Republican Party leaders are urging big donors to start writing checks, and the check-writers now include Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
NPR has confirmed a Politico report that Adelson is putting in $20 million, evenly divided between Crossroads GPS and American Action Network. Both are 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that don’t disclose their donors — or nondonors, as an AAN spokesman put it.
Pro-Democratic superPACs have surprised conservatives by outadvertising them in key races.
The Crossroads GPS funds are aimed at Senate races, where Republicans need a gain of six seats to win control of the chamber. The Wesleyan Media Project reported this week that on broadcast television between Aug. 29 and Sept. 11, there were more than 34,000 pro-Democratic ads in Senate races, versus fewer than 30,000 pro-Republican spots.
Adelson money for American Action Network is targeting House contests, even though the House GOP majority is considered secure. Last week AAN said it is spending $5.3 million on ad campaigns against six Democratic incumbents. The Wesleyan Media Project report found that Democratic candidates in those races were benefiting from a 2-to-1 edge in advertising.
Adelson is CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which has casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Singapore and Macau. His wife, Miriam, is a physician.
These two contributions mark his first high-dollar, high-profile spending this cycle. In 2012, the Adelsons gave $92.8 million to conservative superPACs and other organizations, far outpacing other donors of disclosed contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Federal Election Commission data show that the top two Adelson beneficiaries in 2012 were Winning Our Future, a superPAC promoting Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid, with $25.5 million; and American Crossroads, the superPAC affiliate of Crossroads GPS, with $23 million.
Spokesmen for Crossroads GPS and American Action Network would neither confirm nor deny Adelson’s contributions.
The procedural vote was 79 in favor, 18 against.
The vote means the Senate can begin debate on the measure. But it is highly unlikely to ultimately pass the chamber as it faces fierce Republican opposition. It would need to clear another 60-vote threshold in order to end debate and come to a final vote. And that final vote would require the support of two-thirds of senators to succeed.
The measure, proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), would restore the legal right of Congress to establish campaign spending limits. Approved by committee on a party line basis in July, it is one of several pre-election votes Senate Democrats are planning in an attempt to highlight the contrast between the two parties before Americans head to the polls.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said Republicans are happy to debate the measure, but “to be clear, there is zero support on our side for rewriting the First Amendment to restrict free speech.”
Democrats chose to spotlight the issue because the public is on their side. Most Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in 2010, which wiped out limits on independent expenditures aimed at influencing elections, thereby giving rise to super PACs. Earlier this year, the same five justices ruled to further loosen campaign finance restrictions on aggregate spending by an individual to political candidates and committees in a given cycle.
In both cases, all five Republican-appointed justices voted to remove restrictions, while all four Democratic-appointed justices voted to uphold them.
McConnell, an ardent opponent of campaign finance restrictions, wrote an opinion piece for Politico magazine ahead of the vote bashing “the Democrats’ assault on free speech,” a line of attack also used by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Progressive activists have been aggressively campaigning for the measure, viewing it as a long-term project. Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, argued that the issue would help Democrats “excite voters this November.”
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
Last June, presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz traveled to Iowa for an event convened by David Lane, a political operative who uses pastors to mobilize conservative Christian voters.
Lane is a Christian-nation extremist who believes the Bible should be a primary textbook in America’s public schools, and that any politician who disagrees should be voted out. Lane’s events are usually closed to the media, but he has given special access to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s sympathetic David Brody. Brody’s coverage of the Iowa event included short video clips of comments by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who were identified only as members of Lane’s Pastors and Pews group.
CBN’s Brody reported, “The Wilks brothers worry that America’s declining morals will especially hurt the younger generation, so they’re using the riches that the Lord has blessed them with to back specific goals.” One of those goals may be David Lane’s insistence that politicians make the Bible a primary textbook in public schools.
Here’s Dan Wilks speaking to Brody: “I just think we have to make people aware, you know, and bring the Bible back into the school, and start teaching our kids at a younger age, and, uh, you know, and focus on the younger generation.” And here’s Farris: “They’re being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”
That was the first time we had heard of the billionaire Wilks brothers, who have become generous donors to right-wing politicians and Republican Party committees. While both Farris and Dan have given to conservative groups and candidates, it is older brother Farris whose foundation has become a source of massive donations to Religious Right groups and to the Koch brothers’ political network. Farris also funds a network of “pregnancy centers” that refuse, on principle, to talk to single women about contraception (married women need to check with their husband and pastor).
Like David Barton, Farris thinks conservative economics are grounded in the Bible. Like Mitt Romney, he says people shouldn’t vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that.” Like any number of Religious Right leaders, he saw Barack Obama’s re-election as a harbinger of the End Times and he believes God will punish America for embracing homosexuality. Unlike all of them, he’s on the list of the world’s richest people.
They’re Fracking Billionaires!
Dan and Farris Wilks became successful working in and then running the masonry business that was started by their father; they have now turned the company over to the next generation of Wilks men. But Dan and Farris really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade.
The fracking boom has produced a surge in wealthy Texans. In 2002, the Wilks brothers created Frac Tech, which produced equipment used in fracking, or in industry parlance, “well stimulation services.” In May 2011, Dan and Farris sold Frac Tech to a group of investors led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund for $3.5 billion. Their share was reportedly 68% of that total, and they showed up on the 2011 Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion each. The most recent Forbes list put their estimated wealth at $1.5 billion each. (In our gilded age, that puts them near the bottom of the Forbes 400, and barely gets them into the top 40 in Texas. But you can still do an awful lot with $3 billion.)
The Wilks brothers have gone on a land-buying spree out West, amassing huge holdings in Montana, Idaho, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado. In December 2012, the Billings Gazette reported that they had amassed more than 276,000 acres in Montana, or more than 430 square miles; more recent reports say they own more than 301,300 acres in the state. Among their purchases was the historic 62,000-acre N Bar Ranch, which had been listed for $45 million.
The brothers reportedly started building an airstrip that summer across from the N Bar Ranch headquarters to make travel to their property on their 18-passenger corporate jet a little easier. The Wilks brothers have proposed a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management to consolidate their holdings; last month their attorney said they were “blindsided” when BLM said it would not trade the 2,700-acre Durfee Hills after hunters complained about losing access to the land and its elk.
In January 2013, they bought a nearly 18,000-acre ranch in Idaho, which brought their total in that state to almost 36,000 acres. In 2011, Farris was reported to have paid $16 million for what was then the most expensive ski-accessible home in the history of Snowmass Village, Colorado.
An Aspen newspaper reported in 2012 that Dan owned two homes in Aspen, one worth $8.3 million and another worth $4.9 million. At the end of 2012 they bought the Advancial Tower, a 17-story skyscraper in Dallas reportedly appraised at $16.25 million. And last August, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Wilks brothers had bought 122 acres of land in a business park in Southlake, Texas. Farris also reportedly paid to have a “world class” recording studio installed in his 20,000-square-foot home and to have his church’s audio-visual system similarly upgraded.
Members of the Wilks family have been philanthropists in their hometown over the years, funding, for example, a community center and mobile emergency command post for local fire departments. More recently they have distributing their wealth in support of right-wing causes and conservative politicians. According to Forbes, Dan has six children, Farris has 11.
A(nother) Foundation for the Far Right
The Wilks brothers and their wives have stashed a sizeable chunk of money in charitable foundations: Farris and his wife Joann created The Thirteen Foundation, while Dan and his wife Staci started Heavenly Father’s Foundation. The Thirteen Foundation has become a major funder to Religious Right organizations and to right-wing political outfits that are part of the Koch brother’s network.
In 2011, Farris and Joann each put $50 million into The Thirteen Foundation, and they started writing huge checks. In 2011 and 2012, the last year for which giving records are publicly available, the foundation gave away more than $17 million. Here’s where much of it went:
Media Revolution Ministries (Online for Life) $2,242,857
American Majority Inc $2,114,100
State Policy Networks $1,526,125
Focus on the Family $1,400,000
Franklin Center for Gov’t and Public Integrity $1,309,775
Life Dynamics Inc. $1,275,000
Liberty Counsel $1,000,000
Heritage Foundation $700,000
Family Research Council $530,000
Texas Right to Life Committee Education Fund $310,000
Texas Home School Coalition $250,000
Heartbeat International $197,000
Wallbuilders Presentations, Inc $85,000
National Institute of Marriage $75,000
These gifts amount to a massive infusion of funds into some of the most aggressive right-wing organizations that are fighting legal equality for LGBT people, access to contraception and abortion services for women, and promoting the Tea Party’s vision of a federal government that is constitutionally forbidden from protecting American workers, consumers, and communities by regulating corporate behavior.
American Majority, the Franklin Center, the Heritage Foundation, and the State Policy Networks are all part of the Koch brothers’ right-wing political network, promoting policy attacks on public employees and their unions, outsourcing public resources for private profit, privatization of public education, and more:
- The Franklin Center, closely allied to the American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-wing groups, produces and supports ideological advocacy sites that that it pretends is “nonpartisan” journalism.
