This week as I premiered my new film, Koch Brothers Exposed — the result of a year-long investigation on how two billionaires are using their wealth to corrupt democracy — Koch Industries has launched an attack on the film and me. The Kochs intimidate, they menace; they have a letter from their lawyer borderline threatening the media if it reports what’s in the film — and they always try to change the subject so their behavior can stay in the shadows: not only are they unwilling to accept my offer of a debate or interview, they also refuse to testify about their interest in the Keystone XL pipeline and may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into revealing their secret contributions to groups doing election work. This time, the Kochs are using a technique I point out in the film: attacking to avoid dealing with the facts. They are dodging and distorting the truth to avoid confronting our findings on cancer, voting rights, civil rights, and more.
How? Let me count (some of) the ways.
1) Cancer. People are dying of cancer near the Kochs’ Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett, Arkansas, and the Kochs refuse to answer the relevant question: What are they going to do about it? On Penn Road in Crossett, right near the mill, residents powerfully show how nine out of 11 homes have suffered from cancer. A USA Today study said Crossett’s school district is in the top 1% in the nation for cancer. Meanwhile, the Kochs’ facility releases significant amounts of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — and there’s no other chemical plant in town. The Kochs are among the country’s top 10 polluters and lobbied hard to keep formaldehyde from being labeled a carcinogen. For a company where one of the owners (David Koch) and the communications director (Melissa Cohlmia) are cancer survivors, this is tragic and infuriating. It reflects a warped sense of humanity where greed trumps all.
2) Voting rights. The Kochs have given over $1 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that’s trying to pass severe voter ID restrictions in states across the country. These bills disenfranchise the poor, the elderly, the young, people of color — in short, people who are likely to oppose a 1% agenda. The Kochs won’t explain why anyone should believe that ALEC’s pro-corporate, anti-99% agenda is somehow detached from its billionaire funders. Onerous voting restrictions are already impacting people’s ability to vote in the 2012 election.
3) Re-segregation. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is Koch-founded and Koch-financed (they refuse to say how much but we know it’s at least $5 million), pushed “reforms” in North Carolina that would destroy a school district’s model of racial integration and ensure students go to school mainly with people of their own race. We call out this “re-segregation” in Koch Brothers Exposed. The Kochs, of course, try to hide from their connection — hoping we ignore not only their involvement in the founding and financing of AFP, but also the fact that David Koch has served as chair of the group’s supposedly nonpolitical arm, the AFP Foundation. Their dissembling doesn’t pass the laugh test–particularly when they’ve refused to open the books to show where their funding is coming from.
4) Worker rights. The Kochs have been undermining labor rights, helping anti-union Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and supporting groups that want to boost employer power against employees. They also have pushed the interests of large corporations over Main Street. The Koch brothers try pathetically to attack me on that front, going back eight years to my film Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price and saying a locally-owned hardware store I profiled as an example of how Wal-Mart shuts down small businesses had actually closed before the retail giant opened. Um, as the store owners said in the film, the reason it closed early was problems involving financing and reduced appraisals in light of Wal-Mart’s impending arrival. This is yet another example of distorting the facts and is ultimately a distraction.
Why are the Kochs flailing so desperately in the face of our findings? Because they can’t give straightforward, convincing rebuttals to the claims we lodge against them in the film. My organization, Brave New Foundation, doesn’t have billions of dollars at its disposal to fight back, but this time, the Kochs aren’t getting the last word. The smears and name-calling (I’m malicious, I’m a liar, blah blah blah) may not be pleasant but won’t stop the film from being shared by 25 groups partnering with us and thousands of people online.
The Koch brothers epitomize the corruption of democracy that’s going on in our country, with a handful of people at the top expanding their wealth on the backs of the 99%. Americans shouldn’t fall for their attempt to change the subject.