’s not all that different from watching two admired grandfathers oversee a large family reunion. They weave through the retreats they convene with an unassuming style that, were it not for the security trailing them, would be like that of any other septuagenarians, moving at a slower pace but refusing to be sidelined. Charles, talkative and engaging, lives in Kansas and has lost little of the quick, dry humor he used to tremendous success in business negotiations. David, somewhat quieter by nature, enjoys a more cosmopolitan life in Manhattan, where the New York City Ballet’s performance hall at Lincoln Center carries his name.
They were born in Wichita, Kans., in the years leading up to the U.S. entrance into World War II. Their upbringing reflected their father’s hard-nosed approach to life: disagreements were settled by fistfights. Fred Koch owned a sprawling Midwest industrial giant yet required his children to learn the trade rather than enjoy a gilded life. “I got my butt kicked every day,” Charles recalls. “Father had me work every minute from the time I was 6.” Both brothers went to MIT and earned graduate degrees in engineering before returning to Kansas, where they expanded the company their father founded into what today has become the second largest privately held company in the U.S.
The Kochs are often described as either ultra-conservative or libertarian, but those labels don’t fully explain their ideology. Yes, they believe that government has become too big; they fiercely oppose mandates and regulations, and they could not be more horrified by what they call the permanent Washington establishment. And it is fair to say they don’t care for President Obama. If their wish list of government rollbacks were achieved, it would help the bottom line for Koch Industries, a vast collection of companies and interests that produce everything from Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster Carpets to as many as 600,000 barrels of crude each day.
But some of what this network is trying to accomplish at sessions like those held here is at odds with Koch Industries’ bottom line. The groups oppose government subsidies of all kinds, even those that help the Koch companies’ profits. They would like to see Congress kill the Export-Import Bank and the ethanol subsidies that benefit the family operations that turn Iowa corn into fuel. Koch-backed groups have made building the Keystone XL pipeline a must-do task, even though it would compete with Koch Industries’ refineries. “The prevailing view created by the mainstream media is that this is to enrich Charles and David Koch,” says Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries and one of the brothers’ top lieutenants. “We take a lot of positions that are better long-term for all of us in the country, even though in the short term we would lose money.”
All of these arguments were raised during the summit in Dana Point, which has become something of a refresher course on conservative thinking. For instance, guests attended one session to hear how Chile reduced its poverty rate from 50% to 8% in a generation, but at a political cost. Other donors received updates on the Koch-led crusade against mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders as fiscally, constitutionally and morally unacceptable. Some guests attended a small dinner to talk about free-speech rights on college campuses with Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget chief and Indiana governor who now serves as president of Purdue University. But economic policy, really, ran through most of the discussions.
Charles Koch told his allies, including CEOs of well-known American companies, to ditch government tax breaks and subsidies for their own good. “Obviously, this prescription will not be an easy pill for many businesspeople to swallow,” he said, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, just a golf-cart ride away. “Because short-term, taking the principled path is going to cost some companies some profits, as it will for Koch Industries.”
Whatever their agenda, losing isn’t part of it. In all, groups under the Koch umbrella plan to spend about $889 million before Election Day 2016, and roughly two-thirds of it will try to determine how voters cast their ballots. Part of their advantage is in how they charter themselves: the groups can accept unlimited donations, and because of the way many are structured, donors’ identities can largely be kept secret. (By contrast, the RNC has fundraising caps and must disclose everyone who gives $200 or more.)
The Koch-based network now is looking at how best to spend the money. During the summit, top Republican strategists told the Koch faithful that four states would be the biggest focus for the next two years: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia. It is almost impossible for an eventual Republican nominee to win the White House without those states. The donors are also continuing to invest in i360, a Koch-built database containing some of the most sophisticated information on voters’ interests and habits. “You can have all the academic debate you want to,” says Art Pope, a mega-donor from North Carolina and Koch friend. “But eventually it takes elected leaders to change the laws and change the policies.”
