Madison, Wisconsin – A new investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy documents the big money funneled by one of the richest men in America and one of the richest corporations in the world to put controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in office.
The Republican Governors Association and the Kochs’ Investment in Scott Walker
Walker was elected just over three months ago on the heels of an exceptionally expensive gubernatorial race in the Badger State, fueled by groups funded by the Koch brothers, David and Charles. David Koch, the son of a radical founding member of the John Birch Society, which has long been obsessed with claims about socialism and advocated the repeal of civil rights laws, personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in June of last year. This was the most he had ever personally given to that group. (Fellow billionaire Rupert Murdoch matched Koch’s donation to the RGA with a $1 million donation from his company News Corporation, parent company of FOX “News” Channel.)
The RGA in turn spent $5 million in the race, mostly on TV ads attacking Walker’s political opponent, Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett. As this photo shows, the RGA described itself as a “key investor” in Walker’s victory. In its congratulations, the RGA notes that it “ran a comprehensive campaign including TV and internet ads and direct mail. The series of ads were devastating to Tom Barrett … All told, RGA ran 8 TV ads and sent 8 pieces of mail for absentee, early voting, and GOTV, totaling 2.9 million pieces.”
The Center for Media and Democracy reported on some of the RGA’s spin-filled ads last November, including the ads against Barrett, and filed a snapshot report this week. As the RGA takes credit, its multi-million dollar negative ad campaign probably did help make the difference between the 1.1 million votes cast for Walker against Barrett’s 1 million votes. According to Open Secrets, Koch Industries was one of the top ten donors to the RGA in 2010, giving $1,050,450 to help with governors’ races, like Walker’s.
As Mother Jones has noted, the Koch Industries’ political action committee, KochPAC, gave Walker’s campaign $43,000 directly (according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board). It may seem like a small amount compared with the millions the Kochs are spending funding the RGA and other groups, but that donation was one of the larger individual donations to Walker not from an expressly-named partisan PAC. It is, however, a drop in the bucket compared with the impact of a million-dollar negative ad campaign, especially because the candidate promoted by the mud-slingers does not have to get his hands dirty.
The Kochs’ Investment in Americans for Prosperity
The laundering of Koch dollars through the RGA dwarfs the Kochs’ direct donations to Walker, and it also does not tell the whole story. As the Center for Media and Democracy has been documenting on its SourceWatch site for several years, David Koch was the founder and chairman of a front group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, which received at least $12 million from the Koch Family Foundations and which is the predecessor of the group Americans for Prosperity.
As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker, the Kochs do not deny funding Americans for Prosperity (the amount is not disclosed) but assert that they provide no funding “specifically to support the tea parties.” “Specifically” is the key word in that sentence that does not deny what is known in the non-profit world as “general support,” meaning general funding or endowments, for an organization’s operations and overall mission. As Mayer noted, Peggy Venable — who helps the Americans for Prosperity Foundation train Tea Party activists and “target elected officials” — “said of the Kochs, ‘They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.'”
Americans for Prosperity provided “Tea Party Talking Points” as the Tea Party was launched around tax day in 2009, and this weekend it is providing talking points to those coming to Madison for a pro-Walker protest it is helping to stage. Media watchers can expect to hear Americans for Prosperity protesters get equal time on the news, and more than equal time on FOX, using phrases to cloak union-busting as merely getting workers to accept “paying a fair share” through “modest but critical reforms” that end “strong-arming politicians for exorbitant benefits.” The spin will also likely include a trumped up statistic claiming that private sector employees in Wisconsin earn 74 cents for every dollar paid to “overpaid” state union members—you know, teachers, firefighters, police, social workers, nurses, and other civil servants. An “unofficial” theme, a drumbeat of the Bircher baby propaganda efforts bankrolled by the Kochs, is calling opponents “socialists,” a smear heard with increasing frequency as the Kochs’ influence has expanded in the past two years.
Americans for Prosperity’s Investment in Scott Walker
Notably, Americans for Prosperity bragged that it was going to spend nearly $50 million across the country in the November elections. As one of the groups exploiting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to allow unlimited spending by corporations to influence election outcomes, it does not disclose its donors and it does not report its expenditures on so-called “issue ads.” It did run such ads in Wisconsin last fall.
Americans for Prosperity has actively supported and promoted Scott Walker in a variety of ways. It featured him at its tea party rally in Wisconsin in September 2009, when he was running for the Republican nomination for governor. Americans for Prosperity also ran millions of dollars in ads on a “spending crisis” (a crisis it did not run ads against when Republicans were spending the multi-billion dollar budget surplus into a multi-trillion dollar deficit), and it selected Wisconsin as one of the states for those ads in the months before the election. It also funded a “spending revolt” tour in Wisconsin last fall through its state “chapter.”
Just how much money has Americans for Prosperity and its Wisconsin counterpart spent on issue ads or promoting Walker over the past two years is one of the questions for this weekend’s orchestrated “Stand with Walker” event.
The Return on Investment?
Some things are known, though. Koch money helped get Scott Walker the governor’s seat in Wisconsin. And now a major Koch-related group is spearheading the defense of Walker’s radical plan to kill public employees’ right to organize in Wisconsin. The question is whether an actual majority of Wisconsin citizens want two of the richest men in the world, who do not live here — and who, as Lee Fang has pointed out, have eliminated jobs in this state — to be playing such an influential role in the rights of working people here.
The Kochs assert that they do not “direct” the activities of Americans for Prosperity or the Tea Party. No, they just fuel them with their riches from the oil business they inherited from their daddy.
And they did not vote for Scott Walker in the traditional sense in a democracy. Rather, as the Republican Governors Association spells out, they “invested” in him.
What is the return desired for their investment? It looks like the first dividend Walker wants to pay, through the help of the Koch-subsidized cheerleaders from Americans for Prosperity, is a death knell for unions and the rights of workers to organize. But tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens have stood up this week to say this ROI will not be paid, that their rights will not be the price Walker exacts from them in return for the largess the Kochs have shown him as the anointed instrument of their agenda in this state.
Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.