- American Majority trains and supports Tea Party activist networks.
- The Heritage Foundation is a right-wing propaganda behemoth masquerading as a think tank. It promotes Religious Right social conservatism and Tea Party anti-government ideology, arguing that the two are “indivisible.”
- The State Policy Network comprises mini-Heritage Foundations – right-wing “think tanks” at the state level that work closely with ALEC and right-wing lawmakers.
The Thirteen Foundation’s gifts are a boon to some of the most extreme Religious Right groups in the country. Among the recipients:
- The Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group affiliated with Liberty University, is home to right-wing legal activist Mat Staver and the increasingly unhinged Matt Barber. Liberty Counsel promotes extreme anti-Obama and anti-gay rhetoric, warning that the country is descending into religious tyranny and on the verge of revolution. Staver and Barber support laws criminalizing homosexuality and call the Obama administration’s opposition to such laws in other countries “immoral.”
- The Family Research Council, designated an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosts the annual Values Voter Summit, the annual family reunion for far-right religious and political groups and right-wing politicians. FRC and its leader Tony Perkins oppose equality for LGBT Americans and promote the myth of anti-Christian persecution in the U.S.
- Focus on the Family, founded by James Dobson, is one of the largest Religious Right groups in the country. Earlier this year Vice President Tim Goeglein called gay rights movement “one of the great threats to our religious liberty.” President Jim Daly is reportedly scheduled to speak at the World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in Moscow in September.
- Wallbuilders promotes the historical revisionism of “historian” David Barton, whose claims have been widely discredited but who remains influential within the Religious Right and the GOP. In addition to his “Christian Nation” history, Barton argues that the Bible opposes the minimum wage, progressive taxation, capital gains taxes, the estate tax, and unions and collective bargaining.
See the section on the War on Women below for information about anti-choice organizations on the list. Other gifts supported Prime Time Christian Broadcasting, Inc., which runs God’s Learning Channel, “a satellite network dedicated to bringing the gospel of the kingdom into the entire world and teaching everyone about the Torah and the true roots of Christianity“; the Wounded Warrior Project; and a number of local churches that seem to be affiliated with the church at which Farris is an elder. One gift that seems like an outlier was $50,000 to the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which funds legal services for the poor, advocates for immigration reform, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of a binational same-sex couple.
Farris’s brother Dan and his wife Staci each gave $55 million to their Heavenly Father’s Foundation, according to the group’s 2011 990 form. That year the foundation reported $110 million in income but only $309,000 in disbursements, mostly to the Mountain Top Church in their hometown of Cisco ($287,000) with smaller amounts to a pregnancy center called the Open Door ($20,000) and to the American Diabetes Association ($2,000).
Its 2012 contributions were primarily to several churches but also included ministries that provide meals to the poor, a five-year pledge to a local domestic violence crisis center, $20,000 to the Open Door pregnancy center, $1.7 million to a drug and alcohol treatment center whose 30th anniversary celebration in May featured Mike Huckabee, and intriguingly, $100,000 to the Eastland County District Attorney’s office to cover “budget shortage.”
Of course, individual contributions that Wilks family members make to advocacy organizations are not publicly reported.
In Politics, Paying to Play
The Wilks brothers made a bit of a splash in Montana when it was revealed that they were the top donors to 2012 Republican legislative candidates in the state. A February 2013 report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that Dan and Farris Wilks and their wives “donated to more than 70 candidates, all Republicans, and generally gave the maximum contribution allowed by law to legislative candidates, $160 for a general election.”
The report said that 70 percent of Republican legislators got contributions from the Wilkses. (AP noted that all bills aimed at regulating fracking in the 2011 legislature were killed by Republican-led committees.) According to the Institute, 64 of the state-level candidates they supported won – 63 legislators and Attorney General Tim Fox.
The Wilkses also gave heavily to Dennis Rehberg, a former Republican U.S. congressman from Montana who gave up his seat to mount an unsuccessful challenge against Sen. Jon Tester in 2012, and to Steven Daines, the Republican who won the House seat vacated by Rehberg and who is now running to for U.S. Senate.
Collectively, Dan and Farris and their wives gave the Rehberg and Daines campaigns each $10,000 in 2012, with another $37,500 going to the Rehberg Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee that funneled money to Rehberg’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Farris and Joann have together given $10,400 toward Steve Daines’s 2014 reelection.
Their political giving has not been limited to Montana. In Texas, according to state campaign finance records, the brothers each gave $25,000 to Texans for Rick Perry in 2012. Farris also gave $2,500 to State Rep. Stefani Carter, the first Republican African American woman to serve in the state House; Farris and Joann also gave $5,000 to the failed Supreme Court campaign of Steve Smith.
Last year, Perry announced he would not run for a fourth term as governor. Earlier this year, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, reported nearly $31,000 in in-kind contributions from Farris and Dan for use of an airplane. Farris also gave $1,000 in January to the Texas Home School Coalition PAC.
This year, in the election for California’s 44th Assembly District, Dan, Staci, and Farris Wilks have given thousands to the campaign of Rob McCoy, a conservative evangelical pastor who is also backed by Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee. In the June 3 primary, the Wilks-backed McCoy came in second place to Democrat Jacqui Irwin, a City Councilwoman from Thousand Oaks, beating the more moderate Republican candidate, businessman Mario de la Piedra. Irwin and McCoy will face off in the general election.
During the 2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission’s database, the brothers and their wives together contributed $125,000 to the Romney Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee benefitting the Romney campaign and the Republican Party.
Joann also contributed $25,000 to the Faith Family Freedom Fund, a “soft money” fund run by a former Family Research Council executive and housed in FRC’s Washington, DC building. The fund makes independent expenditures for or against candidates; in 2012 it spent in support of Todd Akin, George Allen, Steve King, and other right-wing candidates, and against Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine, Barack Obama, and other Democratic candidates.
In 2011, Farris gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $2,500, and he gave $7,600 to the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund between 2010 and 2012. In 2010 Farris gave Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle $1000 and in 2008 he gave $2,500 to the McCain-Palin Victory Committee.
Wilks and the War on Women
As Kate Sheppard reported last August for Mother Jones, The Thirteen Foundation’s 2011 gift to Life Dynamics, a Texas-based anti-abortion group, funded a campaign to mass-mail DVDs to lawyers encouraging them to sue abortion clinics into oblivion. Crooks and Liars blogger Karoli has noted that Life Dynamics “actively engages in espionage against organizations serving women” and operates campaigns to harass doctors who perform abortions.
The more than $2 million that The Thirteen Foundation gave to Media Revolution Ministries in 2012 allowed for a vast expansion of the group, which had only an $80,000 budget the year before. The group, also known as Online for Life, says it “implements cutting-edge Internet and traditional marketing outreaches to connect with abortion-determined women and men.” In other words, they try to “intercept” women who search for abortion information and send them to anti-choice “pregnancy centers.”
Those funds may have been used to help “pregnancy centers” buy ads on search terms like “abortion clinics” to “intercept” women who went online. NARAL Pro-Choice America cited Online for Life’s Google ads when it announced in April that its investigations had led Google to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that violated the search engine’s rules against deceptive advertising.
The Thirteen Foundation also gave $450,000 in 2011 to Care Net, a network of Christian “pregnancy centers” whose “standards of affiliation” include this requirement:
The pregnancy center does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and physician.).
The Wilks are also backers of Open Door, a local Christian “crisis pregnancy center” to which the Thirteen Foundation gave more than $90,000 in 2012. Farris and Joann have also been benefactors of Texas Right to Life.
The Wilks Worldview
With the exception of the brief interaction with CBN’s David Brody, the Wilks brothers have generally been media-shy. But the worldview of Farris, the older of the two brothers, whose foundation is backing the Religious Right and Tea Party movements, is quite clearly revealed in the sermons he preaches.
In addition to his business ventures, Farris, the older brother, is also a pastor at the church founded by his father, The Assembly of Yahweh (7th Day). The church’s doctrine seems to be an amalgam based on the elder Wilks’ anachronistic interpretations of the Bible. It combines biblical literalism with a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament: The church celebrates its Sabbath on Saturday, follows the dietary rules laid down in Leviticus, and celebrates Jewish holidays but not “the religious holidays of the Gentiles,” which include “Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, White Sunday, Good Friday, and Halloween.” (I had to look up White Sunday, which is a traditional Samoan holiday. There’s a significant Samoan community in Texas). Women may not speak during worship.
The church’s doctrinal points align with the Religious Right on many policy issues. Abortion is “murder,” including pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. Homosexuality is “a serious crime – a very grievous sin.”
