The ‘Kochtopus’: an anti-government hostile takeover of America

The New York Times this week had a big piece on the “Kochtopus” anti-government hostile takeover of America, Koch Group, Spending Freely, Hones Attack on Government:

Americans for Prosperity — the group backed by David H. and Charles G. Koch that has been pouring millions of dollars into competitive Senate races to the rising alarm of Democrats — was also among the politically active groups on the ground in this month’s special House election on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But its agenda had little to do with the fate of David Jolly, the Republican candidate who won that race. The group’s ground troops — including those who knocked on doors, ran phone banks and reached out through social media to gauge ways to motivate voters — were part of a much greater project, with a prize much larger than a congressional seat.

Americans for Prosperity turned the Florida contest into its personal electoral laboratory to fine-tune get-out-the-vote tools and messaging for future elections as it pursues its overarching goal of convincing Americans that big government is bad government. . .

. . . and serfdom under a Corporatocracy of the Plutocracy is good. Mind your masters, serfs.

[T]he group has emerged as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far.

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

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Democrats say their own research has shown that voters are skeptical about candidates who benefit from political spending by superrich businessmen with an antigovernment ideology.

“The notion that two billionaires are bankrolling Republican candidates because they support an agenda that is good for the Koch brothers and bad for middle-class families is very persuasive to voters,” said Matt Canter, the deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Two years ago, Americans for Prosperity spent more than $100 million, but Mr. Obama was re-elected and Democrats held the Senate, despite the group’s investment in Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida and other key states. Democrats also picked up House seats.

Among the most recognizable changes from 2012 is that Americans for Prosperity is now producing testimonial-style ads and carrying out an elaborate field effort, spending more than $30 million already in at least eight states with crucial Senate races and in some House districts as well.

Many of Americans for Prosperity’s current ads feature women talking directly to the camera, explaining how Mr. Obama’s health care law has hurt them and their families. The group just repurposed one of its original ads for Colorado, where Republicans see a new opportunity, with a woman saying: “Obamacare doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.” The tag line now urges voters to call Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat facing re-election, about the law.

Democrats and others have challenged the specifics of the ads and the use of actors in some of the spots, but Americans for Prosperity has not retreated.

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Americans for Prosperity is also stepping up its ground game. The organization now has more than 200 full-time paid staff members in field offices in at least 32 states. The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of the local issues. They can also serve as a ready-to-go field organization in future election years and on future issues — not dissimilar from the grass-roots, community-based approach Mr. Obama used successfully in 2008 and 2012.

Greg Sargent writes, “If the Times report is right, the Democratic argument — that the hyping of all these alleged Obamacare victims is about furthering an anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda designed to protect the bottom line of the very wealthy — is entirely accurate.” The real goal of all those anti-Obamacare ads:

AFP has had to hype, distort, or even manufacture the individual chapters. The ad’s tales have been found to be misleading, incomplete, or played by actors. Indeed, as AFP’s ads have come under scrutiny, the Obamacare victimization storyline has shriveled away.

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The real purpose of the Dem strategy is to create a framework for a broader argument about the true goals and priorities of the actual GOP policy agenda. It’s about tapping into a sense that the economy is rigged against ordinary Americans, and in favor of the one percent, and dramatizing that the GOP’s economic agenda would preserve that status quo, blocking any government policies designed to address stagnant mobility and soaring inequality. Or that, as Jonathan Chait puts it, the GOP has “built a policy agenda around plutocracy,” and its primary ”organizing purpose is to safeguard the economic interests of the very rich.”

And then there is the GOP policy of “drill, baby drill” and support for the Keystone XL Pipepline. This is really about the “Kochtopus” enriching itself even further. The biggest land owner in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Conoco Phillips. It’s the Koch brothers:

The biggest lease holder in the northern Alberta oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David.

The Koch Industries subsidiary holds leases on 1.1 million acres — an area nearly the size of Delaware — in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, according to an activist group that studied Alberta provincial records. The Post confirmed the group’s findings with Alberta Energy, the provincial government’s ministry of energy. Separately, industry sources familiar with oil sands leases said Koch’s lease holdings could be closer to two million acres. The companies with the next biggest net acreage positions in oil sands leases are Conoco Phillips and Shell, both close behind.

What is Koch Industries doing there? The company wouldn’t comment on its holdings or strategy, but it appears to be a long-term investment that could produce tens of thousands of barrels of the region’s thick brand of crude oil in the next three years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of barrels a few years after that.

The finding about the Koch acreage is likely to inflame the already contentious debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline and spur activists and environmentalists seeking to slow or stop planned expansions of production from the northern Alberta oil sands, or tar sands. Environmental groups have already made opposing the pipeline their leading cause this spring[.]

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The link between Koch and Keystone XL is, however, indirect at best. Koch’s oil production in northern Alberta is “negligible,” according to industry sources and quarterly publications of the provincial government. Moreover, Koch has not reserved any space in the Keystone XL pipeline, a process that usually takes place before a pipeline is built.  The pipeline also does not run anywhere near Koch’s refining facilities. And TransCanada, owner of the Keystone routes, says Koch is not expected to be one of the pipeline’s customers.

Still, the activist group that is publicizing the figures about Koch holdings in the oil sands – the International Forum on Globalization – is arguing that Koch will benefit indirectly.

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“IFG’s intention is to demonstrate the Koch-Keystone connection,” says IFG’s Victor Menotti.

This new report is the second one IFG has issued in six months about Koch Industries and the oil sands. Last October, IFG said that Koch owned two million acres in the oil sands; now it says the true figure – based on the Alberta provincial government’s mineral lease records that it links to — is smaller but still an impressive, industry-leading 1.1 million acres.

The right-wing Powerline took offense to this Washington Post report. The Post responded: The Powerline article itself, and its tone, is strong evidence that issues surrounding the Koch brothers’ political and business interests will stir and inflame public debate in this election year. That’s why we wrote the piece. Why we wrote about the Koch Industries and its leases in Canada’s oil sands.

Finally, Democrats Plan Big Ad Campaign in Challenge to Koch Brothers:

Senate Majority PAC, a group that supports Democratic Senate candidates, is preparing a $3 million advertising campaign against Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, the libertarian-minded billionaire brothers who support conservative causes and have already poured millions of dollars into the 2014 midterm elections.

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Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed group, has spent up to 10 times as much as the Senate Majority PAC, quickly becoming one of the biggest players in this year’s election. The group’s goal is not merely to influence particular issues or races but to also win voters over to their broad philosophy: that big-government solutions are risky and ineffective.

Democrats have recently begun attacking the Koch brothers directly, aggressively focusing attention on the publicity-shy siblings and portraying them as rich villains who are trying to destroy progressive politics. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has repeatedly attacked the Kochs on the Senate floor, calling them “un-American,” and this month the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee began a digital campaign called “The G.O.P. is addicted to Koch” (pronounced Coke).  See The GOP’s Koch Addiction.

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Senate Majority PAC says its donors are increasingly eager to fight against the influx of the Kochs’ millions. Democrats say that internal polling shows that linking Republican candidates to the policies of the Koch brothers and Koch-backed groups will make voters more likely to discount attack ads underwritten by the Kochs.

“It is a powerful quid pro quo and anti-middle-class argument that also raises further skepticism about the negative Koch ads against Democrats,” said Matt Canter, the deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Democrats add that in focus groups, voters have a negative response to the political involvement of the Koch brothers and their top concern is that the Kochs’ agenda hurts average people.

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