That focus helps explain why Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina all spent time with these donors at this summit. Each took turns praising the Koch network’s vision of more-limited government while lending their voices to the chorus of praise for what Charles and David Koch have accomplished. Rubio, Walker and Cruz are favorites with this crowd and old hands at the weekend. Bush was attending his first summit and soothed some donors’ unease about his brother; these summits were born out of frustration that federal spending was growing under President George W. Bush. Few knew Fiorina, and she worked the crowd hard to fix that.
But something else was visible at the Dana Point gathering as well. Charles Koch recognizes that the GOP cannot win a national election if it cannot expand its appeal beyond the types of conservatives who huddle with him at these retreats. Just consider the organizational chart of groups that now operate with Freedom Partners’ backing: grassroots-driven Americans for Prosperity, youth-focused Generation Opportunity, Hispanic-oriented LIBRE Initiative, the female-directed Concerned Women for America. At the same time, millions of dollars are flowing through the Koch network to the United Negro College Fund; its president, Michael Lomax, lectured these donors on why historically black colleges and universities matter during an outdoor dinner party at this summit.
On the lobbying front, Freedom Partners–backed groups have linked arms with the liberal Center for American Progress and ACLU for a bipartisan push on criminal-justice reform. Such work has won the Kochs notice–and some guarded praise–from the White House. No one expects the entente to last long. “Last summer, some of them were attacking us. Now we’re working with them,” says Holden, the Koch Industries lawyer. “I know they’re going to be attacking us later.”
The criticism is unlikely to end no matter how wide this moneyed network throws open its doors. But the modest amount of transparency suggests that the Koch brothers are starting to contemplate their legacies. For David Koch, it will be philanthropic giving that is almost unrivaled: $1.3 billion to charities, including $225 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
For Charles Koch, the goal is a realignment of policy and politics that, in his view, will preserve the America he knew as a child, when a kid from Kansas could turn the family business into a global player. “These guys are using business principles to create a political solution,” says Tim Busch, an Orange County lawyer and loyal Koch donor. “They’re creating a force to be reckoned with, so that the political parties have to deal with them and
Before the final commercial break of Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, Megyn Kelly teased the possible appearance of God in the next segment, giving us that quizzical sidelong glance that has made her America’s free-thinking right-wing sweetheart. (I am well aware that’s a sexist response. Of course it’s a sexist response. The primary function of the Megyn Kelly persona is to provoke a sexist response.) To my knowledge, the Almighty did not show up in Quicken Loans Arena. If there is some great guiding force behind or within the universe that can be described as a conscious entity, He, She or It might have wanted to know what the people of our planet propose to do about climate change, economic inequality and gun violence, three issues that were never mentioned on Thursday (except the latter, by Rand Paul, indirectly and as something cool). Instead, we got to hear a full range of unctuous platitudes about the word of God and the blood of Jesus from one of the most hypocritical and, to speak frankly, most profoundly un-Christian assemblages of American manhood you could possibly imagine.
Now, it’s true that after the urge to laugh while vomiting (or vomit while laughing) provoked by Ted Cruz’s prim beauty-pageant pronouncements about his daily Bible reading had passed, and after the suicidal ideation resulting from Scott Walker’s description of himself as an “imperfect man” redeemed by faith had begun to fade, Ohio Gov. John Kasich provided a surprising grace note. But let’s pay attention to the actual content and meaning of the Kasich boomlet, people! Liberal commentators and supposed news media neutrals have fallen all over themselves proclaiming Kasich the spiritual victor of the debate, and perhaps the rising stealth alternative to the Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla throwdown between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. But for what? For saying that it might work better for poor people to get government-subsidized healthcare rather than just going to the E.R. and sticking us with the bill, and for behaving like a polite human being at somebody’s wedding instead of fainting onto the divan and shrieking about Leviticus.