A number of Farris Wilks’ sermons can be heard through his church’s website. Back in November 2012, he was pretty despondent about the re-election of Barack Obama: “I do believe that our country died that Tuesday night, to all that’s honorable, that’s good, that’s ambitious, and that has justice. The old way of life that we will take care of ourselves, we will be self-sufficient as much as we are able, the pride in pulling your own weight, or paddling your own canoe.” The sermon includes small-government quotes from Thomas Jefferson, anti-socialist quotes from Winston Churchill, and a bootstraps approach to poverty. “The best way to get out of poverty is to go to work,” he says. “That is one of the simplest ways to make it go away.”
Wilks said he was “refreshed” by biblical texts about the End Times, speculating that the election went the way it did “because maybe it’s time to wrap up some things, maybe it’s time to move on to the next one thousand years.” And he warned of persecution against Christians:
I will tell you now that you need to be ready for a little bit more scoffing and ridicule than maybe we’ve experienced in the past, because I think not only us but the Christian community at large is coming under attack, not only in America but throughout the world. We see it on the late night talk shows. One man in particular. And some time you think, man, it would almost be nice if the judgment would happen so we can see what would happen to those people. …for the things they are saying, which are so vulgar and violent against Yahweh…his mercy must be inexhaustible to put up with that…
Several months later, after his participation in the David Lane event in Iowa, Wilks was feeling motivated to do more to impact the future of America. In a July 2, 2013, sermon he referred to claims made by discredited Religious Right “historian” David Barton about the country’s founders and Barton’s assertion that many of our laws come from the scriptures. And in a sermon he described as a “study of Sodom and Gomorrah,” he laid out his belief that the country is facing a clear choice:
As most of you probably know by now, we are in a battle for our society. Will we follow the secular religion of man, him being supreme, and evolving, or will we submit to Elohim, who has the right to give us laws and commandments to follow since he is the one who created us? Who is in charge? Is it man, or is it our creator?
He read scripture passages that referred to the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in what he said was punishment for “base and demented” sexual practices, the tolerance of which in America “could bring about the end of our nation.” He warned that allowing same-sex couples to get married would soon lead to bestiality being promoted and accepted. “I do believe we live in a nation that will start to vomit some of its people out,” he warned. After reading a passage from Isaiah in which the land and its inhabitants are cursed for their depravity, he said:
I fear that that is where we are as a nation. We have been in the blessed part of our nation, but I think we’re coming to the point now…we’re going to reap what we have sown, and what we have sown has not been good…what it says here, that the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants. Think of all the murder that has happened in this country….all the babies that have been murdered…think of all the perversions in the realm of sexual perversion of all kinds…all the breaking of Yahweh’s covenant….and so you recognize that at some point Yahweh’s going to say it’s time to wrap up… it’s time to move on to a kingdom of people that want to serve me, that want to be redeemed, that want salvation…we have to draw some lines in the sand for ourselves….
He also mocked environmentalism and the effort to save certain animals or the polar caps. “We didn’t create the Earth so how can we save it?” When you realize that Yahweh is in control, “it’s much simpler,” he says. “You can turn over some of those responsibilities to him.” Maybe the melting of polar ice is us “getting a little scorched here” as a message from God.
Later last summer he returned to the Sodom and Gomorrah theme, denouncing the gay pride movement as an example of lust and defiance of authority described in the Bible. “What we’re fighting against today is not a sexual revolution particular to our own enlightened age, but it’s a return to pre-Christian pagan sexual immorality or perversion.”
And Farris sounded like the most extreme anti-gay Religious Right leaders in portraying gay people as child predators:
If we all took on this lifestyle, all humanity would perish in one generation…So this lifestyle is a predatorial lifestyle in that they need your children and straight people having kids to fulfill their sexual habits. They can’t do it by their self. They want your children….But we’re in a war for our children. They want your children. So what will you teach your children? A strong family is the last defense.
And, he said, they won’t stop, predicting that pedophilia and bestiality will soon be legal.
Just before Christmas he preached on spiritual apathy in America. He warned that apathy is closing church doors in America just as liberalism and secularism. He railed against people forgetting the Sabbath and spending too much time on entertainment. He warned that God would lift his “mantle of protection” against the U.S. because it is no longer protecting the family.
Earlier this year, Farris preached on “Government That We Can Believe In.” In that sermon, he proclaimed that he loves America but that all nations fail at some point. The founding fathers did a good job, but the nation’s cornerstones are now crumbling: “It’s because of the lack of morality, the lack of continuity of one like belief in our heavenly father – those are the things that are bringing our nation to its knees.”
But this sermon focused less on sexual immorality and more on the threat of socialism. Yahweh, he preached, is “someone who respects private ownership” and the Torah is “set up on the free enterprise system.”
He said “there are only two basic ideas in the whole world” – and those are free enterprise and socialism. The U.S., he warned, is “inching closer to socialism.” You either have more government or more freedom; the more money taken from you in taxes, the fewer choices you have in life. He acknowledged that he has a “personal stake” in this, saying he pays a “huge amount” in taxes.
He urged congregants not to vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that,” saying that would lead us to become one of the poor nations of the world. “Yahweh never intended for us as a people to be afraid and reliant on government.”
An Answer to Prayer?
Televangelist James Robison recently told participants in a Tea Party Unity conference call that he is praying for a merger of the Tea Party and the Religious Right. It’s enough to make one wonder where Robison has been for the past few years. There has always been a overlap between the Tea Party and the Religious Right movements. And since the early days of the anti-Obama Tea Party organizing, right-wing strategists like Ralph Reed and Rick Scarborough have been trying to more fully merge the organizing energies of the two movements into an electoral machine.
Groups like the Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation have worked hard to limit the influence of libertarians in the conservative movement by portraying social and economic conservatism as “indivisible,” while Republican activists like “historian” David Barton have claimed that there is a biblical underpinning for the far-right’s anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government agenda.
Maybe the miracle Robison was really looking for was a big pile of cash to fund his next project. In which case, the answer to his prayers might be found in the person of Farris Wilks, preacher, right-wing activist, and billionaire.
In a 2005 profile in the Christian Science Monitor, Republican uber-consultant Grover Norquist said this about his party’s goals in state legislatures:
“We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals — and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.”
In that regard, Mr. Norquist just won an “enormous victory” in Missouri.
We put those two words in the preceding sentence in quotation marks because they are the identical words Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones used on Wednesday to describe what was actually a failed vote to get his veto-proof Republican majority to pass one of his stated priorities: right-to-work legislation intended to weaken unions in the state.
Why would the speaker of the House, who knows a bill or resolution needs a constitutional majority — at least 82 out of 163 — votes to pass, celebrate getting only 78 of them as not only a victory, but an enormous victory? Particularly when he couldn’t even control his own caucus; 19 Republicans voted against the anti-union measure, two voted present and nine others took the proverbial walk out of the chamber to avoid voting.
Reason: Because Grover Norquist will consider it a victory.
Bringing a right-to-work measure to the floor for a vote that couldn’t pass had nothing to do with Missouri workers. It had nothing to do with jobs. It had nothing to do with making Missouri a better state.
It was about fulfilling the goal of Mr. Norquist and other Republican kingmakers to turn the Missouri Capitol “toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.”
They direct big donors in the age of dark money. They are nothing but vultures, and they are winning.
Mr. Norquist is known as the man behind Americans for Tax Reform, the GOP-advocacy group that successfully got a majority of Republicans in Congress to sign a pledge that said they will pretty much never raise taxes.
But it’s not the tax pledge that Mr. Norquist uses to control Republican votes. It’s his access to big money donors like the Koch brothers, and his ability — honed during his alliance with ex-lobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff — to obscure the source of that money by running it through various shell organizations.
A speaker of the House who is looking out for his caucus doesn’t schedule a vote that is destined to fail and put a target on the back of many of his members. That’s really bad politics. But that’s what Mr. Jones did, because for all practical purposes, he’s no longer really the speaker of the House. He’s term-limited. As a putative candidate for some future office, he’ll need Mr. Norquist’s help.
If the price of future fundraising is creating a little “bitter nastiness” in his own party, so be it.
We’ve outlined our opposition to the right-to-work legislation on these pages many times. In short, like local religious leaders, we believe the effort is merely an attempt to hurt Missouri’s workers by reducing their power to bargain collectively.
What all Missourians should care about is the damage Mr. Jones and his ilk are doing to the legislative process for no other motive than lining their own pockets.
Mr. Norquist and his friends now have the names of 30 Republicans who refused to do their bidding. They can ask their donors for money to target those Republicans with advertisements, to recruit future candidates for nasty primaries, to make Missouri even more divided than it already is. Eventually they hope to find 82 stooges who will pass legislation turning the state into their vision of an oligarchical utopia, a reverse Robin Hood society in which the rich take from the poor.
There will now be Missouri political consultants — oxpeckers, we like to call them — lining up to take on those 30 members of the GOP. Many are from the St. Louis region, where they represent businesses and workers who care about middle-class jobs and wages. They will be under pressure to throw their constituents under the bus.
Or perhaps they have other legislation pending, to fix Missouri’s criminal code, or expand Medicaid, or fund schools, or aid the transfer of students from failing schools.
