The Koch brothers and their political allies quietly funneled $250 million to conservative causes last year through a secret tax-exempt organization called Freedom Partners, Politico reported Wednesday. But while the group’s website claims its top priorities including fighting runaway stimulus spending and “corporate welfare,” its donations included a $2 million gift to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, perhaps the strongest backer of such efforts.
The Freedom Partners website identifies four key political issues on which the group is focused — energy deregulation, Obamacare repeal/replacement, an end to “runaway government spending” and “temporary ‘stimulus’ programs,” and the elimination of “cronyism” and “corporate welfare.” It explicitly identifies industry bailouts, subsidies, and government loans as examples of the cronyism that “undermines the competition that is the heart of economic freedom.”
These positions seem at odds with the group’s multi-million dollar support for the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has consistently supported federal spending in support of America’s business community. In recent years, it has backed:
1. The Export-Import Bank: The federal government’s official credit agency finances and insures foreign purchases of American goods for customers unable or unwilling to accept credit risk. Noting that much of the agency’s works aids Fortune 500 companies, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) once described it as “corporate welfare at its worst.” But the Chamber strongly supports the Export-Import Bank, calling it “especially important to small- and medium-sized businesses.”
2. The financial sector bailout: The 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, offered up to $700 billion to bail out the nation’s banking industry after the subprime lending crisis caused its meltdown. The Chamber “strongly supported the creation of TARP.”
3. The auto industry bailout : Rejecting Mitt Romney’s call to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” the Obama administration stepped in in 2009 with a bailout for the American automobile manufacturers — and helped save the industry. The Chamber lobbied heavily for the bill.
4. The airline industry bailout: In 2001, after the 9/11 hijackings, President Bush moved quickly to bail out the struggling airline industry. In an October op-ed, the Chamber’s president noted that the move was well worth the cost. “Without the timely action from President Bush and Congress, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce fully supported,” he wrote, “our airline industry — the envy of the world — would not have survived.”
5. Ethanol subsidies: In a 2003 letter to President Bush, the Chamber enthusiastically backed a bill that would “boost job-creating highway capital investment spending while promoting the production and use of ethanol.” The bill, which did not make it out of committee, aimed to assist ethanol producers by establishing a tax credit for ethanol production.
Freedom Partners did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its spending.
According to the Politico report, the group — run mainly by longtime Koch Brothers operatives — operates a tax-exempt 501(c)(6) trade association, meaning that it need not disclose its donors. While claiming that his funders “are proud to be part” of the effort, Freedom Partners president Marc Short refused to identify any of the those donors.