Kasich’s big moment on Thursday evening resembled the old joke about the guy who keeps beating his head against the wall: “It feels so good when I stop.” Listen, I’m not immune: I caught myself wondering whether I was absolutely sure that Kasich would be a worse president than Hillary Clinton. (It’s entirely academic, but the only real answer is that it depends what you mean by “worse.”) Kasich is playing the role of Non-Insane Republican Candidate briefly filled in 2012 by Jon Huntsman, who got almost no support from actual GOP voters but sent the media caste into a collective Jon Stewart-style swoon for the lost days of bipartisan reasonableness. It’s not like the people who cover politics at the New York Times or CNN these days actually know anything about old-timey Republican moderates like Henry Cabot Lodge and Nelson Rockefeller, but they venerate them anyway, like medieval peasants mumbling over saintly relics.
Given the internal dynamics of the Republican campaign, Kasich has no chance and is pretty much irrelevant. But in terms of making the party seem semi-palatable to the general public, and not so much like the rulers of Earth in a super-scary alternate dimension, he serves an important purpose. In other words, he’s Megyn Kelly, only sexier.
So that’s one sense in which the first Republican debate fulfilled its mission: When seen in person, the candidates largely resemble human beings rather than cannibals or ogres, which tends to “tighten the race,” as we political insiders say. Even Ted Cruz was revealed to have human characteristics, specifically those of a debate-team coach at a Baptist women’s college. We must exempt the current GOP front-runner from this group hug, of course, since Donald Trump actually is an ogre, which is the source of his immense and alarming public appeal. We’re not talking about the lovable ogre from “Shrek,” either; Trump is more like Polyphemus, the Cyclops who eats several of Odysseus’ men and then passes out drunk on the floor, trapping everybody in the cave.
That brings us to the next “Mission Accomplished” of the GOP debate, which was to begin the process of blinding the Cyclops without enraging him too much. You can take this irresistible analogy as far as you want: In Homer’s epic, Odysseus blows his getaway at the last minute by telling Polyphemus his real name, and the Cyclops calls down a devastating third-party campaign of vengeance from his dad Poseidon, god of the sea. That’s precisely the outcome that Fox News and the Republican leadership hope to avoid, and the first stage of their plan was executed pretty well on Thursday. Kelly and Chris Wallace kept Trump on the defensive throughout the evening. In fact, it was Wallace who pushed Trump hardest on his lack of GOP convictions and credentials, even if Kelly penetrated further beneath his hard yellow hide, provoking a series of misogynistic outbursts that may even make an ogre look ugly. Meanwhile Jeb Bush stayed lashed to the mast – that’s a different episode, I know – declaring himself to be both for and against his brother’s war in Iraq, for and against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and mystified as to why anybody would think he disliked the leering monstrosity standing to his right.
Plenty of virtual ink has already been spilled on the horse-race ramifications of the Great Quicken Quack, but that’s really all you need to know: Trump was diminished just a little, and Bush seemed lucid and calm. Jeb may have even looked “statesmanlike,” by which I mean that he talked in circles as usual but did not seem incredibly bored or as if he’d be happier wearing an orange smock and taking your order for parquet paneling at Home Depot. At least to this point, those 47 other dudes – plus Carly Fiorina, the micro-star of the micro-debate apparently held in the employee break room of a call center – are just window dressing. One aspect of the conventional wisdom is clearly correct: Polyphemus has dashed out the brains of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the two most dangerous and least controllable Bush alternatives, and left them broken and whimpering. From the point of view of the big-money donors who orchestrate the Wrepublican Wrestlemania, that is mostly a good thing.
Republicans love wars, and over the past decade it appears it does not matter one iota who they are at war with; just so they get to wreak death and destruction on human beings. Oh it is true they love little more than waging war against Muslims on behalf of their ‘most favored’ nation, Israel, but because they are “the structurally violent segment of society,” they also love waging war on Americans. Part and parcel of the Republican war on Americans is borne of their godly devotion to the Koch brothers and their dirty fossil fuel industry, but now the Kochs have abandoned working behind the scenes and are openly expanding their war against the people and the Pope.