They will be told by the dark money vultures that if they don’t switch their votes on right-to-work, important legislation that serves the state will be held hostage.
This is the Missouri Legislature that Grover Norquist, Washington insider, wants. It has nothing to do with Missouri and it has less than nothing to do with improving the state’s economy.
It is about a hungry vulture looking for a carcass to feed his insatiable hunger.
Say no to the vultures, Missouri lawmakers. You have to be better than that.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday released its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the blockbuster money-in-politics case of the current term. The court’s five conservative justices all agreed that the so-called aggregate limit on the amount of money a donor can give to candidates, political action committees, and political parties is unconstitutional. In a separate opinion, conservative justice Clarence Thomas went even further, calling on the court to overrule Buckley v. Valeo, the 1975 decision that concluded it was constitutional to limit contributions to candidates.
In their dissent, the court’s four liberal justices called their colleagues’ logic “faulty” and said it “misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake.” The dissent continues, “Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The decision is a boon for wealthy donors, a potential lifeline for the weakened Democratic and Republican parties, and the latest in a series of setbacks dealt by the Roberts court to supporters of tougher campaign laws. Here’s what you need to know.
How’d this happen?
In the 2012 election cycle, a wealthy Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon tried to make donations in the amount of $1,776 to 27 right-leaning congressional candidates. Not so fast, replied the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the nation’s campaign finance watchdog.
Not only does the FEC cap the amount of money a donor can give to, say, Joe Schmo for Congress ($2,600 per election in 2013-14) or the Democratic National Committee ($5,000); the FEC also puts a ceiling on the number of within-the-limit donations a donor can make in a single election cycle. In the 2012 cycle, the aggregate limit for a donor like McCutcheon was $117,000 in donations to campaigns, PACs, and party committees. (To be clear, the PACs in this instance are of the traditional variety, the ones that have been around since the 1940s, not the super-PACs ushered in after the 2010 Citizens United decision.)
McCutcheon didn’t like the FEC telling him he could give $1,776 to 26 congressional candidates but not 27. (That would’ve exceeded the aggregate limit for candidate donations, which at that time was $46,200.) So he sued the FEC, and the Republican National Committee later joined his case as a co-plaintiff.
After this decision, how much can Shaun McCutcheon give?
Hypothetically, a single donor can now contribute as much as $3.5 million, to be divvied up between candidates, PACs, and political parties. No single entity could receive any more than the legal limits, and when you add up all the contributions a donor could potentially make without the aggregate limits, you get $3.5 million. (The overall aggregate limit was raised to $123,200 for the 2014 cycle.)
Who benefits from the decision?
This one’s easy: Politically motivated rich people, the types who can afford to cut six- or seven-figure checks.
We have a pretty good idea who these people are. An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation identified 20 donors of so-called hard money (campaign donations made within federal limits) who might be “most likely to exceed” if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of McCutcheon. They include Stephen Bechtel, the retired chairman of the contracting firm Bechtel Corporation; investor Charles Schwab; leveraged buyout billionaire John W. Childs; and Ellen Susman, a Texas-based donor and fundraiser backing President Obama.
The people who stand to benefit from McCutcheon are also the wealthy few who bankroll super-PACs on both sides of the aisle. According to the left-leaning think tank Demos, almost 60 percent of all super-PAC funding in the last election cycle came from 159 donors—that’s two coach buses of people—who’d given $1 million or more. The casino magnate Sheldon Adelson alone reportedly gave $150 million in the 2012 election cycle. This Million-Dollar Donors Club rules the world of super-PACs, and critics of the McCutcheon ruling fear they’ll now rule the world of candidates, PACs, and political parties, too.
What’s more, the parties and Congress itself could benefit from the ruling. Since the 2010 Citizens United decision, super-PACs and political nonprofits (and the consultants who run them) have gorged on million-dollar donations because they can raise and spend unlimited cash. Political parties cannot rake in the cash so freely, and they’ve struggled as a result. University of California–Irvine law professor Rick Hasen, who did not support McCutcheon’s cause, nonetheless has argued that the decision could reinvigorate the parties and maybe scale back the gridlock crippling Congress.
What are the reactions to the McCutcheon decision?
Campaign finance reformers fear the ruling will lead to more political corruption and more dependence—within Congress and on the campaign trail—on the very wealthiest Americans. They also worry that this is another bad precedent that could lead to the erosion of what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws. “The Supreme Court majority voted in McCutcheon today to license the further corruption of our democracy,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the pro-regulation group Democracy 21. ”The Court re-created the system of legalized bribery today that existed during the Watergate days.”
Those who supported Shaun McCutcheon hailed the decision as a step in the right direction. Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, tweeted, “Today’s McCutcheon decision from the Court is important 1st step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees.” And Dan Backer, a conservative attorney who first persuaded Shaun McCutcheon to challenge the aggregate limits, tweeted: “FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!”
What comes next?
Although the court’s majority opinion in McCutcheon, written by Roberts, blew up the FEC’s aggregate limits, it did not take a broader swipe at campaign finance restrictions in general. Court-watchers feared a decision in McCutcheon that would open the door to future legal assaults on the bedrock of campaign finance law: direct contribution limits, such as the $2,600 limit to candidates, the $5,000 limit to PACs and party committees, and so on.
Ever since the passage of those limits in the wake of the Watergate scandal, conservatives have wanted to repeal them. They argue that such limits infringe on individuals’ right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Supreme Court precedent says that contribution limits are constitutional so long as they serve a governmental interest—namely, preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption. The high court has typically struck a balance between the First Amendment and combating corruption and its appearance.
However, for now, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito have chosen not to question those basic contribution limits. Only Thomas, in his separate opinion, argued for overruling Buckley v. Valeo, which said those basic limits were constitutional. The question going forward is whether Thomas can convince his fellow conservatives to join his cause and demolish the bedrock of modern campaign finance laws.
Read the Supreme Court opinion’s in McCutcheon v. FEC:DOCUMENTPAGESNOTESZoom
IN THE PREDAWN TWILIGHT of December 4, 2012, Randy Richardville, the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate, called an old friend to deliver some grim news. Richardville’s two-hour commute to the state capitol in Lansing gave him plenty of time to check in with friends, staff, and colleagues, who were accustomed to his early morning calls. None more so than Mike Jackson.
Jackson and Richardville had grown up in the auto town of Monroe, 40 miles south of Detroit. Jackson now headed Michigan’s 14,000-member carpenters and millwrights’ union, which had endorsed Richardville, a moderate Republican, for 10 of the 12 years he’d served in the state Legislature.
"Guess where I was last night," Richardville said.
Jackson wasn’t in a guessing mood—and it wasn’t just the early hour. Since the election a few weeks earlier, Republicans had been aiming to use the current lame-duck session to ram through a controversial piece of legislation known as right-to-work. Such laws, already on the books in 23 states, outlawed contracts requiring all employees in a unionized workplace to pay dues for union representation. Jackson and other labor leaders were scrambling to head off the bill, widely regarded as a disaster for unions. Richardville, who had once told a hotel conference room filled with union members that right-to-work would pass “over my dead body,” was one of the votes they’d counted on.
Richardville said he’d spent the previous evening at a fundraiser in western Michigan. At one point during the event, he was escorted into a private room where a dozen wealthy business moguls were waiting for him. Some he recognized as heavy hitters in Michigan politics; others had flown in from out of state.
One of the men in the room glared at Richardville. “You gotta grow a set and move this legislation,” the man said, referring to right-to-work. Had he ever run for office? Richardville asked. The man said no. “Well, when you grow a set and give that a try,” Richardville snapped, “then you can talk about the size of my testicles.”
Jackson was wide awake now. “Good for you,” he said. “How’d it end?”
"Mike, you’re fucked," Richardville said. "They’ve got all the money they need, they’re going up on the air, and they’re going to push this freedom-to-work thing."
Wasn’t there some way to head off the bill? Jackson asked. “They’ve got my caucus,” Richardville replied. “You can’t imagine the pressure I’m under.”
The pressure came largely from one man present at that fundraiser: Richard “Dick” DeVos Jr. The 58-year-old scion of the Amway Corporation, DeVos had arm-twisted Richardville repeatedly to support right-to-work. After six years of biding their time, DeVos and his allies believed the 2012 lame duck was the time to strike. They had formulated a single, all-encompassing strategy: They had a fusillade of TV, radio, and internet ads in the works. They’d crafted 15 pages of talking points to circulate to Republican lawmakers. They had even reserved the lawn around the state capitol for a month to keep protesters at bay.
