The Koch Brothers Are Rigging The System At The Local Level No Matter Who It Hurts
Much has been written about the efforts of billionaires Charles and David Koch to exert influence at the highest reaches of government through shadow groups, lobbying, political action committees, think tanks, and more.
In recent years, the Koch brothers have expanded their efforts to another area as well: local elections and local government. Through their front groups, most notably Americans For Prosperity (AFP), the Koch network has waded into county tax debates, city transportation decisions, and even school board elections. As Eli Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of AFP, put it: “There is no issue we won’t get involved in.”
In a new report, the Center for American Progress Action Fund digs up a number of examples of this approach. It’s part of the broad strategy on the part of the Koch brothers that we call “Kochonomics”: limit government as much as possible, resulting in a system that benefits their business no matter the potential harm to everyone else. We’ve found that this local approach is an increasingly important prong in their multifaceted effort. Here are several examples of Kochonomics in action:
- Putting Politics Over Kids In Illinois: In two separate Illinois school districts, AFP defeated initiatives intended to update school facilities, reduce class sizes, and avoid cuts to school staff positions and programs. The initiatives would have raised taxes by about $3 per week for the average homeowner.
- Polluting Water Sources In Iron County, Wisconsin: Koch interests ignored the environmental consequences and the opposition of native tribes in the area by swaying the outcome of a local board election in Iron County, Wisconsin, to expand mining operations.
- Denying A Beloved Columbus Landmark: AFP’s Ohio chapter mounted a campaign to defeat a $23-per-household tax increase for the popular Columbus Zoo, depriving the Ohio institution of a stable revenue source and the ability to grow. In just example of how Koch interests can often part ways with normal business interests, the zoo levy was endorsed by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the fiscally conservative Columbus Dispatch.
- Derailing New Mass Transit In Nashville: AFP’s Tennessee state director lobbied to ban a locally designed mass transit system in Nashville that would improve the city’s connectivity and reduce commuting times for residents. When the state legislature passed a law that erected barriers to the project’s completion, the official opposition group publicly thanked AFP in its press release. Local business interests supported the project.
- Opposing Emergency Funds In Fremont, Nebraska: In 2013, the town of Fremont, Nebraska, with a population of roughly 26,000, considered increasing the food and beverage tax to help fund capital improvement projects that were “emergenc[ies],” as the Mayor put it. The tax would have raised the price of a $20 meal by 35 cents. It took just one month for the Koch brothers and their AFP arm to put the kibosh on those plans.
- Nixing Funding For Public Safety In Gahanna, Ohio: City leaders in Gahanna, a near suburb of Columbus, thought it necessary to ask voters to adopt a 1 percentage point income tax increase, meant to prevent cuts to public safety, save jobs, and keep community centers open. AFP misled voters by distorting the size of the tax increase, and it went down.
- Undermining Public Education In Communities Nationwide: In a number of cases, the Koch network has used its resources to influence school board elections and develop school initiatives that undermine public education. They promote policies that would defund public schools and redistribute resources to private schools, fund groups that blatantly spread lies about the Common Core, and attack teachers.
Learn more about these and other examples in the full report here.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite having the support of Republican elected officials, these examples demonstrate that the Koch brothers are not trying to take power away from the federal government and give it to states and localities to make their own decisions. As the Koch influence continues to grow, the true agenda of Kochonomics becomes clearer: using the network’s vast resources to take power away from officials at all levels of government and give it to a pair of billionaire brothers and those who agree and profit with them.