The final straw was the official adoption of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan this week that incited the enemies of clean air, the economy, the Pope, and the people prepared their substantial forces to prevent America from reducing the amount of carbon it produces to stem the devastation of anthropogenic climate change. The war became official when at long last, mainstream mediareported that the Koch brothers’ legislative arm, the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity openly vowed to “stop the CPP’s implementation” at all costs.
The Washington Post reported that the Kochs’ and their fossil fuel industry underlings intend on launching a rash of initiatives at the state and local level to stop the CPP implementation in Congress, the courts, and state legislatures and country governments. At the local level, the Koch brothers directed their legislative arm ALEC to convene a special task force comprised of fossil-fuel interests and electricity producers. The Koch task force rapidly “approved model legislation to be sent to state and local governments around the nation giving them ‘special authority’ to ‘expedite approval of resources to challenge the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”
Expedite approval of resources is typical ALEC-speak for legislation giving Republicans unchallenged authority to transfer taxpayer dollars allotted for education, transportation, and healthcare into a giant legal fund to challenge, and block, CPP implementation in the courts; all to keep those same taxpayers breathing foul air and suffering harsher droughts, more intense, larger wildfires, and more severe weather events. Americans should never making the mistake of thinking the Kochs are at war solely with the Obama Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency although they are prime targets; this war is fundamentally against the American people who will be around long after the Obama Administration is termed out. However, the people should not feel they are being singled out by the Kochs; the oil magnates have also publicly opened up a battle front against Pope Francis over his audacity of hope that world governments will address climate change.
Conservatives are declaring that the “witch hunt” against Governor Scott Walker is over because the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the special prosecutor to stop the John Doe investigation into Walker’s alleged illegal coordinated with dark money groups during his recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
They claim that Scott Walker was cleared of illegally coordinating with dark money during his recall campaign. This isn’t exactly accurate, and it matters because the court’s ruling impacts the rights and voices of Wisconsin citizens.
This probe not “political”, as a bipartisan group district attorneys were behind it and the County District Attorney John Chisholm has gone after both parties. In fact, Chisholm — who is being inaccurately eviscerated for having a political agenda — has gone after mostly fellow Democrats. This doesn’t stop conservative outlets and politicians from pretending this is all Chisholm. Personal attacks and smears are the best recourse of the guilty – smear the source, smear the facts. It works, so they do it.
But the facts tell a different story.
The Wisconsin State Journal/Host Madison reported that the court, which helpfully for Scott Walker’s presidential run ordered that all “potential evidence — including thousands of pages of emails and other documents — be returned and all copies be destroyed”, ruled that outlawing coordination was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague under the First Amendment.”
The secret John Doe investigation targeted suspected illegal coordination — the special prosecutor referred to “a criminal scheme” — between Republicans and purportedly independent conservative groups that supported Walker as he beat back the effort to oust him from office. Documents obtained by investigators indicated Walker’s involvement in directing donors to the independent advocacy groups.
In its opinion released early Thursday, the majority said a state law outlawing such coordination was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague under the First Amendment.”
Campaign finance advocates predicted the ruling would relegate most Wisconsin citizens to the sidelines in future elections with anonymous, deep-pocketed donors taking over. The critics also began discussing an appeal to federal courts.
This does not mean that Scott Walker did not violate the law. It means the court thinks the law sucks. They decided to ignore the criminal elements of the charges and focus on the state’s campaign laws instead. So they found fault with the law that would make what the evidence suggests was illegal coordination to be no good. Change the interpretation of the law and suddenly Scott Walker is not guilty.
To reiterate, the John Doe investigation was looking into suspected illegal coordination and they had documents indicating Walker’s involvement. That’s criminal. Or it was, until the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided they didn’t like that law.
The WSJ noted, “… the four state Supreme Court justices considered to be conservatives benefited in their own elections from millions of dollars spent in their behalf by so-called independent groups.”