A week after Richardville’s early morning call to Jackson, it was all over. With a stroke of his pen on December 11, Gov. Rick Snyder—who’d previously said right-to-work was not a priority of his—now made Michigan the 24th state to enact it. The governor marked the occasion by reciting, nearly verbatim, talking points that DeVos and his allies had distributed. “Freedom-to-work,” he said, is “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”
THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures. “There’s not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn’t known the DeVoses,” says Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
Nowhere has the family made its presence felt as it has in Michigan, where it has given more than $44 million to the state party, GOP legislative committees, and Republican candidates since 1997. “It’s been a generational commitment,” Anuzis notes. “I can’t start to even think of who would’ve filled the void without the DeVoses there.”
The family fortune flows from 87-year-old Richard DeVos Sr. The son of poor Dutch immigrants, he cofounded the multilevel-marketing giant Amway with Jay Van Andel, a high school pal, in 1959. Five decades later, the company now sells $11 billion a year worth of cosmetics, vitamin supplements, kitchenware, air fresheners, and other household products. Amway has earned DeVos Sr. at least $6 billion; in 1991, he expanded his empire by buying the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The Koch brothers can usually expect Richard and his wife, Helen, to attend their biannual donor meetings. He is a lifelong Christian conservative and crusader for free markets and small government, values he passed down to his four children.
Today, his eldest son, Dick, is the face of the DeVos political dynasty. Like his father, Dick sees organized labor as an enemy of freedom and union leaders as violent thugs who have “an almost pathological obsession with power.” But while DeVos Sr. simply inveighed against unions, Dick took the fight to them directly, orchestrating a major defeat for the unions in the cradle of the modern labor movement.
Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle. “Michigan big labor literally controls one of the major political parties,” Dick DeVos said last January. “I’m not suggesting they have influence; I’m saying they hold total dominance, command, and control.” So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.
More broadly, the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”
STEP OFF THE JET BRIDGE at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, and the DeVos imprimatur is everywhere. Leaving the airport you pass the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter school founded by Dick DeVos in 2010. In Grand Rapids itself, there’s the DeVos Place convention center, the DeVos Performance Hall, the DeVos Graduate School of Management, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Arts and Worship, the DeVos Communication Center at Calvin College, and the DeVos parking lot at Grand Valley State University.
I grew up not far from Grand Rapids, and the DeVos name was never far from mind. I heard it on the radio and at the dinner table—my parents are both teachers, and the DeVoses’ education reform efforts were a topic of discussion. In western Michigan, the DeVoses were the closest thing we had to Carnegies or Rockefellers.
Populated by the descendants of devout Dutch immigrants, Grand Rapids is a deeply Christian enclave that locals call “GRusalem.” Once a city of furniture makers, Grand Rapids began to prosper in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks largely to Amway. Launched in an abandoned gas station, the company grew into an empire by enlisting an army of “independent business owners,” or IBOs, to peddle Amway’s wares, eventually expanding to more than 100 countries and territories. The company formulated the business model now used by the likes of Mary Kay, Avon, and Herbalife, in which salespeople earn money by recruiting others into the business. In 1975, the Federal Trade Commission accused Amway of operating a pyramid scheme, but after a years-long investigation the agency rescinded the charge.
From the start, DeVos and Van Andel infused Amway—short for “American Way”—with their Christian beliefs and free-market principles. The Institute for Free Enterprise, a think tank run out of Amway’s headquarters, organized workshops nationwide to help teachers incorporate free-market economics into their lesson plans. During the 1970s, Amway bought ads in major newspapers that railed against taxation and regulation. Together, DeVos and Van Andel also helped to launch the now-defunct Citizen’s Choice, a conservative counterweight to the good-government group Common Cause. A smattering of headlines in the centerfold of Amway’s 1980 corporate magazine captures the company’s institutional philosophy: “Entrepreneur DeVos Preaches Self-Help: GOVERNMENT MEDDLING ASSAILED.” “Taxes and Government Rules Destroying Free Enterprise—Van Andel.”
Amway’s success and its conservative ethos catapulted both the elder DeVos and Van Andel into the highest reaches of Republican politics. Van Andel, who died in 2004, chaired the US Chamber of Commerce in 1979 and 1980, and he gave millions to Republican and conservative organizations in his lifetime. DeVos, meanwhile, was an early member and funder of the Council for National Policy, a secretive network of hardline conservative leaders founded by LeftBehindauthor Tim LaHaye. Ahead of the 1980 elections, Ronald Reagan personally askedDeVos to lead the GOP’s national fundraising efforts. Short on cash and reeling from Jimmy Carter’s election and the aftershocks of the Watergate scandal, the party needed all the help it could get. As the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, DeVos raised $46.5 million ($132 million in today’s dollars).
He fit the part of GOP rainmaker-in-chief, wearing a diamond pinkie ring and Gucci loafers, driving a Rolls-Royce, and frequently commuting to his nearby office by helicopter. He once docked Amway’s $5 million yacht on the Potomac River in Washington to hold court with Michigan’s congressional delegation, RNC staffers, and personnel from 12 embassies representing countries where Amway did business. DeVos was also a strident voice within the party: In an era when Republicans still courted labor, he urged the GOP to ignore union members. “If they want to be represented by somebody else,” he once said, “good for them.” At a party meeting in 1982, he called the recession that was spiking inflation and unemployment “beneficial” and “a cleansing tonic” for society.
The RNC canned him soon after, but that didn’t stop DeVos and his clan from steering hundreds of thousands of dollars into Reagan’s 1984 reelection effort and George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign. On the eve of the 1994 elections, Amway made a $2.5 million soft money contribution to the Republican Party; it was the largest corporate donation ever recorded. Amway also galvanized its 500,000-plus sales force into a massive political network, drumming up hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions for favored candidates like Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), a former Amway saleswoman and the first female chair of the ultraconservative Republican Study Committee.
In late 1992, Dick succeeded his father as the president and CEO of Amway, aggressively expanding the company into Asian markets like China and Korea, which produce much of Amway’s profits today. His wife, Betsy, an heiress to a Michigan auto parts fortune, hailed from a conservative dynasty of her own; her father, Edgar Prince, was a founder of the Family Research Council. (Betsy’s brother is Erik Prince, the ex-Navy SEAL who founded the infamous private security company Blackwater.) Together, Dick and Betsy formed Michigan’s new Republican power couple.
Betsy, who is 56, is the political junkie in the relationship. She got her start in politics as a “scatter-blitzer” for Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign, which bused eager young volunteers to various cities so they could blanket them with campaign flyers. In the ’80s and ’90s, Betsy climbed the party ranks to become a Republican National Committeewoman, chair numerous US House and Senate campaigns in Michigan, lead statewide party fundraising, and serve two terms as chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In 2003, she returned at the request of the Bush White House to dig the party out of $1.2 million in debt. A major proponent of education reform, Betsy serves on the boards of the American Federation for Children, a leading advocate of school vouchers, and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which supports online schools.
Through the ’70s and ’80s Dick worked his way up at Amway and, like his father, rose to prominence within GOP circles thanks to his prodigious fundraising, generous political contributions, and his perch atop the family’s multibillion-dollar company. In 1998, he launched a PAC called Restoring the American Dream, which then-House Majority Leader (and former Amway salesman) Tom DeLay credited with playing “an essential role" in preserving GOP control of the House in 1998 and 2000. DeLay, Myrick, and three other House Republicans who had been Amway salespeople created an informal "Amway caucus.”
The DeVos name carried plenty of weight in Washington, but the clan loomed especially large in Michigan, and had opportunities to exert its influence in ways big and small. Once, Betsy complained to her hometown newspaper, theGrand Rapids Press,after an April 2004 story reported that she had blamed “high wages” for Michigan’s economic woes—a comment that touched off a statewide controversy. As unhappy as she was, there wasn’t much chance she’d been misquoted: The reporter had taken the language out of an official Michigan GOP press release and had even given Betsy a chance to respond to her own words. Mike Lloyd, then thePress' editor, says that while he doesn't recall the details of DeVos' grievance, it's likely he heard her out. Ultimately, the paper ran an unusual mea culpa saying the article had “oversimplified” the remarks while “distorting her original meaning.” (In general, Lloyd denies the family ever used its “economic muscle…to attempt to influence or change” the paper's coverage.)
Mike Pumford knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of the DeVoses. A former high school teacher and public school administrator, he was elected to the state House in 1998 as a moderate Republican, and he publicly opposed Dick and Betsy’s push to expand charter schools and introduce school vouchers. (In 2000, Dick and Betsy helped underwrite a ballot initiative to expand the use of vouchers and lost badly.)
When Pumford ran for reelection in 2002, a DeVos-funded group called the Great Lakes Education Project blanketed his rural district with glossy flyers calling him a puppet of theMichigan Education Association and a “tax-and-spend Republican” for backing an increase in cigarette taxes. “They just kicked my ass in that election,” he says. And though he eked out a victory, the DeVoses got the final word. When Pumford asked for the chairmanship of the subcommittee overseeing public education funding, he says, then-House Speaker Rick Johnson told him there was “no way in hell we can give it to you.” Why? It would piss off the DeVoses. (Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.)
