Last week’s announcement of a settlement between the state of California and two political campaign organizations linked to the Koch brothers fittingly coincided with the centenary of the first scientific explorations of Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. The history of the tar pits is pretty straightforward: For at least 38,000 years, thick, petroleum-based asphaltum has oozed up from fissures at the site, a noxious goo that long ago entrapped hapless animals as well as the predators that tried to feast on them.
Rather more recent and less explored have been the political intrigues of petroleum tycoons Charles and David Koch, although news of their ambitions is slowly rising to the surface, too. Last year a daisy chain of groups with Koch connections funneled campaign contributions into a pair of policy measures on the 2012 California ballot: Proposition 30, a tax-raising measure designed to restore much-needed funds to public education,
It should serve as more than mere cold comfort that Charles and David Koch – the oil billionaires with a desire to remake America according to their own Dickensian vision of society – are about to be fined $1 million by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that a pair of the brothers’ political money funnels, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, unlawfully directed $11 million to a campaign account set up to defeat Proposition 30 and promote Proposition 32 in 2012.
The first proposition, which aimed to raise tax dollars for public education, passed; the latter measure, intended to cripple the ability of public employee unions to participate in politics, didn’t.
Last November unions won a resounding victory when voters defeated Proposition 32, a ballot measure that would have crippled labor’s political influence in California, partly by barring public-employee unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The initiative, which enjoyed a huge lead in early opinion polls, was heavily funded by wealthy conservatives and far-right groups.
Union leaders were overjoyed by its defeat.
“You can’t buy California,” Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), told an election-night victory party in Sacramento. “We’re not for sale.”
The celebration hasn’t been long lived. In a little-noticed move in April, a conservative legal organization that has pushed to overturn the 1964 Voting Rights Act filed a lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana that could accomplish in the courts what Prop. 32 couldn’t at the ballot box. The players behind the suit may not be household names but the millionaires and private foundations covering their legal fees represent a familiar klatch of extreme libertarians who,
(Note: This feature first appeared September 21, 2012.)
On September 14 the Web exploded with news that billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch had donated $4 million in support of Proposition 32. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial noting the donation labeled the brothers “conservative ideologues” – a moniker often applied to the Kochs. This description, however, gives the Kochs far too much credit for their supposed philosophical purity—particularly as it relates to the Prop. 32 battle.
Despite their reputations as libertarian true believers, the Koch brothers are nothing if not practical businessmen, who have no trouble taking advantage of government subsidies when it bolsters their bottom line. (Koch Industries, for instance, was for years heavily invested in the $6 billion, federally subsidized ethanol industry.) That bottom line runs up and down the state of California, where Koch Industries has hundreds of millions of dollars invested through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific—a gypsum,
It’s official: Americans for Responsible Leadership, the shadowy dark-money outfit that funneled $11 million from Arizona into the campaign supporting California’s Proposition 32 and the effort to defeat Proposition 30, was little more than a courier service for the Koch brothers.
Today’s San Jose Mercury News carried news about the fast-developing story that has gripped Sacramento since October 16:
A group tied to David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who have played a huge role in spreading anonymous political cash around the country, was behind the shadowy Arizona group’s $11 million donation to a California business group.
That group is the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a known front for the Kochs’ political agenda. On October 25, a Frying Pan News post reported by Bill Raden first broke the story that the Kochs were probably responsible for the $11 million October Surprise.