Dissenting opinion provided by Justice Shirley Abrahamson criticized the majority opinion for having a “faulty interpretation” of the state’s campaign finance law and the majority ignored the criminal element of the accusations, “I conclude that the Special Prosecutor has a valid legal theory to support his investigation.”
Thanks to this ruling, dark money from outside of the state will be allowed to buy elections. Or, as the Republicans call it, “freedom”.
The more Charles and David Koch provided the resources for a massive political operation, the more it seemed as if the far-right billionaires were creating a political party of their own. The Kochs had an army of field organizers, blanketed the airwaves with political ads, and even had their own voter lists.
All of this, of course, raises important questions about the role of money in the political process, and just how much influence wealthy interests can wield in a democratic system. But as Yahoo Newsreports today, for the Republican National Committee, the Koch brothers’ power is raising very different kinds of questions.
The Yahoo News report notes, for example, that in the 2014 election cycle, the RNC and the Kochs’ operation struck a deal to share voter data, though the arrangement evaporated once the season came and went. Now, however, the two sides are sharply at odds, creating what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.”
Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts – which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC – is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.
The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over – some even say control of – the GOP.
Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff, told Yahoo News, “I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”
I can appreciate why fights over data may seem like the ultimate in inside-baseball, but this is a fight worth paying close attention to.
Remember, for many modern campaigns, this data is the foundation for any successful endeavor. The more reliable and comprehensive the data, and the easier it is to use, the more effective the targeting, messaging, advertising, and grassroots organizing of any major campaign.
In this case, as one might expect, the Republican National Committee controls the Republican voter file, but the Kochs’ operation seems to have discovered that it really doesn’t need the Republican National Committee – the Kochs have their own platform to manage the data, and their own relationships with campaigns that want to make use of the data.
If that’s the case, some of you may be wondering why the Republican National Committee is needed at all – and you wouldn’t be the only one. From the Yahoo piece:
The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs – whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party – decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so. […]
The Kochs’ political arm, Freedom Partners, which oversees i360, views the issue as one of capability. Koch aides – several of whom used to work at the RNC – want to win elections, and in their view the RNC has inherent challenges to helping the party win. Party committee fundraising is severely limited by federal election law, while building, maintaining and enriching a database is expensive.
The other angle to keep in mind is just how striking it is to see Republican officials discover their heretofore non-existent concerns about outside money and the political process. The RNC’s Katie Walsh didn’t even rely on anonymity – she straight up told Yahoo News, on the record, that she believes it’s “dangerous” to extend too much power to “well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone.”
Ya don’t say. We might want to think twice before turning over parts of the democratic process to unaccountable, wealthy players with their own agenda? I’ve heard similar concerns for many years, but I don’t recall them ever coming from RNC officials.
Happy Earth Day! Today is a day we can all band together and share our love for this beautiful planet—or at least drown our sorrows about climate change with nerdy themed cocktails. Later today, President Barack Obama will mark the occasion with a climate-focused speech in the Florida Everglades. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, had a different idea: Fire a big chunk of the state’s environmental staff.
Fifty-seven employees of the state Department of Natural Resources began receiving formal notices this week that they might face layoff as part of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget for the next two fiscal years…
The DNR’s scientific staff conducts research on matters ranging from estimating the size of the state’s deer herd to to studying the effects of aquatic invasive species. Work is paid for with state and federal funds…
All told, Walker’s budget would cut 66 positions from the DNR. Of this, more than 25% would come from the science group. Cosh said a smaller number of employees received notices than the 66 positions in the budget because some positions targeted for cuts are vacant.
It’s no secret that a signature tactic in Walker’s controversial environmental recordhas been to degrade the DNR, which in addition to carrying out research is tasked with regulating the state’s mining industries. Still, the timing of this particular announcement is striking. I guess no one marked Earth Day on Walker’s calendar.
Neither Walker’s office nor DNR immediately returned requests for comment.
As consolation for this depressing news, here’s is a webcam of pandas at the San Diego Zoo.