In 2004, Pumford quit politics in disgust. “I spent a lot of time fighting bullies,” he told me. “Kids tend to bully with their mouths and fists. Billionaires tend to bully with their pocketbooks.”
FOR DICK DEVOS, the fight over right-to-work started with a humbling defeat. In 2006, he ran for governor of Michigan, spending $35 million of family money—the most ever spent on a gubernatorial campaign in the state—only to be routed by incumbent Jennifer Granholm. His timing was terrible: Thanks to Iraq War weariness and a series of GOP scandals, not one Republican beat an incumbent Democrat in a congressional or gubernatorial race anywhere in America that year. Postelection, DeVos turned down offers to run the state party and ducked out of the political limelight to ponder his next move.
The following year, he and a close ally, Ron Weiser, whose prolific fundraising had earned him the US ambassadorship to Slovakia under George W. Bush, hired Republican pollster Bill McInturff to gauge Michiganders’ views on a range of issues. According to Weiser, McInturff came back with a surprising result—his polls showed nearly 70 percent support for right-to-work. DeVos and Weiser shared their findings with donors and operatives statewide, quietly brainstorming about how to capitalize on those numbers.
Despite declining membership, nearly 20 percent of Michigan’s workforce belonged to unions and, as in other union-heavy states, right-to-work had long been a right-wing fantasy. For decades, the lone voice on the issue was the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a state-level think tank founded in 1987 to spread free-market ideas and antagonize the unions. (In a June 2011 email obtained byProgress Michigan, a Mackinac Center staffer told a state lawmaker: “Our goal is [to] outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA.”) The DeVoses are among the center’s biggest financial backers, and Dick served on its board of directors. Still, despite a flurry of policy briefs and op-eds produced by the Mackinac Center, the issue remained a nonstarter. “We never had the sense that the votes were there to get it done,” John Engler, the former governor, told the National Reviewin 2012. “A lot of Republicans weren’t ready to deal with the issue. Labor was too strong.”
Studying McInturff’s polling numbers, DeVos and Weiser saw a shift in the political winds. Early in 2008, they dined in Washington, DC, with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who in 2001 became the first governor in nearly a decade to sign a right-to-work bill into law. He knew just how fierce the fight could be. Keating advised DeVos and Weiser to hold off on right-to-work until they’d elected a Republican governor and, ideally, taken full control of the Legislature. (Democrats controlled the state House at the time.) “That resonated hugely with Dick,” says one friend. “He said, ‘I’m for this, but until we have a governor who’s going to champion it, we need to bide our time.’ So it went on the shelf.”
In 2009, with DeVos’ help, Weiser was elected as the state GOP chair, and he led the party to a landslide in 2010, winning every state-level race. But the new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, resisted right-to-work, saying repeatedly it was “not on my agenda.” Watching his fellow Class of ‘10 governors—especially Scott Walker in neighboring Wisconsin—clash with organized labor dampened Snyder’s enthusiasm for the “very divisive” issue.
But some of the Legislature’s Republican members wanted this fight. A small but vocal group of them had campaigned on right-to-work and agitated for the issue as soon as the 2011-12 session convened. “It was kind of like the kid on the way to Disney World saying, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’” recalled Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
As the chorus grew louder, the unions decided to launch a preemptive strike. In July 2012, they got an amendment on the ballot that would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. Known as Proposition 2, the ballot measure sent labor’s enemies into overdrive. “The minute that thing got on the ballot, we knew we needed to mobilize quickly,” says Greg McNeilly, Dick and Betsy’s longtime political adviser.
That summer, a group of GOP lawmakers and business leaders—McNeilly won’t say who—asked DeVos and Weiser (who served as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee in 2012) to lead the charge to defeat Proposition 2. They gladly took on the job—DeVos called Prop. 2 “a head-shot at Michigan’s recovery”—but they had bigger things in mind: With McNeilly, who managed the anti-Prop. 2 campaign, DeVos and Weiser sketched out a strategy to defeat the measure, then use the political momentum to pass right-to-work immediately afterward. They also strategized about every other possible obstacle: defending the law from a possible legal challenge, beating a constitutional amendment to repeal it, and protecting Republican lawmakers from recall elections.
The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents.
The filings show that the network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially outpaced other independent groups on the right and, on its own, matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions that serves as one of the biggest sources of support for Democrats.
The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach. Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.
Key players in the Koch-backed network have already begun engaging in the 2014 midterm elections, hiring new staff members to expand operations and strafing House and Senate Democrats with hard-hitting ads over their support for the Affordable Care Act.
Its funders remain largely unknown; the coalition was carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors.
But they have substantial firepower. Together, the 17 conservative groups that made up the network raised at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign, according to the analysis of tax returns by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
A labyrinth of tax-exempt groups and limited-liability companies helps mask the sources of the money, much of which went to voter mobilization and television ads attacking President Obama and congressional Democrats, according to tax filings and campaign finance reports.
The coalition’s revenue surpassed that of the Crossroads organizations, a super PAC and nonprofit group co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove that together brought in$325 million in the last cycle.
The left has its own financial muscle, of course; unions plowed roughly $400 million into national, state and local elections in 2012. A network of wealthy liberal donors organized by the group Democracy Alliance mustered about $100 million for progressive groups and super PACs in the last election cycle, according to a source familiar with the totals.
The donor network organized by the Kochs — along with funding an array of longtime pro-
Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Tax Reform — distributed money to a coalition of groups that share the brothers’ libertarian, free-market perspective. Each group was charged with a specialized task such as youth outreach, Latino engagement or data crunching.
Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust moved a large share of their funds through an intermediary group, the Phoenix-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, which served as a major cash turnstile for groups on the right during the past two election cycles. It is run by political operative Sean Noble, who served as a Koch consultant in 2012.
Rather than finance CPPR directly, Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust transferred $129 million to limited-liability companies with changing names that are registered in Delaware, a state that requires corporations to disclose little about their operations: Eleventh Edition (which was renamed Corner Table and then Cactus Wren) and American Commitment (which was SDN, then became Meridian Edition).
Their relationship to CPPR was unknown until May, when the Arizona group acknowledged in amended tax filings that the LLCs were its affiliates.
Such LLCs are known as “disregarded entities,” which means that, for IRS purposes, they do not exist. Their revenue is reported on the balance sheets of their parent organizations.
Tax experts said disregarded entities are typically used by nonprofits to, for example, hold a piece of real estate to shield an organization from liability.
But they also can be used to make it harder to trace the movement of funds between groups. In its final tax return, TC4 reported doling out nearly $28 million to 10 organizations with names such as POFN LLC, PRDIST LLC and TRGN LLC. Those are the affiliates of the groups Public Notice, Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity, in that order.
The Post and the Center for Responsive Politics identified the groups that make up the Koch-backed network through an analysis of tax filings, which revealed their shared DNA. Most have affiliated LLCs and received a substantial share of their revenue from the feeder funds.
The makeup of the coalition was corroborated by people familiar with the structure who said the network is ad hoc and will not necessarily remain constant.
A key player is Americans for Prosperity, the Virginia-based advocacy organization that finances activities across the country and ran an early and relentless television ad assault against Obama during the 2012 campaign. More than $44 million of the $140 million the organization raised in that election cycle came from Koch-linked feeder funds.
Other groups in the network included the American Future Fund, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that poured more than $25 million into ads against Obama and congressional Democrats in 2012; Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian women’s activist group that ran a get-out-the-vote effort aimed at young women; the Libre Initiative Trust, a Texas-based group aimed at Latinos; Generation Opportunity, which seeks to engage millennials; and Themis Trust, which houses the data used by the allied groups.
The network also distributed funds to other independent political players. In the last election, Freedom Partners and CPPR doled out millions of dollars to a wide assortment of groups on the right, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($3 million), the NRA ($6.6 million), the National Federation of Independent Business ($2.5 million) and Heritage Action for America ($500,000).
Obama’s reelection prompted internal reassessments in the network, as it did among many conservative groups that had worked to defeat him in 2012. But there are no signs that the coalition plans to retreat.
Rather, officials are focused on creating a more effective operation aimed at bolstering the conservative movement for the long term. Freedom Partners, which now has nearly 50 employees, is expected to bring many functions in-house and expand beyond grantmaking, according to people familiar with the plans. Groups such as CPPR are expected to play a smaller role going forward.
See Also: Graphic of the Koch Brothers’ Funding
h/t: Matea Gold at WaPo
Newly released documents have exposed the agenda of the conservative North Carolina-based J.W. Pope Civitas Institute showing that the organization is seeking funds to engage in a campaign to decimate Medicaid funding in the state. North Carolina media should take care to disclose these revelations to ensure readers know what’s really behind the Civitas Institute’s forthcoming Medicaid attacks.
On December 5, The Guardian released documents noting that conservative groups across the United States “are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment.” The Guardian explained that the “proposals were co-ordinated by the State Policy Network, an alliance of groups that act as incubators of conservative strategy at state level.” Indeed, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the State Policy Network (SPN) and its member organizations “work together in coordinated efforts to push their agenda, often using the same cookie-cutter research and reports, all while claiming to be independent and creating state-focused solutions that purportedly advance the interests or traditions of the state.” he report added:
Although many of SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
Among the groups cited in the Guardian papers was the Civitas Institute. The organization requested funding for a campaign to try to sway politicians into reducing the amount of money North Carolina gives to the state’s Medicaid program, which it characterized as “failed,” and if successful, export their messaging to other SPN affiliates around the country:
As Media Matters has previously noted, Civitas is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which gets funding from Donors Trust — once dubbed the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement.” The Trust counts the Koch brothers and other major conservative donors as its benefactors. The Civitas Institute itself, receives a significant portion of its funding from North Carolina conservative luminary Art Pope, who is also a budget advisor to North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory.
A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy reveals an expansive network of closely allied right-wing groups, funded in part by Charles and David Koch and other corporate and conservative sources, operating as the State Policy Network (SPN).
The Center notes that while many of the organizations allied with SPN claim to be independent, their agendas often mesh together and work in concert with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has often circulated model legislation in state legislatures aimed at promoting conservative causes, including the controversial NRA “Stand Your Ground” law in several states. The report also explains that SPN affiliates are required to share their publications with each other, and as the head of the Alabama Policy Insitute (an SPN affiliate) told National Review, “We trade information all the time and borrow ideas from each other.”
The State Policy Network’s research has been cited far and wide in the media, from the national level down to local newspapers and blogs. A small sampling of the various issues the State Policy Network-affiliated groups have been cited on by the media:
- Debate over an Apple manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona [Phoenix Business Journal, 11/8/2013]
- Right to work laws targeted at teacher unions in Michigan [Detroit Free Press, 11/10/2013]
- School testing standards in North Carolina [News & Observer,11/7/2013]
- A report on the effect of taxation in Farmington, New Mexico [Farmington Daily Times, 11/27/2012]
- A proposal to eliminate income tax in Maine [Associated Press,10/21/2013]
- Efforts to eliminate collective bargaining in Wisconsin [Maine Sun Journal, 2/28/2011]
In addition, Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute (an SPN affiliate) has appeared at least seven times over the last year on Fox’s Stossel, attacking public education and promoting the privatization of municipal services.
Center for Media and Democracy explains that while many donations to these groups have not been publicly disclosed, individual donations have been made to SPN groups by the Koch Brother’s Family Foundations, Koch Industries, and David Koch himself. Koch money also fuels SPN through the Donors Capital Fund, which has received millions from the brother’s Knowledge and Progress Fund.
SPN has also received funding from longtime conservative benefactors the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and corporate backers including Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast and Time Warner. Facebook was a sponsor of SPN’s 2013 annual meeting in Oklahoma City.
SPN is an active member of ALEC, and 34 SPN members are directly linked back to ALEC. As the Center notes, “all of SPN’s member think tanks push parts of ALEC’s agenda in their respective states.” SPN has been a sponsor of ALEC’s annual meeting for the last three years, a sponsorship which costs $50,000 per meeting according to ALEC documents.
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which generates news coverage friendly to conservative causes and leaders through its web of state-based news outlets, is also a beneficiary of SPN. At least 37 SPN affiliate groups either host Franklin’s reporters or publish publications associated with the Franklin Center. The Franklin Center also shares several key donors with SPN.
Something stinks in Illinois
The Illinois Policy Institute = the ALEC factory of Illinois.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler tossed his hat into the2014 Governor’s race to unseat Democrat John Hickenlooper in September of this year, and has been working to capture an early lead when he suddenly suspended his campaign in order to send his resources into a local school board election.
Understandably, this has outraged many, including the good citizens of Douglas County, the focus of Gessler’s efforts. Denver Post:
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler says his passion for education reform is why his 2014 gubernatorial campaign is shifting gears over the new few days to focus on electing a conservative slate of candidates to the Douglas County School Board on Tuesday.
But Gessler’s announcement, both in an e-mail and on Facebook, has attracted critics who contend the state’s top election officer — and a former elections law attorney — is violating campaign finance laws with announcements about “paid opportunities.”
Not at all, said Gessler’s political director Rory McShane.
“We are currently following and will continue to follow all campaign finance laws,” McShane said.
Campaign finance laws prevent a candidate committee from accepting contributions or making donations to another candidate committee.
Here’s what Gessler wrote in his e-mail: “We’re actively recruiting door-knockers to get out the vote. We also have paid opportunities … .”
Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook campaign web site: “If you would like to help we’re looking for walkers! It pays $11 per hour!”
McShane said groups supporting the conservative school board candidates are paying the walkers, not Gessler’s gubernatorial campaign but that’s not how critics read the missives.
Boy, are those groups supporting the conservative candidates spending money in that race, too. There’s a slate of four candidates who are associated with the Tea Party who have received between $38-40,000 each from 25 donors or less. Compare and contrast that with the homegrown candidates sponsored by people who actually live in the area. They have ten times the number of donors but only about a quarter of the funds.
The Douglas County School Board race is ground zero for union-busters right now, but it’s not the only one, nor is this a new tactic. Conservatives going all the way back to the halcyon days of the John Birch Society have long believed school board takeovers are the very first step to “taking back their country,” and education reformers are taking advantage of that to bust unions for their own ends.
However, it could be the first time that an elected official and candidate for Governor has decided to pay people to get out the vote for them while suspending his own campaign. In the email he sent out to his supporters onhis email list, he was clear about his motives:
Against the advice of the Denver political elites, I’ve ordered my campaign for Governor to shift focus for the next week until the Douglas County elections, to ensure that conservatives are victorious this year.
We’re actively recruiting door-knockers to get out the vote. We also have paid opportunities – but we need you if we’re going to be successful as a team.
He donated his email list and a piece of his website to recruitment to elect candidates funded with outside money in order to bust unions, but he’s just fine with that. He’s an election lawyer and known for his own voter suppression efforts in Colorado during the 2012 general election.
Gessler also appears to be ethically challenged.
First, it was learned that a discretionary account intended to cover official state business was tapped to pay for a partisan junket to Florida. Reporting by The Denver Post also showed that, at the end of the fiscal year, Gessler reimbursed himself $1,400 for expenses for which he has no documentation.
A short time later, Gessler lowered fines owed the state by the Larimer County Republican Party by tens of thousands of dollars and then agreed to help them raise money to pay off the debt.
He may have shrugged off criticism about the moonlighting and the GOP shilling, but Gessler will have a hard time ignoring complaints that he misused taxpayers’ money.
Earlier this month, it was learned that he spent $1,452 from his office’s discretionary account to attend a Republican National Lawyers Association meeting and the Republican National Convention in Florida. Questioned as to the prudence of spending taxpayer money on partisan activity, the secretary implied that everybody does it and criticized the scrutiny as politically motivated.
Oh, maybe so, except that he didn’t produce the receipts for it.
Gessler has long-standing ties to shady political groups, like the Western Tradition Partnership, now renamed the American Tradition Partnership by Gessler as part of his services to whoever funds that particular 501c4. Whatever the name, boxes of financial records were discovered in a meth house in Colorado, and shed some light on the dark money moving in Colorado and Montana:
But the details available on WTP, which has worked to elect conservatives in Montana and Colorado and has won national attention for a lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to apply itsCitizens United ruling to states, are striking.The bank records highlight WTP’s ties to groups backing libertarian Ron Paul. The Conservative Action League, a Virginia social welfare nonprofit run at the time in part by John Tate, most recently Paul’s campaign manager, transferred $40,000 to WTP in August 2008, bank records show. Tate was also a consultant for WTP. In addition, WTP gave $5,000 to a group called the SD Campaign for Liberty, affiliated with Paul and the national Campaign for Liberty.
The bank records also illustrate how cash passes between dark money groups, further obscuring its original source: $500,000 passed from Coloradans for Economic Growth to WTP to the National Right to Work Committee, over a few days in October 2008. Coloradans for Economic Growth and the National Right to Work Committee are social welfare nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors. Tate and others paid by WTP were also once associated with National Right to Work.
What Gessler and his moneybags pals are doing in Douglas County isn’t all that different from what Republicans do in general. They move in gangs, they capture big bucks to buy the office and then pay off their sugar daddies with quid pro quo activities like suppressing the vote, weakening campaign finance laws, and busting unions.
Is it any wonder the parents in Douglas County are aggravated? What happened to caring about the children, after all?
Supreme Court To Hear The Republican Party’s Bid To Inject Even More Money Into Elections (McCutcheon v. FEC)
Though the bulk of the federal government remains shutdown, the Supreme Court will convene Monday for the opening of its next term — a term that features major campaign finance, abortion, race, religion and environmental cases and which could potentially give the Court’s Republican majority an opportunity to strike a critical blow to union organizers. The first closely watched case of the term will be heard Tuesday, and this case could give millionaires and billionaires even more influence over elections than they already enjoy.
The plaintiffs in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission include the Republican National Committee, which has an obvious interest in weakening legal barriers preventing large-dollar donations directly to the GOP or to GOP candidates. During the 2012, just one Republican billionaire — casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — spent nearly $150 million to elect Republicans. As things stood in 2012, however, Adelson needed to funnel nearly all of this money through third-party groups — super PACs and the like — rather than giving them directly to candidates or Republican Party organizations. For all that the Roberts Court’s Citizens United decision did to inject big money into elections, that opinion at least suggests that donations directly to candidates (and, potentially to political parties, for reasons explained below) can still be restricted even if super PACs are free to collect enormous donations.McCutcheon, by contrast, could allow Sheldon Adelson to write a series of massive checks directly to Republican Party groups.
Currently, federal law caps the totally amount a wealthy donor can give to candidates and party organizations at a total of $123,200 per election cycle. Now, the RNC wants the Supreme Court to eliminate this cap. Thus, if the Roberts Court sides with the GOP in McCutcheon, wealthy individuals who havealready spent six figures to shape the outcome of the 2014 elections will suddenly be allowed to spend even more money to help place their favorite candidates in office. In theory, the case does not threaten caps on the amount donors can give to a single candidate or party organization — just on the total amount they can give to all candidates or party groups — but it is very easy to transfer money between party groups once the money leaves the donor’s bank account.
Even after Citizens United, a Republican Party victory in McCutcheon would require a drastic shift in the law. In Citizens United, the five Republican justices claimed that “the potential for quid pro quo corruption distinguished direct contributions to candidates from independent expenditures.” In essence, these justices reasoned, when campaign expenditures are given directly to a candidate, they can easily become bribes intended to secure policy commitments from the candidate.” When such expenditures are given to super PACs or other third-party groups, by contrast, candidates are less likely to be influenced by their benefactors.
This distinction between gifts to candidates and gifts to outside groups that support the same candidate is not particularly convincing — it’s not like the GOP candidates funded by Sheldon Adelson were not capable of discovering who was spending all that money on their behalf — but this artificial distinction between direct and indirect contributions is an important prong of Citizens United‘s holding, and a decision for the GOP in McCutcheon could tear down this distinction.
As the lower court explained in McCutcheon, striking down the contribution caps at issue in that case would enable billionaires like Adelson to essentially launder money through a political party to the candidate of their choice.
Charlie Sykes Defends Sampling of Atrocious Video That Denigrates Food Stamp Recipients, A Fave of Neo-Nazis
Journal Communication’s right-wing talker Charlie Sykes (WTMJ Radio 620), delights in stirring controversy. But last week he went too far. In a segment discussing whether food stamp recipients should be allowed to buy unhealthy food, Sykes played a clip of an incredibly offensive video that is a favorite of neo-Nazi websites.
Dwelling on a popular Sykes topic the “growing gigantic culture of dependent people” or “moocher culture,” Sykes slips in a long clip (at 29.20) where the voice of an African American woman can be heard listing all the fast food joints — liquor stores — where one can allegedly use an electronic benefits (EBT) card. Sykes did not explain the clip or where it originated. The full song portrays women as having kids in order to receive food stamps to fund a party lifestyle. (For the record, you can’t buy booze with food stamps.)
The clip is part of a video “It’s Free, Swipe Yo EBT" made by a young woman named LaToya “Chapter” Hicks, but the production credits go to Christopher Jackson. He is reportedly the same Christopher Jackson who wrote an incredibly offensive piece about teaching black children, another fave of the “we heart Hitler” crowd. The Jackson essay is featured on the white nationalist site WhiteReference.org and Chapter’s video on the Nazi site Stormfront.org.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party promptly put out a release denouncing the clip as racist and offensive. The party contacted reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and also wrote to the broadcast side of the Journal Communications firm (which owns the paper and the radio station) asking VP Steve Wexler to look into it. While the newspaper recently put the inopportune Tweets by the Democratic Party spokesman on the front page of its paper prompting disciplinary action, it could not be bothered to write a word about the controversy over the weekend. Sykes defended the use of the video in a blog post Sunday night on “Right Wisconsin.”
“Pshaw,” says Sykes — she’s black, it’s art, just because neo-Nazis love it doesn’t mean it’s a problem. In fact, Sykes so loves the video “about welfare programs run amok” that he says he uses it all the time and has previously posted it as an “anthem” for his nation of moochers theme. The Journal Sentinel covered the issue briefly online Monday, but only because Sykes wrote about it.
Sykes might think that he and Stormfront have a uniquely discerning eye for art, but by any measure the video is highly offensive. It shouldn’t be used by any news source and Journal Communications should make it clear to Mr. Moocher that he shouldn’t be using it either.
Journal Communications has given Sykes a lot of rope lately. He is the center of their new experiment called “Right Wisconsin" a subscriber-based, paid content news site for right-wingers which Sykes touted in January as a means ofhelping to get more Republicans elected. One of the sponsors and “partners” is the phony issue-ad group Wisconsin Club for Growth, which has spent millions in the state defending Governor Scott Walker and GOP candidates. The site features long-time GOP operatives like Brian Fraley, now at the MacIver Institute, and “reporting” by Media Trackers, a Breitbart-style attack dog operation. Both the MacIver Institute and Media Trackers are funded by the Bradley Foundation.
In early February, a US Patent and Trademark Office court in Washington, DC, confirmed what baseball fans had suspected for more than a century: The New York Yankees are evil. After an internet startup, Evil Empire Inc., had attempted to trademark the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire,” the Yankees filed an injunction, and the panel of judges agreed. As the court put it, “The record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.” If only it were true. The ranks of Major League Baseball owners include some of the richest men—and they are almost exclusively white males—in the country, as likely to open their wallets for a super-PAC as they are a top-shelf free agent. Viewed in the context of the competition, with its anti-discrimination settlements and SEC investigations, the Yankees are, like their Opening Day roster, fairly pedestrian.
So where does your team’s ownership rank? We took a stab at it, analyzing each franchise by its level of political activity (based on campaign donations and office-seeking) and relative degree of evil—copyrighted or not. Read below the matrix for the full breakdown.
At the end of last year, I reported on the mysterious $11 million dollars that flowed into California to defeat ballot propositions 30 and 32. The flow of money was traced as it passed through several non-profit organizations, ultimately going all the way back to a known dark money conduit known as Americans for Job Security. Here’s a refresher:
AJS Spending in 2010-2012 cycle
- The $11 million drop into California notwithstanding, AJS also dropped $15 million into the national elections. All of their media buys went through Crossroads Media, and nearly all of the funds were spent in opposition to Barack Obama.
- In Arizona, Americans for Responsible Leadership dropped $1.1 million to oppose an open primary system in Arizona and an increase in their sales taxes. Because of differences in state campaign finance laws, it appears that ARL will not be compelled to disclose their donors. But based upon similarities, it’s not a far leap to assume the money flow was similar to the one in California.
- In late 2011, AJS ran anti-union ads in New Hampshire tying to the Republican primary debate held there.
- AJS dropped $689,000 in Wisconsin to oppose Eric Hovde, the less conservative candidate running for the open Senate seat Tammy Baldwin eventually won.
Because the trail seemed to go cold with the Americans for Job Security reveal, there didn’t seem to be much point in pursuing it. But according to Raw Story, California officials haven’t given up on digging through to the actual source.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission has issued roughly a dozen new subpoenas in the investigation of $11 million that was laundered through a network of dark money groups and funneled into the state during the last election, according to unnamed sources who spoke to The Huffington Post.
It’s not yet clear where the original $11 million came from, but investigators have so far traced it back to a group called Americans for Job Security (AJS), run by Stephen DeMaura, a blogger for Red State and the former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party. AJS told the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) it would not engage in political spending, but its application to accept tax deductible contributions has yet to be accepted.
Investigators said AJS gave $11 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), which was run in 2010 by Sean Noble, a former Republican congressional staffer whomPolitico called a “top” operative for the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. The CPPR was instrumental during that year’s midterm elections in dolling out more than $44 million to groups that attacked Democrats and health care reform,according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Noble eventually moved on to work for another Koch-linked group, Americans for Limited Government.
I have no idea who they have subpoenaed, but I expect they will be able to dig it back to the usual GOP culprits. As soon as I saw that Sean Noble was in the mix, it was pretty obvious. Noble bills himself as the co-founder of DC London, a Republican campaign management firm. Past clients include Senator Jeff Flake. Noble’s real claim to fame, however, is that he was Senator John Shadegg’s chief of staff, and more importantly, worked side by side with Phil Kerpen at Americans for Prosperity and appears to be associated with Kerpen’s new venture, American Commitment, a new addition to the Koch stable of right-wing “activist” organizations.
This is one to watch. I would love for California to actually hold the Koch machine responsible for once instead of just shaking the change out of the slot.